WASHINGTON, D.C. – When I approach Robie Sayan, the obvious sticks out. His dark olive skin paired with an eternal five-o-clock shadow and jet black hair. He is clothed in dark wash jeans, a black shirt, and black leather boots. Tattoos cover his visible skin and a cigarette hangs haphazardly from his mouth, reminding me of my favorite Sons of Anarchy character. He may look rough and rugged like a member of a local motorcycle club that you’d rather not approach, but looks may be deceiving. 

Despite the obvious outward appearance, this man is professionally trained in fine arts. Through skills passed on from his family, he grew up as an artist and now passes those skills on to his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

The journey began during his childhood in Lima, Peru. Robie had a heavy artistic influence from his parents and extended family. His mother, sister and two of his uncles were all painters in Peru. He was regularly enrolled in art classes through his elementary and high schools, and was encouraged and mentored by his artistic family.

“Since early childhood we were exposed to art,” he said. “It was always around. I always drew, painted and built things.”

With a natural affinity for the arts in his blood, he was pushed to pursue formal schooling in the arts. Robie, however, found out at an early age he was gravitating to a new and different expression of art, tattooing. 

“I was 17 and I started tattooing,” he said. “I remember my mother was totally against it. She wanted me to be more a designer, to study for a real career.”

Robie listened to his family and attended formal schooling. He then worked in the media community becoming a graphic artist in Peru and even worked as a news cameraman for Reuters.

In 1997, Robie moved to the United States to attend school in order to receive a U.S. recognized Master’s Degree in fine arts and telecommunications from the International Fine Arts College in Miami, Fl. However, true passion for something is hard to hold back and Robie eventually found himself tattooing once again.

“I chose tattooing because I’m going back to fine art medium and the way I like doing things,” he said. “Tattooing has its own way it translates to skin. That’s more challenging, that’s more creative.”

When Robie studied graphic design everything was done by hand. Since the rise of technology and introduction of computer programs, the graphic arts community has steered away from the more traditional means.

“That’s why is studied fine arts,” he said. “You actually used your hands, you sculpted, you built. There was no computers when I started graphic design. Now everything is done with computers.”

Robie enjoys having potential clients give him an idea from which he does all the work from start to finish. Working under an art director, he would not be afforded that level of creative freedom.

Being an artist of any kind came only second to his duties as a father. Not only did his daughter, Martina, capture all her Peruvian looks from her father, she too spends a good bit of her free time painting, drawing and enjoying many other forms of art. He actively keeps her engaged in his daily art life too.

“When I get home at night I’m doing my drawings for clients,” he said. “I always scan them so I have all the line work so it’s like a little story book for her. I give her a little print out so she can color it.”

The passing down of art from his parents to Robie was an important part of his life. It is equally important to Robie that he too passes the love for the arts to his daughter. He believes it’s important in making you more creative and passionate about things in life.

“I think it’s part of my legacy to make sure that she has as much access to art as possible,” he said. “That’s what my parents did to me and that’s something that I think is important for me to do with my daughter.”