Under the Needle of Sonny2Tone


Like many things in life, art is subjective. So, what might look like or sound like a terrible idea to you could be a perfect fit for me. I think this especially applies to tattoos because while some people need every single one of their tattoos to have a deep personal meaning, I think really liking something is a good enough reason to put it on your body. If you’re considering getting a meaningful tattoo, I would recommend taking a swing by Empire Tattoo to see Sonny, aka Sonny2Tone.

Empire is a great shop to visit with plenty of places to sit while you wait to get a tattoo or if you’re simply waiting for a friend. The lounge also has ideal “Instagramish” items like large mirrors and incased life-size skeleton. Walking into the area where the tattoos are done, you can see each artist’s personality through the art they choose to display at their station.

So, who’s Sonny2Tone?

Sonny2Tone is a local Tucsonan artist, born and raised here. When asked to describe himself, Sonny says that he’s” an artist, fashion designer, tattoo artist, and all-around cool guy.” (Which I can completely attest to!) 

Sonny started tattooing as a teenager and has been working professionally for 10 years — not including the four years that he was tattooing his friends “just for fun.” When he first started tattooing he did a lot of graffiti work because that’s what his friends were into at the time. Since then his repertoire has grown quite a bit, largely because he has to be ready for whatever request people come through the doors with. While Sonny says that he is still in search of his own personal style, he feels as though his personal comes out most when doing lettering and cartoon work. 

Work Sonny has done: (left) cow skull and moth, (center) ghost holding a bouquet of flowers, and (right) Buddah.

Sonny has ventured outside of Tucson at times, having heard specifically that California would be a “great fit” for him. Despite that, the more he visits the less he sees himself living and working there. “The way people are about California,” he says, “I’m that way about Tucson.” Sure, he may move around and explore other places too, but he asserted — and I totally identify! — that “Tucson is a place that you’re always going to be in love with, to come back to, but you’re never going to be afraid to leave.”

Sonny’s “TripCat Collective”

Sonny also has a signature brand motto, inspired by this cat Figaro, that decorates items in his own clothing line, TripCat. He was inspired by Walt Disney and his story with Mickey Mouse. The story goes that Walt Disney was inspired by a pet mouse in the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City. After taking a close look at his cat, Sonny decided that he would be the Mickey to his Walt Disney. 

There are three main characters in the TripCat line: two cats and a reaper. The other cat in the line is influenced by Sonny’s other cat, Domino. The story of Figaro and the Friendly Reaper is that Figaro is a cat on his 9th life, but he has met death so many times that he and death are practically homies. It seems as though Figaro and The Reaper have made a bargain because every time Figaro gets hurt and is on the brink of death, The Reaper lets him slide. Sonny says that the lesson to be learned from this story is to “Live your life as freely as possible and don’t be afraid of dying, because at the end of the day if you live freely, your legacy will live on forever.”

TripCat had originally started off as just Sonny and his designs but has grown to a collection of four different artists with different styles under the same name. While TripCat is still in the “baby stage” of a business/brand, it has grown out of the “brainchild” phase. 

Being under the needles of Sonny2Tone

Laying in the tattoo chair with the buzz of the machine in my ear, awaiting the twinge of pain that comes from the needle dragging across my skin, I can’t decide if this is one of the most calming places to be or the most anxiety-ridden. I always do this to myself, anticipating the worst, but Sonny knew just what to say to calm my nerves. I’m not one big on a lot of chit-chat when getting tattooed and appreciate that Sonny respected that, mainly stopping to ask if I was doing alright or needed a break. I chose to only get a small tattoo this time around — a simple red heart, a valentine — but have already talked to Sonny about the idea for my next tattoo. While I have never had a negative experience with a tattoo artist, talking with Sonny before and after the tattoo felt like chatting with a friend, making this experience ten times better.

Aileen Soria-Gonzalez is a Tucson local majoring in criminal justice and minoring in psychology at UArizona.