It was the largemouth bass staring up at him from his sink that first sparked Flynn’s imagination.
“I poured the coffee sediment from my French press into the kitchen sink and two droplets landed above the drain. It looked like a largemouth bass getting ready to strike at its next meal and made me laugh, so I took a photo of it,” he recalls.
A month later, Flynn intentionally drew a face in his kitchen sink sediment. It was the beginning of what he would develop into an original, proprietary art form he calls SinkCoffiti. He’d later trademark the name — the second time in his life he legally claimed a new name.
“I was named after my dad, Robert James Flynn. My last name was my nickname, which turned into my stage name. I legally became Flynn about six years ago,” he says about his mononym.
Flynn, 60, is a Seattle musician who plays guitar, sings and writes and records music when he’s not making artwork in his sink.
Flynn may be playful with his art, but he’s all business when it comes to making the perfect cup of coffee. He drinks what he brews, saving only the dregs for his artwork. He starts by grinding beans with a burr grinder, which aficionados prefer to a blade grinder for its consistency and precision. “I also check the temperature of the water and use preheated carafes and utensils to make the most stable cup of coffee I can,” he says.
After brewing the coffee in a French press, Flynn decants it into a measuring cup and lets it rest for five minutes, allowing the sediment to fall to the bottom. Finally, he carefully pours the coffee into a mug until he’s left with about a teaspoon of sediment — what he refers to as “coffee mud.” This mud is what he pours into his sink.
Flynn spreads the spoonful of sediment with a brush or spatula to form rivulets and streaks that stick to the stainless-steel surface as the moisture evaporates. After it dries, he’s left with a roughly 8-by-10-inch area he manipulates with toothpicks and other tools into designs. He transforms these using light, photography and filters into unique works of art, from kaleidoscopic patterns reminiscent of stained glass, to boldly textured abstracts — a Rorschach test of mountain ranges, forests and crashing ocean waves.
It’s been five years since a random splotch of coffee sediment in his sink set Flynn on a path to create art. Since then, he’s approached SinkCoffiti with a balance of deliberation and experimentation, welcoming the happy accidents while building on the knowledge he’s mastered through trial and error. Like the nuances of how moisture levels affect texture and patterns. How playing with hue, contrast and cropping changes the look of a piece. And how varying the way he pours mud into the sink sets the stage for a different image to emerge — as important to what follows as the initial break in billiards.
In general, he tries to stay open and allow the medium to shape the outcome.
“I often say I push it along like a shopping cart with a broken front wheel. I can push it, but it’s still gonna go where it wants to go anyway,” he says.
Flynn uses a professional camera and LED lights rigged over his sink to take photos of his SinkCoffiti, which he then uploads to his computer. He launched an Instagram account for his art in 2020 and sells prints through his website, SinkCoffiti.com. Prices vary by size and complexity of the art, ranging from $250 for an unframed, 16-by-24 print on acid-free, fine-art paper to over $1,000 for prints matted in a custom frame.
Valerie Perreault is an award-winning painter and printmaker whose work resides in private collections around the world. Based in Key Largo, Florida, she met Flynn several years ago when his wife took him to one of Perreault’s art shows. It’s not unusual for strangers to tell Perreault about their own art at her shows. What’s rare, she says, is encountering a person using a medium in a unique way.
“Someone like Flynn, who has the heart of an artist, is going to pour his coffee grinds in the sink and see art in that. A lot of people will just see that and think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ and let it rinse down [the drain]. He’s found this really cool, imaginative way of viewing something that most people look at in a regular day and he’s taken it to the next level,” she says. “I think that’s the sign of a true artist — that art is everywhere.”
Of his abstract pieces, Perreault adds, “Something that I love about the art, too, is you know the old saying that art is a mirror and you see in it what you are? His art is like that. Each person can look at it and see something different.”
A lens of possibility
“From my youngest memories, I’ve been musical,” Flynn says. “I never thought of myself as a visual artist until recently, though I’ve always seen art wherever I look, in nature and everyday objects.”
For the past two years, Flynn’s been part of a private Facebook group for a global writing project launched in response to the pandemic. His writing veers from whimsical to dark with an agility born of his songwriting skills. It was there he first shared one of his SinkCoffiti designs, a picture of Dave Grohl. At the time, his celebrity portraits were just for fun, with no end goal other than enjoyment.
Flynn says he views the world through a lens of possibility, embracing serendipity the same way he leans into the rivulets and patterns that form by chance in his art. His sense of adventure and willingness to seize opportunities have guided him from a young age, he says, landing him on Wall Street in the early 1980s, only a few years out of high school and living in his home state of New Jersey.
“I realized early on I couldn’t rely solely on music to support myself. Then I saw a help wanted ad in the newspaper for high school grads who wanted to work on Wall Street. I didn’t know you could get a job there without a college diploma,” he says.
That ad dramatically changed his life. Within days, Flynn was working on Wall Street, where he was eventually offered a position as a front-line specialist clerk on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a job he loved for nine years. Flynn followed his 16 fast-paced years in finance with five years in real estate, before shifting gears and moving to Southeast Florida in 2004. He lived there in semiretirement — playing gigs in bars, recording music and teaching guitar — until another big move changed his life once more.
“Last year, my wife asked if I’d consider moving to the Pacific Northwest. I’d never thought about living on the West Coast before, but I was open to the idea. In six months, I went from visiting Washington for the first time, to falling in love with it, to driving a pickup truck loaded with guitars across the country to live here,” he says.
“My wife and I left Florida to escape the heat, then we got to Seattle and it was 106 degrees,” he laughs.
Flynn has since taken full advantage of his surroundings, enjoying the multitude of hiking trails, beauty of Puget Sound, and grandeur of mountains and open spaces he’d only previously encountered in his SinkCoffiti prints.
As for his art, he continues to experiment. From his colorful pieces to the unfiltered works he calls Raw SinkCoffiti, Flynn is never short on techniques he wants to try.
At a time when so many of us are feeling at the mercy of bad news and uncertainty, there’s a simple optimism to the act of following one’s curiosity and transforming life’s dregs into art. It’s that process of creation Flynn finds most rewarding as an artist.
“My brain is going all the time, and it’s problematic,” he says. “But when I’m making art or music, I can slow down and enjoy myself. Those are the most peaceful moments in my life. And if what I’m making brings happiness to people, my work is done.”