Where coffee is king, meet the man who transforms coffee grounds into art

It was the bigmouth 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 sink and two drops landed over the drain. It looked like a largemouth bass getting ready to strike at its next meal and it made me laugh so I took a picture of it,” he recalls.

A month later, Flynn purposely drew a face in the sediment of his kitchen sink. It was the beginning of what he would develop into an original art form that he calls SinkCoffiti. He would later trademark the name – the second time in his life he legally claimed a new name.

“I was named after my father, Robert James Flynn. My last name was my nickname, which changed to my stage name. I legally became Flynn about six years ago,” he says of his mononym.

Flynn, 60, is a Seattle musician who plays the guitar, sings and writes and records music when he’s not creating artwork in his sink.

coffee mud

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 works of art. He starts by grinding beans with a grinding wheel, which enthusiasts prefer to a knife sharpener because of its consistency and precision. “I also monitor the temperature of the water and use preheated carafes and utensils to brew the most stable cup of coffee I can,” he says.

After brewing the coffee in a French press, Flynn decant it into a measuring cup and let it rest for five minutes, allowing the sediment to settle to the bottom. Finally, he carefully pours the coffee into a mug until he’s left with about a teaspoon of sediment — what he calls “coffee mud.” He pours this mud into his sink.

Flynn spreads the scoop 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 an area about 8 by 10 inches that he manipulates into designs with toothpicks and other tools. He transforms these into unique works of art using light, photography and filters, from kaleidoscopic patterns reminiscent of stained glass to bold textured abstracts – a Rorschach test of mountain ranges, forests and crashing ocean waves.

happy accidents

It’s been five years since a random stain of coffee sediment in his sink set Flynn on his way to making art. Since then, he’s approached SinkCoffiti with a balance of deliberation and experimentation, rejoicing at the happy accidents and building on the knowledge he’s acquired 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 another image as important to what follows as the first break in billiards.

He generally tries to stay open and let the medium determine the outcome.

“I often say that I push it like a shopping cart with a broken front wheel. I can push it, but it’s going where it wants to go,” he says.

Flynn uses a professional camera and LED lighting mounted over his sink to take pictures 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 depending on the 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 is 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 exhibitions. It’s not uncommon for strangers to tell Perreault about their own art during her shows. What’s rare, she says, is that you come across a person in a unique way who uses a medium.

“Someone like Flynn, who has the heart of an artist, is going to pour his coffee grounds into the sink and see art in it. A lot of people will just see that and think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’, and let it wash away [the drain]† He found this really cool, imaginative way of looking at something that most people look at on a normal day and he took it to the next level,” she says. “I think that’s the sign of a real artist — that art is everywhere.”

Of his abstract pieces, Perreault adds, “Something I also love about the art is that you know the old saying that art is a mirror and you see in it what you are? His art is like that. Anyone can look at it and see something else.”

A lens of possibilities

“From my earliest memories I have been musical,” Flynn says. “Until recently I never considered myself a visual artist, although I have always seen art wherever I look, in nature and in everyday objects.”

For the past two years, Flynn has been part of a private Facebook group for a global writing project launched in response to the pandemic. His writing goes from whimsical to dark with an agility that comes from his songwriting skills. There he first shared one of his SinkCoffiti designs, a photo of Dave Grohl. At the time, his celebrity portraits were just for fun, with no end goal other than fun.

Flynn says he sees the world through a lens of possibility, embracing serendipity the same way he leans into the streams and patterns that happen by chance in his art. His sense of adventure and willingness to seize opportunities guided him from an early age, he says, landing him on Wall Street in the early 1980s, just a few years after high school and living in his home state of New Jersey.

“I realized early on that I couldn’t rely solely on music to support myself. Then I saw a help wanted ad in the paper for high school students who wanted to work on Wall Street. I didn’t know you could get a job there without a college degree,” he says.

That ad has drastically changed his life. Within days, Flynn was working on Wall Street, where he was eventually offered a job as a front-line specialist on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor, a job he loved for nine years. Flynn followed his 16 fast years in finance with five years in real estate, before switching and moving to Southeast Florida in 2004. He lived there in retirement – performing in bars, recording music and teaching guitar – until another big step changed his life once more.

Seattle-bound

“Last year my wife asked if I would consider moving to the Pacific Northwest. I had never thought of living on the west coast, but I was open to the idea. In six months, I went from visiting Washington for the first time, fell in love with it, drove a pickup truck full of 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, the beauty of Puget Sound, and the grandeur of mountains and open spaces that he had 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 of techniques he wants to try.

At a time when so many of us feel at the mercy of bad news and uncertainty, there is a simple optimism about following your curiosity and transforming the dregs of life into art. It’s that creative process that Flynn finds most rewarding as an artist.

“My brain works all the time, and it’s problematic,” he says. “But when I’m making art or music, I can slow down and enjoy it. Those are the most peaceful moments of my life. And if what I make brings people happiness, my job is done.”

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