I’d seen people with tattoos when I was younger and just thought that was the coolest fucking thing in the world. It had been something that always caught my attention. I drew in high school and in junior high, and I liked to draw, so I was trying to figure out a way to make a living at it. I saw this documentary about prison tattoos and they had mentioned a step-by-step on how to make the machine. I went home and made one, and tattooed all my friends.
When I made that machine, it wasn't hard to get people to get tattooed. We were young and we all thought we were tough so it was real easy to get people to volunteer to get tattooed. I had a line out the door. I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing but we made them work out. I still have a few of them that I’ve done and so do my friends.
So, I started out doing that, but professional tattooing, I started when I was about 18. I started working in San Diego at a tattoo shop. They let me clean the windows and make needles and all this shit. Then about a year into it, they taught me how to tattoo. I’ve been tattooing for about ten years now.
We grew up around the beach. When I was still younger, everybody had motorcycles and cool cars and stuff at the beach. It was still a working class neighborhood. There were a lot of custom cars and motorcycles riding around and so tattoos come with that. There were a few tattoo shops and every now and again, we’d go down and try to peek in the window and see if there were any naked girls in there getting tattooed but they wouldn’t let us stick around long. There was definitely a lot of influences around the beach area with that kind of lifestyle.
We surfed every day. We where down at the beach all day long. It seemed like a natural progression to surf as a kid, and then you just hang out at as an adult and watch the kids surf. We’d watch guys go off to prison and come back with tattoos. It was pretty cool to see some of the shit that I couldn’t believe someone could draw on skin. It blew my mind as a kid.
Early on in my tattoo career, I guess you could say I had a couple of friends pitch in. They all bought me a tattoo kit and I started tattooing friends. I wasn’t really getting the results I was looking for because I had a little bit of art training and I knew what good art was, and the results that I was getting were not what I wanted. I was having a hard time with that so I figured the best way to go about this was to have someone teach me
I went around on my skateboard to every tattoo shop in San Diego in the beach area, I got turned away by all of them and I had to go home and rethink my approach. I figured the best thing rather than ask them to teach me to tattoo was maybe to offer some sort of cleaning service. I told them I’ll wash your windows, just let me hang out. I got somebody to bite on that. I started hanging around this tattoo shop called Big City Tattoo. It was owned by a guy named Kinzie Bolson. He’s an old biker guy from San Diego. He let me hang around for awhile. I don’t know if he really had any intention of letting me tattoo, but he wanted his windows cleaned and I wanted to hang out. It worked perfectly for a while.
He eventually saw some drawings that I had done. He didn’t know I could draw, and he said, “We got to teach this kid to tattoo. He can make us some money.”
I started tattooing at North Park. It was a little bit of a rougher part of town at the time, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I started to get into some trouble. I was 18, 19, 20 years old and I always had money, you know. None of my friends had dough and so with money comes trouble. I was getting in all kinds of mischief and did some things that were kind of questionable in the eyes of the law, and had to leave town rather quickly.
So I decided LA was the best spot I could go where I could still be close to my family, and there was another friend of mine that was moving up here as well, so I came with him and just kind of tagged along and figured I would give it a shot. It started off pretty well, but then my savings ran out and I needed to get a job —I was doing tattoos on friends, and my roommate was doing his thing, there were constantly people in the house getting tattooed. He was kind of a bully, so he made them all get tattooed for me. He was like making them get fucking tattooed. It was kind of good so I could get some practice under my belt.
But then I needed to get a real job in a shop, and I didn’t know anybody. The only place for me was going to be Hollywood Blvd. I figured. So I got down there for a while, and that got old pretty quick.
I was working on Hollywood Blvd for about a year. I probably worked at every shop on that boulevard. I don’t know if anyone’s been there but there’s probably about 10-15 shops on the boulevard at the moment. I bounced around, the guy asked me if I had equipment. He didn’t really care if I knew how to use it, but as long as I had it, I could work there. I was like man, this just can’t be all that’s for me out there, you know? There’s got to be more than this. I decided I was going to start going around to a few different shops and ask some of the better guys how I could get my foot in the door. I had a few run ins with a few of the guys around town and I wasn't getting much luck. I was shown the door every time. I figured I’d change my approach one more time and I figured if I came with some money that they’d let me hang out for a little longer. So I came and I got tattooed here at the Shamrock and I was able to stay for a couple of hours without being a fucking nuisance. Mark who owns the shop, he saw one of the tattoos I had done, I strategically placed a friend of mine I had just tattooed in front of Mark. He offered me a job that day. It worked out pretty well. I couldn’t believe it. I was about to ask him if I could wash the windows again but he ended giving me five days a week, so it worked out pretty good.
My relationship with Mark’s been real good. Since I met him, he’s treated me with nothing but respect and he makes you feel real comfortable. He’s real good at like making you feel special, you know what I mean? He goes around and takes time out of his day to make you feel good about yourself. You know I was young, and in this business, it’s been hard for me being young because people don’t really trust you. He’s always been there to kind of get my back and stuff. I got to kind of work right next to him. There were a few stations downstairs and then there’s one upstairs that just worked to be left-handed which I am. I got to sit next to Mark and I’ve been sitting next to him for the last eight years. We became pretty close.
My style has definitely changed from the moment I got here. I was exposed to so much new stuff that I had never seen before. A lot more of the stuff that I was really into and it was really difficult. When I first started working here, we didn’t have a computer. I didn’t know how to use one to begin with so I was limited to what was around and the people that were in the shop that I was working with. I was fortunate enough to be in this shop where there’s a lot of creative guys so I just thought that this was it. This is what I’ve been looking for. Mark’s been doing this style of tattooing that I’ve been into for longer that I’ve been alive. It is a perfect place for me to be .
My style changed really quickly. He taught me how to use a single needle and right in the beginning, it really started changing quickly and picking that stuff up changed my whole—the way I looked at tattoos.
Mark taught me a lot. I was raised in a shop in San Diego with some angry bikers and they were kind of... you know, it wasn't that long ago, but 10 years in the tattoo business, things have changed dramatically. It was us and another shop in that part of town so if we were kind of rude to people, it was kind of like you could get away with it. They think that’s just how tattooers do things. I’m going to get bullied into getting something I don’t really want. Nowadays, it’s just not that way. If you’re not super nice to these people and listen to what they have to say, they’re out the door.
Mark is an expert people person. It’s probably the most valuable thing I learned from him is how to be personable and kind, remember people’s names, and people enjoy that. They come in to the shop and you remember who they are, and you make it feel like you actually give a fuck. Nowadays, I think that’s really important. You don’t have to be the best tattoo artist in the world, but if people like and you do nice work, they’re going to bring their friends and you’ll be successful.
You know it’s really hard to be original in this business. It’s been going on for so long and there’s so many people doing it that it’s really hard to have your own identity. I spend my off time when I’m not tattooing drawing and trying to develop a style because I’m still young in the grand scheme of things, 10 years is not a lot of time in the business. It’s still in that stage where I’m just trying to figure out my own style. Having a clientele that will allow me to not just do flash or things that they bring me, letting me do my own thing, that really helps to develop your own style when you have the freedom to do so. That’s what I’ve kind of fallen into, the black and gray thing, but also trying to put a little bit of my own flavor to it.
I guess tattooing for me, I feel like it took me a little longer and a little bit more work and a little bit more effort to get to where I’m at now, it’s not just someone gives you a tattoo machine and the next thing you know, you’re winning some award at a convention. I mean, it seems to be nowadays, people pick it up really quickly and it’s just all there for everyone to see on the internet. When I first started, it wasn't like that. You were limited to the people that you worked with and that was as far as your influence extended beyond a few magazines you could pick up.