The following are the Tattoo Artist profiles I wrote for a collaborative piece. I’ve excerpted them here.
Interview with Joey Chavez
Joey Chavez doesn’t look like your average tattoo artist. His ink barely extends past his sleeves or collar. He doesn’t have any visible radical piercings. His do is conservatively coiffed and his facial hair is finely manicured. When he grins, the Cheshire Cat blushes with envy.
Joey talks about his beginnings, apprenticing at a tattoo shop in high school for a project, “They didn’t really want me, because apprenticing is kind of a big deal, but they said they’d give me what I needed. So I only went three times even though you’re supposed to apprentice six months, but that kind of gave me the bug….It just seemed like a great place to work.”
Afterwards, he joined the Marine Corps as a combat illustrator. “Except I never saw any combat,” Chavez laughs, “And I only did three illustrations.” The upside was that he met the tattoo artist he would apprentice under. “We did barracks tattoos, which are very illegal to do…but we made a lot of money doing it.” Ultimately, though, Chavez just wants to maintain his creativity. “I want to own my own studio and my tattoo work will supplement my gallery work as well as my photography and film.”
Joey Chavez is the main tattoo artist at Sign of the Times which has been slinging ink for 16 years. “We’ve got a great atmosphere. We’re a smoke shop, [that does] body piercing and tattoos. Come on in; you’re gonna have a good time.”
Interview with “Money” Mike
“Money” Mike is easily recognizable by the dollar signs that adorn his body. He even has one just under the corner of his left eye. And just like the namesake of his crew, Ink Mafia, he’s as cool as ice. His answers are quick and to the point, and his expression betrays no emotion, but the warmth behind his gaze is undeniable.
“I’ve always been an artist,” Mike says between drags on his cigarette, “Tattooing was the ultimate medium.” For Mike, the road to becoming a professional tattoo artist wasn’t always straight. “I left school at 16 to do it,” he confesses, “After three years of street tattooing, I found an apprenticeship. It took me about eight months. Just basically learning how to clean and live the shop life, not really how to tattoo.”
All of that’s changed now, of course. With eight years under his belt, Mike knows how to give an expensive tattoo, but he doesn’t forget his beginnings. “In the days when I messed up [on tattoos] it wasn’t on anybody I didn’t know. Nowadays, it doesn’t happen. It strictly doesn’t happen.” He laughs for the first time, almost breaking character.
Before finishing his cigarette, Mike shared that tattoos have mostly lost their meaning since “people just get whatever,” but overall the culture has evolved for the better. “Doctors and lawyers are getting them now…it’s not like it used to be where only people in tribes or gangs or in prison would get them.”
Interview with Henry Huff
Henry Huff tattoos for Ink’d Chronicles and he loves his shop. “You go in and it’s a really, really nice atmosphere. The owner’s idea was to have a shop where a 50-year-old lady or an 18-year-old punk rocker would feel comfortable walking into.” His eyes light up as describes the architecture.
Like other tattoo artists, Huff says that he’s always been artistic and he looks every bit the part, with his long hair and aggressively unshaven face. “My dad’s an artist and I’ve just grown up around art. I wanted to make money drawing pictures, you know? My brother started tattooing in Las Vegas and he’s probably the one who really got me to go for it.”
Huff apprenticed in Los Angeles under established artists like Horihiro and East, but admits that it took him a while to get the nerve. “It’s important, y’know? It ain’t no joke. I just really cared about the finished product. But I just kind of dove into it and started working in Hollywood.” It’s been five years since then and Huff is supremely proud of his current work. “I know some cats who’ve been tattooing for 15 years and I think I’m pretty much right up there. But, I know that I’ve still got a long way to go. I just want to keep progressing and be one of the best.”
For Henry Huff, he’s found his dream job. “I just feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Interview with Brian Mascio
Most professional tattoo artists apprentice under an established artist in order to land a shop gig. Once in while, however, a talented tattoo artist comes along to break the rule, like Brian Mascio. “I’m self taught,” he states simply, neither arrogant nor ashamed. “It’s good to apprentice since you’ll learn a lot and a lot faster. I’m kind of lucky the way I did it. Some people tattoo out of their house for 10 years and never get into a shop, but I caught on pretty quick.”
With five years of experience, Brian’s self-taught discipline has carried through to his shop’s work ethic. “We [Corona Tattoo] take pride in our work,” Mascio says, “We don’t do things the way they shouldn’t be done, like writing too small. We want the work that we do to look the same years from now the same as it did when they left the shop.”
Brian’s private to professional experience gives him a great perspective on the industry. “Everything’s getting better, like the equipment we use, but there’s a lot of people now that want to be tattoo artists. They see these TV shows and now they’re doing tattoos out of their house, messing people’s tattoos up and we have to fix them.” Not everyone can be successfully self-taught.
His advice for people getting tattoos: “It’s always better to have the artist design something for you or bring something in. Don’t pick something off the wall.”
Interview with Gino Dominguez
Tried & True Tattoo’s booth is crowded with people waiting to get work done, but Gino Dominguez takes a break to answer questions and wipe the sweat from his brow. He’s been in the industry for seven years; five years professionally, long enough to remember when “a box of needles that costs $14 now used to cost $120.” Currently, he specializes in realistic art, like flowers and other traditional artwork. “When I was kid, I saw my uncle’s tattoos and I’ve always wanted tattoos, so I tattooed.”
Considering the young crowd walking around the expo, Gino commented on the wide spread tattoo culture among the youth. “It’s helped the industry and it’s hurt the industry. We get a lot of kids. It’s so easy to get equipment, everybody gets equipment. There are people making stuff that don’t about machines that just ain’t good.” He also believes that just because more people have tattoos doesn’t mean that tattoos are accepted everywhere yet. “We still get bad vibes. Last night at the hotel, they wouldn’t let us check in without calling down all the security just because we had tattoos. So we’re still in the alleyways, but because of the TV shows, people are a little enlightened.”
When it comes to tattoos becoming more prevalent, Gino doesn’t think it’s lost its meaning. “Tattoos will never lose its meaning. It’s a skin thing. You have to actually sit there and take it. Not everyone can take it. You gotta’ earn a tattoo.”