Where are you from? Where do you live and work?
I’m originally from Arizona, I work at Port City Tattoo in Costa Mesa, California.
What are your first memories of tattoos?
When I was a kid, maybe 6 or 7 years old, my grandfather would take me to get my haircut at the barbershop that he went to. It was owned and ran by several older gentlemen. One of whom was an army veteran, he had this eagle tattoo on his forearm, that was old and blue and faded. At the time I knew of tattoos and may have seen one prior, but this one really stuck out to me, I can still picture it in my mind. Another vivid memory of tattoos was seeing a picture of Henry Rollins for the first time, I must have been around 10 or 11.
He was the first heavily tattooed person I had been exposed to. I wanted to look like that.
Who made your first tattoo?
I got this like zombie-chick on my arm from my mentor Ed Slocum.
How did you start tattooing?
I got into tattooing through the music scene really, I grew up going to hardcore shows and playing in bands in Arizona at a young age. All the older dudes in the scene were wearing tattoos from this guy Ed Slocum. I knew when I was of age he would be the one to do my first tattoo. He tattooed me several times and each time I would bring in crappy drawings and show flyers I made so he could check them out.
I started just hanging around the shop a lot and getting to know the other guys that worked there. My buddy Adam Goss was apprenticing under Ed at the time as well so I wasn’t sure if Ed was interested in taking on another guy to teach.
But maybe he saw some potential in me, or maybe I annoyed and pestered him enough, He finally decided to hire me.
I was 19, and at the time I was going to college and had a full time job, So needless to say the first year of my apprenticeship was a little rocky. I knew I had to fully commit to learning to tattoo and cut out my other distractions. So I quit school and really honed my focus on tattooing. My apprenticeship lasted 2 years, and consisted of the typical tasks at the time, making needles, scrubbing tubes, mopping, food runs etc. During year 2 my mentor allowed me to practice on 3 friends for some time until he thought I was capable of taking walk-ins.
Who was your first customer?
I don’t know If I remember my first actual customer, I was probably too nervous and anxious to think about anything but trying not to fuck up the tattoo. But the first time I ever tattooed skin was on my mentor Ed.
Is there an error you made when you just started?
I was definitely biting off more than I could chew, I was overly ambitious and attempting to take on larger pieces early on that I had no business doing at the time.
Did you go to art school?
No, I went to college for a year and half but it was mostly taking graphic design courses since that was my major. I wasn’t great with computers and it didn’t really interest me, I wanted to draw and do more hands on work.
How did you learn to draw?
I learned to draw at young age from my Grandfather, who was an incredible illustrator and painter.
Do you make art in other forms?
Yes I paint when time allows, I need to paint more often though.
Who are your mentors in the art of tattooing?
Ed Slocom, he gave me the keys to my career and put the machine in my hand. He took a chance on me and I’m forever grateful. Tyler Densley, He is an old friend who did a lot of my tattoos, and would share helpful knowledge and information, he showed me how tattoos were supposed to look. Frank Romano, He was like my second teacher in a way, working for him at DaVinci shaped me as a man and a tattooer. Frank instilled a brutal work ethic in me that I value everyday.
Who are the visual artists who influence your work the most?
Frazetta, Ed Hardy, Kuniyoshi, Pushead.
How do you define your style?
That’s a tough one, its hard to identify your own work or classify it in that way. If I had to say, it would be American traditional with some Asian influence.
What are you adding to what they call new school?
I’m not sure I’m adding anything to that. I’m not sure whats deemed new school these days. I just want to do bright bold tattoos that are eye-catching and exciting to look at.
How does music inspire your creative process?
Music has been a huge part of my life always, so naturally it has its part in my tattooing as well. I’ll put on specific records to invoke certain expression or emotion I may be trying to achieve in a drawing or painting, or even during a tattoo. I try to cultivate a level of energy in my work and I feel like music has a huge impact on that. When I’m lining a tattoo maybe ill play something more mellow so I can focus on each line and ease my nerves, then something faster and aggressive when I’m shading/coloring.
You work at a shop with many artists, do you guys fight because of music?
Well we don’t fight over it, but I’m for sure known as a bit of a music snob at the shop. If I’m working Ill try to make sure I’m the first to pick what we listen to, or if someone picks a stinker or a shitty song comes on Ill be the first one to get up and change it. Honestly we have a pretty good system going at the shop, we take turns choosing or whoever is tattooing gets to pick. Our shop guy Chris is pretty savvy with music as well, he and I have fairly similar taste, he controls the tunes when I’m not there.
Who are your typical customers?
I tattoo a lot of people in bands, in my time playing music I made a lot of great friends in that scene who want cool tattoos and are open to starting big projects. I also seem to tattoo a lot of fellow tattooers, which I’m truly flattered and honored to do. Our shop gets a lot of collectors and travelers as well, we are very lucky to have such awesome clients!
When is the last time you said NO to a customer?
These days I really try not to say “no” and instead offer an alternative to the clients demands that may not be ideal or even tattoo-able. I feel like attempting to help the client understand why sometimes their idea seems too farfetched or un workable, sheds light on possibility and not just shooting them down, and being like “NO! your idea sucks” or something. We can’t always assume the customer knows how their tattoo should look or knows what a good tattoo even is, we have to guide them a bit and educate because after that they may be more inclined to get something cool that you both would be stoked on.
Text by Marco Annunziata