Good Time Charlie is the owner of the “Good Time Charlie’s End of the Trail Tattoo” shop in Modesto, California, opened in 1987. Godfather of black and gray fine-line tattooing, Charlie Cartwright started hand poking tattooing when he was 15, in Wichita, Kansas.

In the early 1970s he came to the Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California, to learn how to use electric machines. But Cartwright wasn’t fond of color tattoos nor shops that offered only cartoon-like tattoos on their wall. He resolved to open up a tattoo shop one day that would encouraged clients to come in with their own tattoo designs and ideas. The first shop he owned was “Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland” in East Los Angeles on Whittier Boulevard. He was only there three years and sold it to Ed Hardy in 1977. While he was there, he did a great amount of tattooing along with Jack Rudy.

Rudy and Cartwright, catering to a largely Mexican-American clientele, were heavily influenced by the Latino low rider and “Cholo culture” that surrounded the East LA shop. They evolved the unique style of tattooing that came to be known as “black and gray“. Charlie started doing strictly single needle stuff and small needle groupings, during the mid-1970’s, while most people still worked with a tight three.

Their style was reminiscent of work in prison, where the absence of color was dictated by the restrictions imposed by a life behind bars.

Their very distinguishable style is renowned for its masterful use of light and dark shades of varying degrees of black and gray. In addition to creating a softer and more realistic style of tattooing, with the advent of the new single needle tattoo technology, artists were now able to use a much greater level of detail than the previously attainable utilizing older tattoo machine and needle configurations. Rudy and Cartwright’s fine-line single-needle style lent itself to the script lettering that was, and continues to be, popular among Latinos in Southern California.

The Latino culture also provided them with an incredibly rich vein of symbols and designs to mine; images that drew heavily on Roman Catholic iconography and symbols that were epitomized by roses, rosary beads and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. What Charlie did was make history, and the Chicano community beat a path to his door, eager to wear the kind of photo-realistic fine-line tattoos that before then were applied most often in prison. “A visit to Charlie is like a visit to the Pope. He’s just old school. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t do tattoo shows. When he’s talking you should listen, you should absorb it.” (Corey Miller).

Good Time Charlie Watercolour by Pepe
Good Time Charlie Watercolour by Pepe