Did your interest in tattoos start from getting your first one?
Yeah, for me, my first tattoo was my last name across my back, super street official. It was the standard. I was 16 at the time, my older brother, Eventide, one of his best friends did tattoos out of his house. I didn’t know much about it at the time. I knew the neighborhood guys had them and I wanted to look tough. I remember walking into that apartment and my brother’s friend had surfboards, wetsuits, skateboards—everyone would trade him things for tattoos. I think I paid $10 a letter. At the time it hurt a lot but I was stoked to have it. I thought that may be it but I think once you cross that line of getting one, you’re not as afraid to get more and it almost became a competition with neighborhood friends.
I think once you cross that line of getting one tattoo, you’re not as afraid to get more and it almost became a competition with neighborhood friends.
When did you realize that you wanted to start tattooing other people?
I started to get them a lot and I became friends with a bunch of tattooers and they opened a shop in the neighborhood. It was the first shop open in the last 20 years, it was called About Face. In Oceanside, tattooing had been outlawed for a long period of time. They had the military there, and a lot of prostitution, they were just trying to clean up that area and tattooing was outlawed in the '50s and '60s. About Face was a busy shop, it was the only one in the city and was by the military base. I began to see a bunch of different styles of tattooing because before [I was in the shop] it was just neighborhood stuff only. That’s all I knew—Virgin Marys, black and grey coloring. I saw more traditional tattooing in that shop. I started getting tattooed by someone in the shop who I surfed with and he asked me if I wanted to start tattooing. I never thought about doing it, I was just trying to work hard and build some stability in my life.
At the time, I was an electrician—I was making decent money for 17 and could get tattooed. I slowly started getting into the tattoo scene, but at the time there was no TV or Internet so I was just learning from these guys. This guy Milford Barnes asked me if I wanted to start tattooing but I wasn’t sure if I could make a living off it. After a week, I opened myself up to a long road of apprenticing under Milford. It wasn’t a 100 percent official apprenticeship, I didn’t learn to build machines or all this stuff. For two years, I would work as an electrician in the morning until 3 p.m. and go to the tattoo shop right after for the night.
At first [the tattoos I did] were just clean, bold, classic tattooing—a lot of sailor stuff. But pimps would also bring their prostitutes in to get their names done, so we’d be good at doing names and a lot of classic stuff.
At what age did you really start taking tattooing seriously and consider it as a career?
When I started full-time, the guy that offered to teach me how to tattoo moved to a well-known shop in San Diego, Lucky’s (which is really famous for classic tattooing and traditional style). I was the shop guy there for a while. One of our friends that worked there died, a few of the guys got fired, and there was a hole for me to start tattooing but the owner didn’t know I tattooed. I built a little portfolio but I thought he might fire me after he found out I was tattooing. He was like, ‘Fuck, I need you to tattoo here, your stuff isn’t that bad, you can start with small stuff tattooing here.’ I wasn’t necessarily ready to start with tattooing but that’s sometimes how it goes with tattooing—you’re not ready and you jump back in.
What were those first few years like working in the shop?
At first it was just clean, bold, classic tattooing—a lot of sailor stuff. But pimps would also bring their prostitutes in to get their names done, so we’d be good at doing names and a lot of classic stuff. All the flash in the shop was really unique and one-of-a-kind.
Speaking of the street style and the traditional tattoos, people have coined your personal style as “traditional gangster.”
I like it a lot. It’s the merge between growing up around street and neighborhood tattooing like Olde English and block letters and then you go and learn to tattoo at this traditional shop. My influences come from both and I guess that would be the mix of traditional gangster tattooing.
"Traditional gangster" is the merge between growing up around street and neighborhood tattooing like Olde English and block letters and then you go and learn to tattoo at this traditional shop.
How long did it take you to really create a following and say, ‘Okay this is my style?’
It’s taken a while. I’m still developing it. Definitely a good eight to 10 years before I had something that really felt original or my own. I’m always looking to improve or change. You draw something so much that your artwork has a certain feel.
Now, you own Lucky’s tattoo parlor in San Diego, right where you first started.
Yes, the owner left because him and his wife got sick and he just couldn’t deal with the store anymore. My partner, Shane, decided to stay and work it out and keep the shop. I jumped into being a business owner at 21. It was right after I started. At the time, it was a war between being a business owner and growing artistically, which I’m still trying to develop today much less the beginning.