Artists: Carlos Rojas
Carlos Rojas first caught our attention with a mind-blowing photo realistic Breaking Bad sleeve, and he has yet to let us down since. The California based tattooer is one of the many talented artists working out of Nikko Hurtado’s shop, Black Anchor Collective. This is what Hurtado had to say about his comrade, “Carlos is a huge part of Black Anchor Collective. I’ve seen him work very hard to achieve his goals and work towards his dreams in art and tattooing. His work inspires me daily and I am fortunate to have him to work along side with and even more fortunate to call him a friend. I cannot wait to see what the future brings for him as I see him progress and grow. I am lucky to be surrounded by talented hard working individuals like Carlos Rojas. People ask me all the time who are my favorite tattooers and maybe I’m biased but I have to say Rojas is one of my favorites.”
How did you get into tattooing?
It was actually my older brother who took me into a shop and sparked my interest in tattoos/tattooing. We would get tattooed here and there, all while hiding them from our mom. I would buy tattoo magazines, keep a sketchbook with me and would draw some of the tattoos and flash that were in there. I thought to myself if I can draw these, and even come up with my own ideas I can maybe tattoo them as well. l went into the shop I would frequent and asked my artist to teach me. He would always say no, this went on for two years. Then one day he must have caved because he said I won’t teach you anything but you can come into the shop and watch and you have to clean up. Hence the beginning of my informal apprenticeship. If it wasn’t for Big Gus tattooing me and taking me on who knows where I’d be.
How has your work evolved since you started tattooing?
Starting out I did a bunch of flash, names, little souvenir tattoos etc. I found black and grey work more appealing and easier to do. I found color tattoos more time consuming and more difficult to blend and make smooth so I gravitated towards black and grey realism. I remember early on seeing Bob Tyrrell’s work in a few magazines. I was blown away by his portrait realism work. Ever since then I told myself I wouldn’t just be an amateur artist, I wanted to reach that level. After about 2-3 years of tattooing I got the courage to attempt portraits. It was definitely a different style of tattooing than I was used to but I found the challenge fun and I would push myself to do it more. I would do a bunch of free tattoos just for the portrait practice, eventually I got the hang of it. I also think it really evolved when I met two artists who I am now friends with. Carlos Torres, who I was lucky enough to have worked with at two different shops. With him I learned to push contrast and be more creative. He’s an amazing artist, with a unique style. The second was Nikko Hurtado. I remember seeing him work at a convention and my mind was blown, how the fuck did this guy do these portraits in color? Being friends with him over the years and working along side him at conventions I eventually gained confidence in doing color realism, which kind of set the path to where my work lies now.
How did you come to work at Black Anchor Collective?
Nikko and I would share booths at conventions here and there. All while I bounced from shop to shop, not really finding a place to work at that I could learn at and call home. I think about 6 years ago he mentioned he was going to open a shop in the high desert and that I should come work with him. I would get excited and it would always fall through. Then he finally did it. He mentioned he needed help but I was working in Orange County at the time and wanted the opportunity but couldn’t commit to it because I didn’t really want to move my family up there so I told him I would come up on the weekends and help him out. The weekends turned into weekdays and I found myself couch surfing at his house. I was busy. I was getting to do a lot more pieces with artistic freedom. He was like, dude you should just move up here and be full time. I agreed and it’s been home ever since. I think I’m there more than I’m at home.
You work in both color and black and grey, which do you prefer and why?
It really just depends on what’s best for the situation. Example: if the client’s skin is tanned or darker obviously it would make more sense to go with a black and grey piece opposed to color. It would hold better over time with minimal room for change. Opposed to color where it might look fine for the first few weeks but then adapt to the skin tone and mute down really fast. I love both to be honest. I strive to get my black and grey smooth with nice contrast and I strive to get my color smooth in values and contrast as well. Color for sure is more challenging and a little more stressful. I always feel like once the stencil is on its a race against time to get the ink in there before the stencil wipes off, but now since Nikko came out with that new stencil anchor it definitely puts me at ease a bit.
What is your artistic process on a tattoo?
If it’s a portrait off of the internet or from a movie I try to find the best possible reference to work from. At the same time I like to use references that haven’t been tattooed before so I’ll try to screen capture it. I think that’s one thing that sets my work apart. I like nice contrast or a strong light source. I find those hold and look best. Once an image is selected I’ll find out where we are putting the tattoo. I like to utilize the space and make sure the placement and direction are perfect. If it’s a custom piece I like to have a direction or theme for the piece or project and brainstorm. I’ll search for as many references I can get, or if I’m lucky enough I’ll use my own photography for reference. I love to use photoshop. It makes the type of work I do so much easier. I remember back in the day having to print out the image cut it, tape it to the arm, resize it a few times or trace over on top over other images—shit took forever! Imagine spending hours drawing something custom only to finally show the client and them being like “that’s not really what I want.” Photoshop for sure cuts the time in half.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
Anything that gives me artistic freedom especially big ongoing projects, or any cool movie, or show portraits are always fun for me. I’m currently having a lot of fun with these Wizard of Oz, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and my custom black and grey dark imagery/gothic architecture sleeves I’m doing.