While you tattoo primarily black and grey pieces, you also can bust out some traditional or lettering. Tell us a bit about why you think it’s important to be well rounded as a tattooer?
At heart I’m a street shop tattooer, it’s important in a street shop when you are coming up to know all styles. By knowing all styles you don’t have to pass anything to anyone else, or have a client leave the shop to go to another shop to get tattooed. I pride myself on being well rounded, what’s the fun in a one trick pony? If you’re gonna do Japanese, do it as a hori would. If you’re gonna do traditional, make it look like it just came out of Smith St. If you’re gonna do black and grey, treat it as it was touched by a black and grey master… so on and so on. Doing it is one thing, doing it right is a whole other story. I’m still learning and trying my best, you never master this, you only open up to what new things you accept to learn.
Building off of that last question, ultimately why do you think you chose black and grey as your go to style?
That’s where my heart was always at. As a kid growing up in Southern Cali, seeing cholo prison tats, and being influenced by the lifestyle. My nickname as a kid was Lil’ Casper. I carried that handle proud, later moving into graffiti and really being in the streets heavy as a young teen and early 20’s. The streets is what I knew. Everyone I knew had black and gray work. Being ignorant to tattooing I wanted to be the white MR. CARTOON without realizing there was a whole world of white black and gray tattooers. I enjoy that black and gray is not one thing, with portrait, realism, hyper realism, the more dark/evil style, European style, fine line, traditional based black and gray, etc. The possibilities are so open, and I feel if it’s done right it can last.
One thing I noticed when going through your work was that you do a lot of hand and head tattoos, an area of the body that some tattooers shy away from doing. Given the visibility of such pieces do you feel any added pressure when tattooing those locations? Do you have a code as to who you will tattoo in those locales?
Of course, and I think everyone should have rules regarding this. I was taught if someone is heavily tattooed then you can do it. If they are 18 strongly advise them not to do it, we are not into ruining lives at our shop. If it’s a tattooer, then OK. If they are covered, then OK. But take what you are doing seriously, be responsible in your craft and be responsible with your client and advise and prepare the tattoo the right way. DON’T USE A 9 LINER ON SOME KID’S FACE. We all know what that will turn into in 10 years. If the person is established and has a career and is heavily tattooed then I see no harm. Make it last. Make it clean. And for the record, I didn’t always feel this way. I messed up a lot, but I learned the hard way and I’m man enough to say it.
What was your first shop experience like?
I got a call at like 1am from a tattooer named Sailor Mike, asking me to meet him right then at a shop in Corona. I thought it was a setup, but I went and got the job. It was a shitty street shop owned by a non-tattooer, and I honestly owe everything to that shop. All the guys were drunks, and there was a bar next door, so I was always alone, getting stuck there doing like 7 tattoos a day of all sizes, not knowing what the fuck I was doing. Some good times, good fights, good people… and some shitty ones.
What are the major differences between color and b/g pieces?
Good question. I think your overall approach. There is a way to make color last, I don’t like color realism much, I like the way it looks when it’s done well, but not for me. I like a tattoo in color to be a tattoo— bold, powerful, strong. I think color is harder, you have a few tones in black and gray, and with color you have that many tones per color, and having to know color theory and contrast colors. I’ll do Japanese or traditional color but doing 30 colors in a 4-3inch piece ain’t for me.
What inspires you as an artist?
I could be corny and say what everyone else probably will, but instead I’m gonna say my depression. I’m a complicated person, I’m learning that over the years, but it fuels me to get better. My insecurities force me to keep progressing, to matter, to truly matter. Not for ego or fame, but just for the sake of telling everyone who didn’t believe in me “fuck you.” I just wanna matter… it’s a dumb reason but it’s the truth.
Just a silly sports question, but I’ve noticed that you have done a few Dodgers tattoos and appear to be quite the fan. Would you ever give a client a Giants tattoo?
First of all, GO DODGERS!! But yeah, I don’t care either way. I got a boy Ronnie Lopez from El Monte of all places who’s a huge Giants fan, go figure… I’ll talk some shit but do the tattoo for sure (laughs).