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Spilling Ink

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C Magazine sat down with Johnny and Lisa, two tattoo artists, at the Redwood City Tattoo Company. We asked them some questions about their experience becoming tattoo artist and some of their fondest memories.

What is your favorite part about being a tattoo artist?

Johnny: For me, tattooing is more of a craftsmanship than art in a way. Once the tattoo is done it lasts a lifetime and the person remembers the tattoo artist forever. You also remember where you are in life and what you are doing when you get the tattoo. It makes people happy and it makes me happy seeing people happy about the tattoo I just gave them. I’ve seen people cry before after they receive their tattoo, but to me the ones that mean the most are the ones I do on my close friends and family. I try to do my best work on everybody but for some reason they always turn out the best on my friends. Tattooing is the first job i’ve ever had where I can wake up every morning and not get mad about going to work.

What is the most memorable reason that someone came in for a tattoo?

Lisa: Due to certain illnesses, some people have no option but to remove certain body parts. Tattooing gives clients the option to tattoo them back on, for example women who have had breast cancer and have had their breasts removed. Those are probably the most memorable stories because you’re really transforming someone’s body for good. Unfortunately, a lot of times those tattoos are not publicized because of censorship. Those are the stories that nobody really sees and are more private.  For this reason, they [the tattoos] stay with us a little bit longer.

What is the biggest stigma surrounding tattoos?

Johnny: All the stigma surrounding tattoos has discouraged many from getting tattoos. There used to be a bigger stigma back in the day. It died. In 1990 only thugs, bikers and gangsters got tattoos. But now it’s changed, soccer moms are getting tattoos, you have ministers getting tattoos, cops, doctors…they all have tattoos. That was really the only stigma, I can recall, and as you can see it has basically ended.

Was the training hard work?

Johnny: Yeah, a lot of people fail and quit because of the hard work that comes before being a tattoo artist. Bosses can recognize when someone wants it enough because they are willing to put in the hard work. You have to keep your head down and do what they tell you and work hard and eventually you are blessed with the gift and start taking walk-ins full time and boom you are a tattoo artist.

Why have you found most people get  tattoos?

Johnny: People get tattoos for various reasons. Lots of people just like the art. My tattoos have no meaning to me whatsoever it’s just about the artwork. When people are going through pain people get tattoos of where they’re at in their life, that why a lot of people get quotes, there will be a time in their life where a quote really means something to them and they’ll want to put it on their body.

How did you first become a tattoo  artist?

Johnny: For the longest time they [the bosses] had me trace flash which are these little designs. I would just trace that over and over again. I would always wonder why they would have me do this and not have me draw [tattoos]. I would trace a zillion roses and skull designs and one day the boss would tell me to draw it out of memory, and because I had traced so many I had created a muscle memory for it.

palo alto high school's arts and culture magazine
Spilling Ink