Adam McNatt on Going from Pro Skater to Full-Time Tattooer

Adam McNatt probably still skateboards better than most tattooers.EXPAND
Adam McNatt probably still skateboards better than most tattooers.
Josh Chesler

Raygun Tattoo’s Adam McNatt isn’t famous for his tattoo work…yet.

It’s really not McNatt’s fault though, as the Dana Point tattooer does solid work in just about every style of tattooing, and he’s closing in on a decade in the industry. He’s just as skilled and works just as hard as (if not harder than) any other artist out there, but his last job still overshadows what he does now from time to time.

Throughout much of the ‘90s, the South Laguna Beach native was known around the world as a professional skateboarder. Then he decided to make the transition to tattooing full-time, something he’d been doing on his friends for roughly 8 years.

“I came to Raygun in 2007 and apprenticed for a year before I started actually tattooing out of here,” McNatt says. “Ryan and Craig (Christy, Raygun’s owners and twin brothers) taught me to tattoo the right way. They helped me really dive into it 150 percent, whereas I was just playing around with it before.”

Skateboarding and tattooing may seem like very different activities, but they’re really both just misunderstood forms of art. For McNatt, who was always painting and drawing in his free time anyway, tattooing just felt like the next logical step when he was done making a living on his board.

“Skateboarding definitely led me to tattooing,” McNatt says. “Both were kind of an underground society kind of thing when I got into them.”

McNatt believes that he got into tattooing just before it became a part of the mainstream, and attributes the Christy brothers for training him in more of an “old school” environment. While the self-taught artist might’ve learned the trade’s skills from Raygun’s owners, he brought plenty of what he picked up while skating to his new career as well.

“Skateboarding helped me a lot with tattooing,” McNatt says. “Even just traveling and meeting people, the personal experiences helped a lot. Understanding what people want when you’re meeting new people isn’t always easy, but that’s part of tattooing because every tattoo is different.”

Although McNatt acknowledges that tattooing is a much tougher career than he initially thought it would be, he enjoys the creativity it allows him to use on a daily basis. Considering that he was always a creative skateboarder who was known for coming up with tricks that most other skaters hadn’t even considered, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s not limiting himself to what others do in the tattoo world.

“You can’t lock yourself into one style of tattoos,” McNatt says. “You start off doing traditional and then eventually you come up with some of your own designs. Then after many many years, you start to understand the body and the little details of tattoos, and that’s when you start to find your own styles.”

It’s possible that McNatt may just be coming into his own as a tattooer, but he enjoys doing everything from illustrative neotraditional to black and gray and color realism. Hell, the 41-year-old is even a fan of the newer “fine art” styles of tattooing that so many of the older and more traditional tattooers criticize.

“Really good art is starting to blend into tattooing more and more,” McNatt says. “The more art is brought into tattooing, the more it all grows. These kids from art school get into it and they make everyone work harder.”

Aside from being pushed by the youngsters, McNatt also has some words of wisdom for any up-and-coming tattooers who want to get into the industry.

“If you really love tattooing, you need to put in as much hard work as you can for as long as you can,” McNatt says. “If you just put your head down and work as hard as you can, then one day years down the road, you’ll pick your head up and see how much harder you have to work to keep up with everyone else.”

Raygun Tattoo, 34053 La Plaza, Dana Point, 949-496-7021, @adammcnatttattoo

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