The true ink master.
The true ink master.
Courtesy of Big Ceeze

Big Ceeze Dishes on Going from Gangbanger to Ink Master Thanks to God

As one of Anaheim’s most respected artists for black and gray (and occasionally color) tattoos, Big Ceeze stays primarily focused on his art and home life. A guy with a steady clientele at his Mi Familia Tattoo Studio locations in both OC and Oklahoma and a solid relationship with both his wife and religion doesn’t need the drama that Ink Master brings, but business is business and being on network TV is certainly good for the bottom line (and for his marriage).

“When they called me for [Ink Master] and asked me to be on it, at first I said no,” Ceeze says. “I hung up the phone, called my wife and told her what happened, and she basically told me I better get my ass back on the phone and tell them I’d do it. So like a good husband, I got back on the phone and told them I’d do the show. I was blessed to have them call me and have me be on the show, but it’s just what it is.”

Although he was eventually eliminated from the show (likely for his refusal to take part in the ratings-boosting fights and antics), Ceeze is absolutely happy with how he came off during his time on Spike TV. After all, changing who you are as a person just to win a reality show isn’t what the Los Angeles native is about. For Ceeze, keeping true to himself was far more important than getting the crown for the show’s sixth season.

Big Ceeze Dishes on Going from Gangbanger to Ink Master Thanks to God (2)
Courtesy of Big Ceeze

“When I watch the show now, I know how it is and I know that all these knuckleheads on the show totally gave in to what production wanted,” Ceeze says. “They’re acting a fool, because they’re trying to make you dramatic for the show. These fools totally fell into their trap, and now they look like idiots. I know one of the guys is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and he looks like a complete ass on the show. That’s what I didn’t want. I didn’t want America to see me as a jerk.”

That self-respect has been a constant throughout Ceeze’s two-decade career. After initially getting into tattooing through the neighborhood gang scene in East LA, Ceeze spent years honing his craft on homeboys and acquaintances before hanging up his machines in search of a higher being. Although it was Christianity that may have very well saved Ceeze’s life, it almost put an early end to his tattooing career.

“I actually put the machines away for several years because I left the neighborhood, and I was going downhill with drugs and alcohol and all that,” Ceeze says. “I started going to church and gave my heart to the Lord, and somebody told me if I was Christian that I couldn’t be tattooing. I believed it, so I put the machines away for several years and I was just broke all the time. I was praying to God to help me, and everybody was hitting me up for tattoos, but I told them I wasn’t tattooing anymore. Then one day, God spoke to me, and he was like ‘Idiot, you’re praying to me for some money and I’m giving you all of this business. Pull out your machines.’ I blew off all the dust and got back into tattooing.”

Big Ceeze Dishes on Going from Gangbanger to Ink Master Thanks to God (3)EXPAND
Courtesy of Big Ceeze

Thankfully, Ceeze realized his artistic calling once he began tattooing again and dedicated himself to becoming the best tattooer he could be. These days, the business-savvy artist leaves both his Anaheim and Tulsa several weeks each year to tattoo at conventions around the world, even if he’s not so keen on many of the American shows that tend to stockpile cast members from every tattooing reality program. It’s the reason he’d rather head up to Canada for a few weekends or down to South America to see how their Día de los Muertos traditions differ from Mexico’s. Pretty much anywhere he can go without just being one of a dozen Ink Master contestants is a bonus for Ceeze at this point.

But that’s not to say the Mi Familia owner isn’t grateful for his time in front of the cameras. As an artist born and raised in SoCal’s black and gray tattooing scene, Ceeze knows as well as anyone how much talent and competition surrounds the shop he runs along with his wife. If a few weeks locked in a house without access to his phone, the internet, or any other connection to the outside world helped get his name out there among all of the area’s tattooing legends, it’s certainly worth the stress and aggravation.

“It’s an honor just to be here,” Ceeze says. “Looking back at my past and where I am now in the present, I thank God for all the blessings I have in my life. I’m surrounded by some phenomenal black and gray artists who are also great friends of mine and like family to me.”

Mi Familia Tattoo Studio, 1523 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, @biggceeze

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