By some people’s standards, Brian Ragusin is an old-school tattooer. The San Fernando Valley native has been at it for over two decades, spending a good chunk of his career in Santa Clarita before putting in 12 years at Kari Barba’s Outer Limits Tattoo in Long Beach and currently running his Mechanical Concept Tattoo in Huntington Beach. He’s established himself as a respected veteran member of the tattooing community, and he’s willing to take on just about any style or challenge that walks through the doors.
But unlike so many experienced artists who yearn for the days of yesteryear, Ragusin believes tattooing is better than ever. The boom in popularity has caused a surge in the artistic side of slinging ink all over the world, and Mechanical Concept’s owner loves the level of art put into tattoos these days.
“It’s become a lot more accepting for sure, and I think all of the communities are a lot more accepting of seeing things that aren’t just the skull from back in the day or the sailor-type tattoos,” Ragusin says. “A lot of people didn’t like bringing the art into it, but I think a feat for all the artists is just to actually bring something to the table artistically. It’s nice to see people come out of nowhere and lay down these beautiful tattoos. Every artist is going to be inspired by that.”
In Ragusin’s eyes, it’s not that many of the artists back in the ‘90s didn’t want to do big, beautiful tattoos. It’s just that the techniques weren’t widely available yet. Ragusin used to dream of being able to do the same level of artwork in his tattoos that he could draw out on paper, but it’s only been recently that it became a reality.
“Back then, we used to all think of these ideas when we were drawing on paper or something like that, but from where I started, it wasn’t always technically reachable with the tools that I had,” Ragusin says. “You had people like Kari Barba and Jack Rudy showing you that it could be done, and that you could start using your tool as a paintbrush and do any kind of art you’d see.”
Like many artists back in the early ‘90s, Ragusin wasn’t too sure that tattooing was going to be the way he could pay his bills with his artwork for the rest of his life, but he was sure that he wanted to do it. In the time before tattooing was on TV and shops dotted every corner, tattooing wasn’t widely considered to be a great profession, but that never stopped Ragusin’s desire to jump in.
“I was one of those people who knew I wanted to do it ever since I was six years old and had those Cracker Jack boxes with the temporary tattoos inside,” Ragusin says. “it wasn’t until years later when I met up with a really good friend of mine from school that he jokingly asked me if I wanted to do it for a living.”
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Ragusin’s friend wasn’t entirely serious about the proposal, but eventually told the eager artist that he would teach him to tattoo whenever he showed up ready to apprentice. After what amounted to an old school no-nonsense apprenticeship, Ragusin was ready to take on the best (and worst) of tattooing in the decade now famous for tribal armbands and chrome hearts. As he built his skills, portfolio, and clientele at those parlors, Ragusin saw how frequently the staff changed at even the most reputable tattoo shop. Given his preference to build up a family-like relationship with his fellow artists and stay put at a single location for years at a time rather than bouncing around, opening up his own studio with artists he’s become friends with seemed like the best possible option.
Ragusin put that idea into action when he opened Mechanical Concept some years back. To this day, it’s still his professional pride and joy, but the lifelong artist doesn’t always enjoy handling the business side of things.
“Running a business sucks,” Ragusin says. “I didn’t get into this to run a business, that’s for damn sure. The business side, the paperwork, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, it’s never what I want to do. Tattooing is where it’s at, and that’s what gets me past all the other bullshit.”
Mechanical Concept Tattoo, 6027 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-2161. Instagram: @mechanicalconcepttattoo