Before Cameron Dale had ever picked up a tattoo machine, he already knew he wanted to pursue art on canvases that weren’t exactly going to end up hanging in a museum. But as the young artist would soon learn, graffiti can be a bit of a dangerous game.
“I did a lot of graffiti growing up, and then I got arrested for it,” Dale says. “When I was in it, graffiti was just a straight felony. There were no TV shows or anything. My parents were trying to push me to put my art on paper – not on walls – just to keep my record clean. Punishment-wise, tattooing is a lot easier.”
Not long after his first arrest, Dale quickly realized that the life of a street artist might not be for him. Tattooing would still provide the creative outlet Dale sought, while also being a much more accessible way of making a living than just about any other career in visual arts. Rather than being introduced to the tattooing industry at a shop or convention, Dale was brought in through his family – albeit not under the happiest of circumstances.
“I was introduced to tattooing through my cousin at a family funeral,” Dale says. “My aunt who had introduced me to her was telling me she had tattoos and piercings, and that just led me to that path. After that, I started as a body piercer for several years before I started tattooing.”
Eventually, Dale got the formal introduction to tattooing that he’d been looking for. As a piercer, he’d shared booths with tattoo artists before, but it wasn’t until about six years ago when one of them noticed how much the Downey native drew in his free time between piercings that Dale was given an opportunity.
With about a decade spent in tattoo shops both as a piercer and a tattooer, Dale has worked all over SoCal, from Pico Rivera to Fountain Valley. Now, he’s settled in as one of the established artists at Anaheim’s recently relocated Sleepy Lagoon Tattoo. The new location puts Dale and his coworkers in the heart of OC’s tattooing industry, but Dale says the Anaheim tattoo scene is really like one giant family of artists pushing each other to get better.
“It puts you on your toes with so many artists out here these days,” Dale says. “You really have to use word of mouth and social media and art shows just to get your name out, because everybody knows someone. Tattooing here is a really tight community. It’s a big community, but it’s a tight community.”
Only a handful of years into his tattooing career, Dale knows he’s got plenty of time to go before he catches up to some of the industry's legends, but the young tattooer also goes about every day with the right mindset. Rather than focusing on what others are doing, Dale is simply excited to push himself harder and hone his own craft day in and day out.
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“I’m just excited to explore what kind of opportunity is out there and see what kind of potential there is,” Dale says. “I’m always working to get better, and I love to meet new people. It’s a cool little band of brothers as tattooers.”
As for how tattooing compares to graffiti, the biggest difference for Dale is how people react to it. Rather than cops chasing him away, it’s refreshing for people to actually be happy with his work and always want more of it. With a tattooing career that started as a way to put a more positive spin on his artwork, Dale has found that with his clientele.
“On both ends, you have your creativity, but tattooing has a lot more of a positive outlook,” Dale says. “You have people leaving the shop smiling after they look in the mirror. They’re content and happy and having their friends come back instead of trying to have you arrested.”
Sleepy Lagoon Tattoo, 423 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim. Instagram: @cameron_sltattoo