Dustin Yip is one of the most respected tattoo artists in Artesia (OC West haha) these days, but the owner of Skanvas Tattoo started out from a garage not even a decade ago, making the same mistakes again and again and learning from no one but himself.
"My friend bought me a tattoo kit off of eBay, and he was my guinea pig because he didn't want to pay shop prices and I was always the artistic kid growing up," Yip says. "The kit came in a bunch of pieces, so my friend and I were just sitting there like dumbasses in my garage trying to put it together."
Eventually, Yip and his kit-buying friend managed to get the machine running and knock out a handful of sketchy tattoos. Yip continued to tattoo his friends from time to time in exchange for for food or a little extra cash, but it wasn't something he'd take serious for another year or so.
The then-21-year-old Yip was attending the Art Institute to study graphic design, at the time, but the inking bug got to him. He began to make connections at a real tattoo shop, Jose Lopez's Lowrider Tattoo Studios in Fountain Valley.
"I got tattooed at this shop down the street and this guy fucked up my tattoo, so my buddy said 'Why don't you check out this other shop, Lowrider Tattoo?,'" Yip says. "I checked it out, and I fell in love with the realism that they did. I kind of became a shop groupie and just kept bugging them and asking them if they'd take apprenticeships."
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At that time, Lowrider already had four apprentices, so they weren't eager to take on any more. However, because of Yip's interest in graphic design, Lopez allowed him to become a part of the Lowrider family by creating flyers for the shop. Working with his school schedule, Yip took care of all the regular "shop bitch" duties over the next nine months, like sweeping floors and taking lunch orders. He might not have technically been an apprentice, but Lopez eventually looked at his work and asked to watch him do a few tattoos in the shop. After serving time as an informal apprentice, Yip was transferred to the Lowrider location in Orange as a full-blown artist.
Now, Yip's black and gray work isn't far behind the work of OC's top tattooers in the style. While he may not be as well-known as Lopez or Steve Soto, he doesn't consider the polished veterans as his main competition—that would be the skilled youngsters.
"You have to take this shit seriously because right now there are so many kids out there who are tattooing with a year or two experience, and they're blowing guys out of the competition," Yip says. "Especially in California, the black-and-gray is really strong. It's kind of sink or swim, and if you can't keep up, you might as well quit. I look at it like this is our sport, and we're athletes in this industry. If you don't work hard enough, someone out there will."
Skanvas Tattoo, 18171 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, 562-865-0302, Instagram: @dustinyip