Unless you've got some serious money, don't ask Franco Vescovi to do a mural on your ceiling. The last one he did was for Pink and Carey Hart, and let's just say it wasn't the best of experiences.
On the other hand, if you need some realistic black and grey ink done or a commissioned art piece, you likely won't find anyone better in all of OC than the owner of Lake Forest's Vatican Studios.
"I really like pushing the boundaries of tattooing," Vescovi says. "I like really putting fine art into every one of my tattoos. It starts with understanding the fine art aspect of drawing on paper, and then it's just about pushing your tattoos to look like your drawings."
Vescovi began tattooing when he was in high school and would bring his homemade machine to tattoo his friends. These days, he has an entire business dedicated to making the finest machines this time around, Bishop Rotary.
"We've been making machines since 2008, and I think Bishop Rotary is different because it's owned and operated by tattoo artists," Vescovi says. "I wanted to get into tattoo supplies and really take it back to authentic American tattooing supplies, not stuff that's made overseas by people who don't actually tattoo for a living."
Of course, back when Vescovi began tattooing over two decades ago, the local tattoo scene wasn't anything like it is today. Decent shops were scarce, and the variety of styles was even scarcer.
"I used to draw all Chicano-style tattoos. That was the only style for Southern California back then," Vescovi says. "Roses, cholos, girls, that was the only thing I did back then because that was the style that influenced me the most."
These days, not only has Vescovi branched out in his style, he's also moved to new mediums along with tattooing. Aside from his personal artwork, he's also laid designs for clothing brands like Famous Stars and Straps, and musicians such as Blink-182 and Yelawolf. His primary focus is still on tattooing out of his shop, which many consider to be among the best in OC.
"We first opened up the shop about 15 years ago, and we were one of only a few shops in southern Orange County," Vescovi says. "There was maybe a handful of other smaller shops in the area, but it wasn't anything like it is now. It's really become saturated with shops now, but it's also cool to see so much tattooing going on in the area."
How is owning your own shop different from tattooing at someone else's shop? When you're tattooing at someone else's shop, you're just focused on your tattoos. When you own the shop, you pay all the bills, you deal with all of the stress, but you make a little bit more money. One day, I'd had enough of the bars and people all around the shop and decided to open a private shop in a warehouse district. We have an energy in here that's different. We have award-winning artists who are fully booked, so need the walk-in traffic. We like to have a nice, comfortable environment, and we were also free to decorate the studio with free reign.
What do you look for in an artist to work at your shop? I look for a lot of humility. I want artists that are good and humble, so you get the best of both worlds. A lot of times, when an artist gets really good, they lose that humility, so it's important to get someone with both.
How do you feel about conventions? Conventions are cool. Sometimes they suck because they take so much time and energy, but it's cool to travel and show your art to everyone. Conventions are where you can get your work exposed for better or worse. That's where you can make a name for yourself.
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How have the changes in the tattoo industry in the last 20 years affected you? It's harder to stay doing what you're doing now with all of the up-and-coming kids out there. The market is so saturated that you really have to stay on your A game all of the time. The TV shows can be a good thing, because they keep the customers coming in, but on the other hand, that just leads to more people wanting to be tattoo artists and more saturation.
What are your favorite and least favorite tattoos to do? I like things with pleasant subject matter. I like portraits of lo that have passed away, because they're so meaningful to the people who are getting them. I love doing religious tattoos. I'll still do tattoos of other religions, because everyone should be able to express themselves. If someone wants a Buddhist tattoo, I won't judge them even though I believe in Jesus Christ. When it comes to evil tattoos with violence or negative subject matter, that's not the imagery I like to create. It's just not me.
Franco Vescovi can be found on Instagram, at Vatican Studios at 22622 Lambert St., Suite 306 in Lake Forest, or by phone at (949) 916-7537.