At 35 years old, Chris Bass isn’t the youngest guy you’ll find working in a tattoo shop, but he’s been interested in tattoos for at least as long as anyone else his age. Even if he’s only been tattooing for a handful of years now, the artist’s punk rock upbringing saw him getting inked while most of his peers were still working on their homework or contemplating college applications — and he really hasn’t looked back since.
“When I was right around 15 or 16, I was growing up in the small little desert town of Lancaster,” Bass says. “I was involved in the little punk rock scene we had out there, and some of my friends were a little bit older and had tattoos. They weren’t the greatest ones, but by the time I was 18 I’d gotten some of my first tattoos. They were just real shitty punk rock tattoos from guys who would come around during band practice and do them out of the house.”
Of course, it wasn’t until several years later that Bass actually became interested in the professional side of tattooing. While it was fun and easy to pick up a terrible amateur tattoo in someone’s kitchen, Bass didn’t really understand how much went into tattooing (or at least good tattooing) until one of his friends began working in a shop and using the Tattoos Deluxe artist as a guinea pig for his new artistic skills.
“I was in a band with my friend Matt, and he dropped out of the band because he was doing piercings at a place called Psycho City Tattoo in Lancaster,” Bass says. “Through that, he started tattooing and did some of his first work on me. I ended up getting this back piece that I have, and that kind of opened my eyes up to real tattooing and professional tattooing.”
After going to a convention with his tattooing friend and meeting some of the country’s best and most experienced tattoo artists, Bass became inspired to seek out a tattoo career of his own. At the time, the 30-year-old future tattooer was working in construction and a variety of other odd jobs with long hours in order to pay the bills, but tattooing seemed like the career he’d be most passionate about. A handful of years later, Bass has become a reliable option for tattoos of all styles after learning the trade from tattooing legend Greg James and earning a permanent spot at James’ own tattoo parlor.
“I work at a walk-in shop, so I kind of have to be diverse with styles,” Bass says. “We get a lot of people coming through here, and everybody wants something different. If I just specialized in one thing, I’d be turning people down left and right. People come in wanting script, black and gray, traditional, Japanese, the list goes on, and that’s really what I like about tattooing. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. I like doing new things and the diversity of it.”
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But while tattoo-based art may be something Bass has been fond of ever since his teenage days in Lancaster’s punk rock scene, the customer service side of things was something he’s had to learn over time. As an artist, he’s happy to tackle any style or request that comes into the shop — but that’s not to say he doesn’t still remember the days when it was the tattooer who really had the final word in deciding what their clients got.
“When I first discovered tattooing at the end of the ‘90s, you still went into the shop and picked some flash off of the walls,” Bass says. “You didn’t have cell phones and computers just yet, so you still had to trust the artist to help you out with those things. By the time I started tattooing, it’s kind of like Subway now where you have to cater to the clients who walk in. It’s just the customer service aspect of it.”
Tattoos Deluxe, 4531 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-783-1323, @cbass_tattoo