Growing up in Huntington Beach, Juan Garcia always liked to draw a little bit. But as a kid, he never expected the artistic hobby would lead to much of a career — and certainly not one permanently drawing on people for a living. Thankfully, one of Garcia’s teachers at Talbert Middle School noticed the youngsters talents and helped guide him toward taking his artwork just a little bit more seriously.
“I first discovered I liked drawing in middle school, and I had a teacher there who really pushed me in art because he’d seen something that I’d never seen before,” Garcia says. “I used to draw, but I didn’t think anything of it. He got my eyes open a little bit, and I’ve pursued art ever since then. When I moved out to Riverside, my decision [to tattoo] was based on not really having any direction in life as far as work.”
Even while knowing that his calling was likely somewhere in the artistic world, Garcia continued to work odd jobs through the end of his teens and first half of his 20s. Back in the early 2000s, tattooing just didn’t seem like a viable career path — and it certainly didn’t strike the young artist as something he would end up doing for a living. But after growing tired of working in offices and maintaining a strict schedule for a handful of years, Garcia began to look for something that would offer him a little more flexibility with his work.
“I kept always dwelling on the whole art aspect, and when somebody mentioned tattooing I told them that I didn’t think I could make a living at it because I didn’t know any tattoo artists,” Garcia says. “I looked into it on the internet and thought maybe I could do it. I tried to find an apprenticeship for like four or five months, but I kept getting turned down because I didn’t know anybody in the industry. I kind of just started doing it on my own. I always had the hopes that someone would open their doors to me, but nobody ever did.”
Among the careers Garcia had considered before picking up a tattoo machine was medical assisting, so he already had enough knowledge of cross-contamination and sterilization to create as good of an in-home tattoo studio as any. After exhausting his options for formal apprenticeships at licensed tattoo shops, the 25-year-old Garcia decided it was time to take matters into his own hand. Thirteen years later, the veteran realism tattooer is just as happy and excited to go into work everyday as he was when he was still trying to break into the formerly exclusive club.
“It was the one and only thing where I’d see people’s reaction to it and it’d be positive,” Garcia says. “People believed I could do it, and I think I fed off of that. Everybody around me really supported that idea when they didn’t support a lot of my other ideas, so I think I began to see something in myself. Even to this day, it’s kind of magical that I get to draw on people for a living and it stays.”
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For Garcia, tattooing feels like the blessing that kept him out of trouble as a young man and still allows him to pay his bills well over a decade later. Along with the improvements in his own life, the artist in him can’t help but love the improved artwork the tattoo world has embraced over the last decade. Between permanently drawing on people as a career and getting to meet people from all different walks of life, Garcia’s pretty content with where he’s at as a tattooer these days.
“The caliber of skill and the evolution of how far tattoos have come art-wise is a total 180,” Garcia says. “It’s totally not what it used to be, because although it was an art back then, it wasn’t fully developed. It wasn’t accepted by society as an art, and it was looked at as more of a lifestyle and a statement. These days, I see people where even if they’re not into tattoos, they can appreciate it like they can appreciate a painting on a wall.
“Because of that, I think it’s attracted a lot more people who have a background in art too,” Garcia continues. “It used to be that tattooing was a last option for some people, and it helped a lot of people that way. It helped prevent me from getting into trouble with other stuff, and it kept me occupied because I was so passionate about it. Nowadays, it’s viewed more as a career and a professional job. It’s a career option now, whereas back in the day it was just something you did.”
Mission Tattoo, 10220 Hole Ave, Riverside, 951-977-8855, @artbyjgarcia