As a kid growing up in Riverside, Jeff Sypherd was always checking out the tattoos on his older brother and his older brother’s friends. But even if he’d dreamed about being a tattoo artist throughout much of his teens, it wasn’t meant to be straight out of high school for him. Like many parents, Sypherd’s family was keen on the young artist refining his skills through higher education rather than in the decidedly more rugged tattoo world.
“I was going to college for fine art and didn’t like it, but I was getting tattooed a lot at the time,” Sypherd says. “I kind of always knew I wanted to do it, and I talked about it all through high school, so I just decided to make the leap.”
Once Sypherd ventured away from the direction his elders wanted him to go, he quickly stumbled upon a formal apprenticeship at a new tattoo shop just down the freeway in Corona. After learning how to apply his artistic skills through the trade, Sypherd spent a few years tattooing locally before taking off on an international tour to spots like Australia, Holland, Belgium, New York, North Carolina and Louisiana over the last few years before returning to his home state.
“Traveling the world is definitely one of the reasons I wanted to get into tattooing,” Sypherd says. “I feel grateful that I didn’t have to stick out college like my parents and grandparents wanted me to, and now I’m traveling as a young man instead of an old retired man.”
Not long after settling back down in Southern California, Sypherd brought his tattooing talents to OC by taking a permanent spot at Fullerton’s Classic Tattoo. As one of the young artists at a shop widely considered one of the best (and most historic) in Orange County, Sypherd is enjoying his growth into a known commodity among the best of the best. At his new digs, the lifelong painter ends up doing a lot more of his own work instead of always having to copy designs clients bring in from Pinterest.
“I guess just because I’m a little bit farther along in my career, I get to do more of my own thing as far as artwork is concerned,” Sypherd says. “I think that probably would’ve happened no matter what city I was in, but there’s definitely a lot more money and people willing to spend it on tattoos in Orange County.”
When he’s not tattooing, Sypherd still enjoys picking up the paintbrush and partaking in his first artistic love. Even if it’s not paying his bills, painting is a relaxing outlet rather than having to cater to picky clients and make sure every little detail is perfect. Although he’s gotten used to having other artists watch him paint while working in the back room of Classic, it’s still a much more personal and private endeavor than tattooing for the crowd that sometimes gathers out front.
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“I like to paint on the side of tattooing with some more abstract stuff that’s just a little looser,” Sypherd says. “It’s way less stressful. I can kind of turn my brain off when I’m painting, whereas you have to be firing on all cylinders when you’re tattooing. You have to be alert and give the person what they want. Also, when you’re tattooing a person, they’re breathing and talking and moving, but a canvas is a still thing. I definitely want to keep painting and maybe have some art shows.”
Beyond growing his painting and tattooing careers, Sypherd is hoping that his artistic life stays pretty consistent to what he’s gotten used to in his current situation. Working at a shop owned by a respected artist like Tim Hendricks and tattooing day after day alongside veterans like Hendricks, Chuco Moreno, and Bill Wang is about as good as it gets in Sypherd’s eyes — even if it means he’s seeing a little less of the world than he did before.
“I feel like I pretty much have my life and career figured out, and now the only thing to do is just keep on doing it until it’s done,” Sypherd says. “I don’t have any plans of ever opening up my own shop or anything like that. I’ll just work for Tim [Hendricks] forever. He takes good care of me. I just want to keep working on my skill and my craft, and maybe learn to make some tattoo machines.”
Classic Tattoo, 521 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714-870-0805, @jeffsypherd_94