When Jeffry Mendoza moved to the U.S. from Honduras when he was 13 years old, he was just a kid who really liked to draw. But when his parents couldn’t afford to send him to a swanky art school, he lost interest in his sketches and all but stopped pursuing any form of visual arts. If it wasn’t for his first trip to the famous Lowrider Tattoo a little under a decade ago, Mendoza might still be working a normal day job. Instead, he’s become one of the young stars over at the Fountain Valley tattoo shop.
“I remember getting my first tattoo at Lowrider Tattoo, and then from there I just got kind of curious,” Mendoza says. “I always liked to draw, but I stopped drawing after my parents couldn’t afford art school. After I got tattooed, I started drawing again, and then a while later my brother said he found two tattoo machines at a pawn shop and showed up at my house with a tattoo machine and a power supply.”
It was actually the artist who had tattooed Mendoza at Lowrider who was encouraging him to get into the art form and serving as a sounding board for any questions or concerns the native Honduran might have. But even with a functional tattoo machine, a couple of willing friends, and the guidance of a professional tattooer, Mendoza had his doubts. For three years, the young artist would only occasionally dabble in tattooing while still working a full-time job, but eventually it came time for him to learn to tattoo for real.
“I left my job and started looking for a shop to apprentice at,” Mendoza says. “I went back to Lowrider, and that’s where I learned and started at. I used to work at the shop from 9:00 in the morning until the last person went home, which was sometimes 3:00 in the morning. I remember my parents were really against it back then, and my dad would get really mad that I was working so much and not even getting paid.”
To be fair, Mendoza’s parents had every right not to want their son tattooing. After all, when they left Honduras, tattooing in Central America was still largely the underground art associated with the area’s less savory characters. But now, the artist’s “old-fashioned” folks are quite proud of what he does — particularly because he gets to travel around the world with his art. Even if his parents didn’t understand the importance of his apprenticeship at the time, Mendoza still realizes how much those long days of training and grunt work helped him, and it’s something he’d like to see more young artists embrace.
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“Nobody wants to be an apprentice these days,” Mendoza says. “I’ve seen a lot of good artists who have never been apprenticed, but not being an apprentice can also be bad. I think there are a lot more artists coming into the industry these days, and a lot of them don’t want to apprentice, but seeing them makes me push harder than ever.”
But Mendoza has come a long way from the guy who was looking for an apprenticeship just a handful of years ago. Aside from progressing as a black and gray tattooer, Mendoza’s life at home has changed dramatically as well. Rather than waking up his parents when he’d get home from work at 3:00 a.m., the artist now has an apartment — and family — all his own.
“Every time I come home and see my kid and my wife, it makes me push more to get better,” Mendoza says. “I’m not doing it to get away from them or anything, I’m doing it to give something in return for my family. My wife is the one who opens the door for me for everything, and I couldn’t do it without her, so she really makes me push to get better.”
Lowrider Tattoo Studio, 16014 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, 714-418-9575, @mendozajeffry