Most people reject what their parents do for a living--it's the American way, you know? But for Jeremiah Barba, following in their footsteps wasn't an easy choice--it was the only choice.
"My mom has been tattooing since I was two years old, so I really grew up in it," Barba says. "I've been around it my whole life, running around the shop as a little kid. Then in high school I though I didn't want to do it, so I got some shitty jobs flipping burgers. After that, I broke up with my long-time girlfriend and wanted to get out of town, so I went up to Big Bear to learn to tattoo."
Of course, between his parents living in separate areas and the traveling nature of tattooing, Barba grew up all over SoCal, with stops in Anaheim, Riverside, Lake Forest, and more. His time in Big Bear didn't last too long either, as the then-teenager forfeited his apprenticeship when he tattooed a friend without permission, and had to find some new employment.
"My dad had a shop at the time, so he hired me without looking at my portfolio," Barba says. "I was terrible when I was at his shop. I was just messing people up, but he was just coming in to pick up the drop [money]."
Not long after, Barba and his father would have an argument that would lead to the younger tattooer being dismissed from the shop. At that point, the traveling tattooer found a more reputable shop to learn at, his mom's Outer Limits Tattoo in Orange.
"My mom hired me and trained me a while ago," Barba says. "She trained me to do everything the right way. I basically had to start over."
Barba's mother, Kari, is a living legend in OC's tattooing circles. While he obviously chose to join the same industry, the 36-year-old believes he's distinguishing himself from the path that his mother created.
"I always felt like I had to live up to my last name," Barba says. "A lot of people would try to just coast on their last name. For me, it opened the door, but I put my foot in it. The tattoo community always made me earn it. My peers told me what was good and what was bad."
It helps that Barba's style isn't very similar to his mom's. He's tried a wide variety of types of tattooing, but his current (and most famous) style is something Kari never dove into too much.
"I started off doing traditional, but then I moved into some new school stuff for a little while," Barba says. "I've always liked dark stuff or black and gray tattoos, but now I've been doing dark black and gray work with a little color in each one, and that's what people seem to be really into. I like doing it, so it's cool, but sometimes it's like 'Can't I just do plain black and gray one time?'"
How would you describe your unique style of tattooing? Like I said, it's a darker art style mixed in with realism. It's a lot of black and gray work with selective hints of color in it, so it's a bit of a fusion style. Once I started doing that, it's been tough to get away from it.
What do you think of tattooing being so mainstream now? It's crazy how it's inspired a lot of people to tattoo. Younger kids are now getting into it, but it's saturated with opportunists looking to capitalize and make money off of it. The shows give the wrong impression a lot of the time, they say they have "the best tattooers in the land" when really five of them are sacrificial lambs to get a reaction out of the others. They'll keep people around because they're good entertainment even if they're not good tattooers. Then people go and want to be tattooed by them even though they were the ones getting ripped on the show.
Would you ever do one of the TV shows? I was actually hoping to go up against my mom on one of them, but they didn't pick either of us. I think they really gave it easy access to the mainstream. They created a lot of good artists, people who came out of art school wanting to tattoo, but also a lot of scratchers who don't even know the proper way to cover a chair before they tattoo someone.
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Do you think you see tattooing differently than other artists since you grew up in it? I take the whole tattoo world pretty personally. I've always worked with awesome responsible tattoo artists. Being around for so long, it's crazy to see the styles change and how things hold up. It helps a lot with what I'm doing, to see what works and what doesn't over time. It's interesting to see how it's change, it's a lot of adapting. Whether it's a changing style or even the internet and social media, it's always adapting.
How is owning your own studio different than tattooing in a normal shop? Instead of working with a lot of different personalities, I can interact one-on-one with clients more now. It's better for them too, for the same reason. I can put whatever I want on the radio and eat whatever I want for lunch. It's nice to come in and relax. I enjoy my work a lot more now. I can bring my painting and art studio from the house so there's never any down time. Plus, I have the perfect location, across the street from the beach and you can see water out the back window.