Nearly three decades ago, Lindsey Carmichael realized that tattooing was calling him. He'd already spent years admiring the craft and pondering their mysteries on punk rockers like Henry Rollins and on the walls of tattoo shops all over Southern California, but it took him a while to figure out that he actually wanted to try his hand at it.
At that time, Carmichael had everything a guy in his early-20s could want: a young family, a decent place to live, and a full-time job at a grocery store to pay the bills. But he just couldn't shake his love for tattoos, and the L.A. native began to search high and low for an apprenticeship or even just any advice he could get from the tattoo world circa 1990.
Carmichael gave up the life he had to take an apprenticeship at Tattoo Magic in Garden Grove. After months of putting together a "sad" portfolio of poorly done tattoos on family and friends, Carmichael received an unexpected introduction to Rick Spellman, one of the legendary tattooers whose punk rock tattoos Carmichael initially saw.
"My ex-wife's uncle worked at the Los Angeles Times, and Rick Spellman worked part-time at the Times when he wasn't tattooing," Carmichael says. "Rick told him that he was looking for someone to work at his shop, and my (uncle-in-law) recommended me."
After bringing his excuse of a portfolio to Spellman and spending roughly half of a decade improving his craft and apprenticing for little to no money at Tattoo Magic, Carmichael was finally deemed good enough to begin tattooing for a living. Twenty-four years later, the punk-rock tattooer has established himself as one of the best traditional and neotraditional artists in OC (and beyond).
But it's not just Carmichael's tattooing skills that have made him one of the most respected tattooers in the industry. It's also his friendly demeanor and willingness to do any tattoo that comes his way. Many well-known veteran tattoo artists look down upon small "Pinterest" tattoos and other generic walk-in traffic, but when a young lady walked into Gold Rush Tattoo in Costa Mesa wanting a bit of script on her wrist for her first tattoo, Carmichael was glad to do it.
"I don't think you're ever too good to do any kind of tattoo," Carmichael says. "It's about doing the tattoo that the customer wants, and making it look as good as you can. I don't mind doing a lot of the little tattoos that some guys don't want to do."
In a world where even the newest often specialize in one style, it's refreshing to see someone as experienced as Carmichael make sure that even the smallest of walk-ins get done well. It's one of the old-school traditions that Carmichael still keeps alive, but unlike a lot of the 20-plus-year veterans, Carmichael doesn't necessarily think that tattooing is in a worse place now than it was before its popularity took off.
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"There are guys out there who've been tattooing for two years who can tattoo circles around me," Carmichael says. "You can look on Instagram now and see amazing tattoos from people all over the world. It wasn't like that back then."
If you ask Carmichael, he's just glad to be working with the art form he's obsessed over since he told his mom he was getting a tattoo at the age of 14. According to many other tattooers and industry veterans, Carmichael's one of the best in the business. Either way, he's just going to continue drawing up well-constructed designs and flawless linework for whoever happens to walk through the door.
Gold Rush Tattoo, 1779 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, 949-646-7874. Instagram: @lindseycarmichael