There are few tattooers who can top Lucky Bastard's Japanese style tattoos, but if you ask him, the head of Fine Tattoo Work in Orange is just glad anyone wants to get tattooed by him in any style.
"I'm still just stoked that people come in to get tattooed by me. I'm honored to do pretty much whatever people ask me to do," Lucky says. "I've had six zero-dollar days in a row before, when you're just sitting in a shop trying not to go crazy. It's an honor to stay relevant."
Lucky's desire to stay relevant is certainly understandable, considering that so many veteran tattooers have fallen behind the times and become irrelevant. Not a whole lot of Lucky's contemporaries from the '80s are still tattooing, and certainly fewer yet who started tattooing in the streets of LA.
"I grew up drawing, but it was really punk rock and gangs that got me into tattooing. In LA in the '80s, any more than three of us together was a gang," Lucky says. "I'm half Mexican and half white, so I wasn't Mexican enough for the Mexican gangs and there really were no white gangs for people like me. That's where punk rock came in. The punk rock scene was a place for me to survive."
With older friends who just wanted to be covered in tattoos for intimidation purposes, Lucky had the perfect canvases to practice on. These days, the tattooer enjoys a very different clientele, those who want the prettiest tattoos they can get.
"A lot of guys complain (about tattooing's popularity), but it's never been this big before. There's no way a pretty young girl would come in for a full sleeve. Now, females make up a huge portion of my clients. They're some of my best clients because they want really cool shit and they're not afraid to go big, they just want it to look beautiful," Lucky says. "I used to tattoo in San Francisco, and some of my favorite clients were gay clients, because they wanted the same big beautiful tattoos and they had the expendable income to get them."
One of Lucky's favorite things about tattooing is the wide variety of people he gets to interact with, and that's something he believes is better in California than just about anywhere else he could tattoo.
"The cool thing about California is that it's the ultimate melting pot on this side of the country," Lucky says. "I get to touch so many people from all different backgrounds and religions. If I tattooed in the Midwest, I'd probably get mostly white and Christian people, and it might be a lot of the same tattoos over and over again. Here, I get to work with all different types of people."
How do you think social media has changed tattooing? Social media is amazing. Instagram by itself is amazing. As visual artists, we create pieces of art and can send it right to the core of the people who want to see it. You get an immediate reaction. It's another thing you had to get hip with. Some of the old timers don't publish, and they say they don't want the attention you get on Instagram. You can pretend you don't care, but everyone gives a shit what people think of their art. There's guys fighting it, but it's going to get harder and harder to fight. I find it harder and harder to keep up with my portfolio because I post all of my stuff on Instagram. If I can publish something every single day on Instagram, I can feel validated every day. The whole thing about suffering artists is that they're suffering because of themselves. Artists are like children. Hell, I'm still looking for acceptance from my old bosses. I haven't worked for some of these guys for 20 years, I know he doesn't give a shit, but it still matters to me.
What do you think of the new generation of tattooers? I know that everybody that gets into this is the same as me. Everybody eats, sleeps, and shits this thing, and they have to if they want to stay in it. It's a hard and competitive business, and you have to be really fucking resilient to survive. It's going to be a tough road, but the people are there for it. There wouldn't be all of these shops if there weren't people going into them to get tattooed.
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What's the most important thing about a tattoo? It's always been about the experience. For every one of my tattoos, I remember the day it happened, who I was with, where I ate lunch, all of that shit. If you give the person a shitty experience because you were having a bad day, you fucked up their view of that tattoo for their entire life. It used to be a really magical experience, but the mystery of it is ruined because of TV. On the other hand, it's helped because it's not the scary experience in a dirty shop in a shitty part of town anymore, so more people are coming in to get tattooed.
Speaking of TV, how have the TV shows changed tattooing? People want you to be angry about them, but I'm stoked about it. The TV shows create more tattooed people, which is really cool. It makes tattooing grow, and that's really cool. Like I said, a lot of guys are unable to stay relevant, and that's a big problem for them. I have friends from the '90s who didn't adjust their art to become relevant, so no one wants to get their stuff. When it does come back around, they're old and people don't want to get tattooed by them. They want to get tattooed by someone younger and cooler.