By all accounts, Mark Galvan Jr. is still a pretty young tattooer. After all, the 25-year-old artist has only been in the industry for a handful of years, but he’s already worked hard to put his stamp on an entire shop for the last half of his short career.
“Two years ago, I took a job here at Explicit Ink with an old coworker, and we liked it but we didn’t get along with the crew here,” Galvan says. “They had a whole weird dynamic here where they’d argue about stuff other than tattooing. They didn’t like us coming into the shop with good portfolios and work ethic, and they wanted us to fail so most of them left. I was made manager because of my work ethic, and nobody liked that because I was half their age and just working as best I could. I hired my team here, and it was immediately obvious that the entire dynamic of the shop changed.”
At this point, Galvan is on the verge of giving the Fullerton shop an entire name change and rebranding to help further erase the negative stigma and reviews that previous crews at the shop had unfortunately earned. But even as far as Galvan’s come in the last few years, it wasn’t all that long ago that he was just a bored high school football player who was too injured to practice. Although it was an injury that effectively ended his athletic career, ending up temporarily sidelined eventually brought the young artist into the world of tattooing — a decision which is clearly already paying off less than a decade later.
“I was stuck in a wheelchair, but the coach would still have me go to practice to watch drills and everything, so I’d usually keep a big stack of paper on me to draw on,” Galvan says. “One day, I was out of paper and hanging out in the shade under the bleachers, so I started drawing on my forearm and all my bros came over to see it. I don’t know if they were fatigued or what, but they thought it was a real tattoo and thought it was cool. Ever since that day, I like that feeling of how cool they thought it was.”
What started as a one-time occurrence because of the lack of paper quickly became a daily habit. Galvan started speeding through his school work in order to have more time to draw on his arms in class, and then the requests began pouring in from his friends. Since he always liked the reactions to his drawings, Galvan never had an issue with meeting the demands of his classmates — an attribute that’s carried into his all-around style of tattooing — until eventually someone pointed out that he could be making art on people for a living in the future.
“In the midst of a conversation one day, someone said ‘You should be a tattoo artist,’” Galvan says. “I don’t know who said it, but I owe them everything. As soon as I got home, I looked it up and read about what it’s like to be a tattoo artist, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I thought it was this amazing club or gang that I didn’t have to fight anyone to get into, so as soon as I graduated high school I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
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With a clear post-graduation plan in mind, Galvan explained to his family that tattooing was no longer full of convicts and drug addicts and received a small loan to get started before landing an apprenticeship at a shop known for churning out talented young artists. Although it’s obviously worked out for him at this point, Galvan has trouble believing that he landed such a solid learning opportunity given his complete lack of experience.
“I walked in with my book of just these crappy designs and I don’t know why they let me stay, but they called me up a couple of weeks later and asked me if I still wanted to do it,” Galvan says. “It was 12 to 12 for a whole year with no pay, but I did what I had to do for them and paid my dues. Some of it was legit, some of it might’ve been illegal, but what paying of dues isn’t? It all built that hustle into me.”
Explicit Ink Tattoo and Piercing, 1333 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, 714-450-6612, @galvantat2