Decades before LA Ink and Sons of Anarchy, Paul Reza was just a kid growing up around his tattooed Harley-riding dad and uncles. Now the head honcho at Old Towne Tattoo Parlor in Orange, Reza doesn’t take issue with those who picked up his passions due to primetime television, although he does see a little bit of humor in how much the two share an audience.
“I was in a one-percenter club for a few years, and now every tattoo shop has Harleys and this and that,” Reza says. “It’s funny. I’ve always been into bikes ever since I was little. It was never a cool thing, it was just a part of me. Now everyone wants a bike. Everyone’s a biker nowadays and everyone’s a tattoo artist.”
Ultimately, the popularity boom of tattoos and motorcycles just makes Reza’s life a little easier. It means there’s never a shortage of parts for when he needs to fix up his bike, and he never runs out of clients looking for awesome tattoos to cover the cost of the parts. These days, Reza’s relationship with his clients has never been better, as he’s earned enough respect and trust from his clients that he primarily gets to tattoo just about whatever he wants.
“I let my customers get whatever they want for their first tattoo,” Reza says. “After that, they just come in and set appointments and I tattoo whatever I want on them. That’s kind of the goal.”
Part of the reason Reza’s clients have so much faith in him is his ability to tattoo in many different styles. Whether it’s a little black and gray or some bright and bold American traditional, Reza’s has the skills and experience to lay down solid tattoos.
“I wish I’d gotten an apprenticeship, but I guess it’s good I learned the hard way,” Reza says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for it, and I just didn’t give up. I kind of learned a bit of everything.”
But while some tattooers find themselves in a shop immediately out of high school, the Garden Grove native explored other careers for quite some time. Although he began inking up some of his friends in and out of the motorcycle world quite a bit earlier, Reza didn’t start tattooing for a living until about 2003. He’d been tattooing out of his buddy’s Santa Ana home for a couple of years, but the government was still the one paying his bills.
“I was a mailman for the City of Costa Mesa for seven years,” Reza says. “It was a good job, but one day I just decided I was going to start tattooing full-time. I was making good money, and my girlfriend at the time told me she’d support me if I started tattooing.”
Thirteen years later, Reza’s never held another job outside of tattooing and the girlfriend who inspired him to quit his day job and follow his dreams is now his wife. As for the shop, Reza keeps things classic and simple. You won’t find ornate furniture or stained glass in Old Towne Tattoo Parlor—just friendly people and solid artwork.
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“People come in, they like the vibe of the shop, and we treat them with respect,” Reza says. “If they’re price-shopping, they may go somewhere else to get a $20 tattoo, but then they’ll come back here to get it covered up, and it’s $500 to fix the mess that they got instead of the $150 tattoo they wanted.”
Like most guys who’ve been tattooing for well over a decade, Reza takes tattooing plenty seriously. But unlike some of the artists who live and breathe tattooing all of the time, don’t expect to find him in other shops on his day off.
“When I’m not tattooing, I go home and spend time with my family,” Reza says. “I don’t think I even have a piece of tattoo art or anything in my home.”
Old Towne Tattoo Parlor, 722 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 941-6055, @paulreza