By the time Nathan Kostechko graduated high school in San Clemente, he already had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do with his life. Growing up in the board-friendly beach world of South County, Kostechko had been looking up to tattooed surfers and skateboarders for most of his youth. From his brothers to neighbors and the folks he’d see on the waves, tattoos surrounded the teenage Kostechko, who knew it was only a matter of time before he began getting inked himself.
“I grew up skating and surfing, so all of the people I idolized – and all of the local people – were covered in tattoos,” Kostechko says. “Seeing all of them covered in tattoos made me want to get into getting tattooed. I started getting tattooed, and getting those first tattoos was what sparked my interest in making tattoos. It was like ‘Whoa, this is fucking awesome.’”
But that was back in the early 2000s when tattoo shops weren’t on every corner and Instagram didn’t exist to show people ink from all over the world. At the time, tattooing was still relatively closed off from most people, and even those who were in the industry only knew what was going on around them. In 2003 when Kostechko began learning to tattoo in Newport Beach, the young artist didn’t really know the difference between a good and bad tattoo, and there was no way he could’ve really learned from the people around him back then.
“When I got into tattooing, there were no reality TV shows yet,” Kostechko says. “I wasn’t affiliated with a group of people who were focused on doing the best tattoos. I didn’t know what was proper good tattooing when I first started, so I just kind of got steered in the wrong direction. I didn’t really know what was up with tattooing other than the few good people I learned about from the person who taught me.”
These days, Kostechko not only knows what constitutes a good tattoo, but also contributes his own stellar work on a daily basis. Focusing primarily on a classic take of colorless designs, the artist is now a staple in Downtown LA’s art district at Saved Tattoo. As with many tattooers these days, the San Clemente native’s continued success and almost 50,000 Instagram followers are no doubt a result of not only his skill but also the art form’s popularity as a whole.
“I guess [tattooing’s popularity] is a good thing because people are more accepting of tattoos,” Kostechko says. “People aren’t scared of you anymore if you’re covered in tattoos. You can go to some family party and everybody wants to talk to you about it rather than make you sit in the corner and feel like a scumbag. It’s good for business because it’s super accessible and in your face constantly with social media. People can find exactly what they want instead of having to go to a shop and have some guy convince them that they’re good.”
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Of course, there are drawbacks that go along with tattooing’s popularity, even if it means that Kostechko’s bills routinely get paid on time. Coming out of the skateboarding world, Kostechko originally got into tattooing to do something a little rebellious. He wasn’t interested in wearing chinos or working a desk job, and he enjoyed the gritty subculture that went alongside the art of tattooing. That subculture disappears more and more as tattoos are pushed into the mainstream, and it’s certainly something that Kostechko misses about the early days of his career.
“Good tattooing is really on display to the masses because of television and social media,” Kostechko says. “There’s a bit of a celebrity feel to it because of that. Before, it was more of an underground thing that people who were really passionate and into tattooing got involved in, and tattooing was more about being against society. It wasn’t anarchist, but it was against the grain and not following the herd.”
Saved Tattoo, 825 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, @nathan_kostechko