Niz Carrillo working on a sleeve for one of his homies.
Niz Carrillo working on a sleeve for one of his homies.
Josh Chesler

Niz Carrillo on Freehanding, Tattoo History, and His Inked Family

"I used to see tattoos all the time growing up," Niz Carrillo says. "I guess when you grow up in the 'hood, it's more acceptable. You become more open to it."

Carrillo, now 32, grew up in Orange, in a family where tattoos were accepted enough that his cousin had some on his face. But it wasn't until seven years ago when he decided to start inking people as a career. He'd always been an artist, and had a little experience in the graffiti world, but Carrillo realized he'd found something special shortly after he started tattooing family members.

"Once I started tattooing, I just couldn't stop," Carrillo says. "I fell in love with it. I was in love with the black and gray, but now I do some color and some custom script and lettering."

These days, Carrillo tattoos out of a private studio at a secret location, where he's quickly becoming one of OC's top artists. While there are hundreds of tattooers doing similar styles in the area, one of Carrillo's favorite twists on the art form is something that many tattoo artists don't even have the guts to try.

"I like to freehand a lot of tattoos," Carrillo says. "The people I freehand on are the ones who make me comfortable to do it. They trust me to do it, so I wouldn't try it if I couldn't tackle it. It lets you just do you, but you have to stay super focused and make sure your work is all super clean."

Drawing tattoos on a client's skin isn't for everyone, but it's something that keeps the medium fresh and new for Carrillo.

"If it wasn't for guys like Steve Soto [of Goodfellas Tattoo Studio], I couldn't do what I'm doing," Carrillo says. "It feeds my fire to tattoo around guys like that. It keeps me on my toes, because I'm always going to go and do things the right way."

Although he's only been tattooing for seven years, Carrillo is a big believer in many of the old-school traditions of the industry. On the most basic level, he believes that although tattooing's mainstream popularity has helped it become more socially acceptable, it's also led to a lot of people getting into the business for the wrong reason.

"People do it because the want to be cool and make money, and they forget to practice and do their homework," Carrillo says. "I thought it was just going to be cool, but I learned pretty fast it's a cutthroat industry and you have to work really hard. Anyone who gets into tattoos whether it's as an artist or a model or whatever, they need to respect it. Some of that old school stuff is still very much alive."

The change isn't all bad though. Considering that much of Carrillo's family was tattooed in the '90s, people look at them a little different now than they used to.

"People used to be like 'Oh my god, what the fuck are you doing?" Carrillo says. "Now, they see that we're still people underneath the tattoos. My whole family has tattoos--jacked up ones too--so they've loved it since I was little. I still tattoo my cousins, my dad, and my brother. I'm still trying to get my mom in here, but she likes to tell me I look like a newspaper."

Phone: 714-975-1143, Email:, Instagram: @tattoosbyniz

Follow Josh on Twitter @jcchesler and Instagram @jc_chesler. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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