At this point, Oscar Montes is a fairly established name in the South Bay’s tattooing scene. The bright colors and bold lines of his work can be found all over Long Beach and the surrounding areas. But it doesn’t seem like all that long ago that the Wilmington native was just a kid trying to get some ink from the homies in his neighborhood.
“I was trying to get tattooed at a very young age, but none of the gangbangers in my ‘hood would tattoo me,” Montes says. “When I finally turned 18, I went into a shop and fell in love with it. Right off the bat, I was back for another one two weeks after my first tattoo. Once I started getting good tattoos and seeing my friends follow me to the shops I was going to, I knew I had to try it.”
Although he was undoubtedly disappointed at the time, it may have worked out for the best that Montes had to wait until he could legally get tattooed. After all, it didn’t take long after that for him to pick up a kit from a local tattoo expo, and the artist has never looked back. Now, after over a decade in the industry, Montes is about to begin a new chapter of his career by opening up Lost Harbor Tattoo in his hometown.
“I attempted to open a shop a few years ago, and I was totally not ready,” Montes says. “I shouldn’t have done it, but I learned a lot from my mistakes. This time around, I was very careful. I studied the area; I knew how to jump into it now. But because I knew all that stuff, I think it just made me more nervous than the dumb kid who was just throwing money everywhere. Now, I have to make sure that everything is going as planned.”
Of course, the finer points of opening up a tattoo shop aren’t the only things Montes has picked up in his years. The artist has watched as the gruff attitude of the tattooers he first met has given way to a more customer service-oriented mentality, and certain parts of the art form itself have changed with that. For instance, it’s pretty rare these days that Montes gets to just lay some flash or a pre-sketched design on a client. Instead, he’s slowly mastering the art of reading people’s minds, since many people still struggle to vocalize exactly what they want from a tattoo they can see so vividly in their head.
“I’ve definitely learned a little bit about getting into people’s heads,” Montes says. “I used to think it was like ‘Oh, you want a tattoo? Cool. Sit down and we’ll do it.’ But I would watch how my mentor would talk to certain clients while he was teaching me. He’d use certain words to get into their head for what they wanted to get drawn up. All of the good artists I’ve ever worked for, I’ve always noticed that they’ve mastered the art of getting into someone’s head, so that way they can really pinpoint what they need to sketch for the client.”
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
For now, Montes is slightly less worried about his tattoo telepathy and more focused on getting Lost Harbor up and running for their soft opening on June 1. After all, it’ll be one of the first shops in the area where he grew up, so he wants to make sure it has a unique vibe while still staying true to the neighborhood he knows so well.
“I’m very excited about bringing something a little bit different into the town I grew up in,” Montes says. “We’re opening up something beach-y vibed since we have the port right there. It’s not going to be your typical tattoo shop. It’s going to be a party in there all the time.”
Lost Harbor Tattoo, Wilmington, 310-503-9953, @oscarmontestattooer