Patrick Thomas of OC Tattoo Inc. will do just about any type of tattoo you ask of him, but he really likes to do portraits. Sure, he does plenty of portraits of people, but his real love is in inking realistic representations of something else: pets.
"I love doing portraits of animals, man," Thomas says. "People love their pets, and growing up, I used to draw animals and faces all the time. It's what I've been doing my whole life."
As a child living in San Antonio, Thomas used to be confined to staying in his family's house while his mom took his sister to daycare during the summers. Home alone, the young artist would do nothing but sketch the people and animals around him with a movie on the TV for company.
Thomas came by the drawing talent naturally, as his mom was an artist. But just because she might've contributed to his abilities as a tattooer, it doesn't mean she was crazy about her son becoming an ink slinger when he began the career six years ago.
"At first, my mom was like 'What are you doing?!'" Thomas says. "I told her she gave me the skill to do it, and now she doesn't mind it. I think it bothered her that I tattooed my sister for like my fifth tattoo, but she would've gotten it anyway and thankfully it came out well."
Before getting into tattooing, Thomas worked as a graphic designer and web designer. While it might seem like a very different type of art than tattooing, many of the same basic artistic principles apply. Plus, it taught the tattooer the useful skill set of editing and enhancing photos, which many artists still struggle with to this day.
Eventually, Thomas got bored of the daily grind of the graphic design world. Around the same time, his sister was getting a tattoo, which gave Thomas an idea. Despite having virtually no tattoos and being almost completely clueless about the industry and art form, he could be a tattooer. After all, he could draw better than a lot of the tattoos he saw coming out of shops, so how hard could it be?
"I had one tiny chest tattoo and didn't know anything about the industry," Thomas says. "I didn't watch any of the shows or anything. I thought it was all banditos and gangbangers."
Even during his apprenticeship, Thomas still had quite the learning curve on what exactly it took to become a solid tattooer.
"I thought just because I could draw better tattoos than the guys I saw were doing, I could do better tattoos," Thomas says. "I started tattooing and quickly realized I was wrong."
These days, Thomas isn't the naive one anymore. Instead, he's the one correcting clients who think they'll be walking out with a sleeve in one sitting just because that's how it works on Ink Master or LA Ink. Beyond just portraits (of pets and people), he's known for his realistic black and gray pieces as well as his Japanese work.
When the tattooer moved from San Antonio to OC at the beginning of last year to follow his dreams of living in SoCal, he made a few trips to check out several shops. He ended up essentially getting a job before he even made the move, as OC Tattoo offered him a position after seeing his work on Instagram. It's something that never would've happened even just a few years ago.
"Instagram is so huge in the tattoo world, but that's not the only thing that's changed in the last six years," Thomas says. "Machines are different. Equipment is at a whole new level, it jumped up a lot. That, and just the way people feel about tattoos."
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For instance, Thomas recently put a forearm tattoo on a woman who works in a church's preschool. They had a "great conversation" about the Bible saying people shouldn't mark their own bodies, but ultimately it's become so much of an art form that even the most conservative of religions are beginning to buy into it. It's a trend that the artist in him can't stop enjoying.
"One thing I value and respect is that tattooing is finally being accepted as fine art," Thomas says. "There are more tools now for people to do more fine art stuff. Old traditional stuff looks like a cartoon like it does because they didn't have the tools then. Now, there's biomech and organica art that actually comes from tattooing."
OC Tattoo Inc., 7134 W. Garden Grove Blvd., Westminster, 714-899-1144, Instagram @slickgraphixx