In some ways, Ricardo De Cruz is a second-generation tattoo artist. But rather than having the skill passed down from a parent, De Cruz picked it up from an art school mentor — iconic tattooer and art teacher Sergio Sanchez of San Pedro’s Timeline Gallery.
“I pretty much got into tattooing while I was taking fine art classes with Sergio Sanchez,” De Cruz says. “I just needed to play class fees and all of that, so I was trying to figure out ways to make extra money besides my part-time job. Once I started getting into it, I decided that maybe I could try to get the fine art and realism into tattooing, so I wanted to improve on my interest of black and gray realism. I did a couple of small pieces with a lot of detail in them, I realized I wanted to do it as a career and keep getting better at it.”
It was about six years ago in 2011 that De Cruz first began dabbling in tattooing, and although he never took on a full apprenticeship, the artist put his painting background to good use while inking friends and other customers for just over three years before deciding to take the leap into professional tattooing at a shop in the beginning of 2015. Even if the self-taught artist is considered part of the “new school” by some of the more veteran tattooers out there, De Cruz believes his background in the art world is becoming more relevant to tattooing with every passing day.
“The whole style of tattooing and level of detail in black and gray realism has changed,” De Cruz says. “There are a lot of tattoo artists taking fine art classes now to improve their tattooing, so now it’s in the same category as when I was learning fine art. I’m comfortable with it at this point, and I think everyone is just focused on getting better with it. It’s really becoming like fine art.”
Even as he looks at the present and future of tattooing within the fine art world, the lifelong painter can’t help but appreciate some of the tattoo history that surrounds him in the world of Southern California black and gray tattooing. As a relatively new tattooer, learning the artistic side of things from established stars like Sanchez and being able to check out the work of many other tattooing legends has provided a near-infinite source of knowledge and inspiration for the rising artist. Although some of the industry’s young guns may not appreciate tattooing’s heritage, its importance isn’t lost at all on De Cruz.
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“It’s awesome to actually see these people and be able to tattoo in the same spaces as these people,” De Cruz says. “Obviously their level of tattooing may be higher, but I’m able to see them tattoo, and it’s inspiring for me. It’s awesome that I can visit some of these guys or watch these guys on Instagram. I can analyze some of their work and it just makes me want to get better and better. It’s awesome to see these guys still doing it and push themselves even more.”
Of course, it’s not just the historic legends that De Cruz pulls from on a daily basis. As far as he’s concerned, tattooing is yet another artistic medium that he needs to continue to study and focus on. Eventually, De Cruz may see himself as more of a teacher than a pupil, but for now he’s more than happy to be a devoted student of his adopted art form.
“I’m still learning and still growing, and I think everyone else who is in the same field just needs to keep going,” De Cruz says. “We need to grow and learn from everyone, talk to everyone, make friends and communicate with everyone. I think it’s great when we can share ideas and share different ways of tattooing. That’s how we all keep growing, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Reservoir Tattoo Studio, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-908-5249, @ricardodecruzart