It shouldn't be news to anyone that OC is full of tattooers focusing on American traditional tattooing and fine line black and gray work, but not every artist only tattoos within those two realms. Rich Pineda of San Clemente's Renaissance Studios is among those artists who don't fall into the area's most popular styles. Instead, Pineda focuses his work on a different style, color realism.
"Everything I do has a realistic approach," Pineda says. "Sometimes I'll do surrealism, but then it's just a realistic approach to an unrealistic thing, like a flower morphing into a skull."
Like any modern tattoo artist, Pineda is open to venturing outside of his comfort zone from time to time. Although now that he's made a name for himself and found a home at Renaissance, Pineda can pick and choose his clients a lot more than many tattooers.
"If a person is dead set on black and gray, I'll do it, but I'm not sure why they'd choose me to do it," Pineda says. "If it's something I'm not interested in, I just won't take it on."
Of course, many tattooers spend decades getting to the point where they can turn down any work they're not interested in. Pineda, 42, started tattooing about five years ago after spending years doing odds and ends jobs while living in Yucca Valley and pursuing a career in music.
"I was engineering music out of my home studio, and I had a friend who was a tattoo artist," Pineda says. "I knew it was a hard way to make a living, but I did my first tattoo two weeks later and it changed everything."
For Pineda, the transition into tattooing couldn't have gone smoother. Not only did his preferred realistic style of artwork translate perfectly into tattoos, but Pineda already had a mentor in place to show him the ropes (Jeff Cooper) and his experience in the music world fit the tattoo industry flawlessly.
"I tried to make in music for so long, that I was used to the late nights. I used to spend nights driving home from clubs in the middle of nowhere," Pineda says. "This feels very much like that, and it's a similar high to being on stage as a musician. It's much more stable though, a lot of rock stars have day jobs, but this is what I do for a living."
Considering that so many tattooers get started early in life, some would say that Pineda has an uphill battle ahead of him because he didn't get into tattooing when he was 18 or 21. While he might not have the decades of experience that other tattooers his age have, Pineda believes that starting his career later was the best thing that could've happened to him.
"When I was 18, I was a fucking idiot. If this happened to me at 18, I'd probably be dead in a ditch somewhere," Pineda says. "I wake up every day and I say 'Oh shit, I can't believe this is my life.' I'm a family man now. My wife and kids come in and hang out at the shop, this is the most comfortable shop I've ever been at."
How is tattooing in OC different than Yucca Valley? Well, my clients come from all over the world to get tattooed, so it's not really different at all, except for how the shop is. Everyone here made me feel comfortable and welcome right away, and it's a custom shop, so most of us are booked months in advance. At the same time, the town is more accessible, so I guess it's a larger pool of clients to draw from.
What's the most important thing about tattooing for you? I only ever wanted to provide food for my family. I never tried to become a name in the industry, that's just a byproduct. The art is really what's most important to me, but if people love it, that's great. I appreciate everything that's come to me because of it, the companies I work with and the job security, but the art comes first. The rest of it is cool too.
What's the biggest difference between your tattooing and your other artwork? The biggest artistic difference is that it's on them forever. It's a permanent bond with the client, so I'm a lot more careful with how I approach it. With other art, you can throw it out and start again, but with tattoos, you can't change it. There's no second chance, you can't throw away someone's arm. I approach it with a sense of caution that I didn't have with other art.
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How has your tattooing changed since you first started? It's only changed in quality, it's the same type of tattooing I've always done, but now I get to choose what I tattoo. I used to do all kinds of tattoos, script, tribal, eagles, globes and anchors. I lived next to a military base, so I did a lot of those. I gave away a lot of tattoos, just so people would get what I wanted to tattoo.
How have you seen tattooing's popularity change the tattooing industry? There's good and there's negative to the popularity, which is the same as anything else blowing up. It definitely made it more acceptable. I was covered in the '80s, and people would look at me like I was out of place. Now, I go to Disneyland with my kids and there are more people tattooed than not. I love it. I hope I'm the one who gives my kids their first tattoos, but if I'm not, I hope they go somewhere respectable.
Renaissance Studios, 131 Avenida Victoria San Clemente, 949-388-6044, Instagram: @renaissancetattoostudio