When Anthony “Tee” Celestino was getting tattooed as a teenager, he didn’t really think about becoming a tattooer himself. But the artists he was hanging around began to notice Celestino’s drawings as his tattoo collection grew, and the young sketcher quickly found himself learning the ins and outs of tattooing before too long. Almost two decades later, the now-veteran artist has still never looked back — although the appeal of a normal 9-to-5 is still there every so often.
“Sometimes, I think ‘Man, if I were just to get a regular job…’ but a regular job wouldn’t give me all of the blessings tattooing has given me so far,” Celestino says. “It’s a grind, but I’m super stoked to call this a job when it’s really just what I love to do.”
But even compared to the normal level of freedom that many tattoo artists consider among their biggest blessings, Celestino operates on a pretty freewheeling basis. Rather than calling any single shop his office, the San Clemente-based tattooer works almost exclusively on the road. Whether he’s traveling to various shops around SoCal or taking off for any of his other usual stomping grounds in the western half of the United States, Celestino lives his traveling artist lifestyle to the fullest — even if it still starts to feel like a job after a while.
“Living out of a suitcase and with different beds and shit like that, it gets kind of monotonous and old,” Celestino says. “People get in awe because I get to travel, but it’s always just for sitting down and working. It’d be awesome if I actually got to see the places I go, but I just get a glimpse of where I’m at when I look out the window. It’s not what everybody thinks it is. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but it still becomes what you have to do to pay bills and take care of what you have to take care of.”
One of the reasons he enjoys his ultra-flexible work schedule so much is the fact that it allows Celestino to spend more time with his son during the week. Sure, he may have to take off for the Midwest for a few days every now and then, but not having to spend a required amount of hours in a specific shop means Celestino can tattoo as much as possible for a few days and then have the rest of the week to enjoy his role as Dad. Considering how hostile and ugly a lot of the world can look these days, the artist also believes that his traveling and tattooing lifestyle is helping him teach the next generation of his family some valuable life lessons.
“A lot of people are so absorbed with what social media is pushing out with politics and all that shit that they forget to live,” Celestino says. “My son is only 4-years-old, but I’m already teaching him that although you need money to survive and pay your bills, you don’t need money to live. If you just live and treat people like you want to be treated, it’s pretty easy. I try to instill in my son that the stuff you put out in the universe — not to sound like a hippie or anything — but that’s what you get back in return.”
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As for his tattooing itself, Celestino is willing and able to tattoo just about any design in any style. From American traditional to hyperrealism, the artist believes in the old school system of being able to nail nearly any request that walks through the door. While many younger tattooers are looking to specialize and focus in one area, Celestino sees the true artistic journey of tattooing in improving in every style he possibly can.
“My mentors always told me I needed to be an all-around tattooer and not just stick to a specific genre, so I’ve always had that instilled in my head,” Celestino says. “It gives you that upper hand where if you’re doing a convention and someone comes up to you wanting something specific, you won’t be getting passed up. I try to push myself to make myself good at everything because I love every single style of tattoos. That’s part of the fundamentals of being an artist and what’s been handed down to us from our forefathers of tattooing. You can never master this craft, but you can always push yourself to get better at everything.”
To see where Anthony Celestino will be tattooing next (or to make an appointment) check him out on Instagram, @tattootee