In a small complex in the Alamitos Beach area of Long Beach, Shay Bredimus' apartment is set up a little differently than most of the others. There's no couch, no coffee table, no TV in the living room. Instead, there's a painting studio set up, with an artist's table and stool on one side for smaller projects while a pair of larger canvases hang in front of a softbox light in another corner.
There's a bedroom in the back, but the apartment is as much a studio as it is a living quarters, which is exactly how Bredimus wants it.
"I go to the shop, I work," Bredimus says. "I come home, I work. I'm pretty much working all the time."
Some old school tattooers might confuse Bredimus for one of the frowned upon "new school" tattoo artists. They'd say he doesn't know tattooing's roots, or that he couldn't possibly understand what it's like to go through an old school apprenticeship. Hell, they might even call him an "art fag" and some other derogatory names due to his detailed tattoos and his MFA in Painting from the Laguna College of Art and Design.
They'd be wrong.
The Outer Limits tattooer hasn't always been such a fine artist. His journey into tattooing began in his mom's garage on the south side of Chandler, Arizona. Not exactly the best place for a teenager in the '90s.
"If you wanted to be an artist, there were really only two choices," Bredimus says. "You could tattoo or you could go into graffiti."
At 14, Bredimus started tattooing some of the local gangsters in his garage. This was before he was taking life-drawing workshops in college, but there was more pressure than any course the artist would take in graduate school.
"My mom came home one day and I was 14 and tattooing gangsters in the garage," Bredimus says. "I had to do it one time and do it right, because these were guys who could seriously hurt or kill me."
After messing up gangsters and friends out of his garage throughout high school, the young ink slinger began a two-year "old school" apprenticeship upon turning 18. While tattooing, Bredimus also started taking his art more seriously, pursuing a degree for two years at Mesa Community College before finishing out his undergraduate in Vancouver, because where could be more different than the Arizona desert?
"It was in Vancouver where I learned conceptually what and how to paint," Bredimus says. "For the first couple years, I was really into the rain. It went for almost three months straight, and I thought it was great because I got to wear things like a North Face jacket every day."
Upon finishing his undergrad, Bredimus' time in Laguna taught him the more physical side of painting and art. It wasn't just about the concept anymore, but the actual practice of painting. Out of sheer convenience and necessity, the young artist's signature medium was born at LCAD: tattoo ink on plastic.
By the time he finished in Laguna, Bredimus saw some of his work get picked up by blue-chip galleries across SoCal, including Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City. In 2008, Bredimus decided to take what had been his hobby and part-time job since he was 14, and started tattooing full time at Black Wave Tattoo in Hollywood.
Eventually, the 45-minute drive from his Echo Park apartment to the tribal-based shop wasn't working for him, so Bredimus decided to go to the most historic tattooing area in California and audition at Outer Limits in front of Kari Barba and her crew.
"I literally had to tattoo in front of everyone at Outer Limits," Bredimus says. "They'd each come up and inspect the tattoo, so it was a lot of pressure. It worked out in the end though."
Bredimus believes that, in many ways, he's continuing Barba's fine art style of tattooing. The 36-year-old tattooer also thinks that the shop as a whole is really keeping the legacy of old tattooers alive, regardless of what critics might think.
"Kari really took me under her wing for doing detail-oriented tattoos," Bredimus says. "There's such a rich history of tattooing here, but most of the artists promote the most contemporary tattoos. When you read the signs in the shop, you realize that the really old (American Traditional) guys were all just doing what was contemporary for their time."
What's it like tattooing at a shop with so much history and so much talent like Outer Limits? It would be like going to art school in Paris. You see tattoos from the '20s and '30s and '40s every day. It'd be like being able to go to the Louvre in art school. There are a lot of haters, but really, no one else stepped up and bought the shop. Kari stepped up when no one else would. The people that count know that and like it. Anytime tattooers are in from out of town, they always want to come see the shop.
How has tattooing changed since you started? I think with all of the social media and shows like Ink Master, everyone knows a lot more about tattooing than they used to. It's the sophistication of the client. People know what style they want and they even know the names of the artists they like. It's cool because you're seeing people get more fine art tattoos
Are you concerned with how the details in your tattoos will hold up over time? Definitely. It's pretty well-known what ages well and what lasts. I try to use as much black as possible, and I tell my clients that. All of these watercolor tattoos will have to be covered or fixed in 10-15 years, but colors like black, red, and green last forever. Black and gray tattoos just get better over time, they get softer.
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What's it like to be a tattooer who's trained so much in fine art? For me, it's great because I can pay my bills and fund my other projects at the same time. I understand why old school (American Traditional) guys don't like it, because it's not the same as what they do. I actually have a residency at the Long Beach Museum of Art coming up that's combining two styles of art (pictographs mixed with 3D images).
Do you think you look at tattooing differently because of your fine art background? Tattooing is really folk art, and even folk art has its time. It's like graffiti, it's going from the worst parts of town to the fine art museums. Or like rap music, where it went from being "ghetto" to where you have to acknowledge it even if you don't listen to it. I think tattooing still kind of has that negative undertone. When you do tattoos, you're really the captain of your own ship. You create your self-worth by the work that you do and the time you put into it.
Outer Limits Tattoo & Body Piercing, 22 S. Chestnut Place, Long Beach, 888-518-8288, Instagram @shaybredimus