If you drive in and out of Santa Ana much, you’ve probably seen the sign for a tattoo shop at the corner of Tustin Avenue and 17th Street, right off the 55. That's Sid’s Tattoo Parlor, and it’s been there for about two decades—but the owner has been there even longer.
“This shop is about four miles from the home I grew up in,” Sid says. “I moved from La Mirada to Santa Ana when I was about 5, and I’m still here.”
Considering that he’s been a Santa Ana resident for just under four decades and tattooing for two-and-a-half, most of the area’s tattooers know Sid well, but few (if any) know his last name. He’s simply Sid, and he has been since he left nursing school to tattoo full time in 1990.
“I started getting tattooed when I was young because I got into rockabilly when I was 12 and the older guys all had tattoos,” Sid says. “I started tattooing myself to save money, and then I figured I could make some money by tattooing others while I was in nursing school and working at a flower shop.”
Rather than the intimidating snarl that many tattooers of his generation still think is de rigeur for their profession, Sid’s typically smiling under his trimmed silvery hair and pageboy hat. The shop’s reflective of his personality, with bright teals and pinks complementing the retro design. Cheery? Sure—the owner likes it that way.
“I got offered to go work for other people at some good shops, but I would go in acting like a customer and I didn’t like the vibe at any of them,” Sid says. “Guys wouldn’t even look up when I’d go in, so I opened my own private studio. My wife’s grandfather once said that 90 percent of life is your job, so you better like your job.”
And unlike some of his fellow old-timers, Sid’s perfectly willing to change with the times. Regardless of what the trend is, he’ll tattoo it, and he’ll do a damn good job of it. “There’s a quote that says something like ‘If you don’t progress with the future, the future will pass you up,’” Sid says. “You have to adapt. I would always push to do a pin-up or a panther, but people would come in and want tribal armbands or chrome hearts with flames and I would do it.”
These days, Sid sees a lot more pin-ups, panthers, and other traditional tattoo designs than he has in the past. The old-school ink is back in fashion, and it means life is better for Sid and other fans of the American traditional style.
“Eric Maaske [legendary tattooer and late owner of Fullerton’s Classic Tattoo] did the panther on my forearm for $30 because he wanted to do a panther so badly,” Sid says. “I told him I wanted one but I’d come back another time because I didn’t have the money, but he said he’d do it for whatever I had because no one was getting them. Now, people come in and want old panther heads and whole panthers and pin-ups. It’s coming full circle. Tattoos today aren’t dated like the ‘90s tribal and chrome stuff.”
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He doesn’t mind the influx of tattooers or the art form’s popularity, but the tattooing pride of Santa Ana does think some of the skills finer points have been lost with the newer artists. Particularly for the ones who don’t have a formal apprenticeship, they might not know what’s required for a solid tattoo compared to other art forms.
“There’s a loss of sacredness of the art and skills of tattooing, because it’s not like oil painting or anything else,” Sid says. “You’re dealing with a living organic canvas. You can’t just pick up a tattoo machine and start painting, and just because it looks good when you’re done doesn’t mean it’ll look good in a month or a year. Half of tattooing is knowing your machines and tools—that’s where the art of tattooing got lost.”
As for the TV shows, Sid doesn’t have an innate problem with them, he just wishes they featured better artists. While some of them feature a few top-notch practitioners, Sid believes that many of them are more focused on the drama than teaching people what a good tattoo is.
“They made them all cheesy,” Sid says. “If they could’ve done some cool ones, it could’ve been cool. If they put a bunch of the best artists together, they’d probably still get some drama, but maybe not what they want.”
Sid's Tattoo Parlor, 13912 Ponderosa St., Santa Ana, (714) 664-8804. Instagram: @sidstattooparlor