Tim Hendricks of Miami Ink and NY Ink Opens Up About Tattooing's "Glamorous" Misconception
Ask a handful of OC's tattooers who their favorite OC-based tattooers are, and at least one of them (more likely three) will tell you about Tim Hendricks.
The iconic tattoo artist and current owner of Fullterton's historic Classic Tattoo is known for everything from his time on TV's Miami Ink and NY Ink to the designs he created in a collaboration with Hurley, but it's his unique combination of a traditional tattoo style with strong black-and-grey shading that makes his work stand out from the rest of the tattooing industry. Of course, if you ask Hendricks, he'll tell you that he doesn't have a specific style, because being a professional tattooer means being able to do a wide variety of tattoos.
"Tattooers are way too entitled these days, everybody has a 'style,' but what if watercolor tattoos, or whatever your 'style' is, isn't popular anymore in five years?" Hendricks says. "Tattooers think that tattooing is way more glamorous than it is, but being a famous tattooer is really like being the king turd on shit mountain. Television glorifies it, but it's really just a shit job, it's back-breaking work."
Don't take his words the wrong way: Hendricks loves tattooing. He's seen the art form and the industry from just about every angle over his 23-year career, but that does include the (quite literally) back-breaking side of it as well. Hendricks recently traveled to Germany to have surgery on his back, yet another gritty reality many tattooers face after years in the industry.
A sample of Hendricks' traditional style "disguised as black and grey."
"From the outside looking in, tattooing might look glamorous," Hendricks says. "But from the inside looking out, it's really just humorous."
Hendricks' career began by tattooing the "punk rock kids and Hispanic gangsters" in his neighborhood when he was growing up, but when he found out that a friend's dad sold tattoo machines, that's when Hendricks really found out what old school tattooing was like.
"She gave me an address in Long Beach, #22 Chestnut Place. It was (tattooing legend) Bert Grimm's place," Hendricks says. "I didn't know it at the time, but the guy who sold me that machine was (another legendary tattooer) Rick Walters. That's why I say tattooing found me, I didn't find tattooing."
Hendricks had never used a professional machine before, so Walters showed him how to use it, by painfully tattooing Hendricks' name on to his hand without using any ink.
"After that, I tattooed everyone who would let me," Hendricks says. "I'd struggled so much with a homemade machine, the professional machine was easy."
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How has tattooing changed since you started? Here's one thing most people don't realize, we used to have to learn to use film to take photos of our tattoos. You had to buy the film, unload a roll on each tattoo, maybe two tattoos at the most. You used to have to go through the negatives to find the best ones, and then put them in envelopes to send to other tattooers. Then you'd wait for the other tattooers to, hopefully, send you an envelope back with their work, but that didn't always happen. That's how I would learn from tattooers.
Now, I can pull my phone out of my pocket, take the photo, put a filter on it, and share it with the entire world in seconds. In my little bit of free time, I can scroll through my Instagram and see tattoos that were done in the last few hours by hundreds of tattooers from all over the world. I wouldn't be able to appreciate that if I hadn't learned from film, and I still photograph in film, along with my iPhone. To adapt doesn't mean you have to let go or lose integrity. Mid and old school tattooers laugh about it sometimes because they totally forgot how long the process was. These days, Instagram, Twitter and websites are the most powerful tools to market, but I still believe you should have an actual, tangible portfolio, even if it's just files you uploaded and printed into a book from your Instagram.
What's it like to own a shop like Classic Tattoo now? I got my first real tattoo at that very shop. I grew up in Fullerton, about a mile from the shop. My dad taught across the street at the junior college, and my mom works at the high school that's right there. I'm very glad I waited over 20 years before I owned my own shop though, I learned so much of what to do and what not to do as a shop owner. I have one of the best crews a guy could ask for, I really don't even have to do much other than lead by example. Every resentful will have untrustworthy employees, so I try to be honest and straightforward about everything. I work side-by-side with all of the other guys, it's really a give and take.
What's your least favorite thing about tattooing? It has to be the politics in it, and watching people who don't care about it tear it apart. Some people think I'm one of the people tearing it apart because of the TV shows, but they didn't change my perspective on tattooing at all. The TV shows would've happened anyway, it was just time for that. It's a good thing we have guys like (Ink Master's) Oliver Peck to show the way, because otherwise they were going to throw some guy with a mohawk up there just because he looked the part. People are complaining because their clients know a little about tattooing now, like that's a bad thing. I hear more complaints from new and mid schoolers pretending to be old schoolers. I think it's great for tattooing, and I've had real old schoolers tell me they think it's great too.
Is there any advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? What can I tell them that's not already available from a quick Google search? Trust their tattooer. It's their skin and their choice, but they should trust a tattooer who's been doing it for a very long time.
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