In some ways, Roger Trawick has almost made the full circle of tattooing.
The 46 year-old Ontario native started his career in the Inland Empire when there were only three shops in the area. Then, he dealt with the first boom in popularity of tattooing in the 1990s, when he watched tattoo parlors fill the towns he was working in. Now, he owns Action Tattoo, the only shop in all of Yorba Linda.
Admittedly, Trawick’s market isn’t quite as far-reaching as it would’ve been 25 years ago — as several shops in Anaheim, Placentia, and Fullerton are merely minutes away — but it’s better than sharing the city with dozens of other tattoo studios.
“Since I started, it went from being mainly bikers, convicts, and sailors getting tattooed to being a lot more popular,” Trawick says. “That was back when all the bands started getting tattooed, and it was insane how busy it was.”
Trawick still channels some of the older spirit of tattooing, both in his appearance and his art. The mountain of a man primarily does classic traditional and black and gray pieces. He recalls the weekends during the early ‘90s when a shop could have four artists working and still have a walk-in line waiting into the parking lot, but that doesn’t mean he hates the industry’s youngsters. After all, they’re taking tattooing to places it’s never been before.
“It’s just the evolution of things,” Trawick says. “I don’t even try to keep up with them. I just stick to doing solid old school tattoos. I’m closer to the end of my career than I am the beginning, and some of these young guys are killing it these days.”
Like most tattooers, Trawick admits that the new growth of his industry isn’t all good. The market’s become oversaturated, and while most of the old-school guys (including Trawick) welcome the ones who want to respect the craft and further the art, they have no love for those who don’t.
“It’s tough to accept the fact that it’s not the way it used to be,” Trawick says. “You can’t just open your doors and sit on your ass and have 20 people waiting for you. It’s tougher to make a living, and I think the TV shows have a lot of youngsters getting into it for the wrong reasons.”
While veteran ink slingers will line up to tell you how much a show like Ink Master has misled people into thinking tattooing is a glamorous profession, Trawick takes it a step further. It’s not just tattooing he’s seen be destroyed by reality television; it’s a number of formerly unpopular industries.
“I despise television for what it does to certain careers,” Trawick says. “More than just tattoos, look at the guys who build bikes. Or even bakers. Everybody wants to make cupcakes now so they can go on Cupcake Wars or whatever. Tattooing is just cheaper to get into than building custom bikes or opening a bakery.”
Of course, with the additional popularity and saturation comes benefits that artists like Trawick didn’t see in their early days. Newer tattooers may think Instagram is the most important development in their careers, but it’s the improved health and safety precautions that get this real old-schooler excited.
“Back then, the health standards were real poor,” Trawick says. “Now, every shop is inspected, and the OC inspectors seem to know what they’re doing. I still get tested all the time for Hepatitis C, because I know a lot of old-school guys who have it. I have a lot of friends and people I’ve known for a long time through tattooing who have Hepatitis C, but I’ve thankfully never tested positive. That’s something a lot of the young guys don’t even think of these days.”
Action Tattoo, 19807 Esperanza Rd, Yorba Linda, 714-693-5536, @action_tattoo