Although he’s only been tattooing professionally for about 3 years, David Wuertemburg’s already had quite the rollercoaster ride of a career. But — like so many other tattooers — the Stanton-based artist really wasn’t planning to make it a job when he first began laying down some ink on his friends.
“I never thought of myself as getting into the industry,” Wuertemburg says. “I’d been drawing my whole life, and a couple of my buddies wanted me to start just because they wanted some tattoos.”
For the first couple of years, Wuertemburg was simply tattooing out of his house and wherever else he could set up a makeshift station. Although he was still just barely learning the basics of tattooing, the lifelong artist quickly began looking for ways to leave the dishonorable “scratcher” lifestyle behind. After seeking out apprenticeships at a few different shops — some of which turned him down and one of which he left early — Wuertemburg found the first stop in his tattooing career at Westminster’s OC Tattoo.
But even after finishing his apprenticeship and landing his first formal job in the industry, things still weren’t right for the black and gray artist.
“I was not in the right frame of mind a lot during that time,” Wuertemburg says of his two years at OC Tattoo. “I did have substance abuse problems. I was a really bad alcoholic. There were a lot of things that were hindering me in becoming artist.”
After struggling for the first couple of years of his career, Wuertemburg found the help he needed and turned his life around for the better. Along with the new outlook on life, the rising tattooer nabbed a job at California Ink Tattoo Studio to continue his progression. There, Wuertemburg has found the supportive atmosphere he desires — even in an industry full of naysayers who are all too happy to point out flaws and weaknesses.
“It’s been a very humbling experience because I’ve worked with people who I absolutely adore,” Wuertemburg says. “They’ve taught me a lot, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. But then at the same time, I’ve worked with a few people who were constantly telling me I wasn’t as good as I thought I was just because I hadn’t paid my dues. It left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth because I started to think deep down that maybe this wasn’t the industry for me.”
Dealing with the critiques of cranky tattoo artists wasn’t Wuertemburg’s only issue when he made the jump from scratching to professionally tattooing. In the world of home-based tattooing, most (or all) of Wuertemburg’s clients were friends of the artist. But in a reputable tattoo shop, the canvases he works on are primarily strangers (who may become friends over time).
“Handling clients was one of the scariest things when I became a professional tattoo artist,” Wuertemburg says. “Tattooing out of my house, it was always buddies and people who knew me. Having to work on people who put their trust in you to tattoo them frightened me a little bit. I was always doubting myself about being able to make people happy. By seeing how happy and excited people were about the work that I would do on them, it made me that much of a stronger both professionally and as a person.”
Now just a few years into his career, Wuertemburg has come to terms with both the internal and external issues that have hindered him previously. With his tattooing experience building up and his sobriety helping to make him a stronger person inside and out, the California Ink artist is ready to put his nose to the grindstone and make a name for himself in the tattoo industry.
“I’m finally in the mindframe where I know this is the job that I belong in,” Wuertemburg says. “Ever since then, I’m completely sober, positive, and loving every aspect of my life. I can’t see myself doing anything else ever again because this is absolutely the thing I love to do.”
California Ink Tattoo Studio, 10550 Beach Blvd., Stanton, 714-886-2990, @davidwuertemburg