Growing up in the far reaches of northern Michigan, Josh Woods knew he was a gifted artist from a pretty young age. By the time he graduated high school, Woods had already agreed to go to college in Detroit to study and work on computer graphic animation, but the teenager dropped out almost immediately after orientation. As it turned out, the Pixar path wasn’t the one he was meant to follow.
“It was right when Toy Story came out, so that was a huge thing at the time,” Woods says. “I just wasn’t into computers back then, which is funny because I use them more than anything now. Anyway, I decided not to do that, so I moved to New York and got into a band.”
For the next few years, Woods toured and recorded with his band. But once the group broke up, the artistically inclined musician realized there might be a spot for him in the visual arts world he’d been introduced to through rocking out. After all, tattooing has been an integral part of rock ‘n’ roll for decades — even in a world dominated by Toy Story 2.
“A lot of the bands that I knew were pretty heavily tattooed, so I was always asking them questions,” Woods says. “I felt like I could do better work than a lot of what I was seeing, and I started looking into it and checking it out. Then I ended up getting an apprenticeship when I was like 20 years old.”
From that apprenticeship, Woods launched a tattooing career that ended up landing him on Ink Master and running one of the top shops in Nashville. Bust just a few months ago, the veteran artist gave up everything he’d worked for to move out west, ending up in Dana Point to take advantage of the new private studio opened by his friend London Reese, the Black Lantern.
“It was super scary, because I already owned one of the best shops in the country in Nashville, Tennessee and had owned it for nine years,” Woods says. “I was just becoming unhappy with the direction of where it was going and my business partner, and then one of my best friends passed away during all of the lawyers and fighting and stuff, so I decided it was time to move.”
Of course, it’s taking some time for Woods to build up the same kind of clientele he had in Tennessee. Although he’d undoubtedly stick out among other artists in most areas, working in OC means the top tier of Woods’ local competitors is the same as the best national and global artists he used to only see at conventions. But even with the tougher strain on the business side of things, it still feels like a dream for Woods to have his unique illustrative style considered a serious part of the scene.
“It’s kind of surreal to me to be included in the same industry as all of these guys,” Woods says. “I used to go to shows and see pretty much all of the legendary tattooers who are out here, and then I moved out here and it’s weird that all of those guys live and work down the street from me.”
Aside from the tattooing community, Woods is also enjoying the rest of life in South County. Compared to his situation in Nashville, the tattooer is just glad to be working with his friends and embracing his days in the kind of beachside paradise he only could’ve dreamed of growing up in the Michigan winters.
“I went from being stressed out all the time to just being happy again,” Woods says. “I mean, the weather out here is phenomenal, and it really is the best thing I ever did. Just being out here in California, I still have to pinch myself every once in awhile.”
The Black Lantern, 24302 Del Prado Ave., Dana Point, 949-429-7433, @joshwoods