Don Laing knew from a pretty early age that he might be interested in tattooing for a living. As a kid in the ‘90s with some heavily tattooed biker uncles, Laing saw as much ink as any kid who didn’t actually know any tattoo artists. Combine that childhood familiarity and appreciation with the artistic skills Laing began showing as early as elementary school, and it didn’t take long for him to put the two together as a possible career. Unfortunately, the artist didn’t take the first step in his tattooing journey until several years later as a young adult.
“Even though I saw tattoos around me when I was growing up and I knew I wanted to tattoo ever since I was in junior high, I didn’t start tattooing until I was 21,” Laing says. “It wasn’t an easy thing to get involved in. I had biker uncles and shit, but it’s not like my biker uncle’s best friend was a tattoo artist who wanted to teach me or anything. I had to go through the motions and get turned down for many years before I was finally able to find an apprenticeship.”
As Laing sees it, taking the plunge to tattoo full-time at the age of 21 just made the most sense to him. A bad knee meant he wouldn’t be able to work a physically demanding job like construction, and an aversion to sitting at a computer desk all day was strong enough to convince him to put the time into seeking out an apprenticeship. Almost a decade later, the established tattooer can’t help but think about how things certainly worked out for the best — even if he does miss the rougher world that spawned out of the ‘90s biker tattoo scene from time to time.
“I’m 30 years old and already I’ve been tattooing for a third of my life, so that’s an alright chunk for me,” Laing says. “I’m not saying that I started tattooing a real long time ago, but in the short amount of time that I’ve been tattooing, I’ve already seen the overexposure of tattooing in the public eye. We’ve had an oversaturation due to many things — like the TV shows that are exposing these things to everybody when everybody wasn’t into these things before.
“As many good effects as that’s had, it’s had as many negative effects for the people who are really trying to make a living off of it because there are so many tattooers out there and tattoo supplies are so readily available,” Laing continues. “Before, you had to go to a supply store through a shop or had to supply proof that you were from a business when ordering online, but nowadays anyone can order supplies and become an overnight tattooer. It’s kind of a bummer.”
Although Laing may not love the way the industry has expanded, cleaned up, and progressed over the last decade, he couldn’t be much happier about the shop in which he’s landed. Tattooing alongside legends like the historic Jack Rudy, the artist is full of appreciation for the history of Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland in Anaheim. To Laing, it’s not just an iconic shop, but also a bit of a relic from back in the good ol’ days of tattooing.
“When I was looking at single needle black and gray when I started tattooing, of course [Good Time Charlie’s] was where I wanted to be,” Laing says. “I spent so many years hanging around the shop and getting tattooed before I was finally able to get into the shop, it’s not like it was an easy thing to get into. Now that I’m in there, it’s a cool thing to be a part of. There aren’t many shops with that kind of history, and that kind of goes back to what I’m talking about with people becoming overnight tattooers and opening up shops. You see shops come and go, but to be a part of something that’s endured for over 40 years is a big deal for me. It’s been a great opportunity to be around those people and be at the shop where the kind of work that I do was born.”
Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland, 2641 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, 714-827-2071, @don_laing