For Mike DeVries, being one of the best tattoo artists in SoCal wasn’t enough. Aside from his contributions to the art of tattooing, DeVries has made quite a splash with his tattoo-based products. From tattoo machines and cables to stencil preparations and creams, DeVries creates the items he wishes were around when he first began tattooing in 2003. But as much as the artist runs the product side of his business to help tattooers, it’s also because he never wants to be bored.
“If I have a day off, I’ll go stir crazy,” DeVries says. “I’d rather be really busy than feel like I’m going bankrupt. But I think that really depends on the person and their work ethic. Some people don’t want the added stress, because any business venture is a lot of work — even owning your own tattoo shop. There are a lot of tattoo artists who don’t want to go down that road because they want to focus on tattooing.”
These days, DeVries is as known and respected as anyone in the industry, but like (nearly) all great tattooers, his love for the art form began as a teenager getting some questionable ink. When he was only 16, DeVries and his friends learned of a local artist who would tattoo minors without question, and it was only a matter of time before he ended up under the needle.
“It was a nicely built tattoo shop in a garage, but it was still slightly ghetto,” DeVries says of the first place he got tattooed. “The guy would tattoo anyone under the age of 18, so my friends and I thought it was awesome. My friend got a tattoo, and the next day I went to get one. I fell in love with every aspect of everything about it, and I started to get tattooed almost on a weekly basis.”
After getting tattooed for a couple years in that garage, DeVries finally turned 18 and graduated high school. He was all ready to start on his tattooing journey, except he decided to go work other jobs for five years before finally being convinced to give the life of a tattoo artist a shot. At the time, it wasn’t just before tattooing had entered the mainstream via TV shows and Instagram, it was before tattooing was even really on the internet at all.
“When I got into tattooing, I had a client who suggested I get a website,” DeVries says. “At that time, I specifically remember that there were only about five tattoo artists that I could think of that had websites. Most tattoo artists were just starting to get on Myspace.”
But while some tattoo artists who’ve been around 14 or more years may be a little bitter about the boom of tattooing and the direction it’s gone over the last decade, DeVries is loving every minute of it. Not only is he thankful that the popularity of the tattoo industry allows him to pay his bills every month, but he also sees how it’s improving year after year. While some veterans might complain about the new university-educated tattooers, DeVries sees them as a blessing to the community as a whole.
“The art and artists have improved tremendously,” DeVries says. “The talent is insane compared to when I started. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the people who have been in the game for 30 or 40 years, because it seems like every couple of years people are coming out with better products and better art. Everything is improving. The talent is escalating because now there are younger cats coming straight out of art universities who are well-educated in art. You teach them how to tattoo, and you have somebody who’s a real fine artist rather than just some Joe Blow who knows how to draw and learns to tattoo. That’s changing the game.”
As for the future, DeVries has some pretty big plans along with the skilled tattoos he’ll still be laying down on a regular basis. Just as he changed the game with products like Stencil Stuff and Redemption years ago, his next target is the biggest issue he sees during a tattoo and immediately after. After all, a tattoo artist shouldn’t be using the same method of cleaning as a frat bro who spilled a beer.
“I have a new product in the works, and my vision with it is to not see tattoo artists use paper towels anymore because of how unsanitary it is,” DeVries says. “It’s like getting a surgery done and then getting cleaned up with Bounty paper towels. I guarantee that within five years, no tattoo artists will use paper towels anymore.”
MD Tattoo Studio, 9545 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, 818-700-2818, @mikedevries