Herchell Carrasco had about as standard of a Chicano tattooing upbringing as it gets. From the time he was a kid, Carrasco's uncle (who spent time in and out of prison) tattooed out of his mom's house in Anaheim, which inspired Carrasco to draw some of the things his tío tattoo.
"I've always been an artist, but seeing my uncle do Chicano-style tattoos, I started drawing Day of the Dead stuff and Chicano style women when I was young," Carrasco says. "I was born and raised in the OC lowrider scene, going to swap meets and barbecues and all that."
At 28, Carrasco now owns and operates Pachuco Tattoo in Orange, just up the street from some of the tattoo shops he's admired for much of his life, such as Lowrider Tattoo Studios and Steve Soto's Goodfellas Tattoo. After nearly five years of running his own shop, Carrasco has finally gained enough of a clientele to have a more financially stable situation as a professional ink slinger.
Carrasco started dating the woman who is now his wife at the age of 16, and they began living together on their own just before his 18th birthday. The Anaheim native had been getting tattooed for a couple of years at that time, and decided to start tattooing out of his home to make some extra money. Of course, he faced the problem of getting professional supplies without actually being at a shop.
"I was always getting tattooed by the same guy, so I asked him if I could use his name to get myself some supplies," Carrasco says. "At the time, you couldn't just order supplies online, so I went to the supplier and said I was tattooing with the guy who was tattooing me."
That's where Carrasco's path separates from most other tattooers. While tattooing out of his home, Carrasco began putting his tattoos on YouTube to show off his artwork. About six years ago, the now-closed West Coast Ink discovered Carrasco's YouTube videos and offered him a position at the shop, where he worked until 2011. That's when he opened Pachuco as a 100-square-foot studio for himself, one other tattooer, and an apprentice. Almost half of a decade later, Pachuco has expanded into an award-winning space that hosts close to a dozen artists, which isn't bad considering how saturated Orange is with tattoo shops..
"We're in a gold rush of tattooing right now," Carrasco says. "Orange alone has so many tattoo shops. You look around and there's one on every corner. The influence from TV shows and the popularity, there are so many products on the market for tattooing now that weren't there even when I started, and I'm still pretty young."
As someone born and raised in OC, there's a part of Carrasco that likes tattooing's popularity in his home county. In his eyes, it's no longer looked at as the little sister to LA in the tattoo world; it's now just as good.
"Back in the day, you had to go up to L.A. for the really good tattoo artists," Carrasco says. "OC is the new L.A. There are still a lot of the older tattoo artists out there, and I respect everybody who came before me. But I think I'm part of that new form of artist."
Carrasco believes part of the separation between older tattooers and new ones is the variation in their tattoo upbringings. Older tattoo artists were generally raised in a tough apprenticeship that involved months of mopping floors and making tattoo needles before they were ever allowed to ink anyone. For someone like Carrasco, art classes at Fullerton College and teaching himself what he'd seen from his uncle replaced the need for a year or two as tattooing's version of an unpaid intern. Regardless of background, there's one thing Carrasco knows that can bring generations of tattooers together.
"What breaks that barrier between tattoo artists is putting out a high quality of work," Carrasco says. "You don't have to follow every tradition of tattooing if you do great work. I tried to get an apprenticeship when I first started, but it was closed off and I didn't know anyone. I'm not against apprenticeships. If I had one, I'd probably be tattooing at a higher level. It helps you skip years of struggling."
Pachuco Tattoo, 1161 N. Tustin St. #A, Orange, 714-602-9355, Instagram @rockrollg