Jason “J DOGG” Kirkpatrick isn’t a super-famous tattoo artist, and he’s totally alright with that.
“I just hung out in tattoo shops for about a year and a half,” he says, talking about how he started in the industry in Newport Beach in 1996. “I was just in the right place at the right time at Balboa Tattoo to get my apprenticeship. I was doing some work for the owner, and it turned into an apprenticeship. It was just kind of a fluke.”
That’s the way it used to be in tattooing—before the days of machines easily available online, or kids learning through YouTube tutorials. The veteran ink slinger and manager of Lefty’s Tattoo in Orange doesn’t have a ton of followers on social media, hasn’t been on a TV show, and he’s not one of the “legendary” tattooers in Orange or OC in general. But it’s in that old-school training where Kirkpatrick’s bona fides come through.
Even before he officially started, Kirkpatrick was mentored by the late Joseph “Snoopy” Leachman, who would take the young Anaheim native to his hometown’s most famous shop, Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland.
“I was still just a high school kid,” Kirkpatrick recalls of his time spent at Tattooland. “I would just hang around there until they’d kick me out every day, and then I’d come back the next day until they’d tell me to kick rocks again. I think that’s how I proved my worth, I was just always hanging around.”
Lefty’s opened up in 1998, and it seemed like the perfect fit for the young tattooer. Almost 18 years later, Kirkpatrick is now one of the most recognizable faces at the longstanding Orange shop. Like most tattooers, Kirkpatrick has seen his ups and downs in the industry, but he considers himself lucky for the most part.
“It’s been a pretty easy road for me, but it’s still been a struggle,” Kirkpatrick says. “For the first five or six years, I was sleeping on couches because I didn’t have the money to pay rent. Just because it was easy for me doesn’t mean I was making a lot of money. I still don’t make a lot of money, but I enjoy what I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For Kirkpatrick, part of the enjoyment of tattooing is the challenge of keeping up with the latest and greatest of the industry. While some tattooers are stuck in the past, Kirkpatrick prides himself on being able to match the tattoos of tattooers both young and old.
“There’s always something new, so it’s always fun,” he says. “I think once you’re not having fun anymore, that’s when you get stale and it’s time to go do something else in life. There are always people doing new things, and if you can’t keep up with them, then maybe it’s time to move on.
“It’s cool to see things get reinvented,” Kirkpatrick adds. “It’s cool to see something you thought couldn’t be done. It sucks to be proven wrong sometimes, but it’s cool to see that whenever I feel like I’m stuck creatively.”
Kirkpatrick favors some styles over others, but he always welcomes the opportunity to do classic designs like skulls. At the same time, he also realizes that many of today’s clients don’t want something they’ve seen on other people, unlike the tattoo shops of yesteryear.
“Back when I was tattooing in Newport, it was pretty much all walk-ins,” Kirkpatrick says. “Now, people act like it’s a sin to get something off the wall, but we paint all of the flash in the shop right here. You’re not going to see that design in another shop, and that’s how a lot of shops are. It’s not a bad thing to go in and pick something off the wall.”
Lefty’s Tattoo, 467 N. Tustin St.., Orange, 714-997-4882, @j_dogg_leftystattoo