Jesse Ruby didn’t begin his tattooing career until he was 27, but he’s been intrigued by the art form for as long as he can remember. Even as a kid, Ruby would spend time in and out of tattoo shops. While his peers were finishing their homework, the grade school artist was watching others get inked as he could only dream of being old enough to get worked on himself.
“I was a skateboarder when I was a kid, so I could always skate around town, and I was always fascinated with tattoos,” Ruby says. “My older cousin had work from [legendary LA tattooer] Bob Roberts and from the Pike, so I grew up seeing these super rad tattoos and always wanted them.”
Of course, that was all about a quarter-century ago. Now, the 35-year-old artist is closing in on a decade in the industry, but he still fondly recalls his childhood pastime of getting kicked out of tattoo shops by surly tattooers. In some ways, that early portion of his interest in tattooing shaped who Ruby would become as a man. But for the most part, it just makes him appreciate how far the attitudes surrounding tattooing have come over the last couple of decades.
“Those old-timers who owned those shops I used to go into back in the day, they were very hardcore dudes,” Ruby says. “They had no problem telling me when I was younger ‘Hey, get the fuck out of here!’ Most of the time they’d let me stay in there, but if it was busy in the shop they’d kick me out. I was only about 11 or 12 at the time, and they were gruff and tough old men. Now, tattooing is so much more accessible and popular than it was back then that it seems it’s kind of mellowed out a bit in shops.”
To this day, Ruby is still thankful that (despite the scoldings he occasionally got as a kid) he’s become a fixture in SoCal’s tattooing scene. Although he tends to stay away from the hyper-realistic, the lifelong tattoo aficionado is happy to jump into just about any other style of tattoo he can get his hands on. As a man who fully admits that tattooing helped turn his life around from a bit of a downward spiral, there are no “dumb” or “bad” tattoo ideas in his book.
“I like to do everything short of portrait work and realism,” Ruby says. “I like to consider myself somewhat of a street shop tattooer. I always want to be learning, improving and working on new things. I have a good time with every tattoo that I do, whether it’s a little Pinterest tattoo of an infinite symbol or rad traditional girl heads. I have fun doing all of them.”
Following a good chunk of time tattooing in Long Beach, the artist recently made the switch to Yer Cheat’n Heart Tattoo in Gardena — a widely respected shop owned by one of Ruby’s favorite artists. Aside from having a chance to restart among some of the best artists in the business, it also gives Ruby a chance to show his vast array of styles to an entirely new audience (while still being close enough for his existing clientele to make the trek). After all, tattooing is still very much a client-based industry, and Ruby is more than willing to demonstrate his customer service skills whenever possible.
“I think people are watching these television shows, and they’re getting the wrong impression about what it’s like to walk into a tattoo shop, have an interaction with a tattoo artist, and get a tattoo,” Ruby says. “I try to pride myself on customer service. I like to treat people with respect, and I don’t want to make somebody feel uncomfortable when they walk into a tattoo shop. These are our customers. They’re our lifeblood.”
Yer Cheat’n Heart Tattoo, 15400 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena, 310-329-7552, @jrubytattooer