Some tattoo artists decide to open a tattoo shop for the profit or the fame, but for Justin Warn, owner of Anaheim's Torch Tattoo, it was all about creating the perfect place to work with his friends.
"When you have your own shop, you can create the environment you want to work in. It's your set of rules," Warn says. "You can make it an extension of yourself."
For Warn, that extension was created nearly five years ago so he could work with his friend, Kyle Crowell. Of course, Warn knew what type of work he wanted to do from a very early age.
"My dad had a small, little tattoo when I was growing up, so that was my first taste of it," Warn says. "When I was in high school, I got more into it. By my senior year, I was ditching school to go hang out at different shops."
Just over 15 years ago, a 19-year-old Warn decided to follow his dreams of being a tattoo artist. It was before reality shows and celebrities brought tattooing into the mainstream, but Warn had other reasons for opting into the career path.
"I was asking myself what I could do that would be cool and different," Warn says. "I wanted something that wasn't a nine-to-five and didn't involve a suit and tie. I wanted something more relaxed than that."
When Warn first began tattooing, he started with more of an American traditional style. Over time, he learned to appreciate more detailed work, and now he's even developed his own style of it.
"I get asked to do a lot of fine line black and grey tattoos, so I think that's what I do best," Warn says. "I like to do really smooth black and grey tattoos. I use a lot of layers, from a soft milky grey to a deep dark black."
No matter how good Warn's tattooing gets, he knows that the experience of getting a tattoo is just as important as the finished artwork itself.
"Everything is a package deal," Warn says. "From the time you walk into a warm and welcoming shop, to getting along with your artist, that's all just as important as the tattoo. That's how you know you're going to get the best tattoo you can get from that artist."
How has the tattooing culture changed since you started?
The accessibility of it is everywhere now. It's on your phone with Instagram and such, which is great. Then there are a lot of random businesses trying to get in on it and a lot of random people looking to cash in on the popularity of it.
What's your advice to someone getting their first tattoo?
Don't go to Pinterest. Seriously though, think of the most important thing in your life and if it's still what will be the most important thing to you in 10 years. That's what you should get for your first tattoo. Not all of you tattoos have to be serious, but it's good to start with one that will mean something to you.
Do you do the local tattoo conventions?
We all do Musink, and every now and then we'll do some on the East Coast, but they're not really on my radar other than that. They're a lot of fun, but a lot of work.
What do you look for in someone to work at your shop?
The most important thing is just that you get along with everyone and can be friends with everyone at the shop. Like I said, I started the shop with Kyle just to work with friends. Obviously, you've got to be able to tattoo really well, and you just have to be a good person. That's really it, you have to be a good person.
How do you feel about the tattoo reality television shows?
In one aspect, they're alright because they opened up a lot more people to tattooing. On the other hand, they kind of hurt the industry because everyone thinks they can tattoo now. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of really good tattoo artists out there. If that's what they want to do, I'm sure it helps their career out. I have a lot of friends who have done them, it's just not for me.
What's next for Torch Tattoo?
Well, we're celebrating our 5-year anniversary on the second Saturday of May. It's going to be really cool. We're having a big art show with all of the guys here and some of our friends, and we'll have a live piano player from Main Street in Disneyland. It'll just be one big celebration, everyone should come by.