As the son of an artist, Devin Mena has been involved in art for as long as he can remember. As soon as he was old (and adequate) enough to make a career out of it, Mena began doing artwork for companies like Starbucks and Bacardi. His work was featured in everything from advertisements to body-painted models, but it was well before that when he took an interest in the art of tattooing.
“I was always drawing on myself with markers before I had any tattoos, so it looked like I had a different sleeve every day,” Mena says. “Someone asked me if I was the one doing all of this artwork for Bacardi and such, and when I first turned 18, she asked if I wanted an apprenticeship to tattoo.”
The Riverside native’s apprenticeship lasted a whopping three years while he tattooed out of his house at the same time. He was also working as a barista at Starbucks beginning at four every morning and then would go straight to the tattoo shop to apprentice until eight in the evening. The 16-hour days didn’t leave much time for anything else, but it paid Mena’s bills through the late 2000s while he learned to tattoo.
“I was working my ass off, but I really wanted to learn to tattoo,” Mena says. “It was worth it for me.”
During that time, Mena spent what little free time he had getting tattooed by the artists he most looked up to. That way, he could use the tips and tricks he learned from them on the friends who were letting him tattoo out of his bedroom. At the end of his apprenticeship, one of the tattooers who’d been mentoring him decided to open up his own shop and give Mena a chair to take care of the small tattoos and walk-in traffic.
“I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I’d do a little script or infinity signs or whatever on walk-ins until I got comfortable,” Mena says. “I would always get stomach aches before every appointment I had for the first year. I was so nervous.”
These days, tattoos are a lot less terrifying for Mena. He spends a lot more of his time drawing and perfecting his craft rather than trying to be a “rock star tattooer like Kat Von D.” Of course, he now realizes the error of his early ways.
“I didn’t really draw that much,” Mena says. “I was just barely keeping up with the walk-ins and getting lucky I guess. I’d definitely tell myself to draw more and paint more. It’d make my life a lot easier than it is now.”
After those first few rough years, Mena had the opportunity he’d been seeking since he first got into tattooing. The owner of Laguna Tattoo was ready to offer him a part-time job so he could learn from who he considered to be some of the best guys around. In the past, renowned tattoo artists like Lindsey Carmichael and Brother Greg tattooed at Laguna. While Mena’s style might not resemble theirs, he still respects the tattooing traditions and heritage they laid down for him, as well as the great reputation of the shop he calls home.
“I really started to learn a lot more when I moved down here,” Mena says. “Tattooing in Riverside, no one was that good up there. It was mostly a bunch of tweakers who didn’t know what they were doing. The guys here were really professional old-school guys, so I really learned a lot from them on the history and traditions you should know if you’re going to be a tattooer.”
It’s those old-school traditions that allow Mena to tattoo in his own personal style without compromising the integrity of his work. His dainty style and designs might not hold up so well if done by others, but Mena’s tattooing knowledge and fundamentals have proven that his tattoos will stand the test of time (or at least for a decade, since that’s roughly how long he’s been tattooing).
“My style is super girly,” Mena says. “I do a lot of flowers and fancy script and dainty single-needle tattoos. Like 90 percent of my clients are girls, and that’s fine with me because girls have better skin for tattooing. That dainty look, if you push too hard, it blows out, but if you don’t push hard enough it won’t stay over time. I’m really picky about line work, so I don’t know what’s different, but it holds up.”
Laguna Tattoo, 656 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3702, Instagram: @devinmenatattoos