Michael Hovaguimian didn’t grow up around tattooers or in the tattoo scene in any way. For that matter, he never even got tattooed growing up. Even these days — after spending the last handful of years establishing himself as a respected tattoo artist and painter — you still won’t find hanging out at many tattoo shops. Instead, Hovaguimian lives a bit of a double life as a special education teacher during the day and a tattoo artist during nights, weekends, and summers.
But while many artists would tell you having two full careers is completely impossible, Hovaguimian’s teaching gig is the only reason he really got into tattooing in the first place.
“I was working at a high school in North Hollywood, and I was trying to encourage some of my students that I knew weren’t going to continue going to school to mop up at a shop or try to get an apprenticeship,” Hovaguimian says. “I would push them and push them, and then eventually they said ‘You keep telling us to do it. Why don’t you do it? You can draw and paint.’”
Never one to back down from a challenge, Hovaguimian took it upon himself to shift his artistic talents into the industry he’d been preaching to his pupils. But — like many fine artists before him — once the skilled painter began learning the ins and outs of tattooing, he realized it was the medium he was born to specialize in. Of course, Hovaguimian’s academic background means he also appreciates the history and intellectual aspects of the art form.
“Once I started studying tattooing, I fell in love with it,” Hovaguimian says. “I got a short apprenticeship and went from there. I still study it nonstop. I’m in love with the art form. It’s so much fun. I still trip out with how tattoos work and everything. I don’t take it for granted or feel jaded about it at all.”
Although Hovaguimian teaches elementary school now rather than high school, he’s strongly considering leaving it entirely now. As rewarding as he finds teaching special education, something has to give from the artists insane schedule. Already, he finds himself spending every lunch break and minute of free time sketching and preparing for his tattoo appointments and relying on the ancient secret of caffeine in order to stay awake and alert enough to succeed in both careers.
“I’m up at 5 a.m. and asleep at 2 a.m. some days,” Hovaguimian says. “I live on Monsters and Diet Pepsi. I just work nonstop, because I get my inspiration during the day. I’m on the track of leaving teaching just because I need to for my health. I’m 38 years old, and it’s going to catch up to me. It’s kind of sad because I love doing it, but it just takes a lot.”
Along with shifting away from his teaching career, Hovaguimian has found that his passion for painting has become more tattoo-centered as well. With a focus primarily on realistic black and gray tattooing, many of Hovaguimian’s paintings — which give him more difficulty than tattooing — have become studies for his night job. In the same way that Hovaguimian’s tattoos are getting higher and higher levels of recognition these days, the artist’s personal and familial connection to tattooing has become even stronger thanks to a single landmark tattoo.
“I just got to tattoo my dad, which was crazy because he loves black and gray tattooing,” Hovaguimian says. “He’s an immigrant who moved to Los Angeles when black and gray first started. He loved tattoos, and he didn’t get any but he’d always talk to me about it. He knows some of the artists in LA, and being able to tattoo him with all of the other artists, it just all became connected for me.”
To make appointments at Hovaguimian’s private studio, contact @hovag_tattoos on Instagram or via phone at 818-486-4724.