Mikey Tay didn't get into tattooing for the same reason so many of today's art school graduates got into it. Actually, he didn't get into it for anything to do with the art.
"I started hanging out at tattoo shops about 12 years ago," Tay says. "I fell in love with the outlaw side of it first, then I learned to love the art."
Originally, Tay just thought it was badass that tattooer could do things like carry weapons and "Tell people 'Fuck off'" without facing professional repercussions. These days, the recent father of twin girls has changed his tune a bit to go with the times. Clients expect a better customer service experience when they go into Fullerton's Tip Top Tattoo Parlor, and Tay is more excited to do awesome traditional tattoos than he is to give people the finger.
"I used to have my apprentice talk to the customers and everything for me because I sometimes have a tough time communicating with people without sounding like an asshole," Tay says. "If they think you're an asshole, they won't want to get tattooed by you."
Of course, just because he's willing to play by the rules now doesn't mean Tay has to like the direction tattooing's gone in over the last dozen years. Although some tattooers praise the recent acceptance of the art form, Tay sees at least as much negative developments as he does positive about it.
"It's definitely taken a turn for the worst," Tay says. "When I started, it wasn't a fashion show or a popularity contest. Now, you can put a couple of good pictures on the internet and you're famous."
As much as Tay misses the old days, when he was learning from Tom Clark (who now tattoos at Old Tyme Tattoo in Fullerton) at the now-closed All-American Tattoo & Body Piercing (which has been replaced by EngineerInk Tattoo & Body Piercing) merely a few miles away, he's learned to embrace some of the benefits of his location.
"With [Fullerton College] right there, you're always going to have college kids coming in to get tattooed," Tay says. "Now that it's more accepted, it's not just the rebellious or outlaw college kids, it's a lot more of them. There are a lot of shops in the area, but there's plenty of food for everyone around here."
Considering that tattooing isn't much of a subculture anymore, Tay sees a lot of clients who don't necessarily understand what they're looking for in a tattoo. Thankfully, Tay is prepared to help clean up a client's ideas into a top-notch tattoo, as long as they're willing to listen to him.
"I don't think people know what a good tattoos is these days," Tay says. "It needs to have strong linework, vibrant color, and a strong image. A strong image tattooed poorly still isn't going to look very good, but a weak image is going to be a weak image no matter how well it's tattooed. It also helps to make sure it's facing the right direction and that it's well-balanced."
"There's a certain respect between shops that some of the kids don't understand," Tay adds. "You don't just go bumping your gums about how lousy the tattoos coming out of a different shop are. These young kids go around saying things like that and then they don't understand why they get punched in the face."
Tip Top Tattoo Parlor, 133 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullterton, 714-519-5550, Instagram @mikeytay_tattoos