Tim McAlary of Port City Tattoo on the Business of Tattooing Every Style

Port City Tattoo’s Tim McAlary doesn’t have a television show, doesn’t have a clothing line, and is way too young to even apprentice toward becoming a legend. Yet he’s a tattooer’s tattooer, the kinda guy other inksters mention as one of the more unheralded artists in Southern California.

“I guess I do mainly American traditional and Japanese tattoos, but that’s only because I don’t get asked to do black and gray or portraits too often,” McAlary says. “As I see it, it’s like why would I want to limit my income by only doing one style of tattoo?”

Doing different styles is just a good business practice for McAlary. After all, tattooing is as much of a trade as it is an art form, and it’s not like he’s going to be doing the same design over and over again until it becomes easier. From traditional to realism to lettering, McAlary knows that every tattoo provides
different challenges.
“Tattooing is difficult every single day,” McAlary says. “Every tattoo is different. If a walk-in comes in and I have time, I want to be able to do it. Some people have to turn it down if it’s not their style.”

These days, McAlary is a pro at tackling any and every tattoo that comes his way. But he picked up a few lessons along the way he’s more than happy to share with younger tattooers, and even his younger self (if time travel was readily available).

“I didn’t realize the amount of homework I’d have,” McAlary says. “I hated school, and I picked the profession with the most homework. That, and I’d say to draw lettering every single day. It’s a tricky thing to do, and it gets your linework down. It will also definitely pay the bills.”

Classic Tattoo’s Tim Hendricks is a big fan of the Port City showrunner. He’s also one of the people McAlary studied while they worked together at Costa Mesa’s Gold Rush Tattoo about 10 years ago.

“Any time I wasn’t tattooing when I was working with Tim at Gold Rush, I would sit and watch him tattoo,” McAlary says. “I’d just pick up little things from him. Like on my black and gray, you know that the black is going to hold a lot better than the lighter, softer grays. It’s tricky to do black and gray, because if you go too dark, you’re fucked. You basically want to be almost fucked.”

McAlary is quick to point out that a lot of artists make their black and white pieces look nice for Instagram, rather than focusing on what the ink will look like once it’s healed, especially given the saturation principles of the style. It’s just one of many things he believes the public—or even practitioners—doesn’t know about tattooing.

“People don’t realize that it’s time-consuming,” McAlary says. “I tell people to just be patient. I don’t talk bad about the stuff on TV, but it shows a lot of bad work. I think the public is getting better about recognizing good work and bad work, but I still get people who come in here and think they’re going to get a half-sleeve in one sitting.”

Although reality TV misinforms customers about certain aspects of the art form, McAlary credits the craze for giving his industry some unintended benefits. With tattoos being more recognized as legitimate art, McAlary feels they’re better-suited for fine art than vice versa.

“People do take tattoo art more seriously now, and that’s better than bringing all of the other art stuff into tattooing,” McAlary says. “Tattoos are cool in general. A swallow can be a really badass tattoo—you don’t need some abstract painting tattooed on yourself.”

Port City Tattoo, 4290 Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 494-6800. Instagram: @tim_mcportcity

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