While many tattoo artists went to art school or studied a little graphic design, Wade Gracia was prepared to go a different route before launching into tattooing.
“I was going to college and I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I was planning on being a cop,” Gracia says. “I didn’t necessarily want to do that, but I just couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
But following close to his two brothers’ firefighting footsteps just wasn’t working out for Gracia. As a lifelong artist, it was only a matter of time before he came in contact with a tattoo machine and began tattooing “stupid little stuff” on himself and his friends. Eventually, Gracia decided that pursuing his tattoo dreams was worth the trouble of explaining his new career choice to his mother.
“My mom is Japanese, and I grew up in a Japanese household,” Gracia says. “Once she found out I dropped out of school, she was so mad. But now, she’s gone from ‘Why do you want to do tattoos?’ to ‘Oh, what’d you do today?’ She’s cool with it now, and she definitely kind of pushed me a little bit.”
With arguably the toughest part of his young career in the books, Gracia realized it was time for him to take the next step and sought out an internship at Orange’s Pachuco Tattoo. It was at Pachuco that Gracia took his skills from those of a kitchen magician to a professional tattooer. Not only was he learning from the solid crew led by Herchell Carrasco, but Gracia was also becoming part of the local tattoo community with renowned artists like the staff at Steve Soto’s Goodfellas Tattoo Studio.
“Working literally two blocks down from Goodfellas, that was tough,” Gracia says. “Especially in the beginning, I was like ‘How is anyone ever going to see me?’ I’d see the stuff those guys were doing, and I just kept my head down and kept working to get better.”
After his year of apprenticing, Gracia stayed on at Pachuco to formally begin his tattooing career. But after just a couple of years tattooing at the Orange-based shop, the artist recently made the switch to a private studio.
If you were to listen to some of the old-school tattooers, such a young gun getting his own place would seem like a foolish mistake. But in the Instagram-based tattoo industry of 2016, tattoo artists like Gracia don’t need to spend much time building their own brand doing walk-in tattoos in street shops. As long as their skills are sufficient, young tattooers can rely almost exclusively on a growing social media following to provide business. Of course – as Gracia has learned – life in a private studio for an up-and-coming artist (or anyone else) is very different from the familial feel of being a part of a bigger tattoo shop.
“The main thing about being on your own is you have to keep that mindset of always being hungry to keep getting better,” Gracia says. “Especially when you’re not around other artists to push you, it’s all up to you.”
At his private space, Gracia can focus more on the black and gray style that’s quickly setting him apart from many of OC’s other young tattoo artists. As with any new small business owner, setting his own schedule and balancing expenses are two things Gracia is still perfecting while expanding his clientele and working on his chosen art form. It’s still too early into his studio venture to tell whether Gracia will be sticking to the solo life, but there are certainly aspects of it that he prefers.
“A lot of people tell me that you kind of need that pressure of other artists being there, but even at Pachuco when people would come up and look at my stuff, I’d be like ‘Fuck…’” Gracia says. “Not in a bad way, but it was just like I’d rather keep it to myself.”
Wade Gracia's private studio is open by appointment only. For an appointment, contact him through his website or @gracia.tattoos.