It's a common sight. You walk into a local tattoo shop and, almost invariably, the walls are covered from top to bottom with flash designs.
While we've come a long way from the generic, rapid tattoo flash of yore, shifting instead towards inspired artist creations, the concept remains the same : whether on the wall or in binders, generic or elaborate, flash is prevalent in tattoo shops in order to provide would-be clients with ideas for their next tattoo. For those short on inspiration, parlors are more than happy to make suggestions by wallpapering their shop with their flash designs.
Walking into Black Diamond Tattoo in Venice, California, you won't see a scrap of flash. The walls are instead decorated with fine art aimed at creating an inviting and welcoming atmosphere for their clients. When asked about this, Charly Reynoso, a 38 year old tattoo artist and one of 6 employed at Black Diamond, addresses one aspect of his shop that sets Black Diamond a part from the rest. "We don't do flash tattoos in the shop. Everything is created on the spot, for the client, by request."
During its 4 years of operation, this tendency towards custom design has allowed the artists at Black Diamond to cultivate their skills over a wide array of tattoo styles, ranging from traditional to black and gray; from portraits and realism to illustrative artwork.
Tattoo artists especially have a vested interest in becoming proficient in multiple styles. In most other mediums artists are allowed to freely pursue their particular passions, leaving the limits of style to the whims of the individual.
Not so with tattoos, where ultimately, the decision of what gets done is at the mercy of the client. You never know when someone is going to come in with an idea for an old school American Traditional tattoo, only later to be followed by a client who wants some photorealistic bio-organic work done á la Giger.
As a tattoo artist, it's useful to be able to respond to the fluctuating, unpredictable needs of your clients. But as is the case with all artists, finding a niche where you excel and a style you are particularly fond of executing is inevitable.
Charly, who has been honing his craft for over 2 decades, is quick to identify his area of expertise. "American Traditional. I did Japanese as well for years, but I think my talent is towards the thick lines and bold style of traditional tattoos." Putting this classic style into historical context, Charly points out "It's where the culture began here."
Although an artist may have a killer portfolio, phenomenal talent and a keen eye for design, the truth of the matter is that a tattoo artist is nothing without a canvas, and that means clients. It's important to note that things have changed over the years; it's no longer about slapping a generic design onto a customer and sending them out the door as fast as possible in order to turn a buck.
Today, tattoo artists are truly cultivating relationships with their clients. These are people that sit down with the same artist for hours at a time, week after week, month after month, sometimes for years.
Charly makes this point clear: "I end up making lifelong friends with some of my clients. It's a really intimate setting when you're spending so much time with someone for hours on end - you get to know them pretty well." He emphasizes the substantial quality of the artist/client relationship by adding that most of his "close, non-tattooer friends began as clients."
In addition to the changing nature of client relations, client education on the medium of tattoos has likewise evolved. Today's clients tend to be much more informed on the subject, as Charly observes: "People are really sinking in to understand the art behind the trade, and getting deeper into what they want." Today, those seeking to get ink done really develop an understanding of the medium, and this translates into being knowledgeable and specific about their desires for a given tattoo.
Sure there are trends that people will follow; this will always be the case, however, as Charly poignantly notes : "Trends in tattoos are like clothes, at one point tribals were huge; but now people come in and ask for classic works of art from greats like Dali, DaVinci and Alphonse Mucha. They're seeking out genuine works of art in addition to the culture already established."
Reynoso, who began tattooing at 17 as a way to express himself with his friends, has more to say about the evolution of the tattoo industry. Today "the scene is more accepted, and in some cities it's considered trendy to go to or hang out at a tattoo shop, or with tattoo artists." Even the designation 'parlor' has become antiquated. When I referred to Black Diamond as a tattoo Parlor, Charly kindly suggested: "Today we call them shops, no so much parlor - that's a vintage word, maybe."
Digging deeper, Charly addresses his area with some perspective on what it means to be an artist in LA: "People expect more, especially in LA. The standard is higher depending on what part of town you're in and who you're competing with. In the 60's and 70's they (shops) weren't very common and it was more exclusive to be involved in the culture." He continues: "In more liberal areas tattoos have been widely accepted for a while now. We're starting to see smaller rural areas accept them as well."
With the increasing popularity of tattoos among celebrities, actors and athletes and the rise of tattoo shows on TV, 'exclusivity' in the tattoo scene is no longer applicable. Charly takes a strong stance and steady aim on the subject, with those tattoo shows firmly in his crosshairs: "Reality television has pretty much desecrated what the industry really is. Tattoos have gone mainstream - no doubt about it, and will continue to do so."
The ancient nature of Tattooing is not lost on Charly, and he uses its historical weight to lend some perspective on tattoos today: "Let's face it, tattoos have been around as long as man has, ancient mummies have been found with skin intact with markings and tattoos on them. Tattoos aren't a symbol of hooligans or delinquents, but rather: cultures depicting themselves, visibly."
For me, this was the most captivating and engaging of Charly's sentiments regarding the art form: Tattoos as the visual expression of culture.
Whereas before Tattoos may have indicated social rank within a village, marital status, tribal-lineage or celebrations of rites of passage, today's tattoo culture includes all of these factors as viewed through the lens of self-expression. This modern facet of Tattooing has ushered in a new, dynamic culture, in flux, and constantly re-defining itself. Our tribe now numbers in the millions, and we've outgrown the village to span the globe.
For those willing to wear this culture on their sleeve, Black Diamond Tattoo is located at
412 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA, 90291.
Take it from Charly: "We have a very talented crew working with us, and we try to set the bar higher and higher each year."