Tattooing in the Western world traces its roots back to the 16th through the 18th centuries. During maritime expeditions, Europeans often encountered Polynesians who had tattoos. The word itself is derived from the Samoan word tatau.

These sailors would be intrigued, participate is getting their own tattoos and then return home with body art. The popularity of tattoos on sailors helped it become mainstream in Europe and eventually North America.

Martin Hildebrandt was the first documented professional tattoo artist in the United States. Between 1861 and 1865, he tattooed Civil War soldiers while living in Boston.

Tattoos have slowly become more accepted for civilians since the 1970s. It attracts both males and females, as well as a wide variety of age groups. In the most recent years, tattoos have come out of the shadows and into the mainstream. It’s no longer simply an activity by the fringe of society and is now considered an artistic expression that allows a person to celebrate his or her individuality.

It’s become so mainstream that in 2011, Mattel released a tattooed Barbie.

Modern advancements have really refined the process by having better pigments and equipment used for tattooing. This has resulted in a higher quality tattoo with finer details.

Additionally, the mainstreaming has attracted a bigger base of artists to choose this field as a career. In the past decade, the popularity of shows like L.A. Ink, Ink Masters and Tattoo Nightmares proves tattooing is now firmly ingrained in American pop culture.

Four EL Magazine Gets Tattooed

William Lopez is the man behind Alternative Strategies, an award-winning, full-service, marketing-communications firm that believes in the power of media exposure, branding and advertising. Lopez is a leader in the industry and has been an instrumental resource for Four EL magazine. Not only do we have a great working relationship, we have also become friends. During one of our meetings, it came to light that he had several tattoos. One, a barbed-wire band, he wanted to get covered up. After a few drinks and a few laughs, the tattoo issue was born.

I also committed to getting my second tattoo. My first was done way back in 1993 and is the source of a lot of laughs for my friends. It’s a cartoon kangaroo on my hip, obviously not a very manly place for a tattoo. I have to continually explain that my last name is Kang, so thereby a kangaroo. Also, back in 1993, getting a tattoo was still relatively taboo, so a lot of people got them where they can’t be seen. Now, after 20 years, it’s time for me to man up and get one on my arm.

Lopez decided on a tattoo based on the art of Keith Haring. If you’re not familiar with the late artist and social activist’s work, he generally did outlines of characters in different colors. Lopez chose five figures in different colors to wrap around his barbed wire.

Myself, I’ve always wanted to display a tribute to California in ink on skin. I have lived in Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and now San Diego. I love the Golden State and I don’t plan on ever leaving. So I found an image of a bear with his dukes up and decided to put a red star next to him with the word “Republic,” like “California Republic” that’s written on the original flag. I think both of these together show my fighting spirit as well as my love for California.

With only one thing left to do, we set out to find a phenomenal artist and an awesome tattoo parlor.

Several months ago, Meghan Balser of Seven Grand in North Park invited me to the Fernet Branca party, which is where I met tattoo artist Nathan Anderson for the first time. People were actually getting the Fernet logo tattooed on their bodies. I started talking with Anderson as he was doing one in the “tramp stamp” area of a guy. It was kinda strange but we were all laughing and had a great time.

As we started to scout for the right tattoo parlor, Four EL editor Chris Lapham told me Bearcat Tattoo Gallery (off Kettner Street) is considered to be one of the top parlors in San Diego. A light went off in my little brain that he me fumbling for Anderson’s business card. Boom! He works at Bearcat. Destiny!

I gave Anderson a call and he reported he was down for the cause. I found out he’s a family man and that he loves rap music, has an extensive art background and is an all-around cool dude.

On top of all of that, he’s also a writer, a true renaissance man and now a cool buddy.

Choosing the Right Tattoo Artist for You

By Nathan Anderson

These days, tattoos are everywhere you look, especially here in Southern California, where everyone from doctors to grandmothers are getting inked up. Chances are, even you have been thinking about getting a new tattoo. With so many artists in San Diego, where should you start? Who’s the best artist to take on your creative masterpiece? This is a pretty common dilemma that serious tattoo collectors and first timers both struggle with. Hopefully, some of this advice can help lead you in the right direction.

The first step in getting a good tattoo is figuring out a general idea of what you want. As a tattoo artist, things can become difficult if the client has an exact idea of what he or she wants with no flexibility on size or design. So, in other words, it?s great to have an idea for your tattoo, but it will probably come out best if you let your artist get creative. Tell the artist what you want, but the chances are they can come up with something better than a napkin doodle you just did at lunch.

When you have a good idea for your new tattoo, it might be time to find the right person for the job. Going online is a great way to research shops.

(Notice the word shop. Not a kitchen, garage, living room or anywhere else your friend’s cousin wants to hook you up. Do not get tattooed by anyone but a licensed professional in a sterile environment!)

Whether you find a few shops you?re interested in online or you just decide to walk into some in your neighborhood, it?s definitely good to do your research. Depending on how detailed your tattoo is going to be, you will be spending a good amount of time with the artist doing the piece and also in the shop they work at, so make sure it’s an environment you’re comfortable with. How do the employees treat you when you walk in? How is the appearance inside the shop? Is it extremely clean? If you feel comfortable with the way the shop looks and how you?ve been treated up to this point, then the next step is to see portfolios.

Too many people ask how much a tattoo is going to cost before they ask to see portfolios. The quality of the tattoo is a much more important factor and asking the price right off the bat is going to let most artists know your intentions are to get a good deal, not a good tattoo. Good tattoos aren?t cheap and cheap tattoos aren?t good!

As you look through portfolios, don’t expect to find the exact tattoo you are looking for. The point is to find someone who has a style you like and has done tattoos you think are nice.

Once you’ve found someone who’s pleasant, makes you feel comfortable and has a good portfolio, don’t hesitate to put down a deposit and get a design going. Most good tattoo artists won’t be available to do your piece that day or even that week. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to permanent body modifications! This isn’t a new shirt you’re buying, its something that will be with you FOREVER!

Hopefully you now understand the process of finding a good artist and know that cheapest isn’t the best. Don’t be offended if a tattoo artist respectfully declines your piece and recommends someone else for you. They aren’t trying to blow you off; in fact, they are doing you a favor. They are probably suggesting that other artist for a reason, and they might be a much better fit for you.

Be diligent when shopping for a tattoo. A good artist will always appreciate a potential client looking around for someone they’re comfortable with.

Good luck with your new tattoo, and if things don’t go according to plan, I specialize in cover ups!

Nathan Anderson has been professionally tattooing for seven years. He works at Bearcat Tattoo Gallery and specializes in realistic color and cover ups. He can be reached at (619) 269-2979.