NOTE: This list was updated in Dec. 2015. Click here for the updated version.
When it comes to tattooing, we are fortunate to have an enormous wealth of talent in Los Angeles. Though tattoo culture erupted in mainstream popularity several years ago, it was a vital part of L.A. long before that and remains so today. There are artists in every corner of the city, with faithful clients on long waiting lists.
We have so many true masters in Los Angeles that to try and narrow it down to the top 10 most talented would be not only impossible, but criminal. We didn't want to let that stop us from spotlighting talent, however, so below are several of our favorites.
10. Best tattoo artist on the Sunset Strip:
Mark Mahoney at Shamrock Social Club
Love it or hate it, the Sunset Strip is an important piece of rock & roll and Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Tattoo is an integral part of it. Buzzing guns can be heard coming from his legendary shop across from the Key Club at pretty much all hours. Mahoney got his start in his hometown of Boston back when tattooing was illegal. He's a legend in the industry, particularly his black and gray work. These days Mahoney is a household name, recognized even by those without any ink. No wonder L.A. Weekly's nightlife expert Lina Lecaro got her last tattoo from Mahoney. shamrocktattoo.com
9. Best tattoo artist who's a better musician than you:
Zulu at Zulu Tattoo
It's a challenge to find somebody who knows tattoos who isn't familiar with Zulu's work, as it's agreed he is one of the greatest talents in the tattoo industry today. His portfolio is filled with celebrity clients and a rich variety of work in color as well as black and gray, ranging from art nouveau to classic tattoo styles, but most people seem to call on him for tribal work. To hear his clients speak about his art, as an investment, a gift or a centerpiece, you may not realize they are discussing a tattoo artist. He has a way of bringing true artistry to tribal pieces, making them come to life in a way you may have never realized possible. His talents don't stop there — turns out he's a killer musician, and even played bass with Stanley Clarke back in the day. Damn, man, color us impressed. zulutattoo.com
8. Best tattoo artist-slash-graffiti artist:
Legendary tattoo artist and street artist Mr. Cartoon has been working in Southern California his entire life, but odds are you don't know where his shop is — he likes it that way. In his prolific career he's tattooed the likes of Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo and more. He's been hired by Nike, contributed to Grand Theft Auto and created the Cypress Hill logo. To schedule an appointment with him, be prepared to wait and to put down a healthy deposit. mistercartoon.com
7. Best tattoo artist who's a living cartoon:
The big eyes, the loud hair, the exuberant makeup, everything about Misha is a cartoon come to life. Her playful pop-culture velvet paintings have attracted loads of attention, and at the Royal/T Hello Kitty art show her Hello Kitty velvet paintings were an attendee favorite. When it comes to slinging a tattoo gun she translates the life, color and playfulness of her paintings onto flesh. If you need some cover-up work done, she's a cover-up ninja. More than half of her work right now is cover-up, in fact — if you have something you are thinking of covering, a consultation with Misha is a must.misha-art.com
6. Best tattoo artist whose band is even better than their awesome portfolio:
If you want to get tattooed by somebody who's been on TV, you have a lot of options. The Cure- and Moz-loving Dan Smith rises to the top of the TV pack. Maybe it's because we remember when he was doing tattoos out of his friend's basement, but something about Smith makes him easy to root for. He's fantastically kind, sure, but what really matters is that he's brilliant with color and he loves having fun with his work. He has a personality that puts you at ease no matter why you've decided to go under the gun, and you're sure to be in love with your piece when it's done. Oh, his band that's so great? They're called The Dear and Departed. Smith sings — check out the video above. dansmithtattoos.com
5. Best tattoo artist whose work you'll find in a major film:
We covered one of Clint Carney's art shows a while back. From what we saw at that show, one wouldn't expect to see his work included in a feature film marketed to families, but it was: His work can be found in We Bought a Zoo staring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Carney's tattoo work is as violent and detailed as his paintings, featuring dripping bloody organs, living skulls and other similarly themed images. Yum! clintcarney.com
4. Best tattoo artist in Silver Lake:
Craig Jackman opened American Electric in 1999 and has been running a shop so playful it would give Pee-wee's Playhouse a run for its silly money. Despite the funhouse attitude, Jackman is severely serious about tattooing, so you're assured quality. He won't reveal where he learned his skills, or even exactly how long he's been honing them, but that's no reason to harbor any doubts — he can do pretty much anything. He's mastered delicate lines and shadow gradients as subtle as a charcoal drawing. americanelectrictattoo.com
3. Best tattoo artist for Jackalope watching:
Cerretelli is a romanticized tale of tattooing come to life. Born and raised in Florence, Italy, his first run-in with tattoos was in the Italian Army and his first gun was made of a Walkman, toothbrush and a pen. He attended the Academy of Art in Florence and studied under the oldest living Italian tattoo artist, Maurizio Fiorini. No, really, this is a true story, not some sappy Hollywood version. Like Italian cars, Cerretelli's art has a flair for delicate details that are completely indulgent and enriching. His work has an added depth and richness above what most other artists offer. But don't just walk into his West Hollywood shop, where stuffed Jackalopes adorn the walls, and expect to see him — he's available by appointment only. thehonorablesociety.com
2. Best tattoo artist south of L.A.
Kari Barba has been tattooing since she was a teenager, and three decades later she's a highly respected artist with people traveling thousands of miles to get tattooed by her. Barba can do just about anything, but she'll refuse drunks and requests for drug symbolism. Barba is a master artist, and she doesn't want to do anything a client will regret. An enormous amount of care, detail and even a little bit of Kari goes into every piece. Barba has an impressive collection of awards and she can back them each up by bringing to life anything you imagine. Her greatest strengths are in Asian styles, painterly styles and her unbelievably lifelike black and gray work. outerlimitstattoo.com
1. Best tattoo artist to have a slumber party with:
Not only is Amy Nicoletto the kind of girl that you want to be your BFF and have over for popcorn-horror-movie-marathons, she's super-talented, and her tattoos seem to mirror her adorable physical appearance. She does great work with color, while her black and gray shadows are extraordinary. Her work shows a happy marriage of playfulness and delicacy. Though she does great work all around, her portraits are something to see — so intensely lifelike it's nearly impossible to look away. americanelectrictattoo.com