Since shows like L.A. Ink and Ink Master brought tattooing from the subculture to the suburbs, tattoos have never been more popular. It seems like there’s a new tattoo shop on every street corner in every neighborhood these days, but a quick Google search will prove that not all tattoo artists are created equal. Los Angeles has some of the most talented artists in the world, but there are also plenty of people who shouldn’t be putting permanent ink into people’s skin for a living. So how do you know where to go? Well, the Internet and social media can do a lot of the legwork for you, but here’s a quick guide to 10 of the most awesome tattooers in and around L.A.
Chente Rios at Under the Gun Tattoo Company
Realistic black-and-gray tattooing was born and raised in Southern California (more on that in a bit). In recent years, artists like Chente Rios have been taking the colorless game to a whole new level. The head honcho of one of East Hollywood’s top studios brings a range and diversity not often seen in the fine-lined style, with everything from perfectly realistic portraits to creative representations of the abstract and obscure. Sure, you can get one of the cleanest portraits around from Rios, but it almost seems like a waste not to give him something he can put his soft texturing and personal spin on. 4323 Melrose Ave., East Hollywood; (323) 661-0607, utgink.com, @chente_rios.
Bryan Burk at Dark Horse Tattoo
Staying in East Hollywood, head over to Dark Horse Tattoo to get some world-class neotraditional work from Bryan Burk. The veteran tattooer does plenty of Japanese-style and old-school American traditional work as well, but the bright colors and illustrated feel of his work set Burk apart from the hundreds of other “trad” and “neotrad” artists within driving distance. Plenty of tattooers would tell you that you can’t improve upon the old Sailor Jerry, Owen Jensen and Don Ed Hardy designs — but Burk’s work (particularly his tiger heads) say otherwise. 4644 Hollywood Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 665-7345, darkhorsetattoolosangeles.com, @bryanburk.
Jess Yen at My Tattoo
There are plenty of people out there who are proficient in the flowing and beautiful art form of traditional Japanese tattoos. Their bright colors and storytelling background have made Japanese designs a staple for longtime collectors and tattoo virgins alike, but Jess Yen’s tattoos are unlike any others you’ll see. Rather than using the traditional style that’s existed for generations, the Alhambra-based legend combines more detailed modern realism while keeping the complex structure of Japanese ink. For those seeking an Asian style without compromising some of the art form’s finest intricacies, Yen is the artist to go to. 1230 S. Garfield Ave., Alhambra; (626) 570-9224, mytats.com, @jessyentattoo.
Christina Ramos at True Tattoo
“Chicks can’t tattoo” is one of the most prominent (and sexist) misconceptions about today’s ink-slinging industry. A decade ago, it might’ve been much rarer to see women tattooing (two decades ago, lady tattooers were practically nonexistent), but these days there are plenty of gals who can ink just as well as the guys. Christina Ramos is right there at the top of L.A.’s female tattoo artists (particularly since Kat Von D is more of a celebrity than a tattooer these days), and is well versed in several styles. Ramos’ realistic work — black and gray, as well as color — has a softer edge for people who don’t want to scare their grandparents or neighbors. While you’re visiting her at True Tattoo (one of L.A.’s most famous shops), you might even see some of tattooing’s reality TV stars (and amazing artists in their own right) like Oliver Peck and Luke Wessman. 614 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 462-4745, truetattoohollywood.com, @christinasramos.
Nikko Hurtado at Black Anchor Collective
Few compliments can be given to Nikko Hurtado’s work that haven’t been said many times before. Even before his appearances on L.A. Ink and Ink Master, Hurtado was known around the world for his color realism. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of tattooers who do solid black and gray portraits between Los Angeles and Hurtado’s shop in Hesperia, but there may not be anyone on the planet who does color portraits (and other realism) quite as well as the San Fernando Valley native. Considering that tattoos are a lifelong investment, it’s worth spending some extra gas money to get the best work available in the area, no? 13567½ Main St., Hesperia; (760) 244-1800, blackanchorcollective.com, @nikkohurtado.
Robert Atkinson at Ten Thousand Waves Tattoo Gallery
Sherman Oaks might not seem like the type of neighborhood where you’d find a whole lot of top-notch tattoo shops, but Ten Thousand Waves Tattoo Gallery is among the best spots for traditional Japanese ink in California, even the world. Robert Atkinson has well over two decades of experience in the industry, and he’s responsible for some of the finest Japanese work in the area. When he’s not tattooing alongside fellow Japanese-style tattoo legend JoJo Ackermann, Atkinson also designs custom kicks and paintings, and he’s been known to travel the world from time to time. 13716½ Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; atkinsontattoo.com, @roberatkinson_tattoo.
Freddy Negrete at Shamrock Social Club
A couple of different origin stories exist as to how black-and gray tattooing ended up as one of the prominent body-art forms in SoCal, and each of them would likely require a book to tell. Regardless of who you believe, they’ll almost definitely agree that Freddy Negrete has been there since the beginning. To hear the whole story, you’ll have to head over to the Sunset Strip and ask the man himself, but you can just look at his portfolio to see the impact he’s had on the industry as a whole (particularly in L.A.). While some living legends have seen their work deteriorate over the last decade or so, Negrete seems to be getting better with age. Still, you’ll want to get tattooed sooner rather than later, just in case he decides to hang up his machines sometime soon. 9026 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 271-9664, shamrocksocialclub.com, @freddy_negrete.
Alex Strangler at her private studio
Not all tattoos have to look tough and manly. For that matter, some of the best tattoos have a serious feminine twist to them. Alex Strangler’s work falls into that category, and if you want someone to do something cartoony and/or feminine on you, there’s no one better. From Disney to comic books and Mike Judge to The Simpsons, Strangler has mastered cartoon tattoos, and she does some pretty wonderful neotraditional work as well. If it’s cute and/or animated with a sense of humor, there are few people worth considering other than Strangler. Of course, Strangler works out of a private studio, so you’ll have to contact her for directions. @alexstrangler.
Roman Abrego at Artistic Element Tattoo
If you live in Los Angeles, Yucaipa may seem like a distant land you’ll never venture to, but if you’re looking for the best biomechanical tattoos in the world, it’s a trip you’ll take. Biomech (you know, the tattoos that make people’s muscles and body parts look mechanical or robotic) is one of the toughest styles of tattooing to master, and poorly done biomech can look unforgivably bad. While other artists are still figuring out the intricacies of the human body to make sure every line matches up perfectly with the muscles under the skin, Roman Abrego is internationally known for his flawless ability to visually mechanize limbs, body parts and entire people. Abrego’s portraits and other realism pieces are awfully good, but it’s the biomech that’s made him famous. 34247 Yucaipa Blvd., Yucaipa; (909) 797-8280, artisticelementtattoo.com, @romantattoos.
Levi Rivoire at High Seas Tattoo Parlor
For the real badass old-school American traditional tattoos, Levi Rivoire at High Seas Tattoo Parlor does as good a job as you’ll find anywhere. From the oldest Sailor Jerry designs to trendier traditional blackwork, Rivoire’s tattoos can be held up against the best and most famous artists from all over the world. If you’re a fan of phrases like “bold will hold” and want timeless tattoos that’ve been stylish for the last half-century, Rivoire is definitely a guy to have on your list for L.A. and anywhere else he goes. 5849 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 798-4455, highseastattooparlor.com, @levirivoire.