Jacky Lopez of True Anchor Tattooing in Downtown Fresno tattoos flowers on a client. Photo by Frank Lopez.
Written by Frank Lopez
Tattooing has been mainstream for years now — and it is younger generations driving the surge.
According to an August 2022 survey from youth culture market research firm YPulse, Gen Z and Millennials have led the rise of tattoos. Some 37% of 18–24-year-olds have tattoos. Half of Millennials in the 25-39-year-old age range also do.
Data from the YPulse survey shows the surge is recent. In 2019, their data showed only 21% of young people said they had tattoos, with that figure now at 40%.
Locally, tattoo artists have seen a rising demand for their work.
After the onset of Covid-19, tattoo artists were considered non-essential and temporarily forced to shut down in March 2020, and a second time in July 2020.
After reopening, however, local tattoo shops saw an influx of customers waiting to get under the needle.
On February 25-26, the 18th annual Fresno Tattoo Expo will be held at the Big Fresno Fair Grounds.
Chris Earl is a tattoo artist from Bakersfield. He has his own shop called Travelers Tattoo. He is a director at the Fresno Tattoo Expo and one of the original organizers of the convention, first held in 2005.
He has been doing tattoos for about 13 years.
Around the time of the first Fresno Tattoo Expo, the popularity of tattoos was surging due to reality TV shows such as Miami Ink and LA Ink.
“All different kinds of people were getting tattoos. It wasn’t just the sailors and drunks. It was more professional people you were seeing coming out to get tattooed,” Earl said.
Each year the convention grew, with tattoo artists coming from all over the world.
This year’s convention will host 90 tattoo booths and approximately 180 artists.
Tattoo shops usually see less activity after Thanksgiving, Earl said. And since tattoos are a luxury, recent economic trends did slow demand — with more clients paying for their ink with credit cards, he said.
Earl said most tattoo shops don’t accept credit, but many are shifting to payment systems like Venmo and Zelle.
Because of recent inflation for virtually all goods, including needles and ink, tattoo shops have also increased their rates. Earl said the biggest price increases were for latex gloves, for which he used to pay $80 for a case. Now it costs $150 to $225 per case.
The Red Wave Tattoo & Art Gallery south of the River Park Shopping Center in Fresno has been in business since 2007, right when the tattoo craze was taking off.
Fresno native Rico Saldivar owns the tattoo shop, as well as the connected Red Wave Barbershop, the neighboring Salon Divar, which he owns with his wife, and Red Wave Print Studio in Tower District.
He also recently opened Elevate Jiu Jitsu Academy in Fresno.
Saldivar has been an artist since as far back as he can remember, inheriting the trait from his father who was a graphic and pinstripe artist for cars. Saldivar would help his dad do graphic work on cars and boats.
“My goal was always to be able to provide for my family with my art. I just didn’t know which medium it would be. It just ended up being tattooing,” Saldivar said.
For Saldivar, graffiti and mural art led him to the tattooing world, meeting fellow painters, one of which owned a tattoo shop in Fresno, Acme Tattoo Studio.
Saldivar only wanted to learn tattooing from the best artists. After Acme closed around 2000 and the owners moved out of town, leaving him a tattooing starter kit, there was no one else he wanted to learn from. He began teaching himself tattooing as he worked to support his family.
He opened Red Wave Tattoo in 2007, with the business growing along with the popularity of tattoos.
Covid-19 did slow down the shop with the temporary closures. Saldivar said that after federal assistance loans were dispersed to the public, there might have been less clients and walk-ins, but the clients that were coming requested more expensive pieces.
A more significant blow to business was the closure of the Toledo’s Mexican restaurant in Pinedale in 2020. Saldivar said the restaurant generated a lot of walk-ins for the shop.
Redwave has had to raise its rates in the face of rising prices for supplies and equipment.
Saldivar has a built-in clientele which includes professionals like doctors, business people and lawyers.
“It’s more mainstream, and the TV shows had a lot to do with it,” Saldivar said. “Social media as well, but it was those original shows that put a whole new light to the world.”