Romeo Lacoste is an up and coming tattoo artist from San Diego, CA that's quickly being recognized for his work in the scene, and I got the opportunity to get to know him and get his thoughts on things in the tattoo world. You can follow him on Twitter here, as well as on Facebook here. To check out his work and schedule an appointment, you can check out his official website, here.
First off, how old are you and where are you located?
I'm 23, almost 24 years old, and I'm in San Diego, CA.
First artist to apprentice under, and for how long?
My first apprenticeship was under Kadillac Tattoo in Jacksonville, FL.
What notable musicians have you worked with thus far?
Mike Fuentes from Pierce The Veil, Alex Good from Texas In July, Austin Carlile from Of Mice & Men, Craig Owens of Chiodos, Alex Shelnutt from A Day To Remember, and more. You can find an entire list on my website.
Can you describe your introduction to artistry growing up? Was it something you became attached to at school, or was it something you tried on your own? Was there a particular influence in your life that encouraged you to continue to pursue art?
Ever since I can remember I was drawing in school. I would sit during my lunch break in the cafeteria and draw Dragon Ball Z pictures or even portraits in grade school. All my friends kept telling me I was good and to keep at it, so I just kept drawing. I loved watching cartoons, especially anime -- Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Gundam Wing, stuff like that just awed me.
How did that interest lead to tattooing?
When I was 17 I was thinking on what I wanted to do when I grew up; I knew I wanted to have a career that was art-related, but I didn't want to be an architect or something like that so tattooing came to mind, and I decided to give it a shot. After that, I looked into my first apprenticeship.
What was your first tattoo personally? How did you decide on it?
Oh my god, this is embarrassing. My first tattoo was this skull and crossbones that I did on myself on my hip line when I was 17. I thought I was such a badass in high school, definitely wasn't cool. Looking back, I don't know what in the world I was thinking to make me do that.
How long have you been tattooing?
I had a couple apprenticeships and there was time in-between when I didn't tattoo. So I'd say professionally around 3 years. I also had 2 different 1 year apprenticeships prior to that.
When you were first apprenticing, what was the most important piece of advice you were given?
Hmmmm...it sounded kinda dumb at first because I was dumb and impatient, but I was told to learn the ins and outs of tattooing before you start tattooing. There's a reason you're supposed to clean, draw, and study for a long time before you actually start tattooing. But of course being young and not knowing anything just wanted to start tattooing right away. The proper way is to learn to do it the right way before you just jump into it and make unnecessary mistakes.
Is there a tattoo artist you wish you could sit and observe? Personally, I’ve always wanted to get work done from Craig Beasley from Tallahassee or Tyler Hoare from Montreal, I think watching those guys at length would be fairly fascinating. I saw Craig finish work on Yelawolf on the 2011 Warped Tour, and I was highly intrigued by it.
It's funny you say that because I actually know Tyler Hoare, he's an awesome dude and I love his work. We haven't spoken in a while but we used to share tattoo ideas and stuff, he definitely gave me some cool tips. If I could sit down next to an artist, it would definitely have to be Niko Hurtado. That guys color realism is just on another level, he's like a Picasso. His tattoos look like paintings or color photos, they're absolutely amazing. I'm working on color portraits now so I have a strong appreciation for his realism skills.
What was your first exposure to the music scene? What bands did you start off watching growing up? What was the first couple of albums that kicked off a love for music?
Well, that depends what scene you're speaking off. The first bands that I started listening to in grade school were groups like Third Eye Blind and the Backstreet Boys. Then in middle school I moved towards bands like P.O.D., Linkin Park, Story Of The Year, Good Charlotte… stuff like that. But as far as like the scene goes, the first band I'd have to say was Underoath, and then of course that opened the doors to so many cool bands, like As I Lay Dying, The Used, and Chiodos. One of my favorite albums of all time definitely has to be Artist In The Ambulance by Thrice, such a powerful CD.
Present day, what bands do you consider to be your favorite, and why?
Honestly I listen to mostly Rap, Hip-Hop, Pop and R&B now. Occasionally I'll listen to rock or hardcore, it's a hard question. Because my honest answer would be the bands I'm friends with, cause I get to know them on a personal level, some of them are really cool and we've gotten close. But music wise, I really like New Kids On The Block, old school haha! and Justin Bieber, I love Bieber, he's rad. Mariah Carey is also another favorite of mine.
What tattoo artists do you consider to be an inspiration? I think if I recall correctly, you mentioned Kat Von D as an inspiration – what about her makes her inspirational? Is it her fame? Work ethic? People that she’s gotten a chance to work on?
I definitely have a lot of respect for her and I get inspired by her too, she's a great artist. But honestly It's just her work ethic and what she's done in her life...I mean, you've never seen a tattoo artist do that before - TV show, magazines, clothing line, store, a gallery, etc. She's mixed the entertainment industry and tattooing in ways its never been done before, and I respect that. My favorite artists would have to be Grime, Jeff Gogue and Domantas Parvainis - those guys inspire me tattoo wise, but I try not to be influenced by other artists. I like to appreciate an artists work, but I try to inspire myself as to keep the work original, so I don't become a mirror of that persons style.
I noticed the other day that some of your work was in FRONT Mag, on a Mike Fuentes feature. What is it like to see your work displayed like that in a magazine?
It's awesome. I mean, I've had tattoos featured in other tattoo magazines before, but I would honestly rather see it in an alternative magazine instead. When people look in a tattoo magazine you see so many tattoos its hard for them to stand apart or focus on just one - in fact, you may even skip some flipping through. But when you're looking in a skate magazine or music magazine and you see an article on tattoos, those are the only ones in the magazine so it's going to catch your eye, you know? but either way being 3 magazines in, It's definitely surreal looking through a magazine and seeing my work and my name.
When you’re tattooing various people, what sort of things do you like to learn from them? Obviously you have them with you for hours at a time, so there’s definitely time to hear a bunch of powerful stories and anecdotes.
It always depends on the person. Generally I like to ask how many tattoos they have, when was the last time they got tattooed and who was the artist that did it - that alone gives me a lot of information on the client and how they might sit through their tattoo. A frequent question I always get from clients is "what's the craziest tattoo I've done", and I always joke about this kid who came in with his parents and handed me a drawing of a cartoon pot leaf he drew and his parents were proud, he drew it so they're paying for his tattoo. I'll never forget that story, it still makes me shake my head!
Is there a particular type of tattoo that you’ve been getting requests for over the past year or so? Portraits? Tribal? Furthermore, what is your favorite type of tattoo to do?
My favorite style is a mix between Neo-Traditional and Japanese. For people who don't know what "neo traditional" is, it's basically using similar designs and ideas as old school traditional tattoos, but tweaking them and adding more details. I also love doing variations of bold and fine lines, and adding awesome color and highlights. Japanese is always awesome you can't go wrong with that, and I do enjoy doing portraits.
Lately people have been requesting more of my usual style because that's more of the designs I post on my social networking sites. such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Have there been pieces you’ve refused to do for one reason or another? Can you give an instance of this happening?
I refuse to do vulgar tattoos. For some reason I know a lot of tattoo artists that find it funny to do tattoos and designs of male and female genitals, but I've always been against it...it never made sense to me or seemed appropriate. Fortunately I've never had anyone ask me for one, so I haven't had to turn anyone down.
I noticed you recently did a “Gentleman Cat” tattoo for someone. Are there any other odd tattoo ideas that people have brought to the table? If so, who were they, and what did they ask for?
I guess that concept is odd, but it's definitely interesting at the same time. The cool thing about being an artist is that people have different lives and stories and people will have the craziest imaginations sometimes. People will come to me asking me for all kinds of odd tattoos: abstract roses, figures, zombies, and human like animals. I feel like a lot of people who get tattooed by me always ask for something that will make it different or unique in a sense, it's great.
Have you ever misspelled a word while working on someone? If so, how did you approach it and correct the mistake?
Fortunately for me that has never happened. I'm very stern about double and triple checking the spelling. I've been in shops and seen too many people who have gotten words misspelled because they didn't double check, and that's one mistake I told myself I'd never make.
Looking back on the work you’ve worked on, what are the tattoos that you’re most proud of personally? Why are these significant to you? Is it because of the stories and people behind them?
It's definitely not because of the stories. I'd have to say that there were times when I would look at the work of other tattoo artists I liked and think to myself "man I really need to step it up" and it would inspire me to just do this badass tattoo, you know? I really like the Jesus portrait I've done, along with the 2 Frankenstein ones - the color, and black and grey. I like the T-Rex tattoo, and the snake & dagger shin piece. I've done a lot of pieces that I'm proud of, I just love surrounding myself with other great artists and checking out their work, it just reminds me that I want to be the best and do something that will impress others.
Is there a particular part of the tattooing culture that really irritates you, and that you wish you could change? If so, what solution is there to solving that problem?
I guess that goes with everything...you know how it goes. A lot of artists think they're better than other artists and have horrible attitudes, or sometimes people act like you have to be this tough burly guy to be a tattoo artist. But I like to keep the competition fun and friendly and add my own style and personality to my character. Unfortunately I think there's not much I can do to change that, people are like that everywhere, but all I can do is be myself.
Furthermore, is there a part of your job that people commonly misunderstand or overlook? Can you provide more insight and clarify this aspect for everyone?
This is a great question, and I'm so glad you asked. One thing that irritates me SO much is when people tell me I'm lucky to be a tattoo artist, or when people think that they can just buy a tattoo "kit" and be this "rockstar" tattoo artist. The road and journey of being and becoming a tattoo artist is almost always not easy! It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and it never ends! For some reason kids think I just woke up one day and I was tattooing, making money and touring with bands. I'm think "how does that even make sense?"...people don't see behind the scenes. They don't realize that apprenticing and working to becoming a tattoo artist is hard work, and just because you can draw doesn't mean you can buy a tattoo kit and be a tattoo badass, haha.
Do you feel like many tattoo artists are relying too much on computers instead of artistic design when designing tattoos? Would you agree the best type of tattoos are ones where you get a description from someone and you get to interpret their vision and sketch it out?
Oh, of course! I mean, there has to be a happy medium. Computers are great, and there's A lot of things about the human anatomy or animal anatomy that may be hard to design accurately off the top of your head if you don't work in that field very often. But I feel at the same time I see a lot of tattooers become lazy and rip off or trace tattoos they get off Google. So I agree that custom hand drawn designs guarantee the originality of that design and keeps it custom, which is how I like to keep most of my tattoos.
What’s some good advice for aspiring tattoo artists to break out into the industry? Was there a struggle you had to overcome that they’re eventually going to face as well?
If you think it's going to be easy, quit now. If you think you're going to be good next week, quit now. If you're doing it because you think you're going to make money, quit now too.
The industry is over saturated and a lot of people don't have the passion for it. You're going to suck for a long time, and won't make money for a long time, and there's thousands of other people just like you who think they're gonna be a tattoo artist so you better stand out!
Will you be on tour this year? If so, where can we find you?
If all goes according to plan, I should be on Warped Tour in 2013, it's going to be a good line up. I don't have anything else in the works as of yet but I'm always traveling working with artists and people, so I travel a lot. I just say follow my Instagram and Twitter to keep up with where I'll be at!
Anything else to add?
You'll never see a tattoo artist with as much swag as me. Shout out to my lil brother Mickey. Follow my instagram and twitter for a good time - @RomeoLacoste. My website is www.romeolacoste.com