Art Under The Collar
Costa Mesa is “The City of the Arts“ and she wears that moniker well. Here at I Heart Costa Mesa we love waxing poetic about the ever-expanding enormity of our city’s collective talent. In our ongoing quest to further connect with fellow Costa Mesans, we’ve recently delved a bit more deeply into the idea of art itself: What is art? Where is art? How will we know it when we see it?
Google ever-so-helpfully defines art as:
“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination… producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
We love this open-ended definition of art because it so thoroughly embraces all forms of creative expression and has us thinking about the vibes over at Blue Collar Tattoo. Blue Collar is home to a down-to-earth group of talented artists, making a living at expressing beauty and emotional power – through ink – on a canvas of skin.
Tat Pack: Artists Dakota Gilbert, Jason Lewis and Zodel Pedroza at Blue Collar Tattoo in Costa Mesa
photographer: brandy young
At the helm of Blue Collar Tattoo is owner, Jason Lewis – a man of considerable capability but few words. Still, with a little coaxing, we managed to get the scoop on his shop’s beginnings.
“I was born and raised in Fullerton and then ended up going into the Navy,” said Lewis from his shop at 2204 Newport Blvd. “After getting out, I started tattooing and was lucky enough to get a job here in Costa Mesa. Eventually, I ended up buying that shop and I was only 23-years-old when I did. I worked my butt off and did whatever I could to make it work, learning on the fly.
“After a while, we moved that shop over to this location – it was just bigger and brighter. But even as we were looking for places to move, I always knew we would stay in Costa Mesa. To really build a business the right way, I think you have to plant roots, lay down a foundation. If I’d moved around a bunch it never would have worked out. Now we’ve been here five years and it’s going really great.”
These days, Lewis spends a fair amount of his time performing paramedical tattooing, a specialized art form that helps people with medical conditions or post-operation needs. For example, Lewis might tattoo an areola onto the breasts of a woman after she has had a mastectomy, or he might ink over discolored scar tissue with a lighter pigmentation to help the scar blend into the skin tone.
“It really took off about three years ago,” said Lewis about his foray into paramedical tattooing. “A family friend asked if I could help her with a nipple and areola procedure and it just went from there. I started helping women as much as I could after that; it’s really become my passion. Helping people feel normal again, helping women get their self-esteem back after such a difficult ordeal, helping patients feel whole again – it’s taken my work to a whole new level of meaning. I feel like I can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Ink Different: Wide Array Of Ink And Art at Blue Collar Tattoo In Costa Mesa
photographer: brandy young
Paramedical tattooing isn’t the only ink-based art form happening at Blue Collar. Lewis works alongside fellow tattoo-artists Dakota Gilbert and Zodel Pedroza, who add considerable depth and breadth to the shop’s offerings.
Gilbert has been with Lewis for about five years and apprenticed under his watchful eye.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawing, painting – even drawing on myself which was a clue I guess,” said Gilbert. “I didn’t realize I’d be pursuing it as a career. But when I got out of high school, I got an apprenticeship under Jason and he taught me how to tattoo.”
Gilbert also handles a majority of the piercings at the shop. Yelp is full of positive reviews raving about how clean, gentle, quick and painless his piercing work has proved to be.
And rounding out the current team of incredible, inking artists is Zodel Pedroza, whose black-and-white realism work has to be seen to be believed. He’s been tattooing for three years total, one of those at Blue Collar.
“I’ve been drawing and doodling constantly ever since I was a kid,” said Pedroza. “I’m super into realism, I love the look of it. With realism – or any tattoo art, really – the key is to not mess up. I always want to achieve the perfect execution with my piece, and being an artist I’m my own worst critic.”
“Personally, I’m always judging my work,” agreed Gilbert. “Thinking to myself, ‘How can I get better? What can I do better?’ I’m always picking apart my work and looking for ways to improve. But honestly, I think that’s what people should want from a tattoo artist, a perfectionist.”
Where do the artists look for improvement and inspiration?
“Each other first,” said Gilbert. “We’re bouncing ideas around, constantly, and I would say our artwork feeds off of each other. We’re always drawing, stenciling, collaborating, adding details.”
“When ‘creators block’ happens, we turn to each other,” said Pedroza. “There’s a level of trust so we can confide in each other and get a new perspective on the situation.”
Need An Idea For Your Next Tattoo? Might We Suggest…
photographer: brandy young
Like true artists, they’re happiest when they get to create something totally new, from scratch.
“Whenever I get a chance to tattoo original artwork on anyone, that’s my absolute favorite,” said Gilbert. “When someone comes in like, ‘Do whatever you want,’ I am a kid in a candy shop. I just zone out and get into the flow of recreating my artwork on their skin. I love that feeling.”
“The other day I did a really cool black-and-gray realism piece that I’ve been wanting to ink for a long time,” said Pedroza. “I got so caught up in tattooing, I lost track of time. Twelve hours later, I looked up and finally realized how long we’d been going.”
The crew at Blue Collar echoes what we hear from so many Costa Mesans, namely that our city’s independent spirit, diversity – and beachside locale – are hard to beat.
“There’s so much to do around here, Costa Mesa has a little bit of everything, which makes lots of different kinds of people feel welcome here,” said Lewis.”The beach is five minutes from the shop. There’s movies, good food, fun times – everywhere you look. The community is good here, and the people are diverse. It’s a good scene.
“I hope people will read this and want to come check us out. Even if you’re not ready for some ink, just swing by and say, ‘Hello.’ Come check out our artwork for yourself and see what you think.” ♥
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