When 26-year-old Mario G. stopped by a tattoo shop to watch his buddy get tattooed, he didn't think it would lead him to tattooing as a career.
It just so happened that on that particular day in 2007, Mario was wearing a T-shirt that he had designed and silkscreened. The artists at the shop took notice of the shirt and asked him who drew the design.
"I had a book of my designs with me, so I showed it to them and they offered me an apprenticeship," Mario says. "I was working in customer service at the time, like a telephone job, and I had a few friends doing tattoos so I just decided to do it."
Now a tattoo artist and painter at Lady Luck Tattoo Gallery in Tempe, Mario is one of the Valley's top young tattooing talents, thanks largely to his unique take on the neo-traditional style of tattooing.
Growing up, Mario hung around a lot of skaters and was involved in the skating and graffiti scenes, so tattoos and street art were nothing new to him. It was when he began using some of his bold graffiti-style colors and details within the traditional tattooing style that his work stood out from the crowd.
"It's based off of traditional, vintage, old-school sailor tattoos," Mario says about his tattooing style. "I just started incorporating more detail and color into the designs, a lot in the eyes. I think it gives them more character and personality. It gives mood and feeling to the tattoos."
Though Mario has only been tattooing for about six years, his work has garnered attention around the Valley. This year, Mario won second place for traditional tattoos at the Hell City Tattoo Festival despite not attending the event and only entering one piece. "We do a few conventions a year as a shop," Mario says. "I always wanted to tattoo and travel, so it's motivating as shit when I get to do that."
What are some of your tattoos? I really like my Maleficent tattoo I got three years ago. Back when I was really young, my mom would dress up as Maleficent for Halloween. That was before the movie though. I've got one from Cory Lenherr, one from an artist from London and one from Steve Byrne in Austin. I don't think anyone's tattooed me more than once. I've got a Spongebob tattoo because I'm a big fan of Spongebob and a Starbucks tattoo because I've probably given them thousands of dollars and all I have to show for it is this tattoo.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I tattooed one of Terrell Suggs' friends once. I'm a huge Ravens fan, so that was really cool. I got excited as soon as I saw him walk into the shop with his friend.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? It needs to be clean and have consistent shading and color. As long as it's bold, you'll still be able to tell what it is 40 years from now when it's all saggy and old.
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What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? So far, I'm collecting from a lot of people I look up to. I want to be tattooed by someone who's paid their dues and knows a lot, because for me, it's a learning experience. When they find out I tattoo, they'll tell me what they're doing so I can use what I learn from them in my tattoos.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? The first year or two doing apprentice work, I know I could do all of those a lot better. I really lucked out on the tattoos I have though. I don't think I have a bad one, but I still have a lot of space left.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Don't look for a hook-up, and don't go somewhere because it's cheap. Look for good clean work. Look online and in portfolios. Don't just look for some guy who's going to do it for $30 in his kitchen.