Every tattoo artist has that moment when they realize that inking people for a living is what they want to do with their lives. For some, it starts at an early age from an infatuation with tattoos, others find it when they realize they're doing more doodling than homework in school. For Lloyd Parrack, that moment came when he decided to follow his father's longstanding advice and not live the rest of his life as a mechanic.
"I grew up working on cars, and I was just over it," says Parrack, who now owns Gypsy Rose Tattoo, 1505 E. Thomas Rd., in Phoenix. "My dad always said he didn't want me to work as hard as he did for the rest of my life, so I wanted to find something else."
Parrack, who has now been sober for five years, found his opening to pursue the career he'd always wanted to try after his drinking caused a run-in with the law approximately 20 years ago.
"I'd just gotten out of jail for a DUI, and my good friend Rich Dohoney, who was already a tattoo artist, called me and asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip for six months," Parrack says. "He said we'd start in Salt Lake City, and I'd learn to either pierce or tattoo, and I'd do that for the rest of the trip."
Though Parrack, now 39, was initially a bit hesitant to throw away his career fixing cars and relationship with his then-girlfriend, after a day back at work as a mechanic, he realized it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
"It was the chance of a lifetime," Parrack says, "I brought my tools home from work that night, and my girlfriend back then worked the night shift. She asked me what happened, so I told her my job wasn't working out anymore, but I was sure something else would. As soon as she left for work, I called Rich, told him to pick me up, and we left."
After learning to pierce over the course of about six weeks in Salt Lake City, Parrack traveled with Dohoney as far as Washington, D.C. over the next five months, piercing and tattooing in several cities along the way.
That trip took place almost two decades ago. Parrack, who was born and raised in the Valley, has since established himself as one of Arizona's finest tattooers for traditional and neo-traditional ink. While many traditional tattoo artists confine themselves to a small palette full of strong "old-school" colors, Parrack isn't afraid to break out some hues that others might not go for.
"I don't limit myself on how I saturate tattoos with different colors," Parrack says. "I don't stick to a traditional color palette. I'll use a lot of different colors that you don't always see."
These days, Parrack still travels up to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas for some of his favorite tattoo conventions, but he has mixed feelings on some of Phoenix's own conventions.
"I do a lot of the conventions, but I think you shouldn't have a tattoo convention in the [Arizona Veterans Memorial] Coliseum. They promote it so well though, and everyone knows where the Coliseum is, so I guess it's good in that way," Parrack says. "I love Hell City though. It's great. It's fun. I love getting to meet new people at places like that."
Of course, in the nearly 20 years Parrack has been tattooing, he's seen his fair share of changes in tattooing, both as a part of the mainstream culture, and as an industry.
"When I got into tattooing, there was still a lot of money left to be made. These days, there are so many shops, it's a lot tougher," Parrack says. "A lot of people don't realize that they're not the only people we're drawing for. There's no hourly wage. We get paid by the tattoos we do. We're not rock stars."
Obviously, the business side of things changes for tattooers once they own their own shop, and Parrack has owned two. The first was Jolly Roger Custom Tattoos in Glendale, which he started with a partner in 2003 or 2004.
What are some of your tattoos? When I worked in San Diego, Dave Fox did a guest spot at the shop, and I just told him to do whatever he wanted. He stayed at my house and did a crucified rubber chicken. My friend Rich Dohoney did this one that's just a classic "women are evil" type of piece with the candles burning at both ends. My back is an ode to skateboarding, with the Suicidal Tendencies-style flipped up hat and the Tibetan skull. That was done by Chris Brugger.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? They're all memorable in a certain way, but honestly, there comes a time when you've done so many that they all start to blend together.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? That the person likes it. You get some people who are overjoyed and basically crying because they're so excited, and then you get some people who just have a blank face when they see it. Then you're like, "I guess they liked it, because I got a tip." It's usually guys who do that.
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What do you look for in an artist or shop for your own tattoos? That I get along with the person and that we mesh. I don't want to sit with someone I don't get along with, even if I really like their art. It's the same for hiring people. I've hired people before who I get along with, but everyone else can't stand them, so I have to get rid of them.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? No, not at all. It wouldn't lead me to this point.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Don't bring an entourage with you. Too many chiefs make bad decisions a lot of the time. Have your mind made up before you get there, or make it up as soon as you get there.