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Career as rockin' tattoo artist not recommended

“Right now I’m booked nonstop; other weeks, it’s crickets."

People like Dave Warshaw's Creepy Creep connection.
People like Dave Warshaw's Creepy Creep connection.

Mike Stobbe of North Park’s Avalon Tattoo started inking San Diego’s most famous rock stamp 25 years ago.

“I did at least 100 to 150,” he says of the Rocket From the Crypt rockets he started tattooing on fans in 1993. The legend said if you had one of the rockets you would get in to any RFTC show for free, forever.

Dave Warshaw's one-winged locust tat, for fans of the Locust

“I started off doing Pete and John from the band,” says Stobbe. “I became the official guy who did the Rocket tattoo.” But does the rocket tat still get free admission? “I heard of people flying in from Europe [with tattoos] who would still get VIP treatment…but I don’t think it’s still a thing like it used to be.”

Stobbe is not the only tattoo pro who built up his clientele through rock. Justin Cota now plays in Bosswitch, Dream Burglar, Deep Sea Thunder Beast, and has been in at least eight other bands over the past ten years.

“The last rock portrait I did was a watercolor paint splatter stencil of [the Doors’] Jim Morrison,” says Cota. “Most of the rock-related requests I get now are for handwritten rock lyrics.”

Cota says TV shows such as Miami Ink helped him to build up his El Cajon Boulevard business. It’s a perfect job for a musician, he says, admitting there are now plenty of competitors. “Right now I’m booked non-stop; other weeks, it’s crickets."

He says it’s not as easy to launch a career as a tattoo artist as it was when he started 15 years ago. “I just interviewed a guy with 30 years’ experience and he’s having a heck of a time finding a place to work.”

Dave Warshaw, guitarist with the Creepy Creeps, is famous for his one-winged locust tat for fans of the Locust. “I used to play in Tarantula Hawk and we played at the parties Avalon Tattoo used to have at the Casbah.” He says that crossover led to a healthy connection with the rock community, “...whether I was playing with them or tattooing them.”

His tattoo illustrations led to him branching out into creating graphics for the Bali Hai restaurant and Cutwater Spirits through his storefront Warshaw’s Provisions, which makes tikis and designer fireplaces. “People like it that there’s a connection with a Creepy Creep.”

Warshaw says he owes everything to his days as a tattoo artist, but... “I wouldn’t tell anyone to get a job [as a tat artist] today. It is completely oversaturated. There is far too much supply [of artists] and not enough demand. And today, people’s expectations are all about a good price. Instead of good art, people now want a $30 tattoo in pink that says ‘shit.’”

Place

Black Cat Bar

4246 University Avenue, San Diego

Bosswitch appears Saturday at the Black Cat.

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People like Dave Warshaw's Creepy Creep connection.
People like Dave Warshaw's Creepy Creep connection.

Mike Stobbe of North Park’s Avalon Tattoo started inking San Diego’s most famous rock stamp 25 years ago.

“I did at least 100 to 150,” he says of the Rocket From the Crypt rockets he started tattooing on fans in 1993. The legend said if you had one of the rockets you would get in to any RFTC show for free, forever.

Dave Warshaw's one-winged locust tat, for fans of the Locust

“I started off doing Pete and John from the band,” says Stobbe. “I became the official guy who did the Rocket tattoo.” But does the rocket tat still get free admission? “I heard of people flying in from Europe [with tattoos] who would still get VIP treatment…but I don’t think it’s still a thing like it used to be.”

Stobbe is not the only tattoo pro who built up his clientele through rock. Justin Cota now plays in Bosswitch, Dream Burglar, Deep Sea Thunder Beast, and has been in at least eight other bands over the past ten years.

“The last rock portrait I did was a watercolor paint splatter stencil of [the Doors’] Jim Morrison,” says Cota. “Most of the rock-related requests I get now are for handwritten rock lyrics.”

Cota says TV shows such as Miami Ink helped him to build up his El Cajon Boulevard business. It’s a perfect job for a musician, he says, admitting there are now plenty of competitors. “Right now I’m booked non-stop; other weeks, it’s crickets."

He says it’s not as easy to launch a career as a tattoo artist as it was when he started 15 years ago. “I just interviewed a guy with 30 years’ experience and he’s having a heck of a time finding a place to work.”

Dave Warshaw, guitarist with the Creepy Creeps, is famous for his one-winged locust tat for fans of the Locust. “I used to play in Tarantula Hawk and we played at the parties Avalon Tattoo used to have at the Casbah.” He says that crossover led to a healthy connection with the rock community, “...whether I was playing with them or tattooing them.”

His tattoo illustrations led to him branching out into creating graphics for the Bali Hai restaurant and Cutwater Spirits through his storefront Warshaw’s Provisions, which makes tikis and designer fireplaces. “People like it that there’s a connection with a Creepy Creep.”

Warshaw says he owes everything to his days as a tattoo artist, but... “I wouldn’t tell anyone to get a job [as a tat artist] today. It is completely oversaturated. There is far too much supply [of artists] and not enough demand. And today, people’s expectations are all about a good price. Instead of good art, people now want a $30 tattoo in pink that says ‘shit.’”

Place

Black Cat Bar

4246 University Avenue, San Diego

Bosswitch appears Saturday at the Black Cat.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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