From Pete Vaca's sleeve tattoos
On Friday the 13th, over 40 tattoo collectors lined up in front of Funhouse Tattoo and its neighbors in Pacific Beach for the parlor's $44 flash tattoo special. A handful couldn't bear the hours-long wait here and strolled half a mile west on Garnet to Sideshow Tattoo and Piercing, who transposed the unlucky number and charged $31 per flash piece. About 17 miles south in Chula Vista, The Standard Tattoo Parlor slung their flash tats for $20 a pop.
Vaca inked in Texas before relocating to Full Circle Tattoo in South Park.
Flash is the pre-designed, simple tattoo art usually plastered on the walls and in binders inside tattoo parlor showrooms. Each flash piece measures about two to three inches in size.
The Vice news outlet credits Oliver Peck as one of the "kick-starters" for the "Black Friday for tattoos day," throwing his "first big Friday the 13th shindig in 1995 at the now-shuttered Pair O’ Dice shop in Dallas." Since then, countywide tat shops followed suit, charging $13 for flash tattoos on this day. Until recently.
Pete Vaca inked in Texas before relocating to Full Circle Tattoo in South Park. "As far as Friday the 13th, I prefer not to participate. Nothing against the clients and artists that participate. This year is especially tricky and dangerous. Friday the 13th tattoos usually create crowds and lines of people that wait hours and hours for a tattoo, and with the pandemic, I think that’s a very dangerous game of chance."
Diego Tattoo Gallery in North Park had a Friday the 13th deal in March, just days before the state-mandated close-downs. Last week, they posted "Sorry folx, no Friday the 13th flash today" on their Facebook.
"I was affected by the pandemic in a few ways," Vaca continued. "I was out of work for six months, the longest I have ever gone without work or tattooing. I’ve been back to work now, but the pandemic is continuing and affecting us all. Every week I’m still encountering cancellations and re-schedules due to clients' work restrictions, quarantines, and or exposures to Covid-19. My work schedule has been reduced to half because of this. I tattoo many essential workers, and if they’re affected, I’m affected. Everyone’s affected. The pandemic forced me to kind of take a few steps back, reevaluate, rediscover, and reinvent myself both artistically and personally."
Vaca: "The pandemic forced me to kind of take a few steps back, reevaluate, rediscover, and reinvent myself."
Vaca's slung ink for 20 years. I met him at a tattoo convention in Golden Hall when I photographed and wrote for Tattoo, one of the original print magazines on the now-mainstream lifestyle. Most of the local tattoo artists that I've interviewed or photographed in the past did not respond to my Friday the 13th queries. Others haven't updated their Instagram accounts since the shutdown in March.
"A lot of my tattoo [artist] homies worked outta their pads during [the] shutdown," said John, a local tattoo model photographer. "On the real, bro, they ain't gonna talk to you because if we get shut down again, they don't want anybody knowing."
"During the shutdown, to create revenue, I was able to focus on my non-tattoo art and paintings. I sold the most paintings during the shutdown than I ever have throughout my whole life. It took a pandemic for me to sell my art, which I’m completely grateful for."
The city classifies tattoo artists and the parlors they work in as personal care services. On October 20, the city updated its page, stating in part "Personal care services can open indoors with modifications in all tiers. Follow this guidance for personal care services like nail salons, tattoo parlors, and body waxing to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers. This guidance applies to services that require touching a client’s face, like facials, electrolysis, and waxing. It also applies to esthetic services, skincare, and massage therapy. Review the guidance, prepare a plan, and post the checklist for personal care services in your workplace to show customers and employees that you’ve reduced the risk and are open for business."
"I feel like tattooing as a whole has already been practicing a lot of the new health and safety protocols. We merely added temperature checks and wearing a mask to our arsenal. Some of the officials that make up these restrictions and regulations don’t understand the lengths tattooers take to ensure the safety of each of our clients, ourselves, and our families."
During the shutdown, tattoo artists argued that they have to protect their First Amendment right, stating the art of tattooing is a form of expression.
Three years ago, when I followed the Friday the 13th tattoo specials, Jason Vorhees' hockey masks, black cats, teacups, bananas, and the number 13 were popular flash designs.
"What are popular tattoo designs and requests that you’ve seen reminiscent of the current times?" I asked Vaca.
"With the recent volatile atmosphere and craziness happening, I have seen a lot of tattoos representing protest and anger towards the powers that be. 2020 has hopefully helped me evolve my artistic style for the better. I’ve definitely lost time working and tattooing and suffered monetarily, but I’ve gained time finding and falling back in love with everything that I once loved about art and why I make art."