Ink artists find their niche in Bakersfield

By Kyle Chidgey

Bakersfield has a surprisingly rich tattoo art scene, which outsiders who are not familiar with the area would not expect since it’s more of a small town with tiny corner buildings, market shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and Americana style looks. Bakersfield, as a whole, has been in the professional tattoo industry for more than two decades. Each local shop is different from the others, but one must not forget where it all started with Mad Dog Tattoo. Other than Mad Dog, Third Energy and Lucky Club probably stand out more than other Bakersfield tattoo parlors.

As most people that have had a tattoo done on their body know, it’s best to judge an artist’s talent by their experience and abilities. Quality over quantity is usually the best policy in choosing artists and shops to hire since body art is a permanent piece of work on the human canvas.

“We started in 1994, we have the experience, we’re one of the longest running shops in Bakersfield, and we know what our tattoos look like in ten years. Other shops have younger, less experienced artists,” said Mad Dog owner and tattoo artist Marc DeLeon.

Mad Dog Tattoo is unique from other Bakersfield shops because it tends to have more artists to choose from. Some artists at other shops were previously employed and trained by Mad Dog, and they’re a great choice if one desires a tattoo from a respectful company that has stood the test of time. DeLeon also said, “This is a way of life. This is not a trend to us. We have been doing this longer than TV shows.”

He is, of course, referring to the current mainstream status that tattoos now have in pop culture thanks to reality television shows like “Ink Master” and “Tattoo Nightmares,” which DeLeon added, “Tattoo TV shows do have their place.” It’s especially notable to point out that the different Mad Dog artists are capable of different styles, are versatile, and come from different backgrounds because of their influences.

“Leo Zuletta was an earlier influence on me. When I saw his work, that’s when I wanted to do tattoos,” said Mad Dog artist Jeff Steele.

If you’re still not convinced or sold as a customer, how about occasional specials on tattoo work performed by Mad Dog artists? It’s Toys for Tots season, and now is a decent time to look for tattoo bargains.

DeLeon mentioned, “Customers who bring in new, unwrapped toys for holiday donations can get tattoo discounts for the holidays.”

If Mad Dog just isn’t one’s cup of tea, then Third Energy might be a better choice. They could probably even give them some competition in the diversity department, and they have a considerably huge shop located at the Ice House warehouse in town.

Third Energy artist Esteban Martinez said, “We’re very diverse, we have one of the largest facilities in Bakersfield, and we have a quiet atmosphere.” By quiet, there’s not too many artists working at one time. Appointments are organized and any background music played while artists work is quieter non-aggressive alternative rock.

One who’s tattooed by Martinez can expect an artist’s hand that does work influenced by the legend Jack Rudy or Freddy Corbin, who’s an artist for Temple Tattoo in Oakland, California. Martinez, however, says about decision making, whether at Third Energy, or other shops to, “Just look at everyone’s work.”

Lucky Club Tattoo has only been in Bakersfield for five to six years, but it’s certainly an excellent shop choice for anyone that favors old school tattoo work and is turned off by anything unoriginal or too mainstream.

It’s a true tattoo “purist” shop that enthusiasts with deeper tastes will appreciate, and the shop features different skateboards hanging that completely cover the walls alongside other types of fancy custom and beautifully handmade art pieces the shop’s artists work on when they’re not doing tattoos.

“Older uncles and punk rock musicians are our influences,” said Lucky Club artist Cory Pierce. Don’t get Lucky Club wrong, though. They still are varied in the tattoo work they can carry out, but Pierce made some things clearer about the shop itself and the artists when he said, “Everything is hand painted, and we specialize in traditional tattoos.”

No matter what tattoo shop one chooses to have work done in, or what artist is hired, one should keep in mind that no two shops are alike or exactly the same. Every shop has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Most importantly, art, including tattoo art, is a person’s personal preference.

In the end, it’s up to the person getting the tattoo to decide what they need and want, and these shops overall probably are a good start in the decision making process but should not necessarily be the only choices if one desires other choices.