Along with beauty salons and coffee houses, Echo Park has attracted numerous tattoo parlors in recent years. Sunset Boulevard – from about Beaudry Avenue on the east to Mohawk Street on the west – is now home to about six tattoo businesses. How do all these tattoo parlors survive? It’s even a mystery to Salvador Preciado (pictured above), owner of El Classico Tattoo & Art Studio, who moved to Echo Park from Hollywood about two years ago in part to get away from all the other tattoo parlors. In that time, four other shops have opened their doors nearby. TV shows like Miami Ink and the sight of celebrities showing off black and gray East LA or Chicano style-tattoos have not only attracted more clients but also more tattoo artists, Preciado said. Any budding artist can buy a tattoo kit at a swap meet for between $300 to $500 and then start working out of their home. “They are selling a dream,” said Preciado of the TV shows. The new artist “wants to be a rock ‘n’ roll tattooer. They forget that it’s all about just doing good work and doing something that is going to satisfy a client for the rest of their lives.”
The 38-year-old East LA native who now calls Echo Park home didn’t get his own tattoo – an Aztec image – until he was 18. Preciado has long loved the art of the tattoo but also spent many years rolling down his sleeves to cover his tattooed arms for fear of offending his grandfather and other family members. When he was 27, Preciado left a “regular job” as a buyer for a metals company to pursue his interest in tattooing as a professional.
After running a shop near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street for several years, Preciado started looking for space further east and closer to home as tattoo shops started “opening on top of each other” across Hollywood. In Echo Park, he transformed what had been a former photo studio on Sunset Boulevard near Echo Park Avenue into a bright space with high ceilings and room for his crew of seven. Most tattoo artists work on a commission basis and some rent a chair or a space. At El Classico, the minimum charge is $65 and $150 an hour for the most extensive work, some of which can take 25 hours or more to complete. “It’s back breaking work,” said Preciado.
Sometimes there are people waiting when El Classico opens at 12 pm for an East LA or sailor-style tattoo. Some of the artists end up working a few hours after the 9 PM closing to finish work. But there are often afternoons when artists waiting for clients to show up. “We are doing ok,” said Preciado, whose shop has to generate enough income to pay those artists, the rent and other expenses and then have enough left over to support his family.
“I do 10-hour days,” said Preciado, whose fingers are calloused from his trade. “There is a lot of pressure. We are like surgeons. There is no messing up.
Photos by Jesse Saucedo