Love for permanent flesh art started early for Justin Martinez. In the late '70s, his mom would take him with her to visit some shops down in Corpus Christi. He’d eventually hang out in those same shops with his uncles after a day at the beach.
“They smoked in there, the tattooer didn’t have a shirt on – it was just real outlaw,” he says. “It was a real treat.”
Martinez has since become a prominent name in San Antonio’s tattoo scene, but breaking into it early on was harder than it is nowadays. The tattooer explained that the scene used to be dominated by tight-lipped bikers that weren’t exactly keen on giving out tips, or welcoming outsiders to the community for that matter. He also explained that finding tattoo machines and supplies was pretty much out of the question in those days.
“It’s not like it is now where you can just order whatever you want off the internet,” Martinez told us, saying that a person would need a reference number and have to pay an annual due to even order the equipment.
Eventually breaking into the scene and getting a start at Mr. Lucky’s in 1999, Martinez was taken under the wing of shop owner Weldon Lewis, where Martinez says he learned how to paint, tattoo and interact with clients. Martinez says it wasn’t necessarily a formal apprenticeship but a “working and guided” tattoo-learning process.
As for style, Martinez likes the “silly, not so serious,” recalling a rubber chicken he once tattooed on someone. But really, he loves working on big, Americana traditional-themed pieces – like the classic “rock of ages,” a nautical-themed piece with a woman clinging to a stone cross in the middle a thunderous sea.
Now Martinez works out of Element with Jedidiah Reed and some of the Alamo City’s other tattoo scene heavy-hitters, like Sweet Lorraine and Kelly Edwards. It’s a clean, open space (which last week got a 100 percent on its surprise health inspection) that looks half art gallery, half tattoo studio. The artists strip the walls once a year to clean, repaint and redecorate.
As Reed puts it, “A shop’s like a living entity.”
Slinging Ink Tattoo Expo, March 3-5, Freeman Coliseum, slinginginktattooexpo.com
Alamo City Tattoo Show, March 31-April 2, Hilton Garden Inn, alamocitytattoo.com