By Emily Glory Peters
For those of you who broke your mother’s heart when you came home with your first tattoo, rejoice. The years of tattoo stigma are in the past—or at least fading into something like acceptance for an art form.
“It used to be that people who got tattoos were part of an alternate culture. Bikers, ruffians, ex-cons and some military members were the ones who were getting tattooed,” says Brandon Lian, owner of popular tattoo boutique Red Hot Tattoo in Arcadia. For Lian, those days are done.
“Today, we tattoo people from all walks of life, all age groups, all social backgrounds, all races. Tattoos are pretty much universally accepted.”
Though Lian’s origins as a tattoo artist are admittedly rough— “as a kid I made a tattoo machine out of an old Walkman motor, some switches and a piece of plywood”—his skills have come a long way. Trained as a graphic designer as a “back-up plan,” solitude behind the screen pushed him back towards the needle. Today, the social aspect of getting inked is one of the delights of the trade and impetus behind Red Hot Tattoo’s artistry.
“Most of my inspiration as a tattoo artist comes from my customers. One of my favorites is a guy who comes in with the most ridiculous ideas, and I get to make them real. We’ve done a wild west sheriff sloth, a gentleman octopus with a top hat and monocle, a samurai lobster, a cyborg snail,” says Lian. “We have a wonderful trusting working relationship and he’s never questioned any of my designs or color schemes—which means I get really excited about the tattoo and try my best to knock it out of the park.”
To Lian, exploring new tattoo styles is key to being a stellar tattoo artist—something he feels sets Red Hot Tattoo apart from LA’s over-saturated tattoo market. At his side at Red Hot Tattoo is fellow artist Matt Atomik, a former graffiti writer and sign painter who shares Lian’s perspective that diversity is king.
“Both Matt and I are extremely experienced in all styles; versatile as tattooers and as artists. He still makes beautifully handcrafted signs for businesses all around the country,” Lian notes. “We’re both very active in the art community and bring all that experience to each and every tattoo.”
Curiously, Lian doesn’t cite “meaningful” tattoos as the most artistically viable. His philosophy? Steer clear of symbolism and you’ll be better off.
“You get into trouble when you assign too much meaning to an image,” he says. “If you get a beautiful tattoo of some roses for your girlfriend and you end up breaking up, you now hate your roses—even if it’s a beautiful and well-placed tattoo.” Especially in an era where the social acceptability of tattoos has opened up endless visual possibilities, there’s no need to overthink your first (or fiftieth) tattoo.
“Tattoos will always be heavy on meaning—it’s just the nature of putting permanent images on your skin,” says Lian. “But I think tattoos are at their best when they’re purely decorative. When you drop all the pretense and open yourself up, the outcomes tend to be much better.”
Red Hot Tattoo is located at 40 E. Duarte Road in Arcadia. To learn more, contact Brandon Lian at firstname.lastname@example.org | www.redhot-tattoo.com | 626.821-5453 and follow along on Facebook and Instagram @redhottattoo.