Local artist, Rudy Lopez, is on the rise and ABQ-Live got the chance to sit down and find out what makes him tick. Recently featured in Tattoo Magazine, he let us explore the life of an artist from Gallup, New Mexico.
How long have you been tattooing?
This past February just made it nine years. Professionally, I have been doing this three years out of those nine.
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist? Was there a specific moment in your life where you knew this was what you were going to do?
I’m from the generation of tattoo artists spawned from tattoo shows on TV. I knew I wanted to do something with art for a living. I just didn’t know what. I didn’t know how to paint, but I did know how to draw. To make it as an artist, it takes a lot of patience, discipline and professionalism that needs to be taken seriously. So, it took me a few years to come to grips with that.
What steps did you take to become a tattoo artist?
The steps I took were not the best, but it was the only path I could take at the time. I had no idea how to tattoo at that point and went to a local smoke shop for equipment, it was the only place that sold the stuff. I did both house calls and people came over to my house off and on for about 3-4 years. I started out known as a “scratcher”, someone just tattooing in their house, the lowest you can be in the tattoo industry. I took it very seriously and did the best I could. Eventually, I got into a shop, I was in and out of there for about another year or so. Working at a shop called Max’s Tattoo Zone I started doing tattoos that were solid and healed well. My work was getting better than anything I had done in the past. It wasn’t until I reached Tinta Cantina, that things became more serious. I felt like I still had a lot to prove, but I belonged in the shop.
How many shops have you worked at throughout your career and how have those experiences influenced the way you work?
I’ve worked at a total of 10 tattoo shops, including when I did guest spots. It’s always very exciting and different. Nowadays, when I go to a shop, it’s always very intimidating, but also very inspiring. I get to see work from different artists and how each individual artist is unique. I try to learn new techniques to improve my skill set and apply what I’ve learned into what works for me.
Is there a specific type of art that you are influenced by when doing your work?
There are two aspects that I like. Anything that’s believable and appears realistic is always a pleasure to look at. Other things that are less realistic and imaginative are also appealing to me. When I have the opportunity to combine them both, I have fun with it.
What do you do to keep that inspiration going?
I look towards my peers to always keep me in check. I constantly have paint nights with my friends Gabe and Jerret to stay sharp. Right now, these two guys keep me on my toes and are constantly critiquing me. It’s the best way to help me improve my art and my work. Just meeting other artists, hard workers especially, throughout the tattoo industry has also helped me.
What’s happening in your career now as opposed to say five years ago?
I’m doing a lot more work that I want to do. My work itself is just so far ahead of where I was when I first got to Tinta Cantina. I’m working smarter, rather than working harder as opposed to when I first started out. I had the mentality that you had to work hard all the time no matter what was going on, but after a few years of doing that I found out firsthand that you can easily burn yourself out. Work sometimes has to be put aside and play has to come in. There has to be a balance between work and family time.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
It’s hard to say really. All I can do is have faith that I’ll be doing the work that I’ve been wanting to do- finding my own style and owning it! I do plan on owning my own tattoo shop and I am preparing for it. Even though it’s going to be a long while before that is possible to do, I have faith that the shop I plan on opening will be a successful and a dream come true.
What was the most challenging tattoo you’ve had to work on?
Almost every tattoo that I do nowadays is more challenging than the last one I did the day before. At least I try to make it like that. I look at it kind of like going up the stairs. Each step you take gets you one step closer to your destination. If you’re not taking the time to take one step closer to your goal, even though it’s just one step, you’re staying in one spot, or even worse, heading back down the stairway.
What other mediums do you enjoy working with?
As for the moment, I work a lot with just regular pencil sketching. One of the other things I do when I can is oil painting. I love how all the paint allows me to blend it as I go. The fact that it doesn’t dry so quickly and allows me to move with it the way I want too. I love it because it keeps me calm and keeps me relaxed more than anything.
If you could give advice to kids or people that are interested in becoming artists, what would you say to them?
School is key. Going to school would probably be the best suggestion I can give. Not that I have ever gone, but I do plan to go one day when life is a little less chaotic. I’ve seen my friend Val go to school for art and how it has improved her work tremendously. I’m in awe everytime I see something new she painted. However, if you don’t go to school, try to get books and always draw for the fun of it. I have never seen art as a job. You should never do it for the image that others have of it, do it for the love. Art is work, it’s not your average 9-5 job, it’s a love that you have to work at every day. Art is everything. You really have to find what you’re passionate about in order to find your own art.
Interview by Joshua Lara, Photography by Kori Kobayashi and Joshua Lara
Want to see more work done by Rudy Lopez? Check him out on Facebook at facebook.com/RudyLopezTattoos. You can also find him on Instagram by searching for @rudy_lopez_nm.