Artist Dominic Vasquez on big pieces, Japanese-style tattoos and being back in Denver

A Colorado native, Dominic Vasquez just returned to his hometown after spending seven years in San Diego. He now tattoos at Sol Tribe Tattoo, where he's working toward building a client base in Denver. In San Diego, Vasquez is well known for large, Japanese-style tattoo, from full back pieces to body suits. We talked to him recently about coming back to Denver and going from a corporate job to the tattoo industry.

See also: Will Thidemann talks art school, painting and his new shop Mammoth American

Westword: You just moved here from San Diego, right?

Dominic Vasquez: Yeah, I'm from here originally, born and raised. I moved to San Diego seven years ago with the intention of traveling a bunch, and I kind of just liked it and stayed, so that was that. We just recently moved back. I have family here. Me and my wife have a little girl, so we wanted her to be around family.

Is the tattoo industry a lot different in San Diego compared to Denver?

Yes, it's completely different than it is here because there seems to be a level of more disposable income in San Diego because there's a heavy military scene there. A lot of those guys, they have their houses paid for and they come back with six months of money and they're like, "I want to do a giant tattoo." So it's definitely a little bit different. It seems like strong, traditional tattooing is really prevalent out there, really bold-style sailor tattoos.

Are you nervous about starting over here, building a client base?

I feel like my brand of tattooing, what I do is kind of rooted in traditional styling. So I feel like any tattoo that you do, whether it's realism or any style, there are still certain foundations it has to follow. Like, it has to be a solid tattoo, it has to be strong lines whether they're colored outlines or if they're trying to keep color realism -- there are still foundations it has to fit in so that it makes a nice tattoo long term. Granted, I'm used to doing larger scale work in San Diego, like large Japanese work is primarily what I was known for there, so it picks up a little bit here, but still I feel like the client base here hasn't really quite opened up to large, large work. It's gonna take a little bit of time until everyone gets comfortable with full-sized back pieces and body suits.

How long have you been in the industry?

I've been tattooing for about twelve years now.

How did you get into it?

I was working an office job and hated every minute of it, and I've always been an artist. I never really wanted to go to art school and I wanted to pursue the arts while still trying to maintain an income, so I figured, "Tattooing, it's not really an artsy thing, I can make some money and do some tattoos." And then as I got more and more into it and saw what can be done with it, it kind of just changed my outlook on art and tattooing in general, and it kind of just overtook my life from there. It's hard to explain.

Was that a hard transition, going from a corporate job to tattooing?

It was, but it was relaxing, you know? Because you go from being in this strict, rigid environment, to a good environment. There are some bad sides to being a tattooer, it has downsides. But you get to hang out, you listen to music, you get to meet interesting people and you hear their stories. You spend a lot of time with somebody like that and you kind of build relationships off of that, too. I definitely like it a lot more. It's not so high-stress. I think that people would think that because it's a tattoo and it's supposed to be permanent that it is more high stress and you have to be worried about that, but it's only a body, it's only going to be here for seventy years, it's not that big a deal.

How did you decide to come to Sol Tribe when you moved here?

A couple of the guys that work here are friends of mine from when I first started tattooing. When I was going about deciding to come back here, I did a guest spot here and I really liked it. The shop is run really well, it's really efficient and there's a lot of stuff that's well thought-out. I traveled and did a lot of guest spots, and you run into a strange area in work ethic in tattoo shops. Some shops are so relaxed and chill, but it's hard when you want to have a solid -- like, you want to be on time for your clients, you want to very efficient with the amount of tattooing that you're doing, and it's hard to do that in a very relaxed shop environment sometimes. And then sometimes you go into a shop and it's super, super strict. I thought this was a good balance of the two. I like the environment here, I like the vibe of the place.

Moving back to Denver, is there anything that you really missed when you were in San Diego?

I missed green chile, that's like the thing you can't find anywhere. My mom showed me a good recipe and we could do that, but it's not the same, you know? But it's definitely weird to come back after seven years, because seven years made it seem like I'm starting over. It's like I've never been here before because there are only a few things that are kind of the same. I know how to get around, I know the neighborhoods, but as far as restaurants and everything, it's changed so much that I feel like I'm brand new. It's been a good adjustment.

For more information, visit Vasquez's website and Facebook page.

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Nathalia Vélez
Contact: Nathalia Vélez

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