Lorenzo Baca on Albuquerque, graffiti and being a perfectionist

Lorenzo Baca's tattoos are influenced by both his hometown of Albuquerque, and his tendency toward perfection. His work as an artist began with graffiti, then turned to an interest in tattoos. He has been tattooing professionally for eight years and currently works at Thick as Thieves Tattoo. Westword recently caught up with Baca, who talked about growing up in New Mexico, the connection between graffiti and tattoo art, and being a perfectionist.

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Westword: Coming from Albuquerque, where there is a big art culture, does that influence your work?

Growing up I was influenced by a lot of culture and tradition out there, Mexican and Indian art. That definitely plays a role in my style that I tattoo in. I do black and gray, Chicano/realism; I do a lot of portraits, too.

Is that a particularly difficult style to learn?

I don't think it's hard. You could break down anything -- photorealism, pictures -- into shapes. That's the way I look at it when I do a portrait; I break it down into shapes and little sections. It's not really hard. It's more time-consuming, I would say. I pay attention to a lot of detail. I think it's easy to overlook detail, so that's one thing I really pay attention to, like expressions or portraits and all that little stuff.

I read you do graffiti work as well. Is that where you interest in art began?

Definitely. One of my first starts was actually with Robert [Flores]. He's a follow graffiti artist that I paint with. We were always painting together and influenced each other, and he had tattoos. He had portraits and stuff on him. I remember looking at them, back in the day before I started, and thinking, "Wow, you can do that on skin?" I'd probably seen them done but they weren't good. He was the homie who actually had some good work. That really sparked my interest. I grew up drawing portraits and stuff, so to see that really influenced me to one day actually try it. I took an apprenticeship at a shop called Ink for the Soul. I did that for about nine months and I've been doing it since. I've been going on for about eight years now.

Do you find any similarities between graffiti and tattoo art?

Oh, yeah. Definitely with graffiti, fluidity and bringing stuff together and making them work, it's similar when you're thinking out a sleeve -- composition, how to make stuff flow, what works. I would say it plays a big role with my tattooing. With graffiti there's the vandalism part and I've kind of let that go nowadays. I was just painting a wall recently, and it was a permission wall, but there's complete freedom. With tattooing, it's very demanding. I always find time to go paint graffiti and do a burner, for instance, and have complete freedom and it kind of keeps me sane, I would say.

At what age did you start getting tattooed?

I was 21 years old when I got my first tattoo and that same year I started tattooing. I never really had an interest before that other than seeing my family. I had uncles who had work and it always caught my eye but I never thought of getting something on me. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so a lot of the times I was just scared that it wouldn't come out the way I wanted it.

Have you ever given yourself a tattoo?

Oh, yeah. I've got some on my thighs. I did one of my first portraits on my thigh, upside down. And just trying to practice linework and little techniques when you first start. Pretty ugly stuff. I would never do it again.

You mentioned being a perfectionist. Does that make it hard when a client comes to you with an idea you don't like or think could be better?

That's one thing I've learned, especially working here with guys like Scotty [Ferguson] and [Mike] Pinto, it's the way you talk to somebody. Even though they might have an idea you're not really into or you may think it's not going to work, there are ways to talk to them about it and get them to work with you. Something I've learned is you never want to belittle someone or make them think their idea is stupid. You want to grab their idea and work with them and show that you're interested in the work but show them the idea through your style. Tattooers can definitely be pirates and kind of get caught up in their own world. I always try to work with the customer.

For more information, visit Thick as Thieves Tattoo's website.

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