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Coming from humble beginnings in Southern California, Vetoe has hustled hard to get his tattoo career going. We wanted to find out how he got started producing some superb black and grey pieces. With strong Christian and Mexican themes throughout his extensive portfolio, you can really tell how his surroundings influenced him heavily from a young age.

How long have you been tattooing now and what made you want to be a tattooer?
I’m nearly ten years into tattooing. I was attracted to it since I was a child. My grandfather had tattoos, and as a kid I used to colour on his arms. But if I had to be honest, I was a fuck up; I had no intentions of growing up, I wanted to be Peter Pan my whole life. I wanted to paint graffiti, skateboard, travel, and hang out with outlaws and gangsters. Those were the people I looked up to, sad to say. I learned a lot from being in the streets, how to be a man, not a good one, but a man none the less, I never knew you could make money and provide for a family like this, I just thought I would be happy.

Tell us more about the start of your career in tattooing. Did you do a traditional apprenticeship?
I never got the chance to apprentice. Shops told me to fuck off. But me being me, I found a back door in and went as hard as I could. I got a lot of help early on from Lee Lewis and Ruger. These guys made it happen for me. Brian at Inkslingers; I owe my entire career to him and all he did for me.

With such a strong portfolio of black and grey and script, I can’t help but notice the odd bit of traditional slipped in. Do you enjoy working in other styles?
I love being able to do a lot of different styles. I think it’s important; I think it helps me. The knowledge you gain from Japanese style tattooing will show you how to lay out a proper sleeve in any style. Doing traditional will teach you how to lay a line and pack back which is so important in black and grey. I do it all for the overall love for tattooing.

You have quite a street shop mentality with your approach to tattooing, so why did you go for a private studio with Art Chatkoo managing things?
I had to. I just needed to be alone. The older I’m getting, the more of a head case I’m becoming. I feel different than I used to, I do better when I’m alone when I can just focus on what’s important, not getting caught up in the politics and what everyone else is doing. I just want to be better all around, in life, be a better dad, a better man, better health, better artist. Art is the backbone of Black Label Art Co; he makes my life easy. I’m very grateful for that.

Skull LadyMary Praying by Vetoe

What approach do you take to make sure your tattoos stand the test of time? A lot of realism artists don’t care and just want a good photo, how can they make sure to keep it solid for years to come?
BLACK, LINE WORK, so important… Make a tattoo a tattoo, not a photoshop image. I haven’t figured it all out, I probably never will, but I’ll keep striving to feed the beast and try, some days it just falls right into place, other days I have to a little harder.

Why do you think you chose to specialise in black and grey?
Growing up all I saw was black and grey cholo tats, and honestly, I prefer to keep it simple and last. Colour with no outline will fall apart eventually, so will black and grey but not as much, not as much of an eyesore. My mind doesn’t work with colour haha, a little to complex for me.


Do you have some favourite machines right now?
Always Dringenbergs, Charlie Roberts, Tim Hendricks, and Juan Puente. I also enjoy the Mr Cartoon Bishop machine.

What about needle combinations?
I run mainly three rounds, 5 and seven rounds, seven mags, and thirteen mags. Flat not curved, no bug pin, nothing fancy, just good old needles on the bar.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us at Nine Mag, where can our readers find more of your work?
Thank you for having me, I really enjoyed the questions. You can catch me on Instagram @vetoe and @blacklabelartco and at my studio Black Label Art Co, in downtown Los Angeles, California.

James Cass

James was part of the Nine Mag team from the start. With a background in Graphic Design before he started tattooing, he helped create the printed magazine and is behind the transition to the web.