South Bay Ink

Since a ban was lifted in 2010, a limited number of tattoo parlors have opened in Hermosa.

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  • Written by
    Stefan Slater

Gerard Collette, owner of Hermosa Ink and Apparel, stands behind a counter in his tattoo parlor. He scrolls through pictures on an iPad, pointing out some of the shop’s most recent tattoos. One, a large scene that depicts a school of colorful jellyfish floating underwater, covers the entirety of an older man’s back.

Gerard, who’s been tattooing for roughly 25 years, describes the client as being a retired businessman in his late 60s. “He came in and said, ‘I always wanted to have this ocean scene done on my back, and I can do it now,’” says Gerard.

The parlor, which is airy and filled with an abundance of natural light, has an inviting atmosphere. “No fear factor,” says Gerard. “We try to keep it as pleasant an atmosphere as we can.”

The whole South Bay, as far as tattoo art goes, was in a black hole for like 30 to 40 years. And in the last 3½ to four years, things are changing quick.

According to a 2012 Harris Poll, one out of five adults in the nation has a tattoo. Furthermore, according to a 2010 Pew Research Poll, roughly four out of 10 Millennials are likely to have at least a single tattoo. Though previous generations may have looked at tattoos as something that only gruff and tough sailors and motorcyclists wore, opinions are gradually changing.  

Clients run the gamut from your average, working-class locals to high-level professionals, and many of the tattoos that Gerard and his artists create are highly customized. “We’re more of a design center,” says Gerard, “where we design the tattoo for you.”

Gerard notes that attitudes toward tattooing as an art form, especially here in Los Angeles, have changed a great deal in recent years. For one, he’s seen tattooing become more accepted amongst various age groups—a trend that’s also being seen throughout the nation.

However, the acceptance of tattoos is still a recent development here in the South Bay, especially in Hermosa. Prior to 2010, there were zoning laws in place that didn’t allow tattoo parlors to operate within the city. But during that year, the U.S. 9th Court of Appeals noted that tattooing was a protected form of speech and that Hermosa’s zoning ban was unconstitutional.

Goodbye, ban; hello, parlors.


Gerard Collette of Hermosa Ink


Sketched in Time

Jeff Thielman has been tattooing for more than 25 years, although he says that he’s honestly been dabbling in the art since he was child. “At 11 or 12 I was really into the art,” the Hermosa native says. “I started tattooing friends and myself, little tiny things.” He adds that he quickly got into trouble, and he didn’t delve into tattoos professionally until the early ‘90s.

Jeff is an artist at Third Street Tattoo in Hermosa Beach. He helped the owners (Jeremy Hartland and Pennywise’s Fletcher Dragge) open the shop following the lifting of the Hermosa ban. Since he’s been tattooing for most of his life, Jeff is quick to note that the industry itself is unpredictable.

“You just never know,” he says. “I tattoo everyone from 18-year-old kids who’ve just gotten out of high school to plastic surgeons from Beverly Hills. It’s definitely ingrained in our society today.”

Jeff, who grew up in the South Bay during the ‘70s and ‘80s, notes that tattooing was part of an underground sub-culture—one that was on par with the city’s surf, skate and punk scenes. Local tattoo artists were deeply influenced by these scenes, and as the surf and street art evolved, so did the tattooing scene.

But Jeff adds that during that time period, the art form had a certain social stigma—so it wasn’t exactly mainstream. “The whole South Bay, as far as tattoo art goes, was in a black hole for like 30 to 40 years. And in the last 3½ to four years, things are changing quick.”

For example, Jeff says that in the past it was more common for customers looking for a tattoo to walk into a parlor and pick a more traditional design from off the wall (these are called “flash”). Over time, he says, tattoo artists began to experiment by creating their own custom art, and some shops began to specialize in custom art.

He notes that tattoo TV shows like LA Ink helped expose the broader public to the idea of tattooing, especially custom tattooing, as being a true art form. He’s quick to note that professional tattoo artists can do it all, ranging from standard flash art to highly customized art.

Tattooing is diverse, and there are parlors designed to cater to a wide range of tastes. Jeff points out that the tattoo scene in Hermosa is continuing to grow and that more tattooing talent is being attracted to the area. “Now that we’re able to open up shops in Hermosa Beach, people have a much better perspective of and how it should be done,” he says.

But Hermosa’s tattoo scene wouldn’t have had the chance to grow if the ban hadn’t been lifted. “And that’s solely due to my old apprentice, Johnny Anderson,” says Jeff.


Freedom of Expression

Johnny Anderson of Yer Cheat’n Heart Tattoo


Johnny Anderson (also known professionally within the tattoo industry as Johnny 2/3) is the owner and operator of Yer Cheat’n Heart Tattoo in Gardena and in Hermosa Beach. “I’ve always been enamored with tattooing,” says Johnny, who’s been tattooing for more than two decades. “It’s the idea of putting an indelible mark into the skin.”

Johnny, who grew up in Redondo Beach, notes that he felt a strong need to open a tattoo parlor closer to his hometown. “I grew up off the Hermosa Pier. It was our spot when we were kids.”

However, his plans to open a parlor were repeatedly denied by the city of Hermosa, and Johnny pushed to take his case to federal court in Los Angeles. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the city would have to lift the ban, as tattooing was protected under the First Amendment.

“I wanted to work and be here in the South Bay,” says Johnny. “I was starting a family and living in Redondo, and I wanted to stay in this community.”
He points out that in the past four years, the Hermosa tattoo scene has begun to grow, and his shop caters to a diverse range of Hermosa locals ranging from high-financers to machinists.

“There’s an old saying that tattoos are for sailors and fallen women,” he says. “I always loved that saying because it isn’t true anymore. Everybody gets tattoo nowadays.”

Johnny notes that tattooing is truly growing as an art form, both locally and nationally. With the introduction of several different shops to the area, he believes that the influx of tattoo artists can only benefit the South Bay over the long run. And he believes that the South Bay’s pool of tattoo talent will only continue to increase.

Johnny doesn’t advertise for his parlor; he relies on the quality of his tattoos to drum up business. “If you have this influx of tattoo artists coming to the South Bay, that only encourages us to step up our game. We let our tattoos speak for ourselves, and the better tattoo artists are going to be doing more tattoos. The more competition, the more it elevates tattooing.”

For artists like Jeff, Gerard and Johnny, the South Bay’s once low-key tattoo scene is starting to emerge into the mainstream and garner additional respect and attention. The future of tattooing in the South Bay and in Hermosa, as far as Johnny is concerned, is a bright one.

“It’s exciting to see how the art form is elevated here at home,” he says.