LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Alex Trujillo is passionate about his art and dedicated to seeing it walk away when he’s done creating it.
With 14 years in the tattoo business, he has won numerous awards, worked countless tattoo conventions and shows across the country and, after working in states across the Southwest, returned home to Las Cruces where he now operates out of Unbreakable Tattoo Studio. Despite his success and skill, he’s quick to give others credit for his success.
First on the list for the Las Cruces native is his grandmother, Margaret Ruiz, who owned Ray’s Old Fashioned Kitchen downtown for many years and worked for a time as a waitress at Hiebert’s Fine Foods.
“She was basically my mother, raised me and instilled pretty much everything,” Trujillo said. “She pushed forward for me to finish school. The harder I rebelled, the harder she pushed.”
Trujillo, who graduated from Mayfield High School before earning an associate’s degree in art, said a former teacher, Raul Dorn, also encouraged his artistic talents.
“He was a huge influence on me,” Trujillo said. “He would always tell me ‘If you want to paint, you have to paint for everybody, not yourself.'”
When he took an apprenticeship he ran into industry veterans who would not share what they knew. Instead, he learned tattooing largely on his own. After a couple of years in Las Cruces, he worked for a time in Albuquerque with Alonzo Rodriguez of Happy Times Studio.
“That gentleman, he turned it around for me,” Trujillo said. “He showed me quite a few things.”
After Albuquerque and a short return to Las Cruces, he landed in Colorado.
“I ended up living in Denver working for some phenomenal artists out there, well-known,” Trujillo said. “At the same time. I never really had solid tattooing fundamentals. I was good but I wasn’t where I needed to be.”
After learning his grandmother had been diagnosed with lymphoma, and knowing his time with her was limited, he returned to Las Cruces.
“That’s when I stepped into Unbreakable,” he said. “Adam Sedillo, the owner and a really good friend, he basically said ‘look, you’re a phenomenal artist but what I think you are lacking are the fundamentals.’ He removed everything I knew and replaced it with what he knew and that’s when my career really turned around. I got picked up by a promoter doing tattoo conventions and the main one was the Inkmasters Tour in collaboration with a TV show.
“It’s blown up for me,” he added. “I won awards left and right. Every tattoo convention I step into I take an award home. It makes me strive and keeps me super humble in what I’m doing.”
What began as one tattoo a day traffic has grown to three or four tattoos a day at a minimum, he said.
“I haven’t had a day off in five months,” he said. “I’m talking Sunday to Sunday in the shop, 9-o’clock in the morning to 9-o’clock at night.”
Spending time with his family, 13-year-old Jadyn, 11-year-old Diego, 5-year-old Nikko and Xayla, age 4, is still important despite the long work hours.
“I’ve been able to provide for my family and do for my kids, but at the same time it’s been hard,” he said. “It’s been a blessing and somewhat of a curse, trying to be a father and have a relationship is really hard when you’re in the shop.”
As the industry has advanced, so has his business. He now uses very high-end machines and has more than $6,000 in tools at his disposal. His cartridge system is more advanced and decreases any chance of cross-contamination. It is also quieter than traditional machines, making potential clients a little more comfortable, he said.
He is very cautious about contamination and infection, and his shop is held up by the state licensing board as a standard of excellence for cleanliness, he said. He also sells a full line of tattoo ointments and aftercare products called Humble Beginnings. The products help customers heal faster, keep color locked in and bring in old, faded color as well, he said.
“I’m very thorough about that, about everything I use,” he said. “I will spend the extra $20 . just for the safety of my customer. If I’m spreading something, I’m taking that home to my children. That’s always a big concern of mine.”
Over the years, tattoo trends have evolved along with technology. But as with most trends, what goes around, comes around. His style, he said, involves a lot of vivid color, watercolor work, sacred geometry work, and stippling, for which many people seek him out.
“I’ve seen things go from being uber-realistic to stuff that’s more traditional, more line work,” he said. “We know the older sailor-style tattoos, Americana Traditional style, they last. We see our grandfathers and our fathers with these tattoos that have these solid lines in them. I’ve seen that fade and come back with a vengeance.
“We are so close to Arizona and California we have that Chicano style, black and grey, which is awesome,” he added. “I love that style of tattooing but I don’t see it personally. I see color. I don’t see the transitions, the fades, the softness of it and it’s very difficult for me to do. My thing is color. Give me a color piece, a water color piece.”
And those pieces are ending up on an ever-growing customer base, he said.
“I’m tattooing owners of businesses, casino owners. I’ve tattooed doctors, high-end bank managers, managers of hospitals. You’d be amazed the different type of people who come in,” Trujillo said. “It’s not how it used to be where we had the stigma of only someone bad getting a tattoo.”
And the service he offers goes beyond the art. As customers come in to commemorate events in their lives, they end up sharing stories behind their decision to get inked.
“I may be a tattoo artist, but at the same time I’m your councilor, your friend. I’m much more. People don’t realize that,” he said. “I’ve heard stories of loss, tragedy, happiness and sadness. People are marking them on their body.”
He tells the story of an 80-year-old woman who came in recently for an ankle bracelet tattoo. She and her husband ride a tandem bike across the country and she wanted to commemorate that with the anklet.
“She sat there and was one of the best customers I’ve had,” Trujillo recalls. “She bought me a card and wrote ‘You moved me with your art,'” he said. “That’s why I do it, the expressions my customers leave with.”
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com