When Richard Garcia was a kid constantly drawing his favorite comic book characters, he knew he someday wanted to make a living as an artist. But even in art school, where he spent four years working on photo-realistic drawing with graphite and charcoal, he never considered tattooing a viable option. “I’ve always loved tattoos,” Garcia says. “[But] I worked a lot with pencils, and if I made a mistake I could always erase it.” Instead, Garcia went into graphic design, creating jerseys and fliers, but eventually he gave apprenticing as a tattoo artist a shot, and from that day he was hooked.
Within nine years, Garcia — who grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Dallas in the ’90s — has grown from a newbie tattoo artist to an award-winning one who presides over a mini tattoo empire. He opened his first shop, Legacy Arts Tattoo No. 1, on Coit Road in Far North Dallas a little over four years ago. His ambitions at the time were relatively modest. He was just tired of taking walk-ins, having no time for custom work and working on someone else’s schedule. “I never knew that it would grow into three shops,” he says. But two years later he took over Skin Art Gallery in Addison, and earlier this year he opened Legacy Arts’ second location at Midway Road and 635. He now oversees 19 artists and two piercers.
The permanence of tattoos didn’t present the problem for him that Garcia feared. He was a natural. “It was almost like drawing to me,” he says. “The only thing I needed to learn was basically how the machines worked, how the ink went into the skin.” Garcia credits the ease of this transition to the years he spent developing his skills before taking up tattooing. That depth of experience is what he looks for in artists he hires or to complete his own ink. “Before you get into tattooing you have to really learn to draw, work on the perspective and your artwork,” he says. “You’d be surprised how many people just want to get on skin while they’re learning how to actually tattoo.”
Garcia tattoos in a wide range of styles, and the same is true of the other artists in his shops. “As long as they’re doing a clean tattoo with whatever style they do, I’m OK with that,” he says. “I actually like the fact that clients who come into my shop, no matter what style they want, we’ll be able to help them.”
Garcia’s favorite style to work in changes weekly. He loves working with color, which he gets to do frequently since watercolor style tattoos are currently very popular. An owl watercolor tattoo he recently completed looks ripped from an ornithologist’s book of drawings. But Garcia also likes doing photo-realistic tattoos in gray scale, which remind him of the work he did in art school. At the Dallas Tattoo Expo last year, Garcia took home several awards, including first place for a religious sleeve tattoo in black and gray.
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Winning awards is nice, but that’s secondary to Garcia. He goes to conventions primarily to meet other artists and get inspired. Next year he plans to go to more of them and do guest spots in studios back in LA and in Las Vegas.
Garcia has a variety of tattoos himself — “some black and gray, I have some Japanese stuff, illustrative stuff, realistic” — but the high standard he demands of his and other artists’ work is why he says he doesn’t have as many tattoos as other artists he knows. “I take tattooing very seriously,” he says. “I’m so picky about what I put on my body … [and] I’m so picky about what I put on my clients.” Sometimes this pickiness keeps him up at night. Although he says he’s never done a “crappy” tattoo, he’s constantly mulling over ways he could have done things differently or better. These obsessive tendencies clearly pay off, as Garcia is typically booked six to eight months in advance. He works out of Skin Art Gallery, reserving a couple of days a week to oversee operations at his other shops.
The long waiting list raises the stakes. His clients now have much higher expectations than those he saw at his first tattoo gig, who were walk-ins stumbling over from a bar. Now he works on collectors who are familiar with his work, have done their research and have a general idea of what they want.
“They’re so supportive. They’re patient,” he says. More often than not, he says his clients tell him the end result is better than what they had imagined. Garcia’s perfectionism is a constant obstacle, but it’s all worth it in the end. “When I finally get the tattoo that I’m happy with and I’m able to give them the tattoo that they wanted, the look on their face when they look in the mirror and see the tattoo for the first time, that’s priceless to me."