Tattoo artist Jose Arvizu has spent the last couple of years honing his craft and building his client list at the iconic Long Beach Salon Outer Limits Tattoo. When he's not working on clients from his hometown, the artist, better known as Spacehustle Tattoos Around the World, has plans to plan a trip to Europe and Asia this year. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and closed tattoo parlors in Southern California – not to mention international travel – for the majority of the past six months.

"It has obviously taken away from my income and the momentum I've built over the years," says Arvizu. "Everything's on break now, except for my bills."

Outside of the red states, which were rushing to reopen their economies despite the surge in virus cases, the tattoo industry has struggled to find its stand since the pandemic began. Across California – including Los Angeles County – hair salons can now offer indoor service, but tattoo parlors are still among the high-touch businesses that are banned from operating, although they may reopen briefly in June. While unemployment insurance and other safety nets have helped workers in other industries stave off financial disasters, many tattoo artists are cash-intensive business and unable to produce accurate proof of income. That meant surviving the last few months with little more than their available savings and ingenuity.

Some tattoo shops have remained quietly open since being ordered to the shutter in March. Others have recently opened despite the mandate that they remain closed. For artists in need, the risk of being caught and punished has been outweighed by the need to support their families or pay rent. Some say that the hygiene and sterilization practices already in place in most of the reputable tattoo shops – along with the strict use of masks by customers and tattoo artists – have made it easier for them to take the risk of being around customers too be.

It was of course not as usual. Some shops are closed to the public but only stay open by appointment. For an artist like up-and-coming Kadriya Truvillion of Downtown LA Purple Panther Tattoos, who was also troubled by her second bartending job because of the pandemic, switching to private sessions was the only sensible answer.

"The majority of my advice now takes place online via email or (Instagram) DM correspondence," says Truvillion of the way she works today. “The other big change is that customers often want to bring friends and family to their appointments for emotional support, but we've now discouraged this habit, although under normal circumstances we're okay with it – so it is likely a slight disappointment to me encourage her to come to her appointment alone. "

The threat of punishment for non-compliance was not an effective deterrent for many artists, largely because it was difficult to determine the punishment.

"We were never told by an officer," says an artist who wanted to remain anonymous. "I don't even know who to ask. I don't know if it's the health department or each county division. It's really weird that we haven't received official orders from anyone. We should only because of the news knowledge. "

Multiple calls and emails to the LA County Department of Public Health, the agency that ensures artists get their blood-borne pathogen certification in order to be licensed, didn't give any specific answers, but at least one artist reported that they did Business was visited by a member of a "task force" they believed was affiliated with the health department.

"Perhaps, instead of trying to punish companies for being open, they should put that money into funding companies that need to shut down so they can afford their basic living costs – so they won't be 'illegal'. have to work ", says the anonymous artist. "Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission, I think."

Artists who laid down their arms during the pandemic have launched everything from limited edition t-shirts to podcasts to make up for some of their lost income. Others tattoo from their homes (or their clients 'homes) and travel to states like Arizona and Colorado where they can get tattooed in their friends' stores. Even posting on Instagram – arguably the best marketing tool for tattoo artists – has become a tightrope walk. While they want to let customers know that they are taking appointments, they don't want to attract unwanted attention.

For Arvizu, the answer was to leave California to work – even if it means endangering his health.

"I had to leave the state a couple of times to work in states that were allowed to open stores, which is terrifying because we are in the middle of a pandemic," says Arvizu. "But I have to pay rent somehow."

RELATED: L.A. County Now Permits Hair Salon and Hairdressing Services Indoors

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