Back when I first took over the Inked Out column in 2005, one of my first shops was Ground Zero Tattoo in Totowa, NJ. This is where I met artist Paula Lopez. Through the years, I’ve had many, many friends go to Paula because of her amazing skills as an artist, and because of that I, personally, had the opportunity to watch Paula’s skills escalate through the years.
Since my visit to her old shop in Totowa, she left the establishment and had pretty much become a tattooing gypsy—doing guest tattoo spots at various shops and conventions around the country. In fact, I used to run into Paula every year at Mario Barth’s Largest Tattoo Convention On Earth, Inked Out Tattoo Show, in Secaucus, NJ, and she would always go out of her way to greet to me. Then again, she was always tattooing a friend of mine, so I guess she was kind of forced to at least say, “Hi!” Like I said before, watching her artwork mature through the years really made me a fan of her work. It was a no-brainer to make Paula this year’s Inked Out Artist Of The Year!
After traveling from shop to shop for years, Paula’s finally rooted herself in a shop that’s closer to home for her. She is currently tattooing out of Tattoo Garage in Bloomfield, NJ, a shop that is owned by another buddy of mine, Chris, but she’s tattooing under the name Devotion Studios. Paula tells me, “I still work out of the studio with Chris, but Devotion Studios keeps my clients and me separate from Tattoo Garage. I basically wanted to work somewhere, where I can still do my clients, do my thing, have the freedom to come and go as I needed to, but at the same time, I get to work with people that I like.”
Speaking of Paula’s clientele, her client pool mainly consists of referrals, which is the way she prefers to work. She says, “It’s awesome because my clients have people see their tattoos and they tell them who they go to, and everybody kind of knows exactly what they’re expecting. It’s not like I have to convince them to get this tattoo. Most people come in [and] they know what they want. They have a pretty good idea of how they want it to go, and I just help them draw it out and turn it into a tattoo.”
When it comes to a preferred style of tattooing, Paula Lopez can do it all, but does she prefer some styles to others? She says, “I, honestly, really like photo-realistic portraits and Japanese. Basically, I love doing everything except traditional tattoos. It’s just one of those things because of the way I tattoo—traditional tattoos don’t come naturally to me. I can do them, but they just take a lot longer for me than someone who does them all the time. My brain just works better on more realistic or more illustrative tattoos.”
Since the last time that I interviewed Paula, the industry has changed so much, and Paula attributes that to the slew of tattoo tv shows. “There’s just of a lot of people who are tattooing or think that tattooing is easy, and it’s really not. Part of me feels that they are all destroying the industry. I mean, there are people who put their time in; they’ve done their apprenticeships, they worked really hard to get good at what they do, and then you have these people who just buy a kit over the internet and they start tattooing their friends, and the public thinks that is what tattooing is about, and it’s not.” What Paula is referring to is what the industry calls “scratchers,” an epidemic that many “real” tattoo artists I’ve interviewed in the last seven years continue to complain about constantly.
Does Paula Lopez deserve to be this year’s Artist Of The Year? Absolutely! According to Paula, “I give my clients a thousand percent of myself and the best tattoo that I can. They trust me with something very personal to them—whether it’s a memorial tattoo or a tattoo just because they want something beautiful on them. I try to work with my clients as much as possible. I try to make getting tattooed a really fun experience. It shouldn’t be stressful. It shouldn’t be anything other than we’re having a great time and I’m putting something wonderfully personal on you for the rest of your life and I’m going to treat it that way. I tell people the work will speak for itself. At the end of the day, if you’re happy with my work, and I’ve given you exactly what you wanted and made you happy for wearing it, that’s all I want!”
How can you not want an artist like this working on your next tattoo? Paula comes highly recommended, but don’t take it from me! Take a look at her tattoo work on her website, paradox696.com, or visit her at Tattoo Garage located at 169 Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, NJ. You can also have Paula tattoo you at this year’s Inked Out Tattoo Show at the Meadowlands Expo Center between Oct. 12 and Oct. 14. Who wouldn’t want to get tattooed by this year’s Artist Of The Year?