Edgar Avila held a job as a construction worker in San Jose until he quit in 2019 and moved to the Sacramento region to pursue his passion of becoming a tattoo artist.
Avila, 33, found himself working full time in construction but also gaining momentum with his side hustle. He began practicing tattoos on family and friends in his garage in San Jose until word began to spread of his talents.
Working both jobs became overwhelming, and Avila had to decide on whether he would work full time in construction or as an artist. He bet on himself, stepped out on faith and remained confident in his artistic abilities.
Avila continued to lean into passion when he got to Elk Grove, where he moved to in part to raise his three children, and landed his first opportunity at Solutions Ink on Franklin Boulevard.
In the summer of 2022, Avila officially opened the doors to his own tattoo parlor: Elk Grove Tattoos, 8139 Elk Grove Blvd.
Doubt crept into Avila’s mind when he first began tattooing in Elk Grove. He nearly called it quits after a slow start.
“When I first moved out here, I was struggling with clientele,” Avila said. “I was close to moving back to San Jose and going back to construction.”
Instead, Avila kept going, pushing positivity in his pursuit of his dreams.
He faced another setback when COVID-19 spread, causing a pandemic and forcing many businesses to cease operations.
Avila was back to square one, again, tattooing out of his garage. But this time, he used his free time to develop a new skill that would take his business to the next level — portraits.
“I was just tattooing then slowly I started doing portraits. That’s when people really started taking an interest in me and I blew up,” Avila said. “I was booked out for like a year and a half, doing portraits every single day. I did hundreds of portraits all over Sacramento, Stockton, Richmond, Fairfield, Vallejo, Oakland, everywhere. People have come from places like Reno, Las Vegas, Texas and (North) Carolina just to get a portrait by me.”
Avila worked tirelessly. Despite the immense number of clients he booked, he couldn’t find work at another tattoo shop.
“The reason why there were a lot of shops that I kind of contacted before, a lot of shops that I looked up to, a lot of good shops in Sacramento,” Avila said. “When I showed my portfolio…I don’t know if they turned me down or if they didn’t like it but they (told me), ‘Oh, we’re not looking for artists right now.’
“And so I was like, ‘I don’t need them. I’m just going to open my own shop.’”
It didn’t happen overnight, but Avila eventually accomplished the goal he set out to achieve. After saving up for another two years, he opened his own shop with his own employees.
Curating the business
Elk Grove native Cristiano Ochoa had an interest in drawing since he was in middle school. One day he decided to shoot his shot and reach out to tattoo artists around the city to see if they were interested in an apprentice.
Ochoa was only in high school at the time, but Avila saw his hunger and ambition to become a tattoo artist, so he let Ochoa practice in his garage before or after work and school.
“Edgar was the only one that gave me a chance,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa became seasoned at the art, and when Avila saved enough money to open a shop, Ochoa followed him.
Ochoa began working with Avila in 2019, around the same time he moved to Elk Grove. Avila even inked Ochoa with a chest and back mural of “Apocalypto,” a 2006 film that dramatizes the fall of the ancient Mayan civilization from the height of its reign.
They started the piece in 2020 and recently came to the finished product.
“It’s fun. It doesn’t really feel like a job. There’s parts where it gets stressful with the design and whatnot, but it’s tolerable because I like doing art all the time. I’ve always dreamed about doing something like this so now it’s just getting better as an artist. That’s what I’m trying to do,” Ochoa said.
Jesse Grozav said Ochoa’s artwork was one of Avila’s masterpieces. Grozav joined Elk Grove Tattoos over the summer.
He had been tattooing professionally for nearly four years prior to joining Avila.
Grozav is a self-taught tattoo artist; he developed the concept while incarcerated. When he got out and searched for an apprenticeship, no one took a chance on him because shops were looking for full-time artists.
“I found a spot in south Sacramento which gave me an opportunity. They were like, ‘Let’s see what you could do,’” Grozav said. “I brought my wife in to tattoo her and they were like, ‘Man, you don’t need an apprenticeship. You’re good to go.’”
He got his start and bounced around to a few shops around Sacramento before landing at Elk Grove Tattoos with Avila. Grozav said he has a hunger to learn as much as possible about the craft.
“I wanna surround myself with people that I know are better than me and that I can learn from and that I can grow with, you know. That’s always been my mission right there.”
He had high praise for Avila and how he maintains the business and his employees.
“Edgar actually takes the time to go over a lot of things. He explains really well. He doesn’t run the shop like a business, in a sense it’s more of a mutual respect,” Grozav said. “He knows what’s expected of us. And we give that in return. I think it’s just his method of teaching, his understanding of the struggles that we go through as artists, he’s compassionate.”
How Avila runs his business is intentional, the owner said.
“My main focus right now is on the shop and on the artists. I want to make sure they’re successful as well, make sure that they’re doing good and just being selective of the artists that we get inside here,” Avila said. “We want a good vibe here. It could be the best artist you ever know, but I don’t want bad energy here. So I want to make sure there’s good people, good-hearted, good art and everything. So right now I’m just focusing on my artists, the community, my clients, family and all that.”
Avila wants to use his business to create change and make a difference in his community.
He moved to Elk Grove to not only follow his dream, but also to raise his family. He has three kids: a 16-year-old stepson Avila has raised since he was a baby, a 10-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.
Avila said he was a troubled youth growing up, in and out of juvenile hall since age 13, and that his last stint incarcerated was in 2013. He did not want his kids to have to grow up the way he did.
“(I) did a lot of bad things I’m not proud of,” Avila said. “Once I had kids, I switched my life around and didn’t want my kids growing up the way I did, so we moved to Elk Grove. Growing up the way I did made me want to be a part of the community and help out.”
‘An amazing feeling’
Sarah Duplantier was one of the many people who were introduced to Avila via his Instagram page where he showcases the portraits he’s drawn and the different pieces he’s tattooed on others.
She was one of those who had to wait over a year to get her tattoo, as Avila’s availability was constantly being filled at a rapid pace. He was becoming increasingly difficult to book, but Duplantier was committed to getting inked by him, especially after seeing his work.
“Everybody was posting his portraits including my son. So I was like, ‘I got to have him, I got to have him.’ He was booked in advance, too, a year. Then while I was booked a year in advance, I was seeing him everywhere,” Duplantier said. “My son had to wait a year. He got his, then I had to wait a year and then I got mine. I’ve been watching him for two years, just watching, like I need him. I had to have him. So we waited and we got it.”
Waiting two years for an appointment with Avila turned into Duplantier visiting his shop once a month to either add a new piece, fill in an older piece, or just perform some “touch up” work.
Duplantier, 42, has been so impressed with Avila’s work that she only goes to him for a new piece. She’s found a home at Elk Grove Tattoos.
“I’m happy. I’m uplifted. His wife’s really dope. We talk and I just really appreciate them being a part of my life. It’s a good connection here,” Duplantier said. “He has a really good spirit…I’m an energy person. I don’t care how good your work is, if the energy isn’t there then I ain’t never coming back, but if the energy is good and the work is great, it’s a win-win. And that’s what you get here.”
Avila has plastered the majority of Duplantier’s ink including her leg sleeve along her right side that occupies space for family portraits, Egyptian symbols, a temple, blackjack, and honeybees, among others.
She also has tattoos along her chest and arms. She went into the establishment last Friday for a touch up on her yin and yang piece that sits on her right forearm down to her wrist.
Duplantier dons a No. 8 tattoo on lower leg for her son, Erik, who died from leukemia at age 14. He was in the eighth grade. Erik played basketball, baseball and football, which he loved the most.
No. 8 represented his jersey number when he played Pop Warner football for the Grant Junior Pacers. He ultimately wanted to go to the UC Berkeley for college.
Duplantier described her son as a “very different type of kid.”
“He was not with the drama. He was an athlete, a class clown but wasn’t with the extra,” Duplantier said. “He kept me in line sometimes.”
The No. 8 tattoo along with the rest of her tattoos are symbolism, a reminder of the things she’s been through.
“I can say it is an amazing feeling,” Duplantier said. “You feel like you get to wear a piece of art. It’s not just a piece of paper, you’re wearing this art with you, you carry it with you. So when I wanna look at a loved one, I can just look (at my tattoo).”