About Franco Vescovi
ranco Vescovi was a normal neighborhood kid who grew up in a family of seven near Central and Bristol in southwest Santa Ana, California. His family grew up free of luxuries but never free of good times. Growing up with five brothers and sisters and no money, a healthy imagination became the source for fun in the Vescovi household, with the creation of homemade toys, homemade tetherball courts, and Hefty trash bag slip-and-slides. The occasional accidental cut, bruise, and tear occurred from homemade projects—Hefty bags were never intended to provide cushion for rocks rubbing across the arms or legs. The OCTA provided the family undedicated chauffeur service at a small cost to all the city events, park events, sporting events, and libraries around the 714 area code. If it was free, and if it was fun, Franco’s mom found out where and when to be there with her kids.
Franco’s mom was an artist, which is evident through the focus of the mentally stimulating (and inexpensive) art-based extracurricular activities that Franco could often be found in. Franco became a regular to Santa Ana art programs, commonly putting in seven-plus hour days during summer weekends, all before the time he began putting his digits in elementary school paint buckets. Art grew to be incorporated as a major part of Franco’s life, mimicking art both changing over time and holding uncertain end results.
A Change (Addition By Subtraction) Uncorrectable problems, tension, and irreconcilable differences between the heads of the Vescovi household created a sense of uncertainty within them as a whole. What was not uncertain was the direction Franco’s mother was trying to head her family in: straightforward positively with no reverse mode present. Franco’s mother dealt with her turbulent divorce, packed up her kids, and began the start of positive change for her family. His mother, siblings, and 14-year-old Franco said goodbye to Santa Ana and hello to Tulsa, Oklahoma—a new environment segregated from domestic drama and crime. An environment where people were nice to you because they were genuinely nice people, and a place where street weariness could be laid to rest. Tulsa provided Franco a healthy living environment, immeasurable art skill improvement, and priceless life experiences. Even with all the positive change Oklahoma provided, California life proved to be too much of a temptation for Franco to resist. Not being able to hang with Tulsa life any longer, Franco made his way back to OC and landed in the place he remained ever since: El Toro.
Fooling around and not taking life too seriously, Franco continued his artwork via the inking of fellow classmates hand-in-hand with his good friend Bic. Although the artwork was not permanent, dozens upon dozens of classmates repped the custom-faux Franco ink pieces. In the summer of his junior year of high school Franco met the dramatic circumstance that would permanently alter his life, mind, and art: his cousin Bean got out of jail. The actual release of Bean from jail itself didn’t alter Franco, but what Bean learned in jail did. Bean shared the homemade tattoo gun recipe he learned in jail with Franco and his brother Julio. Making homemade toys was nothing new to Franco. His cousin asked him if he thought he could sling some ink through the homemade machine, to which Franco thought would be weird to accomplish. Franco’s cousin Edwin, who was a strong tattoo motivating force, and Julio, another strong supporter, took it upon themselves to make Franco his own machine and get him to start using it. Franco took the machine, used the machine, and practiced on all comers the entire summer. His senior year started and classmates were approaching Franco for his custom pen specialties, but Franco let them know he had moved onto the real forever deal. Classmates told him they didn’t give a sh*t and lined up anywhere and everywhere to get permanently inked. All it took was the mention of the word “real” and Franco had more classmates lined up than he had time to work on. He tattooed in the lunchroom, in the bathroom during class, in the middle of the football field after school, and ironically in art class itself.
The Catch Double-Deuce Method
Franco’s self-training method of tattooing is the epic example of a catch-22. Many others have learned similarly as Franco, which was the best way to learn for his particular environment and mindset. Starting the humble way not only forced Franco to learn how to tattoo, but put in all the effort he had within himself. Such a method strong-armed Franco into paying attention to every bit of detail in the artwork. Tattooing with a single needle makes you feel like you’re tattooing under a magnifying glass. When the transition into a professional environment occurs, where bigger needles are utilized, you still hold onto the mindset of a single-needle artist. Franco doesn’t recommend this method of learning to tattoo because of the many problems that could arise, like cross contamination. He’s always conscious of making his environment sterile, to the point of making everything disposable since the time he started tattooing. His mechanical-pencil-guitar-string-based needles were used one time with pride, to show he was serious about the artwork he was doing. The professional transition was made easier by being able to buy supplies in bulk, no more sandpaper-sharpened needles and an even more-sterile environment. Although Franco had countless hours of experience doing single needlework, Franco was intimidated by the professional machine’s much heavier weight. Once Franco killed the nerves enough and got a hold of a professional machine (a cosmetic tattoo machine), he was able to adapt to the weight difference quickly. Franco’s visions as a tattoo artist started to change; no longer did he want his image to be that of a ghetto tattoo artist with a homemade machine. Franco ditched the homemade machine after three years, the cosmetic machine after three months, and finally got into a real professional piece of equipment. Franco learned that jobs could have taken less time (still beating himself up about that) with a pro machine, after he learned how to move the machine and how to bend and angle the needles in order to get the crisp lines he desired. Without the previous single-needle experience to reference from, the detailed tattoos of Franco wouldn’t result in the amount of pride expressed in each and every art piece he completes.
Franco was an artist who did tattoo work, but he was not a professional tattoo artist. He didn’t do any tattoo work out of a shop, just an artist driving everywhere and anywhere to tattoo those who had the needle need. Franco enrolled in art school to become a graphic designer because that’s what people with artistic skills did in order to get real jobs some day. He met an acquaintance whose family member owned a tattoo shop in Huntington Park, California. Franco told his acquaintance that it was too crazy of a drive from his home in Orange County and from his school in Long Beach. Although Franco initially said no, a seed of thought was planted. He started to think about what he wanted to do in life. With graphic design school coming to an end soon, the thought was growing about what awaited Franco post graphic design school. Eight-plus hours daily, five to six days weekly, 52 weeks yearly staring at a computer screen for the rest of your working life … Congratulations you just weeded yourself through the masses of others with the same skills competing for the same job, and here’s your new job that doesn’t pay sh*t! With the nothing-to-lose attitude in mind, Franco met up with the shop owner who liked what Franco had to offer. He got a job offer, gave it a shot, and was introduced to the professional world of tattooing. Working around other artists provided an environment for him to develop new tricks and techniques that he’d never seen in the realm of solo artistry. Franco’s work became driven by detailed custom work, especially subjects with real elements. He didn’t just want to draw a house. If one asks for a house, he says draw the car in the driveway, the trees around the house, and the damn lawn—draw elements to make a scene. Franco truly believes all good artists are capable of performing portrait work, but fearing the portrait consumes the artist with fear. One has to have the “f*ck it” attitude and just do it. You’re bound to mess up, outline in wrong colors, and probably make a girl look like she’s wearing braces but the bottom line is you tried. The shop job lasted shortly before the workload began to decrease, so Franco made a job transfer to the valley with L.A. Tattoo in Hollywood. The love of the shop atmosphere was embedded for good and a shop was the only place Franco had any further true desire to do work at. The stress of the long commute and the splitting of clients in two counties began to take a toll on Franco, and he soon felt the burned-out feeling creeping into the body.
It’s Like What? Real Talk with Franco V
Tattooing is a crazy profession; it’s not like a software company where you can hook up a client any time. Once one completes work on a client, and the client enjoys the work provided, not only does the client want more tattoos, but now people that the client knows do as well. It’s all good, but there is only one Franco and limited hours to work in a week. One could get an apprentice to lighten the load, but only one person has ever proven they deserved the opportunity to be taught. Even then, clients come in for that particular artist’s effort, not for another person to provide the needle for their skin. Apprenticeships tend to hit a sore spot for the normally positive man. One often sees apprenticeships fall into hands that have no artistic ability. Owners are often quick to accept the non-artist and proceed to take advantage of the ignorant to make money. The situation created is one in which you have a tattoo artist trying to teach someone how to draw, use technique, pay attention to detail, clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, and order take out. The ignorant take the abuse in order to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—the promise of a career. Even with the abuse and wallet gouging, the apprentice still had an easy road to ride through on: the one in which everything about tattooing is learned when one’s initial state of understanding was nothing; and the hard road being: the one where putting in a ridiculous amount of work is required in order to earn the opportunity to make a career through the art form. The path where one’s homemade machine breaks down, having to fix it, doing letters on a back with one needle, and having to focus on the detail to make sure it’s done right.
A good tattoo artist to Franco is simple: an artist who has put in a lot of hard work. Hard work like tattooing in the morning, going to school to learn more skills in the day, and then tattooing in the evening. Hard work that includes Franco driving from San Diego to Long Beach to the Inland Empire in one day in order to take care of responsibilities and his work load. Franco doesn’t have to ask every good artist he meets what he or she went through in order to make themselves good, he already knows: hard f’n work! Agitation is putting Franco’s words mildly when it comes to the subject of the inordinate amount of people wanting to assimilate into the artist’s industry. The “it’s not a big deal” and “it isn’t that hard” attitudes makes Franco tired. Disrespect to the business is felt by Franco when someone looks at the TV screen and says, “I can do that.” The question Franco asks is, “Why do you want to become a tattoo artist if you don’t know how to draw?” He says others think that it’s a cool profession, thinking they can score chicks and live a small form of a rock star lifestyle, but Franco will tell you there is no fame, only hard work, and fame is all but a “false illusion.” Franco insists knowing how to draw will not ensure the creation of a good tattoo artist, even if you’re Michelangelo incarnate himself, it will take years of practice to become good. Skin is the hardest canvas to learn. A good artist like Franco arrives to the point where he can see the skin and know how the ink is going to absorb in that particular skin type without even touching it. Franco started tattooing because he loved to draw; he didn’t know tattooing was supposed to be cool nor did he know any tattoo artists other than the one looking back at him in the mirror, it was all done because he enjoyed the thought of someone having his art on their body. He never thought he would be tattooing famous people; he was just doing art. Franco was always the kid who thought he was never good enough to do anything. As his self-image improved through the daily grind, thoughts of his art being publicly known came as only an afterthought. With celebrities like Dennis Rodman and Travis Barker having Franco art on their bodies, he still holds onto the saying, “You don’t have to be good to tattoo famous people.”