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Jose Sanjuan, born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, just an hour from Sayulita, is a world renowned tattoo artist. During Sayulita’s high season, he works Thursday through Saturday at Papillon Family Studios, and during Sayulita’s low season, he is in Europe, learning new tattoo skills and techniques to better his work here. Jose tells El Sayulero how he got his start in tattooing, what he loves about it, and so much more.
How long have you been tattooing? How did you get your start?
Well, I have always enjoyed drawing since I was a kid. When I was about 19 years old, my younger brother came home from high school with a homemade battery powered tattoo machine and told me he wanted me to tattoo him. At that time there were no tattoo shops in Puerto Vallarta, and in fact, tattoo shops were illegal. I didn’t tattoo my brother because I would have been in so much trouble, but I did practice on a few friends. It was exciting, but I never imagined I’d end up being a professional tattoo artist. Then, when I was about 23 years old, I moved to Seattle, Washington, and met another Mexican artist who was a professional tattoo artist and I began an apprenticeship with him.
How would you describe your style of tattooing?
I consider myself a professional airbrusher, so in my mind, I am airbrushing on the skin with a tattoo machine. We have a lot of Eastern Europeans that come from a fine arts background and are famous old painters joining the tattoo world. Their work is basically paintings on skin and my style is similar to that.
You’re currently working at Papillon Family Studies, Tattoo & Jewelry. What was it about this shop that made you want to work there?
Well, the first thing is Chops (the owner of Papillon Family Studios) - we have a connection. We both come from an old school background valuing loyalty and respect, and that is hard to find right now. I also live close to Sayulita in Puerto Vallarta, which is close enough to easily come to Sayulita and collaborate with Chops. It’s also nice to work in an environment where I feel comfortable.
When clients come to you with a rough idea of a tattoo, do you draw something up for them? If so, how would you describe the process?
Yes. A lot of customers come to the shop with tattoo ideas. Actually, a lot of them find their ideas on google and they pull up the photos on their phones. I take their ideas and then modify them to make a unique piece for them. There’s a lot of psychology that goes into tattooing - why someone wants to get a tattoo, why this tattoo, and so forth. Sometimes people will bring in five ideas and then we go through an elimination process, pick one, and then start working on the project. It’s fun.
Do you have a favorite tattoo you’ve done in Sayulita? If so, what it is that makes it your favorite?
That’s a hard question since every customer comes in with their own idea, each tattoo is special, and each has its own meaning. That being said, right now I’m working on a girl from the states who wants tattoos of exotic, unusual flowers from Mexico. Generally, customers who come in wanting flower tattoos want daisies, orchids, etc., but this girl has really done her homework and has researched all of these different Mexican flowers. To me, it really makes this tattoo unique and special.
What do you like most about tattooing in Sayulita?
Being in Sayulita there are a lot of people coming from different parts of the world. The energy of this town is perfect for us to do first class tattooing for those in this town, as well as the entire Bahia de Banderas area. We are raising up the level of tattoos here and it is exciting, and we are looking forward to growing as much as we can.
Do you suggest someone make an appointment?
It depends on how complex the tattoo is. Some customers come with an idea and if it is a simple tattoo, it may only take a half hour to be ready to tattoo. For other tattoos, I might need one to two days to come up with an idea and go from there. Making an appointment is always best, so that there is no rush. I think one of the best parts of tattooing in Sayulita is that people come here to relax and have a good time, and you don’t want to rush your tattoo. We are artists, not money makers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Stop by Papillon Family Studios, say hello, and check out the shop. If you plan to get a tattoo, know we are here to provide top notch tattoos. We aren’t your factory tattoo shop. We are artists and take pride in what we do. Check out our work and book an appointment. If you email us and don’t hear back right away, please be patient, as we can’t always respond immediately.