For a long time, tattoos have been negatively stigmatized in our society (and sometimes still are). “Only criminals get tattoos!” “Tattoos are for gang bangers!” You’ll never be able to get a professional job with all of those! I’ve heard these sentiments expressed often. However, in today’s modern culture, more so than ever, this negative stigma on tattoos is quickly dissolving.
Chops, the owner and lead tattoo artist at Papillion Family Studios here in Sayulita is profoundly talented, professional, and deeply passionate for his craft. Chops is unmistakably and wonderfully, Chops—even his name is intriguing. What does “Chops” really mean? Is it a guise, or some kind of pen name? Is he a “one name only” artist, like Prince or Cher? Chops’s intrigue and signature style are not only in his name, but in his entire persona. Whether it be the black, short sleeve button-up he wears daily (only the top button buttoned, of course, revealing his fully tattooed stomach), his long, red, ZZ Top inspired beard, or his kind heart and tell-it-like-it-is personality, Sayulita knows Chops when we see him.
I talk with Chops about his career in tattooing, his signature style, and about his tattoo shop, Papillion Family Studios.
When did you move to Sayulita and why?
In August we will have lived here three years. I’ve been a gypsy my whole life. I went to eight different schools through high school. Change of place or space comes easily for me. I’ve traveled to at least thirteen different countries. I chose Sayulita for the school my children attend, Costa Verde, and for the economy that Sayulita offers. I’m fortunate that my skills allow me the opportunity to work almost anywhere in the world. Sayulita is the first place I’ve lived where I feel at home. Those who get it, get it. Those who don’t, never will.
When did you first open Papillion Family studios?
I found my shop within five days when we moved to Sayulita and I began construction. We moved into the casita I built above the shop five months later. An ex pat asked me how I was able to accomplish this in such a short time, and I replied that I chose to spend my time with Mexicans.
I have to ask the question everyone wants to know…How did you get the name Chops?
I’ve been called every name under the sun. Good, bad, and ugly. I made a choice many years ago to create my own environment, my own path, and my own future. I allowed and then embraced “Chops” as my first name. I’ve been him longer than the other guy who lived here before. I chose Papillon as the last name for my children and myself from a true story I read of courage and hope despite all odds. Papillion means butterfly in French—a symbol of freedom.
What is your background experience in tattooing?
I’ve tattooed professionally for over twenty-four years all across the world. I’ve pretty much done more tattoos then I could fathom people would ask me to do on them, or where they wanted me to do them. I was fortunate to fall in with some very talented individuals in the beginning of my journey who saw a kindred spirit. They were generous enough to encourage me and give me the connections as well as the tools to take this as far as I wanted, and I earned my way forward.
What is your favorite thing about tattoos or tattooing? Why is it such a passion of yours?
I’ve found that the more you get tattooed, the more it is a personal and private reward. It no longer is an extroverted statement, but a quiet, simple badge that you carry. I first tattooed myself at thirteen years old. I’ve been an artist my whole life. There has always been an obsession with art. I must produce. In these times there is little that is sacred or meaningful anymore.
What would you say is your “signature style” in your tattoos, or what do you like to tattoo the best?
I am not as concerned with what a client asks me to produce as I am interested in how I produce it. I’ve grown fascinated with the formulas that nature and life follow. A rose spirals out from the center. There are no outlines in the natural world; it’s contrast of light and dark that creates the effect of a border or separation. These are what intrigue me. The fact that every day offers something new and different allows my interest to continue.
You get a large client base of tourists who come to Sayulita and want to get tattooed by you. What advice do you have for them, or really anyone who wants to get a tattoo from you at Papillion Family Studios?
Appointments are best in this environment. Clients on vacation should be allowed to enjoy what Sayulita has to offer without fear of the process of healing a new tattoo. Book yourself in at the end of your trip please. Locals, allow yourself a day of rest before going back to work. You deserve it. You will carry this tattoo for life. Also, think about what you want! What makes you proud, what makes you happy…do some research! We can make all your dreams come true, but we can’t read your mind.
Like I said— Sayulita knows Chops when we see him, and now we know that the work he is doing is not just helping to promote a positive culture and acceptance of tattoos, but is endorsing the freedom to express your individual personality, to make your own path in life, and to be exactly, unapologetically, the person that you want to be. Visit Papillion Family Studios on Avenida Revolucion and make an appointment for your next tattoo.
Written by Aanya Sheik-Taheri