Tattoos provide a lasting way to express personality, memorialize loved ones, mark a milestone or simply showcase a beautiful design on the body.
By Tanya A. Yacina
People choose to get tattoos for many reasons—to memorialize a loved one or pet, to pay tribute to a favorite hobby or pastime and, sometimes, just to adorn their skin with intricate art. There’s no one-size-fits-all reason that a person decides to permanently etch something onto their skin, but all are a lasting form of expression for the world to see.
Tattoo artist Kalani Storch, owner of LO Cal Tattoo in Laguna Beach, was introduced to the art of tattooing because of a tragedy. While he had always been an artist on some level, he hadn’t considered tattooing as a creative outlet until his life was forever changed.
“My wife and son passed away in a car accident and that changed my life forever,” he says. “Back then, I owned a construction company and gym; I didn’t even have visible tattoos. My life went down in a tailspin and I had to find a way to navigate through it. I found that peace in tattooing—it was therapeutic, so it became my passion. I can truly say I have a deep love for the art of tattooing; it saved me.”
Conversely, tattoo artist Zane Leibowitz, owner of Bare Bones Tattoo in town, practically grew up in a tattoo shop. His brother, nine years his senior, started taking him to work at his shop when Leibowitz was 12.
“Through the years of going with him, I really grew up learning tattooing and the industry as a whole. So, naturally, when I graduated [from] high school, I started my apprenticeship,” Leibowitz says.
“I would say my favorite part would be going to work and creating new art every single day. No two days are the same.”
Bare Bones Tattoo and LO Cal Tattoo, which stands for Lilo Ohana (Hawaiian for “becoming family”) California, are among a handful of shops offering body art services in Laguna Beach—a perfect fit for this art-centric town.
Leibowitz says his favorite type of tattoos to draw are old, sailor-style ones that portray powerful imagery with clean bold lines, black shading and bright, beautiful colors. He was taught to be a well-rounded tattooer—to be able to do everything—but he specializes in traditional tattooing with bold lines and vibrant hues.
Leibowitz says it’s difficult to choose a favorite tattoo he has created. “I feel I grow as an artist and a tattooer weekly and strive to be better every day and try to make every tattoo the best and my favorite,” he says. “The best part of my career has been traveling and doing tattoos all over the country and meeting so [many] amazing people in the industry.”
Storch says he loves all styles in the tattoo industry, but he started by doing Polynesian designs that depicted different islands and patterns that represented the culture. As he’s progressed as an artist, he’s become skilled in color realism, as well as black-and-gray realism, which allows him more creativity and the ability to do cover-up and touch-up tattoos.
“I love them all, so it’s hard to say if I have a direct favorite kind [of tattoo],” Storch says. “I will say I love the challenge and the outcome of the dramatic cover-ups I do. They are so fun and enjoyable to create.”
Storch says aside from the artwork, the vibe of the studio is what really sets LO Cal apart. “Each artist that works here brings such a different dynamic and energy,” Storch says. “Even though we might not always agree, there is always a solid humorous debate or discussion going on between us and clients. It’s real life in the studio and we involve everyone in it, like a family.”
Leibowitz says Bare Bones also has a different style from other tattoo shops in Laguna. It consistently puts new sheets of original, hand-painted tattoo flash up on the walls for people to come in and pick from or get inspired for new custom tattoo ideas. Bare Bones also takes walk-ins regardless of the size or design of the tattoo someone wants.
“I am always on the hunt for new inspiration,” he says. “I am constantly buying books and looking to see what other people are doing, not only in my industry, but other fields of art also. Honestly, I write down ideas constantly for drawings, paintings and tattoo ideas.”
“The fact that I’m granted the ability to put permanent artwork on the human body forever is the most rewarding part of being a tattoo artist,” Storch says. “I believe [tattoos are] a permanent statement of something meaningful to a person and their representation.”
One of Storch’s repeat customers, Anne Petronave, got her first (of now 11) tattoos at age 15 when she was on vacation in Florida. She says she and her friend chose the same design—two hearts linked together—and got them tattooed on their ankles at the same time. Storch has done five of her tattoos and also did her daughter’s first tattoo shortly after she turned 18.
“I like to get tattoos that represent relationships or loved ones,” says Petronave, who lived in Laguna for 30 years before moving to Northern California recently, although she’s often back in town to see clients for work. “Two of my tattoos are in memory of each of my parents, one of them represents my dear corgi, Roxy, and the others represent friendships and heritage—a Norwegian flag that my daughter and I both have,” Petronave says. “I also have one to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
Tattoos are a representation of art and memory, she says. “When I look at each of my tattoos, I am reminded of the person or situation I was in when I got it,” Petronave explains. “Kalani is very talented and a joy to hang out with while getting tattooed. [He] most recently tattooed a bee on my bicep and captured the exact vision I had.”
While people often get tattoos to express themselves, remind themselves of past times or loved ones, or to just look cool, Leibowitz says it’s the aesthetic that creates repeat customers.
“I think [the reason] people keeping coming back for more or getting more is seeing how beautiful tattoos look on their skin,” Leibowitz says, “and being able to express themselves artistically.”