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San Clemente Journal

More Than Skin Deep - The Art of the Tattoo

Nov 20, 2017 08:05PM ● By Donia Moore

Lounge owner Monte Livingston is a third generation San Clementean.

by Donia Moore

When you first see it, you can hardly keep from reaching out to stroke the downy feathers of the luxe pink flamingo with the headphones. Headphones? 

If you are seeing incredibly realistic pink flamingos, 3D sea turtles navigating a watery reef, or a soft-eyed elephant with a penchant for blowing a spray of water into the air, you have probably wandered into one of San Clemente’s most interesting art galleries. Take a close look. These artworks are available to purchase, on either your (skin) canvas or theirs.
You won’t find shortcuts here – either in the work or the lounge areas. The Gallery feels like the cozy living room in your best friend’s house, complete with comfy chairs and big screen TV next to a charming fireplace.

Third Generation San Clementean
The Living Art Gallery Tattoo and Lounge is one of the longest established tattoo galleries in San Clemente. Owned by third generation San Clementean Monte Livingston, it has been in operation since November of 2011. And City Councilman Chris Hamm was very supportive of bringing this traditional art form to town. 
Monte has lived and worked all his life just a few minutes away from his family home in San Clemente. Concordia Elementary School, Shorecliffs Middle School, and San Clemente High School were his basic training grounds. It was through his art classes at San Clemente High School that artist and teacher Rick Delaney became his most influential mentor. 

Different Folks for Different Strokes
Monte employs five other talented artists, each with their own specialties and styles. Hayley Schwied works in traditional and line work. A graduate of the Laguna College of Art and Design, she is the gallery’s microblading specialist.  Britta Christiansen works in watercolor and trash polka tattoos. Jason Weaver’s talents include realism, traditional, black and grey, and line work. Austin Rinaldi’s talents lie in neo traditional and black and grey art. Art Valencia also works in black and grey. Designer and manager Brenna Standlee keeps it all together. Many examples of their artwork prints are available for sale at the Art Gallery.

Through the use of microblading, Hayley has developed an expert technique of recreating brow lines that have disappeared either through accident or design. 
The art of microblading is a recently revived procedure that creates much more realistic looking brows. They often even appear to have individual hairs, rather than the standard cosmetic permanent makeup brow tattoos. Microblading, also called microstroking and feather touch, is a form of semi-permanent makeup that is used to partially or fully camouflage missing eyebrow hair with the appearance of simulated hair using fine deposits of cosmetic tattoo pigments. The technique itself dates back thousands of years but its current revival most recently surfaced in Asia. 

In microblading, a specially trained tattoo artist uses tiny needles to deposit cosmetic grade pigment in the upper level of the skin. The technique is performed by hand and requires a manual tool featuring several needles in a row to deposit the dye into the dermal second layer of the skin. It involves drawing crisp individual hair strokes that can look very natural. Needles come in a variety of sizes so that the individual hairs are customized to each client to look more natural. However, like all tattoo art, over time the strokes can blur and may need to be refreshed, usually about every two years.

While Hayley generally only uses a numbing cream or topical anesthetic to limit discomfort, she always strictly follows the aseptic technique requiring the use of disinfectant and sterile, single use needles. “It’s very realistic and I usually only need a consultation and one sitting to complete the process.” A tattoo sitting can be an hour or three, depending on the amount of work to be done.

3D Medical Tattoo Art
Working in 3D Color Realism Monte often helps breast cancer survivors to feel beautiful again. Through his skillful work, he re-pigments sensitive areas such as nipples and areolas. He has hundreds of ink colors on his flesh tones wall to match any skin tone and as a master of 3 D art, his work looks lifelike. 

“Matching skin tones is very difficult because the skin has so many different colors. Tattooing a small area such as a nipple or areola is usually very successful because there are fewer skin tones to try to match. The process works best when there is a silicone implant shape under the skin with a bump where the nipple should be as it gives a more realistic shape for the re-pigmentation.” 

Monte and Hayley have noticed that many breast cancer survivors are opting for beautiful designs to celebrate their recovery, rather than a realistic look. 

“Whenever I create lovely flowers or special designs for these women, I feel so fortunate that I am able to help them feel beautiful and positive about themselves again,” says Hayley.
Many clients come in for memorials, If you’re thinking you might want a memorial tattoo, Monte advises to consider it carefully. 

“I think a memorial should be something positive so that every time the client looks at it, usually every day, they have a positive reaction or memory attached to it. Chances are that it will be a forever thing.”

Tattoo Removal
Can you ever really remove tattoos completely? 
Monte answers that it isn’t very likely, so be sure you know what and where you want a piece. Usually, a beautiful cover-up tattoo is a better option. Scar tissue is challenging to work with because it is so fragile. It can be quite successful with the proper needling massage technique to soften it.

Tattoo artists have a number of requirements that they must follow, including using single-use needles. Shops are strictly regulated by California’s Health and Safety Code, and current Bloodborne Pathogens training certificates for each artist must be up to date. The shop must be registered with the County Health Department and must submit to routine inspections. All tattoo clients must be 18 years of age or older. 

Tattoo artists themselves usually follow a rigorous internship before being allowed to hang out their shingle. Of course, they practice on friends and family members that are so inclined, but interns are much more likely to have a great deal of experience practicing on grapefruits or synthetic skins before any human variety is undertaken.

Regarding Monte’s painting of the flamingo with headphones - there really is a person that the flamingo is modeled after. By day, Monte’s friend is a respected attorney. By night he is a fun loving DJ, known for his great spins. 

Not exactly “birds of a feather” but go check out the flock of paintings at the gallery. You might find your own memorial piece.

Contact: (949) 262-9669 or visit: