Jose Menendez
Jose Menendez | Tattoo Artist


Etched in Skin | Artist Profile

When you walk into Studio City Tattoo to see Jose Menendez you’re in for an experience, not just a tattoo. You’ll be greeted by a man who looks like he’s stepped out of the turn of the twentieth century, is probably whistling, and is undoubtedly hard at work. He’s a disarming kind of guy–warm and interesting. He looks right at you when he speaks, and really listens when you’re speaking. He’s the embodiment of care and professionalism, and while he’s about to permanently mark and aesthetically alter your body, he manages to make you feel not only at ease about it, but really excited about it. And in a couple of hours, after much collaboration, some genuine conversation, and probably a picture or two of his baby girl, he has rendered a beautiful image and sends you home with a small piece of him.

Deciding I wasn’t ready for a tattoo just yet, I sat down to talk with Jose about himself, his art, and his increasingly popularized profession instead. He told me stories about his abuelo—an architect and very gifted painter in Cuba and eventually Miami, where he and his family settled some forty-five years ago—and explained to me the influence he had on him, growing up. He taught me about some of history’s most important tattooers and the trends they were responsible for, noting that he’d like to “see [tattooing] become cemented as a fine art”—a direction it’s quickly heading in. He even brought out old sketch books and we laughed about how we used to interpret the world on paper. Here is his story.

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Jose was working in several other mediums before he settled on tattooing several years ago. It was clear that he had a gift for drawing at a young age. He would spend hours a day learning from his grandfather during childhood summers spent in Miami. But when he entered the workforce, he also turned out to be very apt at everything from sculpting to interior design. He built props for television shows, dabbled in airbrushing and vinyl design work, and decorated store fronts for several years. Amidst all this, he taught himself to tattoo and eventually began an apprenticeship. His artistic versatility and aptitude come from both raw talent and his unique ability to see things in their finished form from their outset. When I asked him why he decided to tattoo for a living, he gave me a simple answer: “I get excited about it.”  He went on to say, “I always found it interesting as an art form and a lifestyle, but never thought I could make a career out of it in the beginning because I was doing so many other things.” He was also drawn to the fact that the art form itself can exist anywhere in the world and has for hundreds of years. He’s attracted to things of “by-gone era,” he told me.

He’s the embodiment of care and professionalism, and while he’s about to permanently mark and aesthetically alter your body, he manages to make you feel not only at ease about it, but really excited about it.
— Krystle Casey

Jose is a very well dressed man, and generally one that looks like he’s not from this century. There is, very clearly, some time that goes into his appearance—his suits are immaculate, his shoes always match, and his hats are obviously part of a well-kept collection. His tattooed hands wear heavy, bold metal rings alongside a delicate wedding band adorned with an inlay of acorns, and his mustache is occasionally in handlebar form. He’s fun to look at. And as someone who is perfectly happy to galavant about town in yoga pants and a sweatshirt myself, I must say, I didn’t get it. I thought it was amusing, but a bit eccentric. But when I asked Jose if there was a philosophy which he adhered to in his work and in his life, his answer made so much sense. He told me that he put a lot of care into the things that represented him—from his attire to his tattoos—because he thinks and lives like a craftsman.  He likes vintage things because they have stories. They come from an era when things were made by hand and people took care of what they owned. He told me he intends to carry that mindset with him throughout his career.  “I like taking care of things,” he said, “taking care of my family, of my artwork and my clients. I feel like a guardian—a steward—of the things that I collect and of my clients, who are respecting and taking care of me.”

You can see his excitement for his craft in his preparation especially. He explained to me the lengths of this process: he gathers as much reference or inspirational material as possible and does a great deal of studying. Then he sketches…and sketches…and sketches. He’ll often do two or more complete sketches of a piece that are just slightly varied, for comparison. “The image should flow with the body,” he said. “I want the tattoo to look like it was there from birth…like you were meant to have it.” He’ll finish up with a color or tonal study, so that “I can say with confidence that what I’m offering is the best way to tell whatever story [the client] is trying to tell.” He noted, though, that fostering artistic expression in this field can be tricky because a lot of the pieces tattooers do are based on ideas clients are coming in with. He explained that “you have to interpret their idea and use your voice, your aesthetic, without muddying their initial intention too much.” He told me that’s a challenge and a collaboration he usually likes.


Jose tattooes pieces ranging in style from watercolor to traditional, but says he has the most fun doing neo-traditional pieces—art done in a traditional fashion with aspects of painting, realism, or illustrative styles. He told me that he pulls inspiration from all over the place, but especially loves artists out of the golden age of illustration—J.C. Lindecker and Dean Cornwell for example—which lend themselves very well to this neo-traditional style. You’ll see elements of art nouveaux and art deco in his work, {as well as an aesthetic reminiscent of turn of the century naturalist prints}. He said rather guiltily, “I have more art books that I have room for, and I keep collecting. Those are the things I reference when I’m sketching.”

I asked him if anything else inspired him and he told me he’d gotten a lot of inspiration recently from food documentaries. Remembering one of his favorites, he said “I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, went home and wanted to draw until my hands bled.” He went on, “Here’s a guy that the world thinks is a master of his craft, and he’s still working like he’s got a lot to learn. I respect that so much, and I strive to be like that.” At this point in our conversation, he became really pensive. He told me about how much it meant to him to have his art work in the world, “living a life”—having people experience it as it lives this life, instead of hanging in a museum somewhere. Clearly feeling grateful, he said beautifully and almost confusedly—“I mean, [people] are paying me money, going through pain, all so that they can collect a piece of art from me…That’s honoring. That’s humbling. That’s everything.”


I’ve watched Jose tattoo several people.  I follow him on instagram, as do most people I know.  I’ve seen drawings and ideas on their paths from initial concepts to fully-rendered works of art.  I’ve also seen countless pictures of finished pieces, heard countless stories from thrilled clients, and read his many yelp reviews. Some of this is because I’m his wife–most of this is because I’ve done my research. And frankly, that’s the reason most people seek Jose out–they’ve done their research. The incredible thing that I have to lend to his story is not what you can find on the internet—it’s what you can’t see unless you intimately know him, unless you live with him and watch him not only as an artist but a human being. I can attest to the incredible amount of research and time that goes into every piece he works on weeks before a client sees it. I can attest to his excitement over the art he pours himself into, and the way in which he follows up with clients. I can attest to the love and trust he receives from his regulars, and to the humble and gracious way he treats that trust. But, you’ll probably gather all that for yourself after not very much time with him. And if you’re simply looking for a great tattoo, character attestations aside, he’s going to give you that too.

I mean, [people] are paying me money, going through pain, all so that they can collect a piece of art from me…That’s honoring. That’s humbling. That’s everything.
— Jose Menendez

originally published June 2017 via the online magazine Dialogue.