We had the good fortune of connecting with Mike Stobbe and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mike, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Well, initially it was like a “regular job” in that I would come in and work all day or as much of it as I could fill up with work, and come home around 9:00 pm. to a pizza and a room full of drinks and friends. I didn’t have a single relationship or someone waiting for me to come home, so I was able to focus on and spend time at my work. Eventually I had someone in my life that wanted more of my time and I wanted to oblige. I stopped working on the weekends so I could spend more time with my (then) girlfriend who worked a regular square 9-5 job and had weekends off. Fast forward 30 years and now I have a child who needs a lot of my time as well as a wife that also requires more of me, so I try to “work less and live more”. I’m lucky in that I do something pretty well, that not a lot of people can do. That seems odd to say as there are more tattoo shops in San Diego now (than there has ever been in the whole world, ever) and there seems to be ALOT of tattooers running around these days, and there are. I’m in the unique position of having been on this scene before many of those people were born, so I have a pretty solid client base that come to me,specifically. I’m fortunate in that regard. I have a few hobbies like making music, woodworking and jewelry making that take up a good amount of my time, and I get to spend much more time with my family now which I prefer. You can always make more money if you need more money, but you can’t make up for lost time from your family as they grow and change… I’m in a good place in regards to how much I get to work and how much time I get to spend with my family and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As a tattooer, I create art that’s mostly inspired by emotional moments in other peoples lives. It’s very similar to doing graphic design, in that a client proposes an idea and I get to build on it and create a finished piece for them. It’s immediate gratification for me and the client. They get a new tattoo, I get paid, everyone’s happy instantly. It’s very pleasing to be a part of. I’ve been artistic and creative since an early age so it was easy for me once I was able to learn the mechanics of the tools of tattooing. That being said, it did take a considerable amount of time to excel and eventually become proficient. My contemporaries didn’t have Google, Pinterest or YouTube, like we have today. We really had to scrape and dig to find art books and manuals to help us crate the images we did. Instead of stealing ideas off of Instagram, we scoured comic books, and album covers, punk rock flyers and science fiction movie posters. It seemed like it was everywhere for us, but that was just because we were trying so hard to be a little better or different. It was really a fun time in the whole timeline of tattooing, generally speaking. I like to think I don’t really have a particular “style”or a thing I do better than anything else. After so long doing this I really want to be proficient at any type or style of tattooing that someone might want done. I think that’s served me well over the years and I really do enjoy the many different things I get to imagine and create.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Live in a neighborhood that has recently experienced a pretty explosive revitalization. When I moved into North Park, it was rough, to be generous. It was also beautiful, filled with multitudes of ethnicities and cultures. But it was rough… lots of petty street crime, and no real direction as a neighborhood. Slumlords had bought up lots of derelict properties and were renting them out to whomever could scrape up the change. People were just sort of existing here. It was a weird limbo between police helicopters flying around all night, and sirens tearing up and down the street all day. Since the early 90’s, things have changed a lot during that time. We have economic growth like we haven’t seen in decades. Employment opportunities that never existed for young people living In the area. Gangs faded away, street crime started to dip, suddenly I was living in a destination area. Breweries, restaurants, events, community awareness and people really taking pride in where they live. I’d take them on a walk a few blocks from my home and let them experience all of the amazing food and drink and growth we’ve experienced over the last 10 years in North Park.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My main shout out would have to be to Fip Buchanan and Patty Kelly. They created Avalon Tattoo in 1989 and hired me in 1990 and I’ve been working alongside Fip ever since. I can honestly say that the chance they gave me and the patience and guidance I received from them has given me all of the opportunities I could have asked for. My wife, my home, most of the people I call my friends, all of it was because of tattooing and the world that came with it. Of course I also have to pour one out for Kinsey Bolsen who was the man who owned the first real tattoo shop I worked out of. It was a tiny room behind an arcade called “Funland” on Broadway and State street. That was a downtown when downtown was a little less of a destination. People still found us and got tattooed and that was really the start of my eventual life long career as a tattooer. Sadly I heard that recently he passed, my deepest condolences go out to all his friends and family. My wife Amy is my muse for all the creative things I do in my life. She’s my inspiration, my brake check, and a steady calming voice in my ear. As my wife and the mother of our son Vaughn, she keeps me in line, on track and constantly moving forward.
All images by Mike Stobbe
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