North Texas Daily

Making his mark

Making his mark

September 10
17:20 2015

Julian Gill | Denton Record-Chronicle
@JulianGillMusic

Rember Orellana is a perfectionist.

He spends hours crafting tattoos on human canvases in his studio, Dark Age Tattoo, on the downtown Square in Denton. His unique style and extraordinary eye for detail have quickly developed over an eight-year career, but he is already one of the most in-demand tattoo artists in the world.

“I’m never finished with a tattoo,” Orellana said.

Orellana’s passion, and at times his obsession, for creating realistic tattoos started in his Dallas home with a makeshift tattoo gun. It has taken him across the country to showcase his work in front of thousands of people. He no longer takes appointments because he is booked until April 2018.

“The whole process was exciting, but it seems like everything happened too quickly,” he said.

Bottlecap ink
Born in Guatemala, Orellana, 29, moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area when he was 16 and enrolled at Molina High School in Dallas.

He was an avid boxer and wrestler as a teenager. But after a number of serious eye injuries permanently impaired his vision, he gravitated toward a much more forgiving outlet.

“I was drawing all the time,” he said. “It had always just come naturally to me.”

As a high school senior, Orellana bought tattoo magazines and tried to copy the designs from the featured artists. When his drawings became almost identical to those in the pictures, his friends started asking him for tattoos.

Most beginner tattoo artists spend months as an apprentice under an experienced artist before they are able to put needle to skin. But Orellana’s friends were willing to let him use their skin to practice.

Orellana said he was afraid he would mess up such a permanent mark, so his first tattoo was a conservative picture of an eye with wings.

“I was nervous my first time, and the next 100 times after that,” he said.

His tattoo parlor was his house, and his tattoo machine was fashioned out of a small motor, a pen and guitar strings. A bottle cap served as his ink cup.

The makeshift equipment was quickly tested when people from Orellana’s high school started to crowd his living room, waiting for their tattoo.

“It got to a point where I was getting busy tattooing at home every weekend,” he said.

After two years, his tattoos were becoming much more intricate and realistic. He decided it was time to dip his toe in the professional world.

Remember Orellana dips his the needle into ink before he begins work at Dark Age Tattoo Sunday evening. Photo by Kristen Watson/DRC

Rember Orellana dips his the needle into ink before he begins work at Dark Age Tattoo Sunday evening. Kristen Watson | DRC

Better ink
At 20 years old, Orellana opened his own tattoo parlor in a South Dallas strip mall, but the clientele was not interested in his extravagant style.

“You would get people asking, ‘Can you just put 2-1-4 on my arm?’ Like gangsters,” he said.

Unsatisfied with where the shop was going, he sold the business and moved on to Lucky’s Tattoo in Deep Ellum. Even though he made slightly more money at Lucky’s, he still had to pick up a second job at a warehouse to support his wife and son.

“I was sleeping like two hours a day and I was like, ‘Man I have to do something,’” Orellana said. “It seemed like this was what I was gong to be doing for a while.”

On top of his financial struggles, Orellana was still doing simple lettering at Lucky’s for similar clientele. He said he realized if he wanted to devote all of his time to the craft, he needed to work with better artists.

After weeks of searching for the best tattoo parlor in the area, he discovered Cat Tattoo in Addison.

“That was the name that kept popping up,” Orellana said. “So I wondered what it takes to go to one of those places.”

Orellana knew he couldn’t just walk in the front door and ask for a job at Cat Tattoo, which had been one of the premier custom tattoo shops in the area for years. He needed to make a direct impression on the owner, Terry Mayo.

Mayo and his staff annually attended the Eternal Ink tattoo convention in Addison. In 2009, Orellana decided he would take his work to the convention and try to win an award.

Using what little time he had between jobs at the warehouse and Lucky’s, Orellana meticulously crafted three tattoos on his friends for the contest.

“I think I spent like 30 hours on each one of those tattoos,” Orellana said.
He ended up winning awards for best color and best realistic tattoo, along with finishing third for his large back piece. Orellana immediately approached the Cat Tattoo staff with his three human canvases and asked for the owner.

“Some guy pointed to the owner and I asked the guy, ‘Hey, man, are you hiring?’ And he said, ‘We’ve already got nine artists right now, but let me see what you got.’”

Mayo immediately offered Orellana a job after seeing one of his award-winning tattoos.

Signature ink
Orellana found a home at Cat Tattoo. He was able to make custom tattoos for customers who welcomed his artistic ability.

“It was great experience,” he said. “I got treated with respect.”

Orellana was 22 when he started working at Cat Tattoo and was already winning awards at local conventions. More importantly, he was solidifying his style.

Blending surrealism with influences from 18th century gothic architecture, Orellana became known for stepping outside of the box with his work. Surrealist tattoos are some of most difficult to design because they involve an abstract form of imagery. So instead of simply drawing a woman’s face, Orellana would give her octopus tentacles for hair.

He said originality is the most important part of what he does.

“There are so many great artists that do realism really clean and really straight, but what makes the difference is when you have style,” he said.

Orellana caught his stride, he said, when he traveled out of the state to larger tattoo conventions and saw other well-known artists. He was finally among some of the best in the world, and they made an impression on him.

“There are people who make a living out of this and get famous and go all over the world,” he said. “And at that point, I said, ‘I want to be the best tattoo artist in the world.’”

Remember Orellana poses inside Dark Age Tattoo on Sunday, September 7, 2015. Photo by Kristen Watson/DRC

Rember Orellana poses inside Dark Age Tattoo on Sunday, September 7, 2015. Kristen Watson | DRC

Coveted ink
After three years at Cat Tattoo, Orellana again decided to open his own tattoo parlor, this time with a few awards under his belt. He brought with him Frank Sanchez, his longtime friend and artistic counterpart.

The two had worked together since Orellana opened his first shop in Dallas. Gonzalez said they had always tried to make each other better artists.

“He’s really driven,” Sanchez said. “He cares about what he does, and when you work with someone with the same mentality, it’s always a good mixture.”

It took Sanchez and Orellana two years to save up enough money for a studio. In 2014, they finally opened up Dark Age Tattoo on the Square.

Today, Orellana said many of his customers get tattoos like curators collect art — they just want a piece from the artist. He said many people come in with a general idea of what they want and let him expand on the design. Others just give Orellana the freedom to create whatever he wants, like the high school friends who crowded his living room.

Sometimes it takes Orellana up to 60 hours to finish a piece. He has some clients who travel from across the state to get complex tattoos, and he has to schedule them for an entire weekend.

Chad Renfro waited for two years before he was able to sit down in Orellana’s parlor chair. He had a sleeve of tattoos on his right arm, and a spot reserved for Orellana on his left. Renfro said the wait was worth it.

“There are some people that go into this as tattoo artists, and there are some that are just artists,” Renfro said. “Rember is definitely the former. He is legitimately one of the best in the world.”

Orellana only has one tattoo: a portrait of his 6-year-old son on his chest. But he wouldn’t have it unless his idol Bob Tyrrell offered to do it. Tyrrell, whose work has been featured in more than 28 tattoo publications, was one of the artists Orellana tried to mimic as a teenager. They met a few years ago at a tattoo convention in Detroit.

“I showed him my portfolio and he was pretty impressed,” Orellana said “I was like, ‘Man that’s crazy that someone at that level is impressed, or at least acting impressed.’”

Now, Orellana is the one featured in magazines. Tattoo Energy, Tattoo Society and Inked Magazine have all featured his work. He has won about 80 awards in his eight-year career.

“Sometimes I just think its being in the right place at the right time with the right people,” Orellana said. “I think that it makes a big difference. I think you could be working really hard on something and if you don’t have the right people and its not the right time, its worthless.”

Late Wednesday evening, Orellana traced a design of Medusa and Perseus on Renfro’s arm. He slowly set up his tools and prepared to start his latest work of art.

“You ready for a long night, man?” Orellana said over the buzz of the needle.

This story was originally published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on Sept. 8, 2015.

Featured Image: Rember Orellana, right, works on Paola Avina’s tattoo at Dark Age Tattoos Sunday evening. Kristen Watson | DRC

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