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Meet Joe Chhem of California Kings Tattoo in Artesia

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joe Chhem.

Joe, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Although I was born in Georgia, I grew up in Long Beach, Ca and was the youngest of my siblings. In my early teens, my parents worked from home sewing clothes for cash I remember after homework and weekends I would help them out with small things like cutting threads, flipping clothes, etc. We even sewed for cross colors clothing brand and I use to steal the tags to sew them on my pants and hats because my parents wouldn’t buy me the real deal LOL. Being able to customize my own clothing and style pretty much kick started my interest into fashion, music, and art. While I was in school I used to draw dragons all the time and turn on public TV to watch Bob Ross who inspired me into the world of art. I first got into tattooing from seeing them on my brothers uncles and even my grandma. I eventually made my own machine with a CD player motor,some batteries, a guitar string, and some Indian ink. I was curious on how they got into the skin so of course like most self taught artists i tattooed myself. After that I eventually build up the confidence to tattoo friends and family. When I was still in my teens, both of my older brothers went to prison and I’ll get drawings and paintings from them which I sometimes use to tattoo. My dad became extra strict on me so I wouldn’t end going to prison as well. This was difficult because while living in Cambodia Town I would see gangs and segregation.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I took a break from tattoos when I turned 18 because I had my oldest son. Then shortly afterwards, my dad passed away. This made things rough for me because I didn’t have a “real job” as some people would put it. At the time, doing tattoos wasn’t considered a “real job” and I needed to provide for my family. So, I moved to Minnesota to get away from the gang violence and look for a regular 9-5 job. I ended up doing all kinds of manual labor jobs, but I always ended up doing tattoos on the weekends for extra money. I didn’t start doing tattoos full time until after 9/11 because companies started laying people off and I decided to focus on my art. I still had a 9-5 job, but I had clients for tattooing on a regular basis as well. Even with all the clients, I was still mostly a self-taught artist and I wanted to work in an actual shop. So, I moved back to California in 2011.

Please tell us about California Kings Tattoo.
When I moved back to California, I pursued my career in tattooing with my friend and mentor Bandit Khoul. He had a shop in Fountain Valley with a partner at the time and it wasn’t until he opened his own shop, California Kings Tattoo, that he gave me the opportunity to work as an artist and for my wife who bought me my very first professional machine and I wouldn’t be where I’m at without my family support, my friends and clients . Now, I enjoy my work and get to express my creative freedom on people, which is more than what I could ask for as an artist. I get to have a flexible schedule during the day and I also get to enjoy art outside as well. Working at California Kings Tattoo is a great experience. I’m surrounded by great people that pride themselves in their art and that inspires me to keep getting better.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
But today I don’t regret doing Tattoos or chose the path I chose. I met great people along the way and have a career that I’m proud of. With all I have today, all that I learned and what I have become wouldn’t have been possible if I had chosen differently.

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