Known for his black and grey realism tattoos Abey Alvarez

The owner of 3 Foot Radius Tattoo studio, is no stranger to getting back up when life pulls you down. In fact, he owes his success to his distressing life experiences.

Born in East Los Angeles and raised in Pomona; California, Alvarez started working in a barber shop at the age of 5, doing basic chores such as cleaning and sweeping. In ten years’ time Abey earned a living by cutting hair. In his twenties however, Abey found himself locked away in a prison cell – and that is where his inking adventure started.

Alvarez’s cell mate Beto, from East Los Angeles, is the one who introduced him to the world of tattooing. During his time under lock and key, Abey was taught how to make a homemade tattoo gun by Beto and upon his release, Alvarez made one from scratch. He first tattooed himself and put the word “Raza” (Spanish for ‘Race’) on his leg. Beto then instructed him to spray deodorant on the pattern so that it would stay. He then tattooed his arm for practice and, as he claims, “it kind of just snowballed from there.”

Like many new artists, Alvarez faced problems with attracting customers. People hesitated to trust him as he had no prior professional experience as a tattoo artist, moreover, many were not keen to get permanently inked by a man who had learned his skill behind bars. Yet what these people would do was bring Alvarez an unsuspecting ‘victim’ and he would “Butcher them up.”

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“Bringing out a bucket of water, a sock, and no gloves and it’s just a blood bath. It’s pretty bad you know and we don’t know better at that time but luckily we’ve learned and progressed.” – Alvarez on his startup experience.

Abey ended up working for Lowrider Tattoo shortly after. He specialized in monotone realistic tattoos, influenced heavily but the revolutionary renaissance era.

“I call Southern California the Mecca of black and grey.”

Black and grey tattoos are generally believed to have originated within prison systems, where inmates had no access to colored ink. To Alvarez however, the monotonous ink holds a deeper meaning as, in his perception, it represents pain.

“I think black and grey just kind of takes you into a kind of culture, it’s just us. It shows a lot of pain and what people go through and it’s really expressed through the art.”

Back in high school art class, Alvarez did not appreciate renaissance art – wanting to draw little doodles of his friends instead because he believed that it wouldn’t help him later on in life. How wrong had he been?

“Now I’m collecting books on that stuff. The Raffaele’s, The Michelangelo’s… and you’re in awe.”

Alvarez has won many awards for his art at ‘Extravaganza’ – a convention featuring some of the top tattoo artists in the United States. He finds his experience very significant as he was judged my big names such as Jack Rudy, the man who brought the technique of black and grey tattoos to mainstream tattoo shops.

Today in Upland, Southern California, right along Central Ave, Abey Alvarez’s has opened up his own business by the name of ‘3 Foot Radius Tattoo’ studio – a surreal experience for him as he was always one to beat the system and preferred the illegal way of getting work done. He now works to improve himself for his wife and 3 kids.

“You’re lucky to tattoo a person, there are some really cool pieces I’ve done and that’s because you really put your heart into it. The intention wasn’t for an award, it was done out of the love for the craft and love for that person and those are the tattoos that are the most meaningful.”