Shop: Black Anchor Collective in Hesperia, Calif.
Although best known for his guest appearances on LA Ink and huge roster of celebrity clients, Nikko Hurtado is no doubt a master of the realistic portrait. His precise, full-color tattoos have set the standard for the type of detail and photographic fidelity attainable in the medium.
After practicing drawing for years with colored pencil but struggling with black and grey tattoos, he experienced his first epiphany as a young tattooer when approached to tattoo a painted portrait of Bela Lugosi. The color combinations and mixtures in paintings, he said, were easier for him to understand as an artist. Since then, he has become famous for tattooing faces directly from photographs, the amplified palette in his final tattoos emitting a lustrous sheen similar to glossy photo paper.
Like other realists, Hurtado does not tattoo outlines. The detailed, almost topographic linework of his pre-tattoo stencils instead ensures his unparalleled sense of depth, form, and crispness. Details, such as tiny, glistening sweat droplets on a 2013 portrait of Mike Tyson are created through the layering of pigments and multiple passes to build color gradually, akin to the process of oil painting, that really pull his tattoos together.