Interview with Badass Tattooer Gallo Santiago (Gabriel Godinez)


Gabriel Godinez (“Gallo Santiago”) is a tattooer working out of Los Angeles who I’ve had the privilege of watching develop over the past couple of years or so ever since I first stumbled upon his booth at a tattoo convention in Oregon.  He is doing beautiful black and grey work and has really been taking huge strides in his craft as a tattooer.  I got the honor of putting together an interview with him below and hope you guys enjoy the read.

I’ve been following your work for quite awhile now, and to me it seems like over this past year or so the quality in your work has skyrocketed and things really began clicking on a world class level for you. You have seminars now! What would you say were three of the most beneficial things to the growth process as an artist that you’ve gone through so far?

Thanks man, I appreciate the kind words.  I definitely think that the end of 2017 and 2018 were huge for me and I really think that comes from a few major changes I made.  I’d say if I broke it up into 3 things they would be:

#1 seminars, man about 3 years or longer I took a few major seminars. The first one, with Nikko when he had his first black and grey seminar and then followed quickly with a week long one including Bob Tyrell, Ralph Nonweiller, Rember, and Jose Perez Jr.  I really think those opened my eyes to the little things that make a world of difference once the big foundational skills have been honed in already,

#2 would be changing up my work environment.  I was working at a busy walk in shop at the time and while it was a great place to be I really felt I had outgrown it for the type of work I was trying to do.  It was a busy shop and it was all about “Get them in, get them out, and do a good tattoo.”  That was a hard way to work while trying to really give each piece everything, so I eventually just quit. I didn’t have a back up plan, just knew I needed something new.  I planned out a few guest spots at amazing shops and during that I ended up staying and working at Love Letters Tattoo with Norm, followed by working at Black Anchor in Hollywood with Nikko. Eventually, I ended up working at a private studio where  I am now.  I realized I really liked working a little more solitude.  I get distracted easy and having my own room really helps me work to my best.

#3 is my biggest change which is just focusing on being happy over everything –  I started only booking specific tattoos, working less, trying to do more things outside of work and just trying to take better care of myself.  It really changed my view on a lot of things that are standard in the industry.  After all, what are all the success and money worth if you don’t feel good yourself.

Are there ever days where you don’t feel quite as motivated to tattoo?  What drives you to still give your all on days where you might not feel quite as hungry?

I think everyone has those days but I really do think since I started focusing on myself, my perspective has changed. Booking only the best and most interesting tattoos that I get hit up for, along with taking breaks and having fun outside of tattooing helps keep me fresh.  I can honestly say I’m stoked every day I go to work and I don’t let myself get burnt out anymore.  I think it’s important for everyone to at least have a couple interests outside of work (especially fitness) to help them not fall into the trap of being a zombie and eventually just not trying as hard.

First tattoo you ever made that you remember being 100% content and proud about?

I’ll let you know when I do it lol!  Nah man, I think I have a few that I’m the most content with but I think having an OCD type personality I’m always picking at my faults and seeing what I could have done better.  I think that’s a big reason why I’ve progressed to where I’m at now, is never saying “That’s good enough.”

Most frustrating parts about being an artist? Most rewarding parts?

I’d say the most frustrating part is everything leading up to a stable place with your art.  I think the journey was hardest.  Lots of trial and error, lots of time building the foundation, as well as just trying to set yourself apart from the thousands of other street shop artist and trying to finally be at a place where you are known for something.

The most rewarding part is hands down the freedom.  Once I managed to get to a certain point in my career, it allowed me so much freedom not only choose what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, where I wanted to do it, and on top of that earn a good living.  There’s a feeling that can’t be described when you finally make it and are your own business.

Biggest artist inspirations as you began really working on your craft?

Bob Tyrell, Nikko hurtado, Alex Garcia, fred flores.

How long have you been in the tattoo industry?  What are the main shifts you’ve seen from then up until this point?  What shifts do you hope to see in the near future?

About 10 years now as far as when my interest started in tattooing.  Main shifts would be the popularity – I think I definitely got in at a good time, I got to start with the last generation before me have my own generation and now see the new generation.  From Cherry Creek to Pinterest to bad rappers face tattoos lol.  This generation is definitely amazing and full of opportunity.  You can get tons of seminars at the click of a mouse, When I first started there were like three good books and a couple good DVD’s.  Imagine how much footage and instructional and seminars you can find online now.  With that said, I’m glad I started when I did.  I’m glad I started with coils and scrubbing tubes and can build a machine from scratch and tune it good. That doesn’t make me a better artist but I’m glad to have that appreciation.

As far as future goes I’d just like for tattooing to stay what it was and mostly is now, something learned by those that really want it and earn it.

Funniest or most bizarre experience with a client so far?

Nothing too crazy actually man , I’ve been lucky.  I’ve met some delusional people, druggies, and even pros with their pimps, but even then nothing crazy lol.

If you were to swap tattoo for tattoo with any artist on the planet who would it be?

I’d love to trade with bob tyrell at some point, he’s tattooed me but I think that would be rad to tattoo one of my biggest influences.
As far as other amazing artist there’s too many to name them all but here’s a few I would love to trade with ~ David Vega, Ruben tattooer, Vetoe.

Most inspiring conversation you’ve ever had with any your peers in the tattoo world so far?

First seminar I did with Nikko was also with Franco Vescovi and while it wasn’t so much a conversation Franco did a speech on mindset as a tattooer.
And Id say that probably was the catalyst for a lot of the major changes in my career while I don’t remember it word for word I know it led to some major changes including
leaving the great walk in shop I was at and pursuing more.

Anything you’re really hyped on tattooing lately? Anything you’re burned out on?

Man I could do animals, roses, and skulls for the rest of my life lol.
With that said I’m good on statues and religious stuff for a while.

Any clue what you’d want to do if you weren’t tattooing?

Not sure but probably fabricating/engineering or I’d have a jiu jitsu gym

Wildest dream being a tattooer? Any specific milestone or personal goal you aspire to reach?

Not sure, I’m moving soon and I think finally opening a private studio of my own and working with a couple more artist is the next goal, besides that Man I just want to live my life as happy as possible and learn something everyday and I’m doing that right now, so I guess you could say I’m already there.


Thanks so much for your time Gabriel!  Follow him and see more of this talent  @gallosantiago

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