By Jazmyn De Jesus
Los Angeles native Valerie Suarez, also known as Vee.Inked across social media platforms, currently has nearly 800,000 likes on her TikTok propelling her into being one of Riverside’s most popular tattoo artists.
“It’s crazy. That’s just all I can say all the time,” said Suarez, resident tattoo artist, about her career.
She has resided in and out of Moreno Valley, Riverside and Los Angeles throughout her childhood.
She works at Truest Art Studio in Riverside with her uncle, Jeser Martinez, at his tattoo shop. Suarez grew up sketching, painting and drawing, pushing her uncle to encourage her to pursue art full time.
“He had asked me for years to start tattooing with him,” she said. “As soon as I turned 18 he was like, ‘You need to tattoo. You’ll do great. You’ll be amazing.’ Very encouraging.”
As a tattoo artist and business owner himself, Martinez encouraged her artwork for much of Suarez’s life.
“My uncle always tells me, if you have a talent you need to run with it,” she said. “You need to just go out and do it.”
Despite his pleas for Suarez to begin tattooing, she was focused on her education.
She graduated with an associate’s degree in Business Administration from Riverside City College and transferred to California State University, Fullerton majoring in accounting.
She quickly learned school was not for her and decided to work with her uncle.
Switching career paths was a big risk for her. But throwing herself into tattooing worked out in her favor, with impeccable timing.
After leaving school she achieved her first viral video promoting her flash tattoo sale that was being held at the time.
Her art style, which incorporates classic tattoo style with vintage pieces highlighted by intricate linework and shading, has proved to strike a chord with plenty of people online.
“Most of my inspiration is my hobbies, so I like to go antiquing (and) thrifting,” she said. “A lot of my art kinda reflects vintage and things that I see at the antique store.”
She did not expect so many people to take a liking to her “beginner” tattoos and was shocked by the response.
The likes on her video translated into real-life popularity and led her to change her entire booking system following that first viral video.
The work that goes behind being a tattoo artist often goes unnoticed. This includes networking, understanding the business aspects and for Suarez, constantly making content and artwork for her followers to see.
“It’s a whole other part of tattooing that people don’t see and it’s very stressful,”
Suarez said. “It wasn’t part of what I thought tattooing was gonna be.”
This extends into a sense of imposter syndrome, which Suarez says everyone feels at times regardless of what they do for a living, when she feels that other tattoo artists she admires deserve the attention she has received.
“I have to fight with myself on that and say, ‘My work is good too,’ so I shouldn’t doubt that,” she said.
Being self-employed at such a young age is another challenging and has also been daunting.
Despite this, she is incredibly grateful to her uncle, her community and the first group of clients that came from TikTok.
“So many clients have told me they’re glad I’m working in the area because being a young, female tattoo artist makes a lot of them feel more comfortable,” she said.
Her clientele mainly comes from her social media. Many of them are also young adults who relate to her. Suarez said she feels supported by her clients due to this.
Tattoos are forever much like her growth as an artist is ever changing.
She is grateful to those early birds who came in and let her practice on them. For this reason, Suarez feels that tattooing is an excellent art medium for her personally, as the process of working on something that will be on another person forever feels very rewarding to her.
“I just can’t wait to see where I’m at in three or four years. Or five years (or) 10 years!” she said. “I just hope I’m doing this for the rest of my career.”
Suarez’s end goal is to eventually own her own tattoo shop.