Frontiers Magazine: Ink Master

Body Electric Owner Brian Keith Thompson’s Guide to Finding the Right Tattoo Studio


The studio owner who saved a local legend knows what goes into a great tattoo shop—and he wants to guide ink enthusiasts to the right one for them

Brian Keith Thompson—the owner of Melrose Avenue’s Body Electric Tattoo, an internationally renowned studio in the sphere of body art and ink culture—knows a thing or two about running one of the world’s top tattoo parlors. While he’s owned the local landmark since 2006, Thompson isn’t actually a tattoo artist himself—something he believes gives him a step up on some of L.A.’s 3,000-plus studios. “I never forget what it’s like to be a client, and I think that helps me,” he says. “I think it gives me a bit of an edge.”

Thompson was well-familiar with Body Electric before purchasing the studio, being a regular customer of the already famous shop after he was released from prison and decided to change his appearance in a big way. But patronizing a tattoo parlor—even for a period of five years, in which Thompson had his entire back, chest and leg done—doesn’t mean you’ll know how to run it. In 2006, Thompson says, “I didn’t know anything about the tattoo industry except for how to get a tattoo, so what I did was capitalize on the space.”

That space, though neglected at the time of Thompson’s purchase, has since remained a leader of L.A.’s ink-infatuated personality. Asked what he believes has contributed to the success of Body Electric, Thompson doesn’t need long to gather his thoughts. “Consistency, customer service and being good at our craft, like hiring tattoo artists who are actually good at what they do. And a clean, safe environment. I mean, just like you pick a doctor, you wouldn’t go to your doctor’s office if you saw dust all over the floor and old gloves. It would gross you out and you would never go back there. That’s a big deal.”

More than the guy who is merely adding to his collection of body art, the tattoo newbie likely has no clue where to start in locating the tattoo studio and artist that are right for him, and that’s where Thompson’s expertise comes into play. “The first thing I’m looking for is a great artist,” he says. “I’m looking for someone who can do what I want them to do. Look through their portfolio. From there, you want to have a conversation with them, see if you like them or want this person to mark your body for the rest of your life. You have to have a connection.”

Next you want to take a hard look at the studio. “The first thing you should look at is the floor,” says Thompson. “If the floor is dirty, everything in there is gonna be dirty. And I mean look at the corners of the floor. You don’t want just a ‘visual clean’ where everything behind the scenes is disgusting. Then see if they’re following the proper laws—the health department regulations. Current regulations for the state of California are things you can go on the internet and find out.”

Most important, though, says Thompson, is “finding a studio that you can identify with and that you want to be around. If you’re getting something large, you’ll spend a couple hours in the studio. You want to be somewhere you feel comfortable hanging out.” This last point is something Body Electric does well, utilizing a super-friendly staff and music-filled, laid-back environment to make customers feel like they’re sitting in an intimate clubhouse for cool kids.

Besides cleanliness, Thompson notes one major giveaway that you’re not sitting with the right artist—a lackluster portfolio. “If an artist only has two or three photos in their portfolio and they’re out of focus, that’s a telltale sign, or at least a little flag that you should inquire more. Ask to see more references online. It’s 2015, so a lot of guys aren’t keeping a full-blown portfolio out. Maybe they have it online, which is fine. But if they’re not proficient in what you want them to do, talk to someone else. I mean, there are so many great artists and studios. Body Electric is just one of many amazing shops in this town.”

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