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Rio & Ruger - Bound By Ink
Los Angeles-based tattoo artists Rio Lund and Ruger have each etched their own paths in the tattoo industry. Aside from slinging ink, she's also a well-known model, and has been using her natural beauty and sick ink collection to make her way onto TV commercials, advertisements, and even landed on Urban Ink's cover a few years back. He's been tattooing for the past eight years, and has amassed over 50 awards at shows in the States, as well as shows in countries that he's never even visited before.
The two met when Rio laid eyes on Ruger's portfolio. She immediately made an appointment with Ruger, and the rest was another one for the books. Today, the lovely inked couple continue to sling ink in Los Angeles, and admit that dating a fellow tattoo artist is both convenient and inspirational.
Rio Lund

URBAN INK: I first heard of you as Rio Lund, the model, and later found out that you were also a tattoo artist. Which profession came first?
Rio Lund: Modeling came first as a profession for me. I have been modeling professionally since I was 14, but I've been an artist my entire life, and decided I was going to be a tattoo artist at age 11. I really did write that in a journal of mine when I was younger.

Has being a model helped you with your tattoo career or vice versa?
To be honest, I haven't really seen a change in modeling helping me with my tattoo career. You would think it would, but so far for me...not really. I get a lot of people who notice me for my modeling and say that they want to get tattooed, but they never do. It ends up being that they only wanted to talk to me-so all in all, it ends up making things a little tricky for me. It's hard to tell who's real and who are the flakes.

Is it difficult balancing both careers?
It can be difficult balancing both careers, because if you want a real, serious, modeling career that actually pays a lot, with an agency and all, they usually don't like tattoos. So, when I go to castings, I always end up covering my tattoos. Occasionally, once in a blue moon, I'll get the castings that want tattoos. I get all excited, but then I don't end up getting the role because they usually want the typical "hard-looking, prison/biker" type. Since society is changing, hopefully the industry will catch up and be more accepting to people actually being themselves, and not their version of what society views. It's a joke sometimes, but I really can't complain about the money part that comes along with it. You have to figure which one's more importantthe money or my soul...just kiddingI think.

Nevertheless, your list of modeling credits is pretty long. You've appeared in print and online magazines, and worked on ads for car companies, make-up lines, restaurants, and many other types of establishments. Which of all of your modeling gigs has been the most fulfilling thus far? Don't worry; you don't have to say Urban Ink if you don't want to [chuckles].
Hey, you guys had a big role in my success as well! I am grateful for everything, especially you guys, because you were the first tattoo magazine that actually believed in me, and gave me my first cover as well. I am also grateful for doing stuff with Vogue, Nike, Adidas, and certainly all of the commercials I have done. I really love commercialsagain, not just because of the pay [laughs]but because I love the professionalism, the vibe, and the whole process, and even production, from the casting, to hearing your agent say, "Guess what, honey? That's right, you booked it!" Each job is different, with a different process, so at the end of the day, I am grateful and appreciative for them all.

Now, let's talk about your ink slingin' game. How did you get into tattooing?

I always wanted to tattoo, and about eight years ago, I was going through a big need of a change in my life. My mentor was a tattoo artist, so I went straight to him. Gosh, this probably wasn't the best thing, but he had me tattooing on the first day on a friend of ours. My nerves were shot! I found a creative and artistic way to stab people for a living...ahem, poke people for a living. An outlet for myself and others, I suppose. I also pierce now, too.

Who was your mentor?
I had a wonderful, awesome person named Lou Bone (R.I.P.) teach me how to tattoo and pierce. Actually, he even got me in the modeling game. He was the first person to take pics of me when I was 14. I just remembered that! What a trip!

Your tattoo portfolio is comprised of many different styles. Which style do you enjoy working on the most?
My favorite things to work on, and this is probably going to sound cliche', as I'm sure every female tattoo artist likes working on these types of things, but it's pin-upsrealistic, new school, and cartoon/comic like. Women are hot in any subject; heck, I'll even go for traditional, since its a pretty lady. I also enjoy portraits. Luckily, I have the master of portraits by my side, so I have the best portrait/black and grey realism teacher in the world!

Speaking of which, how did you and Ruger meet?
Ruger and I met six or seven years ago. I picked up one of his cards down the street from my shop, where he was working, and was blown away with his work. I immediately set up an appointment. Didn't know what he looked like till the day of, and well, that was a bonus for me. He was hard to get, though, it took me a couple years, but it was so worth it!

As a tattoo artist, what is it like dating another tattoo artist?

I learn something new every day with and without him tattooing. But, it's amazingfrom what he'll show me that I think I totally understood, and then see it later and realize I didn't understand anything. I think thats how it is in life, really.

What shop are you currently working out of?
I am currently working out of my friend's shop in Sherman Oaks, California, called Tattoo Inc (formally known as Art To The Bone/Horns and Halos), and I'm also in a private studio if the situation requires.
Do you work conventions or do guest spots?

[Ruger] has taken me to conventions, but I was a little shy then. I think I'm ready for us to cut the umbilical cord and go abroad, traveling the world. Even without him traveling abroad, he's already won, on top of his 50-something awards, like three or more awards out of the country!

How long is your current wait time for tattoo appointments?
My waiting list is only a couple of weeks, because I kinda have to keep my schedule open for castings and modeling jobs, so you just might get lucky!
Tattoo Inc
14159 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
URBAN INK: Talk a bit about how you got into tattoos.
Ruger: Growing up, I was really big into graffiti and bombing, so tattooing was kind of a natural progression in a way. My brother was tatted up, all my friends were heavily tattooed, so I've just always been around them. Something about it has always interested me.

What made you decide to pick up a tattoo machine and begin tattooing?

Mostly, it was the encouragement of my older brother, Chuck (R.I.P.). He wanted me to get some machines so he could get tattooed for free [laughs]. But seriously, I probably wouldn't have ever started tattooing if it weren't for him. I got myself into trouble a few times, and I needed to earn a living somehow, so he suggested it to me. It sounded like a career that would be rewarding and worth putting my all into. I just never thought it would ever come this far.

Did you seek out an apprenticeship when you first began, or did you go the self-taught route?
I did not seek out an apprenticeship. A friend of mine, Alex Garcia, tattooed me and ended up giving me a crash course lesson, and a list of what to get. So I took that and went off tattooing whoever would let me give it a try. I collected a lot of work in the beginning of my career from Abel Rocha. Sitting there, watching him tattoo me, helped me to figure out some of my technique. I have a lot of respect for both of them.

Rapper Freddie Gibbs spoke highly of you. What do you believe it is about you and your work that keeps clients coming back?
I believe my clients keep coming back because I keep quality as my-number one priority. I always try to put 100-percent into anything that I put my name on. I also think it's important to communicate with the client in figuring out something that's going to make them happy, as well as being something that's going to turn out aesthetically pleasing in my opinion.

Your portfolio is mostly comprised of black and grey portraiture work. What is it about this style that made you gravitate toward it?
I feel that portraiture should be the basis of an artist's skill set. Knowing how to create things for the way they really look makes drawing whats in your head a lot easier. I try to challenge myself in that area daily by taking on most of the requests I receive for portraiture work. Once an artist can consistently create realism on a technical level, he can then focus on bending reality and creating work that's original and different than what's out there.

Was this the style that you intended on mastering once you began tattooing, or did you have some other style in mind?
I knew I wanted to specialize in portraiture work/realism the moment I picked up a tattoo machine; and since that day, I've worked at it consistently to be the best I can.

In what other styles are you proficient?
I enjoy doing lettering, a new school black and grey style of Asian work, and in the last year or so, I've been experimenting with color.

As a tattoo artist, what is it like dating another tattoo artist?
It's easier because we can relate to each other. We can also know what to expect from each other's work schedules.

Being that you and Rio are both tattoo artists, do you both inspire and/or learn from one another?
We try to help each other with our projects, and try to push one another. I've been helping her with whatever I can.

What do you believe it takes to be a good tattoo artist?

Artistic ability is of the upmost importance. I don't think anyone has any business tattooing if they don't know the fundamentals of drawing. I can't believe it when people ask me if you have to be able to draw to be a tattoo artist. Being clean, being able to communicate your point of view to the client, and not ripping off other peoples work is a good start!

Do you work conventions?

From 2009 to 2010, I traveled through the States and hit up Miami, Frisco, and all of the southern Cal conventions, but I didn't have time for those trips anymore when I invested in real estate and the previous shop I owned. I am looking into doing a European tour this year or next. I mostly enjoy entering my work in competitionsto date I've acquired over 50 awards. I also have awards from other countries that some of my overseas clients have won at conventions where they live. It's cool to have awards from countries that I have never been to.

Do you do guest spots?

I haven't had time to do any out of town guest spots recently, but will occasionally go to a couple local shops that my friends own. In the past, I have done a guest spot at Joshua Carltons shop in Indiana.

Are you working out of a shop now?
In 2010, I opened up a shop on Hollywood and Wilton, with my partner, Huero. It was called Young Guns. But recently, I closed it due to zoning and permit issues. But mostly due to the a**hole landlord. I am currently working at a private studio until my next shop project.

What's your current wait time for appointments?
I am not always able to get around to everyone, so to keep up with the flow of clients, I have been consistently working six days a week, I'm trying to keep my wait time down to two to four weeks, but sometimes it gets really busy and my books get full. (soon to be rebuilt and updated)

Photography by Estevan Oriol
Article by Emmanuel Urena

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