Ken Knox and J.J. Ortiz have been putting a Santa Barbara spin on tattoos since they opened 805 Ink in July.

Initially, walking into 805 Ink is like walking into any shop on State. It has a long entryway, a clean modern look, clothing displays, and Santa Barbara-made art on the wall. However, step behind the mirrors and you enter the domain of tattoo artists and Santa Barbara locals Ken Knox and J. J. Ortiz.

Right now they are living “every Santa Barbara native’s dream,” as Knox puts it, “to have a place on State.” Ever since the approval of the health inspectors in July, Knox and Ortiz have been in the shop every day.

The two had previously worked together at a different tattoo shop, Ortiz recalled. “That’s where we met and pretty much hit it off,” he said. Both are a couple of “college smarties,” in Knox’s term. He received a bachelor of fine arts in Pittsburgh, where he would hang out in a friend’s tattoo shop drawing. “It makes sense,” Knox admitted. “My artwork has always been a little bit morbid.” Ortiz, who went to Santa Barbara City College and then Cal State Northridge, started tattooing a little earlier than Knox. “I grew up in a housing project with gangs and started tattooing in junior high. I don’t encourage that,” said Ortiz, who now runs a summer surf camp for youths involved in gangs. “I started tattooing on my homies. They were my practice and I owe a lot to them. They got me started and got me my apprenticeship,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I’ve come leaps and bounds : [My] little brother is doing life in prison and I could have gone that way.”

Perhaps as a result of the friendship between the two, 805 Ink has a certain atmosphere of congeniality. “We try to harbor that feeling of family and friends,” Ortiz said of their space. “It’s like a barbershop people stop by just to say, ‘Hi,’ but don’t get a cut.”

Ever since Ortiz started apprenticing to be a tattoo artist, he has realized the importance of sanitation. He and Knox are of like mind on that: They joke about whose house is cleaner and spend many of their quiet hours in the shop mopping and cleaning up. All needles used at 805 Ink are disposed immediately after use, and everything else goes in the autoclave – a machine that looks like a mini dishwasher and can be found in any dentist’s office. “You could eat out of that thing,” said Knox.

It’s a local store, and both artists want to keep that vibe going. In an effort to draw in customers – out-of-towners and long timers alike – one day last August the shop offered $20 tattoos. “We’re definitely doing that again,” said Knox.

Overall, Ortiz said he feels it’s most important that he and Knox are approachable and honest with their customers. “Even if that means they don’t get tattooed,” said Ortiz, who doesn’t mind telling people, “I wouldn’t get that name. You’re still young.”

They also say they want to get past that stereotype of the grungy tattoo parlor, so that anyone of any age, not necessarily in the “tattoo scene” would feel comfortable coming in. “I’ve tattooed a woman in her seventies, people who come in to get a tattoo on their 18th birthday, and everything in between,” Knox said.

And to keep putting good art work out there. “You’re only as good as the last tattoo you did,” said Ortiz.

Drop in any time on the guys at 805 Ink – Halloween-themed tattoos were half priced for the holiday, and through closing time on Sunday, customers can get the same deal on Dia de los Muertos-themed tattoos.


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