Along the right arm of sketch artist turned tattooist Ernesto “Nesto” Hurtado, a patchwork sleeve of ink commemorates childhood icons such as Astro Boy, Goku and more. For him, those beloved animated characters are what started his journey into the world of tattooing.
“I feel like it’s just me, what I liked growing up,” Hurtado said, smiling at the art decorating his arm. “It’s like a little picture book.”
For the past two years, Hurtado has owned and operated Wicked Boy Tattoo, a Lynnwood studio specializing in fine-line, minimalist work — a method of tattooing that sometimes draws criticism from others in the industry. The Chicano tattoo artist followed an unconventional road to develop his career and build an ever-growing clientele drawn to his unique style.
Originally from Bothell, Hurtado traces his artistry to his love for Dragon Ball Z, a popular Japanese anime television series, attempting to draw the characters he saw on screen as a child.
At first, he thought nothing of his undiscovered talent. Drawing simply made him feel free.
His high school art teacher asked him to join her AP class where he learned the proper foundations and history of his craft. He began wanting to pursue an artistic career, but wasn’t sure exactly what that would entail. Then, in his senior year, he focused on sketching charcoal portraits of friends and strangers showing off their bold tattoos — some of which still hang in his studio today — sparking the idea to go into the profession.
Hurtado says it’s typically frowned upon to professionally tattoo without formal training, some of which can take as many as three years to complete.
After graduating from high school in 2012, Hurtado couldn’t find a tattoo apprenticeship that allowed him to make ends meet.
So, combining the drawing skills he’d been cultivating since childhood with the drive to perfect his new passion, he taught himself.
“I’ve learned a lot as far as art,” he said. “Totally different when it comes to tattooing. In a sense they do come together as one.”
Hurtado experimented with a tattoo style known as “fine-line,” which is a big lure for his current clientele. In comparison to a traditional American design that typically uses multiple needles to achieve bolder outlines, fine line artists use fewer needles to create softer, more intricate-looking portraits. Another difference lies in the color palette. Fine-line work typically follows a monochromatic look as opposed to traditional vivid colors.
The contemporary style is said to have originated in Los Angeles and was made popular in recent years by social media tattoo artists such as Dr. Woo, one of Hurtado’s main inspirations. While the tattoos look simple, they require a delicate combination of the right-sized needles, specially designed ink and an extremely steady hand. According to Dr. Woo’s website, there is little room for error in a fine line tattoo due to its bare, minimalist appearance.
Hurtado, practiced in his free time, never enough for his liking, before burnout and lack of confidence caused him to give up tattooing for a full year. Then, in 2020, he decided to use the downtime provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to master the craft — hoping to turn his side hustle into a full-time gig.
Seven months later, he launched the Wicked Boy brand and moved into his first studio in north Lynnwood — just big enough to fit an esthetician bed and a futon.
Hurtado’s clients seek out his fine-line style to bring their own visions to life. Many come to him for tattoos with personal meanings — certain signatures from loved ones or religious symbols that require delicate lineage. Longtime client Mason Buergel wears a number of Hurtado’s symbolic tattoos, from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam hands on the back of his neck to an original portrait of Jesus Christ holding a glass of wine on his right forearm.
“One of the reasons I go to him is not just because he can tattoo well, but because he comes up with really good ideas and designs, and picks the location of your body really well,” Buergel said. “I can walk in with zero ideas and walk out with something I love years later.”
Last summer, Buergel flew Hurtado to his wedding in California to tattoo him, his newlywed and the guests in attendance. According to Buergel, he and Hurtado had to make several legal arrangements to safely tattoo in a public space.
“I just gave him a bunch of money and people got in line,” Buergel said. “Nesto jumped through hella hoops just to tattoo random people on our wedding day.”
One of Hurtado’s favorite tattoos is a micro portrait he inked of the iconic baby on the front of rapper Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 album “Ready to Die.” Portraits of such a small size require steady precision to achieve The intricate level of detail in such small portraits requires steady precision.
Hurtado spent about two hours making the ink look as if it was pulled from the album cover.
“The end result was beyond me,” Hurtado said.
Some in the tattooing community warn against getting fine line work and small portraits exclusively. According to Laughing Buddha tattoo artist Rae Kelly, using thin lines with a lack of contrast or dimension can cause them to fade faster.
“When you have fine line work, those fine lines kind of disappear or blend in a way that doesn’t show what it is,” the Seattle tattoo artist said. “The stronger something is, the more it’s going to keep its form over time.”
Hurtado says he always considers the longevity of his tattoo work, learning what can be maintained through trial and error. The stigma against fine lines should not prevent one from getting them as all tattoos ultimately follow the same life cycle, he said.
“At the beginning, there were some tattoos that faded faster than others. Now I’ve had clients from one to two years ago with fine lines and the longevity is there,” Hurtado said. “At the end of the day, no tattoo will last forever. Every tattoo, no matter the thickness of the needle, will always fade.”
In February 2022, Hurtado upgraded from his crowded studio to a full-on storefront in the same building. He fills the extra wall space with some of his own art pieces — including graffiti canvases, sketch portraits and a painting of Huey and Riley from the animated series “The Boondocks.”
Hurtado’s clientele has grown extensively since opening Wicked Boy Tattoo. As a young business owner of color, he’s eager to continue growing his clientele and one day possibly expand south to Seattle. He recalls a time early on when he held a Friday the 13th flash sale and no one showed up. Today, nearly 10 years after drawing portraits in his high school art class, more than 100 of his clients are members of his ‘Five-Plus Club,’ having been inked by Hurtado at least five times.
“It’s been a crazy turnover,” Hurtado said. “I definitely built a relationship with these people that you would’ve never thought I’d have. This has really brought me more than just clients — they’re my friends and family.”
Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; email@example.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.
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