Tattoo Artist, Teacher and Living Legend – Lyle Tuttle

lyle tuttle tattoos

Lyle Tuttle is a true legend of the tattoo world. His career was blooming since the glory days of the Summer of Love.

Lyle Tuttle’s Early Career

Tuttle worked in San Francisco in time that was a real revolution for freedom, rock’n’roll and the rise of America’s tattoo scene. Therefore people would literally line up at the door of his shop in the 60s and 70s.

Lyle Tuttle was born in Chariton, Iowa on October 7, 1931. He grew up in Ukiah, California. He got his first tattoo in a circus at age fourteen. It was simple old school design – a heart with the word “mom” in a banner. Young Lyle paid $ 3,50 for it.

Tuttle began his professional career as a tattooist in 1949. At first he was working with Bert Grimm at the time. Lyle went out on his own in 1954 and opened his own San Francisco shop. Then he ran it for almost 35 years. As a result, a string of rock stars also came and went through his shop, including the legendary blues-rock singer Janis Joplin. Lyle describes her as “this crazy gal with her hair and bracelets”.

Lyle Tuttle Today

Rock Star Tattoos

Janis Joplin wanted Tuttle to make her a bracelet tattoo on her wrist and a small heart tattoo on the breast. That was probably the one single appointment that skyrocketed the then-young tattoo artist Lyle’s career in the San Francisco tattoo scene. As a result, he has become a household name.

Lyle Tuttle with a woman

Fortunately for him, this also happened around the time tattooing was outlawed in New York City. Also, it was the time while the Women’s liberation movement started making waves around America. These two most noteworthy events gained a lot of interest for tattooing and San Francisco’s scene was blooming.

Seems like he tattooed most of the notable names from that era. Cher, Jo Baker, Henry Fonda, Paul Stanley, Joan Baez, the Allman Brothers, as well as many other celebrities. Furthermore, musicians, actors, frequented his shop.

In addition, in the old days, his fame within the tattooing was somewhat controversial. Many fellow artists disliked his statements to the press and regarded them as “a shameless self-promotion”.

Fame and Controversy

His reputation for tattooing famous rock musicians and celebrities landed him a lot of press back in the day. Hence, in October 1970 Tuttle was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Reportedly, Sailor Jerry put this cover inside his toilet.

As a result of Janis Joplin’s unfortunate death, these two designs suddenly became Tuttle’s most sought after tattoos. He would go on and ink many grieving fans after Joplin’s passing.

“People got ‘em in memory of her. I must have put a few hundred of those on after Janis passed on,” Tuttle recalls.

The Man, The Legend

In addition, Lyle Tuttle has become a true legend and a teacher within the industry. With long years in the trade behind his back, also many young and upcoming artists still learn from him.

Lyle Tuttle working

He has tattooed on all seven continents. He has been tattooed on six continents. Lyle Tuttle officially retired in 1990. He’ll still occasionally tattoo his signature on friends and acquaintances.

Today, at the age of 86, he’s still active in the tattoo industry. Tuttle travels the world attending conferences and tattoo expos as a special guest. He also opened The Lyle Tuttle Tattoo & Museum in San Francisco, Ca. Most noteworthy this unique museum features his own exclusive collection of tattoo memorabilia. He says it’s his effort to preserve the original American tattoo history for future generations.