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5Q4: Mynt Ortega

I’ve been inked 28 times by a variety of tattooists and as anyone who has ever been willfully stuck by a needle will tell you, it always hurts. I’ve also taught thousands of students during my 36 years on the job and have been served burgers and beers by some of them, had others make me coffee, a few repair my truck, and years ago a handful babysat for my kids. But only one time (so far) have I rolled up my sleeve and asked someone whose essays were once at the mercy of my pen to please decorate my flesh with their artistry. It was an amazing experience, never ever did I worry. Rather, throughout the time in their chair, I was able to catch up with Mynt Ortega and have a lovely chat in between the minor winces their tattooing machine brought about. When I first began these 5Q4 pieces they were among the first artists whose work I wanted to celebrate, partly so I could learn more about their creative background, but also because their story, their path from the hallways at Jetland to co-owning Modern Mouse at the mall, to having joined the community of tattooists in the Bay Area, is one of strength and heroism. Here, in their own words: 5Q4 Mynt Ortega.

Alameda Post - two photos of Mynt Ortega tattooing
Mynt Ortega at work. Photos Jina Shin (left) and Chelsea Dees.
At what moment did you discover that you wanted to be an artist?

I can’t remember a time where I didn’t want to be an artist; however, I can remember very early and specific instances of my mother, maternal grandfather, and kindergarten teacher marveling at and complimenting my childhood drawings and collages that really fanned the flame from the get-go.

Who was the most influential person who helped you achieve your goal?

It’s difficult to pick just one person. A few people who notably helped me become and stay an artist, in no particular order, are my mother Amaraa, whose fashion illustrations and sewn creations I would watch come together like my life depended on it; my loving and supportive partner Magpie, the water to my fire; Michael Easterday, former AP Art instructor at Encinal High School, whose belief in me inspired the same among a very important handful—myself included.

The people who helped me become a tattoo artist include Jean Chen, a good friend and former tattooer who put in a good word to my eventual mentor Karen Roze, owner of Sacred Rose Tattoo. I’ve also had a wealth of colleagues teach me specific techniques, and of course I wouldn’t have a career without my community—especially those who trusted me to tattoo them early on in my career. I’m still incredibly proud of every single one of those tattoos.

Tell about the best—or a best—experience you had as a tattoo artist?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a wealth of wholesome, loving, and kind experiences as a tattooer. The highlights include masked hugs at the end of a long session, and word-of-mouth referrals, one of which is extending to become a four-link chain of clients (a friend refers a friend, who then refers their partner, and so on); not only because it means I get to continue doing what I love, but also because it’s a sign that my clients trust me enough to introduce their loved ones to my sphere of work.

Conversely, tell us about a pretty bad experience?

Inevitably, I’ve experienced a handful. The first one was during an otherwise uneventful evening of my apprenticeship. An older, jealous, and entitled tattooer made the mistake of literally getting in my face, which escalated to a heated shouting match. He was later fired.

Alameda Post - Mynt and another person stand in front of Modern Mouse
Visit Mynt and Magpie at Modern Mouse in South Shore Center! Photo Marybeth Soriano.
Any advice to folks out there hoping to pursue a life in the arts?

Make no mistake, none of the following is intended to sound like I’m coming from a place of completely having my shit together, or that I perceive everyone to have the same starting line. While I’ve faced very specific challenges, I’ve also been privileged enough to be in a position that allows me to pursue my passion. In a way, it’s the “American Dream” my immigrant parents hoped for, but definitely not in the industry they hoped for.

Personally, my persistence and sense of balance have brought me here. Stay with me:

I was rejected a lot in my teens while looking for apprenticeships, but one tattooer was helpful enough to advise me to finish school and continue to get tattoos as a way to stay linked to the tattoo community. To those unfamiliar with the tattoo industry, a little over a decade ago, it was still very gatekept and it was extremely difficult to get your foot in the door. You couldn’t purchase machines on Amazon (please do not do this, for a wealth of reasons) and you couldn’t look up tutorials on YouTube. The choices were to pursue the ever-elusive traditional apprenticeship, where hazing and abuse ran rampant more often than not, or to teach yourself, which was, at best, hazardous.

Between then and my actual apprenticeship at Sacred Rose, I worked in a variety of fields, occupying mostly administrative and managerial positions, including eventually co-owning a storefront (Modern Mouse) with my partner. There were a couple of times here and there when I gave up on ever tattooing and resigned myself to settling for a comfortable desk job with benefits, but a small part of me always hoped—and kept an ear open. Consciously or otherwise, every career decision I made kept me in the vicinity of at least the creative.

Those very same jobs are what helped set me apart first as a tattoo apprentice then as a tattoo artist. The obvious creativity and artistry necessary has always been a part of me, but the skills essential to keep the bills paid and the debt minimal had to be learned. These skills also impressed my mentor enough to accept me as an apprentice. Aside from the very practical (client relations, bookkeeping, taxes, etc.), navigating multiple jobs from the ground up also taught me the lesson of self-worth. I think most people’s twenties are filled with lessons on how to set boundaries and say no—to say, “Do not talk to me like that or I will walk away.” I’m lucky to have learned these lessons in spaces where at least some semblance of an HR department was present (not that it was a satisfying experience every time), and not in a traditionally operated tattoo shop.

All in all, I’m tentative to advise anyone else beyond sharing my journey so what you take away from it is ultimately up to you.

Mynt Ortega currently tattoos at Diving Swallow Tattoo of Oakland, having joined their team in November of 2023. In addition, Mynt and partner Magpie have been the co-owners of Modern Mouse since 2017, taking over for the store’s founder, Eleen Hsu, who began the business in 2009. Follow Mynt on Instagram and at

Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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