How Mando's Art Studio Became "The One Stop Kustom Art Shop"

Born in East Los Angeles and raised in San Gabriel Valley, Armando, ‘Mando’, has art running through his veins; straight from his heart.  His mother, Victoria, a shop owner herself, started off making lovely comforters and linen sets.  Her business, Victoria’s Accessories, in South El Monte, now mainly consists of wedding and quinceanera accessories; all designed and crafted by her, her eldest daughter, Maria, youngest son, David and a small staff.  Mando and his siblings all have fond memories of helping her in her shop when they were young.  Being number four of six kids, Mando’s entire family has had a huge influence on him. But more specifically, his two older brothers, Ricardo, ‘Rick’ and Esteven, ‘Steve’, both of which are artists themselves, have had quite an impact on him.  Sketching and drawing ever since he could remember, Mando seemed to know at an early age what he wanted to be when he grew up- an artist. 

His oldest brother Rick wanted to learn how to airbrush and had a hard time finding anyone in the industry that was willing to give him a little of their own time and energy; much less their mentoring or support.  It was a downing experience, but one that didn’t stop him.  Rick, not one to give up easily, taught himself how to airbrush and eventually tattoo as well.  Mando found himself drawing up designs for Rick and Steve to airbrush.  Their father would take them to the swap meet on weekends and Mando would take orders and draw out designs for his brothers to airbrush on tee shirts.  Mando loved it and wanted to airbrush too.  So Rick taught him how, under one condition- he had to promise to never turn down anyone wanting to learn his craft, free of charge and as long as it didn’t cause himself, his work or his family any hardships.  Mando agreed and still holds to it today. 

With his new skill, Mando got an after school job airbrushing bounce houses for Creatable Inflatables in South El Monte.  He then got a job with Mata’s Auto Body, also in South El Monte, where they taught him how to prep and base coat vehicles.  That led to him getting his own outdoor booth with Sinaloa Body Shop in La Puente.  It was there that he met Danny D out of Baldwin Park, when he had Danny pinstripe a PT Cruiser for him.  Mando was hooked and asked Danny to teach him how to stripe.  Mando went to work with Danny shortly after that.  Danny became his mentor and to this day, dear friend.  He later ventured out of Danny’s shop to work with Jr’s Golf Carts in Anaheim.  That was the launching pad for Mando to become his own boss and it didn’t take long for him to become a shop owner himself.  He owned and operated Strictly Custom Paint in Montclair for three years before burning out from the pressures and sacrifices of being a small business owner at such a young age, working and sleeping at his shop 24/7 and with little to no reward, but a job well done. 

Mando had moved in with Rick by this time.  One evening Mando jokingly asked if he could tattoo his brother.  After dinner, that same night, Rick set up the tattoo station and started teaching Mando how to tattoo.  Mando landed himself an apprenticeship at Pirate City Tattoo in San Bernardino County.  He became a full time tattoo artist there and moved with the company when they opened another shop in Orange County.    He tried commuting at first, but found himself sleeping at the shop night after night until he eventually found a place to live in the city of Costa Mesa, where he ended up living next door to Staci Leary; his now fiancé.  During this time, the shop changed ownership,  Mando became the lead artist there at Blue Collar Tattoo and Mando and Staci moved in together.  Mando left Blue Collar Tattoo eighteen months later to fulfill his dream of becoming his own boss again.  But even that was briefly put on hold.  He was given the amazing opportunity to take an extended trip to Mexico to visit family and friends in San Sebastian and occupy a guest artist’s spot at Black Line Tattoo in Puerto Vallarta; he jumped on it.  While there he also ended up having some of his art work displayed in local galleries near the malicon.  He came back to the states to pack up his things and make Mexico his new home.  But first he took a trip with Staci and a friend to Japan.  It was quite the adventure and a wondrous journey.  Mando fell in love with the culture and was struck with the realization of another love.  Upon returning to the states, he found himself unable to leave again.  He settled in and began planning and working towards a future here.  With the help and support of Staci, Mando now owns and operates his own shop, where he can finally showcase all of his talents from paint to ink to pencil under one roof.  Mando’s Art Studio truly is ‘The One Stop Kustom Art Shop’.

Mando’s Art Studio showcases Mando’s creative genius.  Walking into his shop is a pure visual joy.  He is a pinstriper who can hand letter in a huge array of fonts and leaf (be it gold, silver or variegated, smooth or spun) beautifully.  It’s a lost art and those who can and do, are a dying breed.  Mando is a huge advocate for teaching anyone willing to learn the fine art of pulling a line, laying a piece, lettering or leafing.  He is a custom painter and graphics artist, who blends elements from all styles of the Kustom Kulture to create masterful designs.  He is a well rounded tattoo artist; handling every style from portraits to caricatures to murals with clean lines and subtle to dramatic shading, in either full color or black and grey; which is no small feat.  He is an airbrush and mixed media artist who’s art on paper, canvas and well, on just about anything, is recognizable and something you soon won’t forget.  His work is everywhere here.  On the vehicles, panels, machinery, mirrors, canvases, clothing, skin and all other types of goods and movables that come in and out his door.  The building itself is adorned with his style and flare.  His work can be seen on signs and buildings around town and have been featured in local galleries as well. 

Mando is an all around artist with a broad vision and a wide range of appeal.  He is heavily influenced by the rich cultural diversity that makes Los Angeles and its surrounding counties so alluring and unique.  Disney has always been one of his greatest inspirations.  The sleek classic looks of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s has a seeming hold on him.  You will almost always know when he’s in his shop- the door is wide open and you can hear music from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Pepe Aguilar to Etta James wafting through the air. Everyone is welcome here with the hopes that you’ll stay awhile; whether you’re a neighbor, customer, client, fellow artist, curious passer-byer or future/former apprentice, you’re always considered a friend. 


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