Speaking with Lyle Tuttle is like going backwards in time to a simpler place where only sailors and outlaws had tattoos. Tattoos were not always accepted or even trendy like they are today.

Lyle started tattooing in 1949 in San Francisco, California. I asked him what inspired his career path and he reminisced about a time where the soldiers came back from the war with tattoos. He said they were very romanticized in his eyes as a young person, and thought of them as “stickers on your luggage”, picking up a new souvenir on the journey through life.
What really kickstarted his career was when he started tattooing women because of the women’s liberation movement in San Francisco during the late 60’s. According to Lyle, women are better suited for tattoos because they are meant to flatter the body. He stated that when women would come in to get tattooed by him, he would mostly tattoo in places that could be covered up under clothing because of the popularity of small, concealable tattoos. It wasn’t as common to get very visible tattoos when he first started. After word got out that he was tattooing women, everyone flocked to his shop. He prided himself in keeping a clean, yet stylish shop with bright colors and artwork on the walls.
His fame and reputation just snowballed from there, with article after article coming out about his art. He gushed about his proud moment when Rolling Stone magazine put him on the cover in 1970 and again in 1979 when he was featured on the cover of Life Magazine. Through the years he was featured on many popular talk shows and TV programs. Business boomed and Lyle still tattoos today and has been to over 400 tattoo expos and shows. He still has a shop in San Francisco, but you can mostly find him traveling all over the world to his next gig.
Live Free or Die Tattoo Expo is a special show for Lyle. He only goes to two shows in New England, one of which is LFOD. When I asked him what makes coming back to the show every year so special, he said it’s like coming home to family. At the Live Free or Die Tattoo Expo Lyle teaches seminars on machines; how to maintain them and build them. He also does a Q&A that lasts a couple of hours. When I asked him what makes LFOD unique he said;
“The quality of tattooing is great, Jon cares and it shows. He doesn’t just let anyone come, the show is always full and looks great, LFOD is a more than just a hometown show- its regional.”
Lyle is excited to come back to LFOD in 2017. Reserve your tickets now through Live Free or Die Tattoo Expo to come see Lyle Tuttle in person! Tickets can also be purchased through Eventbrite and Eventbee.
-Interview by Dani Peasley, artist and freelance writer from Contoocook, NH. She can be reached at

Lyle Tuttle on the cover of Rolling Stone, October 1, 1970

Lyle Tuttle: Then and Now