PICO BLVD — Before an audience of largely black and Latino teenagers from Santa Monica High School, Mark Machado grabbed the mic and began his gospel.
For the next 45 minutes, the world famous tattoo artist, who has left his mark on celebrities such as 50 Cent and Beyonce, captivated the sole attention of the crowd of young adults who gathered at the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) on Tuesday afternoon, showing them that he’s a living example of how one can overcome challenges and achieve goals.
He was the most recent guest speaker at the PYFC, a nonprofit organization that occasionally hosts accomplished individuals from various industries to encourage teenagers to explore different paths to success.
“His story is one of triumph in the face of adversity,” Oscar de la Torre, the executive director of the PYFC, said.
Machado described a stable childhood in which he grew up with two loving and supportive parents who both worked, a lack of supervision that led him to hang out on the streets. Realizing the dangers of substance abuse, Machado said he left behind the life of using drugs to pursue a more than 20-year-long career that has included graffiti art, clothing design and his specialty, tattoo art.
Better known as Mister Cartoon, Machado’s work has been featured in various Cypress Hill albums, the “Fast & Furious,” and a special edition Vans sneaker featuring The Simpsons.
“This is a miracle right here,” Machado said, holding up a bright yellow Vans sneaker box.
He encouraged the students to stick with their dreams and to pursue it until they find success, ignoring the criticism that may come from those around them, adding that if they believe, then others will follow.
Machado told a story of how as a tattoo artist starting out, he wondered what to charge his customers, taking a friend’s suggestion to set a rate of $500 for a tattoo the size of a cigarette case.
When a customer approached Machado about having some work done, he informed the artist that he only had $450.
Machado told the customer to come back when he had the remaining $50 but secretly questioning himself about the rate he had set.
The customer returned with $500.
“I had an image of myself of being way up here,” Machado said, pointing above his head. “And other people started to believe it.”
The talk was inspiring to Johnny Edson, a Santa Monica High School senior who comes to the PYFC at least once a week for its hip hop music production studio.
Edson said his dream is to pursue music.
“I want to put my energy into it because as you can see, it can take you places,” he said.