Tuttle was born in 1931 and grew up in Ukiah, California. At the age of fourteen he purchased his first tattoo for $3.50. In 1949 he began tattooing professionally. In 1954 he opened his own studio in San Francisco. This first shop was open for nearly 30 years. During that time, he was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, after having tattooed Janis Joplin and several other notable musicians and celebrities of the time.
He has tattooed on six continents. He has become a legend and a teacher within the industry in the years he has been tattooing. He officially retired in 1990 but will still occasionally tattoo his signature on a friend or acquaintance.
Tuttle currently teaches accredited seminars in “Tattoo machine maintenance and machine building” at tattoo conventions around the United States.
When asked what made tattooing gain in popularity during his early career, he responded:
“Women’s liberation! One hundred percent women’s liberation! That put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they so desired. It increased and opened the market by 50% of the population – hell of the human race! For three years, I tattooed almost nothing but women. Most women got tattooed for the entertainment value … circus side show attractions and so forth. Self-made freaks, that sort of stuff. The women made tattooing a softer and kinder art form.
Lyle Tuttle opened his first infamous shop on 7th street near the Greyhound bus station in 1960. Lyle has been almost solely responsible for bringing tattooing into the main stream.
He appeared in the 1970’s on the Late Show with Johnny Carson, he was the subject of numerous documentaries on the tattooing and later was also photographed by the world-renowned photographer Annie Lebowitz for Rolling Stone Magazine. With the popularizing of tattooing many celebrities came for his services that included Janis Joplin, Cher, Peter Fonda. As tattooing emerged from an underground art form to the mainstream, Lyle worked with the San Francisco Department of Health to come up with modern and standardized techniques for the sterilization of tattooing equipment.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 Lyle moved his tattoo shop to the tourist hotspot of North Beach right on the Cable car line. In 1995 Lyle met Tania Nixx, who had been tattooing for two years at that time. As Lyle became more and more busy traveling the world giving talks and seminars at tattoo conventions, he made Tanja the manager and then later sold her the shop in 2001. Lyle is still extremely involved in tattooing speaking on the history, machines folklore of tattooing.