When I logged into Facebook the other day, this picture, along with this article, were staring me in the face. A group I frequent was debating – and I do use that term loosely – why anyone would do such a thing to themselves. A fair question, I suppose, but one that has no concrete answer. People tossed out everything from mental illness to low self-esteem to a desperate desire to be different, but, having worked in the body mod industry for several years now, none of these replies were satisfactory to me.
So why do people get such extreme mods? What compels people to pierce their heels, or tattoo their entire face? Why would anyone want a 0g tunnel in their labret, or spike implants in their head? The truth of the matter is, only they know. There is no single answer to this question – and that is, in and of itself, the best answer of all. Each and every person that delves into the more extreme side of body modification does it for their own reasons. Daniel, the possessor of the Achilles piercings, didn’t ever offer a reason for doing so, but many others have, and the answers are as varied and controversial as the mods themselves.
Stelarc, a well-known artist and body mod enthusiast, talks about his rather extreme mods – including an “ear” implanted into his arm – in artistic, transhumanist terms. For him, these modifications offer insight into “the increasing intimacy of machines and the human body”. Russ Foxx, world-renowned body-mod artist, offers a vaguer reason behind mods like eyeball tattooing, saying only that the eyes are “a strong communication tool” and that the ink injections can create “amazing and beautiful effects”. James Keen, a young, heavily modified eunuch, cites extremely personal reasons that include a feeling of gender-neutrality and a “primitive urge” to modify.
When looking at, and into, these extreme mods, it seems the relevant question is not “why”, but “what”. They whys are often far too personal, and too difficult, to articulate. It’s the what – the message one hopes to communicate, or the result one hopes to attain – that goes a long way in explaining the desire to have these extreme modifications, and the willingness to push the envelope. Whether the ultimate goal is artistic, philosophical, historical, sexual, aesthetic, religious, or something entirely different, there is a universal theme that runs through them all. Each and every one of these extreme mods is a declaration of autonomy, a powerful and unapologetic claiming of one’s own body. And perhaps that’s where the real discussion should begin. Rather than question the sanity of the people who enjoy these mods, we should be asking ourselves why autonomy is something to be questioned.
“Reality” TV is, depending on whom you ask, the best or worst thing to ever happen to entertainment. Starting out as a small group of contests like Big Brother and Survivor, it has now moved into the realm of documenting everyday jobs (or, at least, the most dramatic events therein), and giving you an inside look at careers you’ve perhaps only ever dreamed of. Among these has been a wide variety of tattoo-related shows, ranging from the lives of exclusive shop owners, to competitions between unknowns. When these shows began littering the cable landscape, many of us working in the field found a new job description added to our list: informing clients of how true to life (or not) these shows really were. So, which shows offer realistic glimpses into the world of tattooing, and which are ratings-bait? We review the good, the bad, and the ugly.
INK MASTER – hosted by the heavily tattooed Dave Navarro, and judged by tattoo master Oliver Peck and multi-media artist and tattooist Chris Nunez, Ink Master gives American tattoo artists a chance to fight for their title, and $100,000. While the show does not depict the standard tattoo career, it does accurately highlight some of the biggest challenges in the industry: time management, convention stress, constantly learning and improving techniques, and adapting styles to suit each client. Add to that Peck’s remarkable eye for detail and brutally honest criticisms, and the result is a truly entertaining and informative show.
MIAMI INK/LA INK – while both shows are now defunct, to not mention them would practically be criminal. Two of the most-watched and most-debated tattoo shows of all time, both walk us through a day in the life of a busy and popular American shop. Allegedly, anyway. With ever-rotating casts/crew, unheard-of artists opening their own expensive and fully-booked shops and getting their own spin-off shows, celebrity clients, and apparent “walk-in” customers in shops that boast year-long waiting lists, it’s hard to view these shows as “reality”. Love them or hate them, these are the soap-operas of the tattoo world.
TATTOOS AFTER DARK – from the producers of Jersey Shore (yes, that tells you all you need to know about it), T.A.D. is less reality show and more freak show. Featuring the most over-the-top clients one could possibly imagine, episodes have thus far included flamboyant performers wanting tattoos of themselves, pregnant clients begging to have their tummies tattooed (thankfully, even ratings weren’t enough to convince the artists to go for that), a couple that just met that night wanting matching tattoos to profess their undying love, and a marriage proposal or two. While T.A.D. may be a bit too much for many, it is unarguably amusing, and sets itself apart by featuring not just tattooing, but piercing as well – a side of shop life that is shamefully ignored by most reality shows.
TATTOO RESCUE – this Spike production may just be the golden nugget of tattoo TV. Rather than focusing on petty disputes and forced drama, tattoo veteran Joey Tattoo visits failing shops and gives them the wake-up call they desperately need. And, best of all, he does it by ripping apart their health and safety standards, calling attention to unsafe practices and poor image. Not only does his show aim to improve standards worldwide, it also offers sincere and extremely important information to potential clients everywhere.
BAD INK – a seemingly perpetual advertisement for the hosts’ various ventures and History’s “Vikings” (a friend of theirs is a crew member), it’s difficult to tell where the show begins and the commercials end. Bad Ink’s hosts cruise the Vegas strip in search of bad tattoos to ridicule, and, occasionally, fix. While the show itself may leave a bad taste in some mouths (and leave most of us wondering where the line between reality and fiction now sits), there is one valuable lesson to be learned from it – as host Dirk is prone to repeat, don’t drink and ink.
As tattoos become more and more common, boundaries get pushed further and further. Rather than a small tattoo on the ankle, many are opting for full sleeves or back pieces. And we think that’s cool – afterall, your body is yours, and you should adorn it as you see fit. One particular trend, however, needs a bit more thought than just whether it would look cool or not.
We’re talking, of course, about your hands. Hand tattoos aren’t new in and of themselves, but the popularity of them certainly is. The last few years have seen a huge spike in people wanting to take their sleeves one step further, or make a statement with a bold, in your face hand-piece. And who can blame them? If you Google “hand tattoos”, you’ll get a huge selection of bright, beautiful, intricate designs. What you don’t see, however, is what went into getting them that way.
If you read our (or any, really) tattoo aftercare suggestions, you’ll notice that they include not soaking your new tattoo, keeping it clean, and avoiding a lot of friction. This is almost impossible to do when it comes to your hands. Most people get their hands dirty, several times a day. Most people wash them a few dozen times, for that reason. Most people use their hands constantly. Avoiding dirt, water, and action is literally an impossible feat when it comes to one’s hands. This means that your new tattoo is not likely to heal well – it will need several touch-ups, and sometimes will need to be completely redone a couple of times before it looks the way you hoped it would. And that’s just for the tops of your hands. If you’re thinking about tattooing the sides of your fingers, it gets worse. If you’re thinking about the palms of your hands, it gets way, way worse.
Hand tattoos also carry with them two major social issues: there is still a lot of stigma attached to them, and very few employers that will allow them. Now, we don’t want to be that guy, the one that lectures you condescendingly about your choices. We’ve all dealt with that guy, and we’re not a fan. But we’d be lying if we said there are no consequences to hand tattoos. While we’ve made great strides in tattoo acceptance, we’re not there yet, and hand tattoos still have a pretty negative reputation. A lot of people that see them instantly think “criminal” or “weirdo”. Employers see them and instantly think “hell no”. If you are planning on becoming a school teacher, a business person, a lawyer, a doctor, or any similar sort of professional, a hand tattoo is a great way to ensure that never happens. You want to think very, very carefully before marking your hands for life.
We’re not, of course, telling you not to get them, though our artists – and a lot of others – will be admittedly hesitant to do them unless the client is already heavily tattooed and fully understands the inherent issues. We want to make sure that your tattoo experience is the best it can possibly be, and for that reason, need to put our knowledge and concerns to work for you. Getting a visible tattoo in a high traffic area can come at a fairly hefty cost, both financially and socially, and can take a lot of work to get perfect, so please, please think long and hard about it, and take your artist’s advice, before deciding whether hands on or hands off is the way to go.
Anyone with a tattoo, piercing, or even brightly coloured hair or make-up has likely heard their fair share of ridiculous questions and comments. Some are innocent enough – asking us what our tattoos mean to us, or whether that lip piercing hurt are understandable, I suppose. But there are a few common statements that get really old, really fast. Here are our top 5:
1. Aren’t you going to regret those when you’re older? On the outside, that may seem like a valid question. I must admit, I’ve silently asked it when seeing an 18 year old with a tarantula on his face, or a young woman with “HARD CORE” tattooed across her knuckles. And, you know what? Some people WILL regret them later. But that is their business, not anyone else’s, and it annoyingly presumes that everyone with a visible or controversial tattoo has failed to give it any thought, which I can assure you, is not true.
2. You’d look so much prettier without that. Pretty well every woman that has ever dared to get a facial piercing, tattoo, or dye her hair purple has heard this, more than once. Stop it. No, seriously, stop. Body-mods are about autonomy, not about conforming to someone else’s standards of beauty – we like the way we look with our tattoos and piercings and weird hair and make-up. If that’s not your thing, that’s ok, but it is ours, and that should be ok too.
3. Good luck getting a job! Yes, it’s certainly true that there are still some professions that frown upon visible mods, but that doesn’t make this statement any less obnoxious. It assumes far too much – that the person doesn’t currently have a good job, that they will eventually want a job in which mods won’t be permitted, that all professions worth having disallow mods, and that the person in question hasn’t already given that some thought.
4. Can I buy some pot? Okay, perhaps that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is still a perception amongst some that heavily tattooed or alternative looking people are criminals, drug dealers, gang members, or just plain ol’ bad people. This stereotype has never been accurate, but it’s especially untrue and outdated now – the last few decades have seen huge strides in tattoo equipment/ink, piercing methods and jewelry, and artistic collaboration, allowing body-modification to grow into a more than legitimate art-form. We’re not criminals, we’re canvases.
5. Why would you do that to yourself? I think we’ve all encountered this person before, as well – the one who sees body-modification as mutilation or masochism, and thinks there must be something wrong with anyone who wants to do it. That a tattoo is a cry for help, that a facial piercing is a sign of low self-esteem, that a microdermal is some new-fangled form of torture. While, I suppose, from the outside looking in, it may seem a little odd to want a bunch of holes in your body, or some permanent images on your skin, it must be kept in mind that every style, every subculture, every clique, seems odd to someone. Odd needn’t mean negative, however – there’s no reason to believe we’re doing something bad just because it’s something you don’t understand.
Having worked the desk of a couple of tattoo shops over the years, I’ve found the hardest part – by far – is having to tell a very excited potential client that their beloved idea just won’t work. Most people that come into the shop already know what they want, and have their heart set on it. Our artists of course always try to make their ideas a reality, but on occasion, someone comes in with a design that will not turn out the way they are hoping. Most of the time, it’s because of the size, or the location. We never like telling people their idea isn’t the best one, so here are a few tips to ensure you get the perfect tattoo for you.
1. Size does matter. This isn’t to say you cannot have a small tattoo – you most certainly can – but in the tattoo world, small=simple. Over time, lines spread a little. Not enough to be noticeable if the tattoo was an appropriate size to begin with, but if you attempt to take a really intricate design with a lot of tiny lines and shrink it down to the size of a quarter, what you will end up with in five years is a lovely ink blob. If you want a detailed design, it’s going to have to be on the larger side. If you want a tiny tattoo, it’s going to have to be fairly simple.
2. Location, location, location. Where you get it is almost as important and what you get. A good 90% of your body is fine to tattoo, but you want to give some thought to it nonetheless. Inside of your mouth, palms of your hands, side of your finger? Not such great ideas. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it, only that it’s going to heal badly, and possibly fade away entirely over time. Some artists, in fact, are now refusing to tattoo those areas, as they tend to heal so poorly that they feel they’d be doing a disservice to the client by giving them a tattoo they know will look terrible, or disappear, in a few months’ time. Even “normal” locations need to be thought about – do you want the tattoo to be visible all the time, or do you want to be able to hide it? Is the design something that will work on a wrist or ankle, or should it be given a larger canvas? If it’s text, do you want to be able to read it, or do you want others to?
3. Tattoos don’t come with spell-check. If you want text, particularly in a different language, check, double-check, and then check again to make sure the spelling and characters are correct. The most regrettable tattoos tend to be script that was misspelt, or foreign language tattoos with errors in them. Check online, check dictionaries, and, highly recommended – ask a native speaker if it’s correct. Once that script is on you, it’s on you – we cannot go back and change the spelling or insert a different character.
We want you to get a tattoo that not only makes you happy right this second, but will continue to make you happy for years to come. Taking just a little extra time to ensure your tattoo will work can make all the difference in the world.
It can be assumed that most of our readers are from the lower mainland, and therefore already know about the fantastic Vancouver Tattoo & Culture Show, scheduled this year for April 25-27. But what if you live elsewhere, or are prone to world travel? Here are 6 must-visit tattoo shows happening around the world this year.
A few of our posts have discussed the history of mods, explained that full-body tattoos or heavily tattooed women aren’t near as recent as you may think, and delved into ancient methods of tattooing – going back as far as 10,000 years ago. What you may not have seen yet, however, are the countless vintage tattoo photos circulating the internet and museum archives. Here are a few of our faves:
It’s that time of year once again. Eggnog and rum, regrettable boxes of chocolates that never made it under the tree, divorce-causing games of Monopoly, and, of course, the panicked frenzy of last minute shopping. Some people are harder to buy for than others, and when we run across that person on our list, we tend to think about what interests them most, what they’re like, and what we think they might enjoy. If your hard to buy for person happens to have a lot of tattoos or an 8g hoop in their septum, you may be tempted to go in that direction. Here are a few tips.
DO! Buy gift certificates – I-Kandy sells them in any denomination you so desire, so you can pay for anything from a piece of jewelry to the price of a full back piece.
DON’T! Book them an actual tattoo appointment, unless they’ve already had a consultation, and you know the artist’s name and schedule. A lot of people change their minds, or want to discuss things, several times before actually getting tattooed, so forcing them to commit isn’t a great idea.
DO! Get them hoodies, toques, coffee mugs, or anything else that sports the logo of their favourite shop or tattoo/piercing company. We body mod enthusiasts love our gear, and we can never have too much of it!
DON’T! Guess about the size of their jewelry. The ideal is to buy them a gift certificate so that they can pick their own, but some people think that’s a bit of a cold gift, and would prefer giving an actual, physical present. If this is your case, try to bring in a piece of their old jewelry to compare it to, or buy something you’re sure you’ve seen them wear before. Guessing about the size is never a good idea – there isn’t just the gauge to worry about, but also length/diameter, and bead size. Everyone has their own preferences, and you may not know what they are.
DO! Buy them aftercare, such as Tattoo Goo or saline, particularly to go with their gift certificate. The fun part of a new mod is…well…the new mod. You providing them with their aftercare means they get to just sit back and enjoy the experience, knowing everything else has already been taken care of.
We all love (and I do mean LOVE) to receive mod-related gifts at this time of year. Hopefully these tips help everyone give, and get, something that will be truly appreciated.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on Facebook has likely seen their fair share of “tattoo fails” – tattoos that are…regrettable, to say the least. While we all find them hysterical, it’s pretty likely that, were it on you, it wouldn’t be near as funny. You may think that, as a reasonably intelligent person that has laughed at many a ridiculous tattoo, you are immune to such disaster, but it takes only the slightest error in judgement to become the proud owner of a permanent mistake. Here are a few tips to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Though today’s sunshine makes it hard to believe, winter is in fact upon us. For most tattoo shops, this means the slow season has begun. Summertime’s showing of skin and outdoor fun tends to tempt people to get a new tattoo or piercing to show off, so we’ve no shortage of clients in the spring and summer months. What few know, however, is that winter is actually a far friendlier time for body mods.
Fresh piercings require a bit of love for several weeks while they heal. Two important things to keep in mind are that one should avoid swimming – a favourite summer pastime for many – and that keeping the area clean is vital – something that is far tougher to do in the sweaty, outdoorsy months than in the colder, stay-indoors climate of winter.
When it comes to tattoos, there is even more reason to choose winter over summer. As with piercings, swimming must be avoided, and the area kept clean. But on top of that, sunshine is terrible for a new tattoo – the heat and light of the sun dries out your skin, and lends itself to fading ink and a longer healing process. It’s also a lot more uncomfortable. Anyone that has broken a bone in the summer knows the discomfort of the heat under a cast – tattoos are covered when first done, and should be hidden from the sun for several weeks afterwards – staying covered up in the heat is less than pleasant, to say the least. Getting a tattoo, especially a larger piece in a conspicuous area, in the dead of summer often means choosing between two equally poor options: expose your precious new piece of art to the hot sun, and risk damaging it, or keep it covered and dry through the hottest part of the season, leaving you uncomfortable and unable to jump into the cool waters of the ocean or your favourite pool.
Of course, we’re not saying no body mods can be done in the summer. If you are wanting a small piece in an area you’d not be showing off anyway, or aren’t really big on swimming, there’s no reason you can’t get pierced or tattooed at any time of year. But we hope to see a flip in trends – while summer is our busiest time, and winter our slowest, it really should be the other way around. So, if you have been pondering getting a piece but have been putting it off, or are wondering what to get a loved one for Christmas, now may be the time to consider going for it. Happy tattoo season, all!