When I was 19, my dad got a tattoo. Already having two of my own, and thinking tattoos were mostly for the younger folk, this was just another testament to how cool my father was. Of course, I would later learn that tattoos had been around far longer than I could have imagined, and that it was, in fact, our dads, granddads, and great-granddads that had popularised them (at least in North America). More than that, though, I would come to learn that every generation, every era, has its own, unique tattoo culture – and that there is an actual science behind that.
Sociology professor Jerome Koch, along with a group of researchers dubbed The Body Art Team, has spent the last 14 years studying body modification from a scientific perspective. Several of their findings fly in the face of common stereotypes; almost ¼ of “well-integrated, mainstream” college students have a tattoo, women are now just as likely to get tattooed as men, and dad having a tattoo isn’t near as uncommon as one may think: about 24% of the tattoos in North America belong to someone over 40.
Half a century earlier, however, the trends were very different, and probably not in the ways you would think. Tattoos of the 1950s and 60s were almost entirely the domain of people over 30. Belonging mainly to bikers, artists, and army/navy members, it was not the youth that felt compelled to get tattooed, but those that had years of experience being outsiders or part of a smaller subculture or community. Go back still another fifty years, and you may be surprised to find women made up a huge percentage of those tattooed, and even farther back, we’ll find it was the richer and older population that had the most ink. Stereotypes became outdated so fast, it’s a wonder any took hold at all.
That’s not to say there is no consistency, however. As you may have guessed from the title and the day of this posting, fathers have always made up a significant percentage of the tattooed. Regardless of sociological fads, eras, generations, or prevalent subcultures, the one group we can always rely on to boost body mod numbers are fathers. Despite all the many changes in demographics and trends, one particular theme jumps out at us in each and every study: as far back as it is possible to research, “familial or tribal pride” has been the #1 reason men over 25 offered for getting tattooed. It is, in fact, the only consistency that can be found – literally everything else changes from era to era – from average age to economic status to gender to subculture – but fathers always have dominated the tattoo landscape, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Happy Father’s day to all of you, from all of us at I-Kandy.
While writing last week’s post, I stumbled into an area of body modification that I had admittedly not given much thought to. Sure, we often have people ask us if we can cover a childhood scar, or replace their medical I.D. bracelets with a tattoo, but it wasn’t until I began researching Julia Gnuse, one of the most tattooed people in the world, that I realised what a huge market “medical” and cosmetic tattooing is.
Most of us know cosmetic tattooing to mean exactly that: having permanent eyeliner, lipstick, etc., tattooed on. This type of tattoo first became popular in the 1930s, though it was often done secretly and, therefore, rarely advertised openly or discussed. Today, it is a fairly common procedure, particularly for busy, active women that want to look good without investing much time or effort into it each day. Perhaps surprisingly, this form of cosmetic tattooing is rarely done by professional artists; rather, it is most often offered by cosmeticians that have been specially trained to apply permanent make-up when asked.
“Medical” tattooing is similar to cosmetic, but includes medical I.D. tattoos and those that cover large scars, severe skin conditions, or improve one’s appearance after a medical procedure. These tattoos vary greatly – many women that have undergone complete mastectomies (that is, surgical removal of the breasts due to cancer) have opted for full chest tattoos to cover the scarring, and to turn a difficult procedure into a piece of art. Others go for a more subtle approach, having flesh coloured ink applied to their scars, or to even out their pigment, resulting in a much more natural look. Still others have chosen to replace their medical I.D. bracelets with tattoos that identify severe allergies, serious medical conditions, or instructions in case of emergencies. These types of tattoos are done by both professional artists and cosmetic artists.
There is perhaps no greater example of the evolution of body modification than this. Long viewed as a weird art-form enjoyed by weird people for weird reasons, it is refreshing to see the rest of the world opening up to what many of us already knew – that body modification is much more than just an act of defiance, or declaration of freakdom – it is a statement of ownership of one’s body, and an art that can enhance beauty, improve self-esteem, and create a stunning piece of art out of an otherwise negative condition. Body modification is exactly that: modifying your body, your way, so that you are happy and healthy in your own skin. I can think of few acts more powerful, or more profound, than that.
A commonly asked question by those outside of the body-mod culture is why do you have to get so many? Most people don’t mind a dainty little jewel in a woman’s nose, or a tasteful tattoo on an easily hidden body part, but can’t understand having several facial piercings or tattoo sleeves, for example. To those folks, I present the world’s most pierced and tattooed people. I assure you, your sister’s industrial won’t look quite so extreme by the end of this post.
Guinness World Record holder for 12 years and counting, Elaine is the most pierced person in the world. Guinness has her at almost 7000 piercings, but her most recent count brought her to just over nine thousand. Of those, over 200 are on her face, and over 500 are “below the belt”. A former nurse, Elaine developed a passion for extremes at a young age – aside from her piercings, she is also known for sleeping on a bed of nails, fire-walking and glass-walking, and is an avid skydiver. And, just to defy every stereotype out there, she does not drink, do drugs, or smoke cigarettes, and is married to a man with absolutely no tattoos or piercings. Elaine now runs an aromatherapy and body-mod shop in Edinburgh.
Lucky Diamond Rich (born Gregory McLaren)
Lucky has held the record for most tattooed person since 2006, with nearly 100% of his body, including his foreskin, the inside of his mouth, and his eyelids, covered. The New Zealander became fascinated with tattoos at a young age, and his interests soon turned to the most tattooed people of the world. As a child, he would collect large piles of temporary, bubble-gum tattoos and apply them all over his body, trying to duplicate the look of a heavily tattooed neighbour. By his teens, he was a well-known circus performer, which led to a career in street theatre. He eventually became the highest paid street performer in London, and among the most popular in the world. His act includes comedy routines, extreme juggling, sword-swallowing, and more, all atop a giant unicycle. When he’s not on the road, he is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a tattoo artist. Not content with being the most tattooed person in the world, Lucky is now having his ink gone back over to add brighter colours.
At 453 piercings, Rolf probably won’t surpass Elaine’s record anytime soon, but he has just made his own as the most pierced man in the world. In 2012, he entered the Guinness books, beating the previous holder by nearly 200 piercings. A German computer expert, Rolf keeps fairly quiet about the reasons behind his obsession, saying only that he decided at 40 to enter a world he had previously enjoyed from afar. The majority of his piercings are around his mouth and below the belt, though 50 or so are spread across his body. He got his first piercing and first tattoo on the same day, and soon after became a suspension enthusiast, having now done over 100 suspensions. Aside from his many piercings, Rolf also boasts a full body tattoo.
Known as “The Illustrated Lady”, Julia has over 95% of her body tattooed, and holds the record for most tattooed woman in the world. Julia’s story is a bit different, as well – while many other record holders naturally enjoy extremes, she began getting tattooed for another reason entirely. In her mid-30s, Julia developed porphyria, a condition which causes skin to badly blister if exposed to sunlight. Rather than live with the ugly scars porphyria patients suffered, she sought the advice of a cosmetic surgeon friend, who recommended she try getting skin-coloured tattoos. When that didn’t work, she began having them tattooed over in the traditional way, resulting in an almost complete covering of her body. While it started as a cosmetic treatment, Julia admits to now being “addicted”, and is always looking for ways to add to her ink. She’s also made someone a very wealthy artist – every single one of her pieces was done by the same person.
Several years ago, a new trend in TV, and tattooing, emerged. Various television shows began to spring up, focusing on local tattoo shops, letting the general public in to what had previously been a slightly cliquey and stigmatized environment. People that would otherwise never step into a shop found themselves engrossed in these shows – they, for many, became a more risqué, more true to life soap opera. Viewers were tuning in just to see whether that ditzy front desk girl would ever get fired, or which tattoo artist would win whatever the shop argument du jour was. And those of us that worked in a shop were inundated with the same question over and over: is that what it’s really like?
The answer, of course, is yes…and no…and sometimes. There isn’t a single industry on earth that is entirely free of drama, and many of the things portrayed in those shows do go on in every shop on earth. But it must be kept in mind that this is TV, and the producers want drama. The cameras get turned off during the normal, day-to-day goings on, and only the more interesting conflicts and customers ever make it on screen. If you are looking for only the most exciting, dramatic, and outrageous moments of our lives, those shows will offer the occasional accurate portrayal. If, however, you are looking for information on what the industry as a whole is like, there are many better places to turn. Tuck in and check out these in-depth and informative documentaries on the art:
ANCIENT INK : http://www.watchdocumentary.tv/ancient-ink-blood-and-tattoos-documentary/
HORI SMOKU SAILOR JERRY : http://horismokumovie.com/
TATTOOS: A SCARRED HISTORY : http://www.tattoosascarredhistory.com/home.html
THE GYPSY GENTLEMAN : http://gypsygentleman.com/
THE VANISHING TATTOO : http://www.juxtapoz.com/tattoo/the-vanishing-tattoo-documentary
It’s that time of year again – the sun has come out to play, the waters are warming, and we’re all spending a little more time outside. For most of us, summer is a favourite time of year, and a chance to show off our tattoos and piercings. It’s also, however, a time when we should be giving them a little extra love. Aftercare doesn’t end when the tattoos and piercings have healed, and summer is when it’s particularly important to keep that in mind.
While inks and techniques have improved vastly over the years, tattoos are still susceptible to the sun to some extent. Too much direct exposure will eventually lead to fading. Ideally, they should be covered by clothing, but we’re all going to break that rule in the summer. It is highly recommended that, if you are going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, you put extra sunscreen on your tattoos, and reapply it regularly. If your tattoo is newer and not quite healed, take extra care to keep it out of the sun completely, and out of the water (this is why getting tattooed in the dead of summer is not ideal!).
Piercings also need a bit of love in the summer – sweat, bacteria in water, and simply being a bit more physically active can all anger an otherwise happy piercing. Take a little extra time to clean them well with saline, particularly after going for a swim. It’s also a good idea to switch to smoother (more metal, less jewels) jewelry if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in lakes, rivers, or the ocean, as jewels tend to trap bacteria, making them harder to keep clean. If you are going to wear your shiniest pieces to the beach this year, be sure to take them out regularly and give them a thorough cleaning. And, just as with tattoos, if the piercing is still fairly new, you’ll want to avoid water completely.
We all love to show off our body art, and most of us love the summer heat. Taking just a little extra time and care can go a long way in ensuring we have something worth showing off for many years to come.
“Tattoos in the workplace” is a common area of discussion for body mod enthusiasts – but what about tattoos for the workplace? Over the last few years, a trend has emerged that speaks not only to the cultural relevance of tattoos, but also to the state of the economy – people tattooing corporate logos on their bodies. For some, this means getting their own employer’s name (Rapid Realty of New York boasts almost 40 employees that have the company’s logo tattooed on them); for others, it means selling advertising space on their own bodies (Billy the Human Billboard currently has over 20 logos and websites tattooed on his face alone). Still others do it to show loyalty to the brand itself. What it means for them all is a permanent corporate branding.
Of course, this trend is not entirely new. Both bikers and sports fans have long been getting their favourite brand or team’s logo tattooed on them, and pretty well every tattoo artist on Earth has tattooed the Nike “swoosh” on someone at some point. But the idea of being paid to advertise in such a way, or to willingly turn oneself into a walking billboard, is far more recent, and has some interesting implications.
Rapid Realty offered a 15% raise to any employee that got the tattoo, and in today’s rough real estate market, 36 employees decided that was too good an offer to refuse. Billy has stated in interviews that it is supporting his family in a rocky economy that drove him to such lengths. Many others tell a similar story; a lack of stable jobs, bills that seem to get bigger every year, and families to support has forced them to think outside the box, and corporations are generally more than happy to pay a little cash for some sensational advertising (though there are exceptions – in researching this phenomena, I ran across two separate companies that expressed a great disdain at the idea of their logo being inked into someone’s face…).
For some, however, it’s about more than just money. A Utah woman made headlines a few years ago for auctioning off her forehead on eBay, promising to tattoo the corporate logo of the highest bidder smack in the center. She made good on her promise, tattooing “goldenpalace.com” across her head for a cool ten thousand dollars. It didn’t seem to be the money she was interested in, however, stating on the original eBay listing that she “loves to be the center of attention”. And a 2009 study on corporate tattoos has suggested that many people happily get corporate brands done of their own volition, no payment necessary, to feel part of a perceived “in-group” (we’re not naming any names, here, but a lot of those tattoos strongly resembled partially eaten apples…).
For many, this trend brings up more questions than answers: sure, some are clearly in it for the money, some for the attention, and some are simply following a fad – but is there something more to this? Tattoos, from their very inception, have had a cultural foundation. We can learn a lot about a culture and its history from the tattoos left behind – what, then, will the archaeologists and historians of the future have to say about the corporate logos they will find on us? What will this tell them about our culture? Will they see a people so obsessed with capitalism and consumption that they felt moved to permanently brand themselves with the labels of their choice, or will they see a people that, in a faltering economy, were not afraid to become a walking billboard if it meant putting food on the table? Will they see trend-setters, or fad-followers?
It will be interesting to watch how the corporate logo fad plays out – who will come to regret their decisions, who will still be sporting porn-sites on their head a decade from now, and whether this blip in tattoo and corporate history makes a lasting impression on industry in general. For now, we can at least sleep a little better knowing that, if we ever need a quick ten grand, the solution may be as close as our foreheads.
A couple of weeks ago, we offered up a piercing FAQ, meant to address the most common queries we receive, and hopefully ease your mind a little. This week, we hope to do the same regarding tattoos. It should be made clear, however, that these FAQs are not intended to replace the guidance of your tattoo artist – they have devoted their lives to this artform, and should be respected and listened to when it comes to tattoo care. Rather, these are generalised answers to common questions, meant to help you make smart decisions about getting a new piece.
What does it feel like?
Everyone, no matter how tough or laid back, wonders what getting tattooed feels like, whether it hurts or not, and how they will be able to handle the sensation. Both the artists themselves and the front desk staff get asked countless times a day if there is anything one can do to reduce the pain, or where it hurts least to get tattooed. The fact is, it is impossible to tell someone else how their tattoo will feel. We all have different pain thresholds, and we all accept the sensation in different ways. Ask ten different people which of their tattoos hurt most, and you will get ten different answers. Some think it doesn’t hurt at all, no matter where it is. Some think certain body parts hurt while others don’t. And some think it is a painful experience, period. What we can tell you, however, is that the general rule is: the fleshier, the better. Getting tattooed is, for most people, not a painful experience – it is simply a sensation they had never felt before, and therefore needed to adjust to. Many people describe it as more annoying than painful, as if someone is flicking you with a rubber band, or poking you with a toothpick, but over and over again. Unless you have a really low threshold for pain, chances are pretty good that getting tattooed will not be an unbearable experience (I can personally attest to being a pretty big wuss, and I still managed to survive getting both of my feet and my ribcage, two of the more sensitive areas, tattooed).
Is there anything I should do beforehand?
Yes! Absolutely, yes! And we love people that ask this, as it shows you are being wise about your decision to get tattooed. The number one thing you can do to make the tattoo process easier is eat. Yes, eat. Specifically, eating carbs, leafy greens, and high-vitamin juices gives your body the boost it needs to better handle the sensation of being tattooed. Your blood will be thicker, your blood sugars a bit higher, and your body well-hydrated, all of which make the process far easier on you, and on your artist. Likewise, avoid blood-thinners (alcohol, for example), and do not come in on an empty stomach.
In the context of tattoos, beforehand and afterwards are often one in the same. One of the best ways to prepare for a tattoo is to consider what you’ll be doing afterwards – it is best to get a tattoo when you have a couple of days off to recoup – you want to avoid it getting bumped or scratched or soaked, so it may not be a great idea to get a tattoo and then head straight back to work if you have a job in which you are likely to be touched, bumped, or exerting yourself physically (if in doubt, ask your artist). Also be aware that you should not be tanning or swimming or doing any really strenuous work-outs (that is, if your tattoo is in a place where working out may affect it – your bicep or your ribcage, for example) during the healing process, so if you are so inclined, schedule your tattoo for a time when you can take a break from those activities.
In short, preparing for a tattoo means understanding what the process, including healing, entails. Make sure your body is well-fueled beforehand, and that you can relax a bit afterwards, and you are well on your way to a happy tattoo.
Can I get _______?
Unquestionably, the most common question we get asked is “can I get…?”, with the blank space being anything from your boyfriend’s name to a rose the size of a dime. The answer is always the same – yes, and no, and maybe, depending. Most reputable shops will refuse to tattoo your partner’s name on you – it’s just a bad idea, for what should be obvious reasons. But, for the most part, your artist can make whatever you want a reality, provided you will make a few concessions. A really intricate tattoo cannot be tiny – it needs to have enough space between the lines that they will not run together – and placement is important in ensuring it looks good when healed – getting a tattoo near the palm of your hand or inside your mouth is certainly possible, but may not be the greatest plan if you want it to heal nicely and stay looking good long-term. Whatever your idea, your artist will try to make it happen – just realize that your ideas may not be taking the practical side of things into account. Listen to your artist, and make these decisions together.
What can I expect from the healing process?
Getting the tattoo is the exciting part, but you want it to look good forever, not just today. Allowing it to heal properly is vital! While everyone is different, there are a couple of things most everyone can expect. Before I continue, however, I think it very important to make something clear, here: your artist knows best. A good artist has spent years not only perfecting their art, but nailing down the best aftercare instructions as well. They’ve seen firsthand what works, what doesn’t, and what common errors people make. Please take their advice seriously. That said, most everyone will experience a couple of things during the healing process, and those we can safely address here. First, you will shed! I can’t count how many times we’ve received panicked phone-calls from clients, telling us that they woke up to find bits of coloured skin on their sheets. And it is a panic-inducing moment, if one isn’t aware – it looks as though your tattoo itself is just peeling right off – not exactly what most people had in mind. Rest assured, however, that your tattoo will not just peel off – what you are seeing is the very top layer of skin, and it is no different than the dry skin that falls away from you on a regular basis. Second, it will probably itch – don’t scratch it! Healing skin normally itches; this is why you feel the urge to pick scabs. While it is normal, you want to avoid scratching or picking – letting it heal is crucial to how it will look in the end. Finally, you want to allow at least 3 weeks healing time – for some it will be shorter, for some much longer, but 3 weeks seems to be pretty standard. For that time, avoid soaking in water (showers are of course still recommended, but baths, hot-tubs, swimming pools, etc, are not), spending a lot of time in the sun, or doing anything extreme to your skin.
The most important part of the healing process, of course, is to listen to your artist, and just be good to yourself. Your body knows how to heal itself – you just need to allow it to do so!
Is a tattoo right for me?
We don’t actually hear this one a lot, but we should. While we at I-Kandy are of course huge body-mod advocates, we also want you to love your mod forever, which means being realistic and smart about it. Think about your career goals, your desired appearance, and your lifestyle before jumping in to a tattoo, and choose pieces and places that will work for you and your future plans. You may love the idea of a giant skull on your neck, but if your plan is to become a kindergarten teacher, you probably want to rethink that. Likewise, if you are a swimmer or summer-traveler, you want to be really careful about when you get tattooed. Taking a little extra time to do your research and consider your options is the best thing you can do to ensure you will be forever happy with your choice.
Because Easter has a few different histories behind it, it likewise has many different symbols: everything from chocolate bunnies to decorative eggs to the crucifix is put on display this time of year, each with its own meaning and story. Symbolism is an inescapable aspect of religion, and, similarly, of tattooing. In fact, for many years – even centuries – symbolism and tattooing were one in the same; people did not generally get tattooed for aesthetic purposes, they got tattooed to mark a milestone, as part of a ritual, or to distinguish one group from another. Every tattoo was the symbol of one’s status, position, tribe, or religion.
Prior to the discovery of Otzi the Iceman, found in Europe, it was believed that Egyptians were the first to engage in tattooing – figurines adorned with images, mummies with faint designs, and tools that seemed made for the purpose gave a strong impression that they had been the innovators of such a practice. As more and more artifacts and bodies are uncovered, however, we learn that tattooing, particularly to symbolize one’s status, has existed for far longer, and in far more parts of the world, than previously believed.
In recent years, Eurasian mummies and entombed bodies have been discovered near modern-day China and Russia, adorned with animal designs, lines of dots, and mythical monsters, believed to be symbols of strength and virility. In Borneo, tribal tattoos consisting of thick black lines and nature themes have symbolised the stages men and women have gone through and the skills they possess since ancient times. Maori and Samoan tribes have long used tattoos, often covering most of the body, to make clear their social status and position within the tribe. Throughout Central and South America, ancient peoples ranging from farmers to the socially elite have been found bearing tattoos – generally animal designs and small symbols – that seem to have magical or ritualistic qualities to them, likely thought to bring them luck, protection, and wealth.
I could go on all day, really, but I think you get the picture – tattoos have been part of human culture for thousands of years, even within isolated societies. We have, it seems, come up with this idea over and over again, feeling it relevant to mark our bodies with meaningful symbols. Early designs were often nature-themed or “tribal” – consisting of a series of lines, dots, and bands – generally to protect, show status, and mark the various stages of life. As societies, cultures, and philosophies evolved, so too did the symbols used. Celts and Britons took to intricate and ornate patterns to declare their status, Greeks and Romans began tattooing themselves as a mark of religious devotion or belonging to a certain group or sect, and China and Japan moved from tattoos that designated people criminals or of a certain trade to more ornate and less stigmatized designs, available to the general public.
Human beings, as a whole, seem to have a need to symbolize that which matters most to us. Regardless of culture, religion, or era, we have long marked ourselves and our surroundings, sometimes to separate ourselves from, and sometimes to feel a deeper connection to, the natural world and its many forms of life. Even in the modern world, we are constantly seeking more valid, more extreme, and more innovative ways to express where we see ourselves in relation to the world around us.
Whether chocolate bunny or crucifix, whether tribal design or modern art, we as humans are constantly pushing boundaries and refining designs to adequately symbolize what it means to be us. The evolution of symbolism is, it is no exaggeration to say, the evolution of humanity itself. While tattoos may still be stigmatized and frowned upon in parts of the world, from a historical perspective, they are the most common, long-standing, and widespread way to tell our story in a way that transcends both time and language.
I-Kandy, as well as every other reputable shop on the planet, I presume, has seen the result of not-so-great ideas many, many times: tattoos by Some Guy in a Basement, piercings by My Friend and a Safety Pin, and, of course, the infamous I Did it Myself. While we understand the reasoning (and have indeed made a lot of those same errors ourselves), we hope to save you the time, money, and even pain, that can come of them. Below are the five most common body-mod mistakes, and how you can avoid them.
1. Piercing yourself/having a friend pierce you
It seems simple, right? Just take something sharp, clean it, and poke it through your ear (or lip, or nostril…). Put in a piece of jewelry, and voila! You have a piercing! Except…that’s not at all how it really goes. Professional piercers don’t just pierce you – they know the right tools to use and how to keep them sterile, they know all about cross-contamination, pathogens, and bacteria, they know the appropriate placement, size, and depth for your piercing – all very important things to know if you’re going to be putting holes in people’s bodies. There is a very good reason that professional piercings have such a high success rate, while self-done piercings will more often than not need to be taken out to avoid infection – no matter what you do, no matter how much rubbing alcohol you take to your safety pin or how thoroughly you wipe down your bathroom counter, you are not working with safe equipment, or all the necessary information.
Do yourself, and your piercing, a favour and have a professional do it. Not only will you be in good hands with clean equipment and jewelry, you will also have someone to go back to if you have questions, concerns, or need help changing the jewelry later.
2. Getting tattooed in someone’s basement
Tattooing is, more often than not, a “get what you pay for” industry. A tattoo for the price of a case of beer seems like a really awesome deal – until you see a few tattoos done for the price of a case of beer. The sketchiest of the cheap tattoos are, of course, those done in someone’s basement or garage or living room “studio”. That’s not to say there has never been a good home-artist, or even a good home-studio, but they are few and far between, and the chances of you happening to stumble upon one are small. It’s really difficult to set up a studio at home that will meet the same health & safety standards that professional shops are held to – we have specialised equipment, autoclaves and ultra-sonics, specific types of chairs and flooring, etc, for the express purpose of cleanliness and safety – home studios are unlikely to have the same. Professional artists have also gone through some form of training – even those that are mostly self-taught are well-researched in sterilisation and safety, and work in shops with others, learning from one another and honing their skills in a safe environment.
No one gets a tattoo thinking they won’t mind if it sucks. With cheap basement artists, there are just too many chances being taken – going to a professional may cost you a little more, but those extra dollars are guaranteeing you are being tattooed with sterile equipment in a clean environment by someone that knows what they are doing and has a reputation and business backing them up.
3. Getting pierced at the mall
I expect some hate-mail for this, but it needs to be said: mall piercings are terrible.
Piercings done at the mall are done by a non-professional with a piercing gun. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, everything.
Non-professional piercers are trained via a brief lesson, and a video tutorial. Contrast this with the months upon months upon years upon years that professional piercers spend learning about health and safety, cleaning tools, changing and adjusting jewelry, reading books, practicing on one another and themselves, trying out new techniques, piercing numerous parts of the body, talking to other piercers and sharing ideas and issues, and absorbing any and all info about jewelry, tools, trends and body modification in general, and the slightly higher price may start to make sense.
As for piercing guns, they have many issues unto themselves. First and foremost, they cannot be sterilized. The sterilization process involves extreme heat, and piercing gun cases are plastic; they would melt if they were put in an autoclave. Sterile equipment is extremely important. Think about it – the person who got pierced before you may have had an infection or contagious disease, and now you are about to get a piece of jewelry that has been in that same gun shot through your body. Gross.
Many mall-shops have gotten around that problem with single-use guns, which is certainly an improvement, but does not make guns any better of an idea. Piercing guns cause more trauma to your body than a needle – there is no sharp end on them, so they are literally shooting the jewelry into you. This means no clean incision has been made, making your risk of slow healing, pain and scarring much higher.
Lastly, malls also do not offer appropriate aftercare. While professional shops differ somewhat on what they offer, the one thing they all agree on is to not use alcohols, which is exactly what most mall shops will give you, along with antiseptic wash. Both will dry out your skin terribly and prolong the healing period.
4. Not thinking through your tattoo
Many of the regrets we hear from our clients involve old tattoos that were not exactly well thought out. People who got tattooed on impulse, or saw something cool in a magazine and went and got it done a couple of days later. People that got tattooed while drinking (I could devote a whole new article to all of the things wrong with that idea), or were not completely prepared to follow the process through. People who got their first boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name tattooed on their chest, or something vulgar across their knuckles. Getting tattooed is actually kind-of a big deal, and it needs proper consideration – you can assume it’s going to be there for the rest of your life, and that should be in your mind the entire time. You may think a flaming 666 on your hand is an awesome idea, but are you sure you’re still going to think that when you’re forty, or even next week when you have that job interview? That’s not to say you should compromise – tattoos are all about self-expression and personalization – but it may be a good idea to take some time to really think about what you will still be happy looking at a few years from now, and whether or not you’ll want other people looking at it.
5. Listening to your friends
I know, I know. They’re your friends, and you trust them. Some of them probably have lots of tattoos and piercings, and sound like they know what they’re talking about. Hell, some of them probably doknow what they’re talking about. But, here’s the thing: what happened to them will not necessarily happen to you. Everyone heals at different speeds, everyone reacts differently to the process. Every piercing or tattoo is a unique experience. It would be hard to count the number of times someone has come in with an irritated piercing or a tattoo that hasn’t healed nicely, only to tell us that their “friend said it would be fine” if they went swimming or changed the jewelry or picked the scab. What needs to be kept in mind here is that shops do not make a profit from giving you aftercare instructions. We aren’t trying to sell you anything – by that point, we’ve already made our money. We tell you these things because we want you to have a beautiful finished product. We want you to be able to proudly show off your mods, and we want to be proud to say we did them.
Aftercare and forethought are not pushed on you to take the fun out of the experience, or to make anyone any money. We’re not here to lecture you; we’re here to give you a cool experience and an impressive piece. We can’t give that to you if you are sitting in someone’s basement or in the window of a mall shop, however. Body-modification should be a personal and pleasant experience that leaves you with something you are proud to show off – do it right the first time, and we promise you, you won’t regret it.
For several decades, western culture held tattoos to be the mark of outcasts and rebels – bikers, circus freaks, weathered soldiers, and lifelong criminals were the main representatives of the artform – and for a long time, it seemed that, not only would tattoos never break into the mainstream,they were actually helping to define what ran counter to it. Having a tattoo automatically set one apart from “everyone else” – it was a symbol of being part of another culture, a culture that somehow transcended the standard societal norms. Over time, however, tattoos have crept in to every corner of our culture, and some have even reached the status of “trendy” – a term so mainstream it hurts.
In the 1980s, tattoos were still the domain of the underground, for the most part. The 90s saw them gain some popularity, however, and by the mid-00s, it was estimated that 25% of people aged 16- 40 had at least one tattoo. What happened in less than 30 years to push tattoos from the underground to the mainstream? A large part of that answer is undoubtedly pop-culture. Several musicians and artists of the late 60s and early 70s had visible tattoos (Janis Joplin is often cited as having a pivotal role in popularising tattoos with her small wrist and breast pieces), and by the 90s, the kids who had grown up with these artists were now adults with kids of their own that did not see tattoos as taboo, but as a form of expression they could relate to. Another major boost came from innovators working to create brightly coloured and long lasting inks – prior to this time, ink was most often black, blue, or a terrible red that faded almost immediately – vibrant colours made the idea of a tattoo much more appealing to many. The biggest influence, however, seems to be a shift in perspective – what had once been the mark of an outcast was becoming a legitimate artform; trained artists were picking up machines and creating something that went far beyond the outlines of eagles and hearts with daggers that had dominated the landscape in years prior.
When it comes to popularisation of anything that was once underground, of course, there will be those that champion the progression, and those that resent it. Entrepreneurs and innovators will see opportunity, while those thoroughly entrenched in, and attached to, their subculture will see hostile takeover. Both have valid points. Legitimising tattooing as a form of art and turning it into a multi-million dollar industry has unquestionably pleased and benefitted a lot of people. No longer do tattooists work out of trashy bars and dirty basements, and their rates have gone from the price of a case of beer to a more than liveable income. Clients can be adorned with anything their imagination can conceive of, and artists have far more options than ever before. When the underground becomes the mainstream, however, vital aspects of it have to adapt, and those alterations will please some and disappoint others. The idea of tattoos being trendy is no exception – many see this as an evolution of attitude, a long overdue acceptance of people expressing themselves in visible and creative ways. Others see it as a cheapening of what was once meaningful, turning a sacred act into a fad.
Fads are the bittersweet staple of all industries – they are invaluable in terms of making a mark on society, on bringing an industry to the forefront of people’s minds, but they are also almost always destined to be overdone and eventually become dated and cliché. Fads offer the best and the worst of an industry, and are always walking the line between the next big thing and yesterday’s news. And when it comes to tattoos, fads are evidence that no matter how far underground something may be, one stumble into the spotlight can be all it takes to gain the attention of the masses. Fortunately, the tattoo industry, just like the music industry, fashion, and art, has far more to offer than passing fads. One need only delve a tiny bit deeper than tribal armbands and Kanji to find an entirely new world of art and design. A world of innovation, of the grotesque, the beautiful, the dark, the vibrant, the one of a kind. A world that more and more people are exploring, and whose population becomes more diverse by the minute. We may no longer be underground, but we are adding much needed splashes of colour up here.