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.
Getting a piercing can be a wonderful experience. It can be a magical, spiritual moment for some and an awkward and funny moment for others. Some think it hurts, some enjoy the sensation. A lot of people plan and prepare for their piercings and even more come in on the spur of the moment. All, inevitably, have questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked.
Does It Hurt?
This is, without a doubt, the most common question of all. And the answer is yes. And no. And sometimes.
When it comes to the pain, there are three things you have to keep in mind.
1. Not all piercings feel the same. It’s impossible to say that every piercing hurts or that none of them do, because different parts of your body will feel different being pierced. Some parts are more sensitive than others, so where you get it will make a big difference.
2. Not everyone feels the same amount of pain, or in the same places. It’s always hard for us to tell you if the piercing will hurt you – we can only tell you if it hurt us, or if a lot of clients have given us feedback. Everyone is different, and will react in their own way – I didn’t find my nostril painful at all, but several of my friends did, likewise, I found my microdermal quite uncomfortable while others enjoyed the sensation. Only you know how your body handles being pierced.
3. A piercing is over in seconds. Even if you do find it painful, it’s over before you can even say “ouch”.
How Long Will It Take To Heal?
How long a piercing will take to heal depends on where it is, how you treat it and how quickly you heal. The average is 6-12 weeks, but some can take up to 6 months to be fully healed. Of course, it’s different for everyone, but the general rule is, the less important that body part is, the longer it will take to heal. That means your navel (bellybutton) or ear cartilage will likely take longer to heal than your tongue or lip, because you need a functioning mouth more than you need a healed navel.
How you treat your piercing will make a big difference in healing time, as well. Using saline solution to clean it, rather than alcohols or peroxides, will speed up the healing process significantly; alcohols dry out your skin and kill all the good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing!) that helps you heal as well as the bad bacteria. Keeping it clean is vital – if it’s a facial piercing, make sure your pillow cases and hats are clean as well. Also avoid swimming or getting make-up in your new piercing.
What Are The Risks?
If done in a clean, professional shop, the risks are minimal. It is a shop’s duty to have safe and appropriate tools – it is your job to find that shop. Assuming that you came to see us at I-Kandy, or an equally reputable shop in your city, the main risk is irritation (not infection, as many believe!). This is when the area around the piercing seems angry. It will be red and not feel so great. Generally, irritation is caused by the piercing getting dirty, or being bumped or played with before it’s healed. This doesn’t require you take the piercing out, or go to the doctor – it just demands a little extra love.
Can I Get Something Tiny?
Girls especially appreciate cute and dainty piercings — a tiny bead on a lip stud or a little jewel in a nostril. As much as you may hate it, however, it has to be a little bulky to begin with. The reason for this is that a lot of piercings swell at first – sometimes just a little, and sometimes a lot! That’s why people talk funny after they get their tongue pierced; it’s not because it hurt, it’s because it’s swollen. If you put a tiny bead or really short barbell in your new piercing and it swells up, your skin can literally swallow the jewelry, and you can only imagine how great it feels getting that out! It’s worth having a bulkier piece of jewelry for a couple of weeks to avoid the pain of a too-small piece.
These are just a few of the most commonly asked questions, and another FAQ may follow this one up. These are of course NOT meant to replace speaking with your piercer – take care to not only find a good one, but to listen to the instructions and advice they offer. A professional piercer will happily answer any and all questions you have, and will go over aftercare with you in detail. Hopefully, however, we have at least answered a couple of the more pressing questions on your mind so that you can make an informed decision on whether a piercing is right for you or not.
She is young, perhaps 20, and has a lovely smile. Her hair is pulled back tightly, calling attention to her high cheekbones and large eyes. She is wearing very little, but is well wrapped in elaborate jewelry. She is, by any and all standards, beautiful. At least, her face is. I can’t be sure that everyone would find her body as striking as I do. Her arms, stomach, and chest appear to have been cut thousands of times, leaving a pattern of deep, raised scars all over her body. Intentionally. And this isn’t a modern day body-mod fanatic with green hair I’m looking at; this is a photograph of a woman from West Africa in the early 1900s.
Indeed, scarification is an ancient practice, and in many cultures, was the precursor to tattooing: some of the first tattoos were simply cuts that had ash rubbed into them so that the scar would appear grey or black. The reasons for the ritual practice vary greatly from culture to culture and era to era, but most share the general theme of identity. Maori men used to scar their faces before going into battle, or when in search of a wife, as the scars were seen as a symbol of strength and virility. Several African tribes use scarification to mark stages in one’s life and identify one’s lineage and status. In Papau New Guinea, scarification is performed in initiation and coming of age ceremonies. And, just to underline how little human nature really changes, all of these cultures also use(d) scarification to make themselves more attractive. It is this commonality between all people that may serve to explain how scarification made its way from ancient tribes to modern tattoo shops.
In the late 70s and early 80s, small groups of people across North America and Europe were taking noticeable interest in the tribal practices of other cultures. Sociological theories abound regarding why, and the reasons are likely multiple and layered, but one of the most obvious and highly agreed upon is a rejection of their own culture. Many were dissatisfied with their own histories, feeling we had long ago lost touch with our true selves, and let conformity and materialism take over. Returning to ancient cultures and practices served the dual purpose of visually standing out – rejecting the conformity – and making an attempt to find our roots, to reconnect with the universe itself. This movement has been labelled many ways – mainly as Neotribalism and Modern Primitivism. In its earliest inception, it was embraced mostly by GLBT and BDSM communities, but over time became the foundation for an entirely new subculture, and singlehandedly changed the landscape of body modification. Prior to Modern Primitivism, body modification consisted mainly of pre-drawn tattoos (“flash”), and jabbing safety pins through your friend’s ears or, if they were really rebellious, nostril, which, if it didn’t get horribly infected, would result in a “piercing”. Once this movement began to pick up some speed, however, it was unstoppable. Exploring countless cultures and practices while fashioning modern, customized tools opened the door to an endless list of possibilities; with the right tools and a little knowledge, almost any part of one’s body could be pierced, cut, branded, tattooed, and modified to their own specifications.
At this point, scarification was split into two main categories: cutting and branding. The former is what most people think of when they hear “scarification” – a sharp implement, most often a scalpel, is used to cut a design into the skin; the latter involves heated instruments burning the design into the flesh. Both, however, rely on the resulting scar to hold the pattern. Because everyone scars differently, it will never be a precise art – one can get a general idea of what the scars may look like upon healing by looking at others, but there is no way to guarantee your own will look the same. This unpredictability is often seen not as a downside, however, but as furthering the symbolism of identity and individuality – no two scars are the same.
Over the last 30 years, scarification has become slightly more common, but it has never, and probably will never, reach the status of tattooing and piercing. There is still something taboo about the idea of branding or slicing into one’s skin, something that gives many the heebie-jeebies. And perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps we need some of these practices to forever remain uncommon, to continue on as rites of passage and proud proclamations for only those who would truly appreciate such a ritual. Whether acquired intentionally or not, scars tell a story of where we have been, of what we have experienced. The scar is not the event itself – it is a symbol, a permanent reminder, of a particular moment in one’s life. For those who care to, our entire story can be read, and written, in our scars.
Tattoos have been part of human history for thousands of years – and for most of that time, the tools of the trade consisted of a sharpened shell, bone, or pieces of metal, and a couple of small cups full of ink. And then, seemingly overnight, the tattoo machine was born. How did this happen so suddenly, and whose idea was it? As with many inventions, the answer is not one, but several people and ideas.
In 1876, prolific inventor Thomas Edison patented what he called a “Stencil-Pen” – an electric pen, run by a rotary motor, designed to create stencils. The machine would puncture the paper (Edison boasted it could make 50 punctures a second), which would then have an ink-roller taken to it. The invention was designed to help secretaries, printers, and office workers who often had to make numerous copies of one document. It went on sale in the U.S. in late 1876, and was then quickly followed up by an improved, two-coil electromagnetic version, selling in both the U.S. and the U.K. Ultimately, however, the pen was not all that successful; similar products, as well as the earliest typewriters, were already on the market, and Edison’s invention didn’t seem much of an improvement on the current technology.
While the Stencil-Pen was overshadowed by better products in the office, people in a very different industry were just beginning to see its potential. Around the same time Edison released the rotary machine, an Irish man named Samuel O’Reilly began tattooing – an art which, at the time, consisted of poking and cutting ink into the skin. O’Reilly was good at what he did, however, and eventually moved to New York, where he tattooed circus “freaks”, daring celebrities, and many fellow Irishmen, gaining himself a large clientele and a reputation as a legitimate artist. He was also, apparently, a shrewd business man. Legend has it that O’Reilly first spotted a rotary Stencil-Pen in the window of an office supply shop, walked in and asked for a demonstration, and immediately contacted the patent office to find Edison had let it expire. O’Reilly purchased the pen, made a few minor alterations, including an ink reservoir, and patented it as the first tattoo machine in 1891.
Across the Atlantic, Thomas Riley of London was working on a similar idea, using the electromagnetic concept. Riley created a single-coil machine using a modified doorbell assembly contained in a brass box, and patented it just 20 days after O’Reilly patented his. The autumn of 1891 saw the tattoo machine born not once, but twice. One rotary, one electromagnetic; one American, one British; both inspired by Edison’s failed pen.
From that year on, artists and engineers took these two machines and altered, improved upon, and re-patented them many times. Alfred Charles took Tom Riley’s machine and added a second coil, creating the immediate predecessor for the machines we see most often today. Charles Wagner, thought to be a student of Samuel O’Reilly’s, patented an improved version of O’Reilly’s machine in 1904. As both designs evolved, they began sharing more and more features, and in 1929, Percy Waters took the best of both machines, made heavy alterations to the design, and patented the machine we still use today. It was Waters’ modifications that really changed the landscape of both tattoo machines and tattooing as an art-form – his design allowed for adjustments, which meant the speed, depth, and angle of the needles could be changed as needed. He also improved the functionality of it, making it lighter and easier to handle. It was this machine that artists would run with, and from then to present date, alter, modify, and personalize.
It is doubtful that Thomas Edison would have ever seen any potential in the Stencil-Pen as a tattoo machine. It is doubtful that Samuel O’Reilly imagined his adding an ink reservoir to it would spawn a whole new industry. It is doubtful that Tom Riley thought his doorbell in a box would become the prototype of today’s machines. Yet the ideas of these three men, along with many others along the way, all directly led to Percy Waters’ perfected version of a tattoo machine, and launched the first major tattoo supply company in America. Were it not for these inventors, artists, business men, and engineers, we may very well still be getting tattooed with shells and sticks.
So, you want a tattoo…
Great! When done well, a tattoo can be a beautiful piece of art, and you get the honor of being the canvas! They can represent you, your family, your friends or your memories. They can be cool, funny, sad, serious, political, symbolic and creative. They can be black and grey or vibrant colors. They can be hidden — your little secret, or they can be displayed for all the world to see. Because they can be so many things (permanent being among them!), it is important to take a few things into consideration before you enter the wonderful world of body modification.
1. They Are Permanent
Yes, I realize you all know that. But, working in a tattoo shop, you eventually learn that a lot of people don’t really consider their permanence when they start coming up with ideas for their tattoos. You may think you’ll always like your tribal armband or having Tinkerbell on your breast, but trust me, you probably won’t. When choosing designs, think long and hard about the fact that it willalways be there. Yes, there is now tattoo removal, but relying on this fact is a lousy idea. Laser removal is both more expensive and more painful than the tattoo itself, and it doesn’t always leave your skin looking new and fresh. If you’re going into a tattoo with the idea “well, I can always remove it later”, you probably shouldn’t get that tattoo.
2. Does It Mean Something?
I’d estimate that, in the tattoo industry as a whole, 25% of our business is covering up old tattoos. The #1 reason? “I got this silly tattoo when I was 18…”. The problem, of course, isn’t with getting a tattoo at 18, but with getting one that means nothing to you. Getting a tattoo with some friends on the spur of the moment may sound like a fun bonding experience, but if the piece itself holds no meaning for you, you will come to hate it.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get something fun or outrageous (we love it when people ask for weird things!), it just means you should ask yourself why you’re getting it. If you can’t think of any reason besides “uh…it’s cool?”, don’t get it! The tattoos people treasure the most are the meaningful ones — a memorial piece for a parent, a piece of art you’ve always loved, a symbol of your favorite memory, sport, band or childhood hero, an inside joke between you and your best friend, a piece with spiritual or intellectual significance or some other symbol that would only make sense to you.
3. What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?
I’m 32, and I’m still asking myself this question, so don’t think this is a lecture reserved for the young among you.
While I’m happy to report the world is slowly coming around to the idea of tattoos, a lot of people still frown on them. Yeah, we’d all like to say we don’t care what others think of us, but if there is a career or lifestyle that you are passionate about pursuing, you may have to care a little. Certain professions still forbid visible tattoos in the workplace, so you need to consider whether you may end up in one of those professions.
The good news is that this doesn’t mean you can’t get a tattoo at all — you just may want to consider putting it somewhere that can easily be hidden; an ankle, the back of your shoulder, your upper arm or on your ribcage are all good options for the hidden tattoo.
4. Timing Is Everything
A tattoo shop’s busiest season is in the summer. It shouldn’t be.
Tattoos need a decent amount of time to heal (expect 3-6 weeks), and should not be exposed to direct sunlight or a lot of water in that time. This means no tanning and no swimming. Depending on where you get it, you may also want to do it when you have a couple of days off work (my feet swelled up so badly, I had to just sit still for a day!). It’s the artist’s job to give you a good tattoo, but it’s your job to look after it; make sure you get it at a time when you can care for it properly.
5. Are You Ready?
There’s a lot more to getting a good tattoo than saving up some cash and picking a design. One of the regrets I hear most often from clients is that they got their first tattoo at the first shop they saw (while we at I-Kandy of course hope you’ll all come to us for your tattooing needs, we also realize you may be reading this from Taiwan or Timbuktu). In my experience, a person is truly ready to get a tattoo once they’ve:
-Thought long and hard about the piece they want
-Researched the shops in their area and chosen the cleanest, most experienced shop with the best reputation
-Looked through the artists’ portfolios and chosen the one most suited to their piece
-Had a consultation with the artist
-Saved up enough money for at least the first session (if it takes more than one)
Tattoos are a beautiful thing. Take the time to do it right, and it will be a permanent piece of art that you can carry with you forever.
Body piercing is, perhaps, the most common type of body modification – everyone and their mother has their ears pierced these days, and even those that were once frowned upon (at least in Western culture), such a nostril, lip, and navel piercings, have slowly become acceptable. But where did they come from? Who was the first person to say “let’s punch a hole in ourselves and fill it with metal”? It seems a bit of an odd idea to have come out of nowhere, and yet, someone had to have it!
While we of course have no idea who did, or had, the very first piercing, we can be sure it was long ago. Mummified remains dating back over 5000 years were adorned with earrings, and, in the Middle East and India, both ear and nostril piercings have been common for at least four thousand years. Piercing, and stretching, lobes and lips, has been standard practice in Africa for as far back as we can trace, and ancient Greeks often used piercings as a way to make clear their status or profession. Suffice it to say, body piercing is not a new fad, and, in fact, Western society is very much playing catch-up with many older cultures in this regard.
The reasons for piercings vary as much as the cultures that practice(d) them. In the Bible, we can read about a bride-to-be being gifted with gold earrings and a nostril ring. This made their marital status clear, and also served as a sort-of insurance in case of divorce or the death of their spouse – gold was of high value back then, and could be traded for money or goods. In India, it was thought that piercing the left nostril would aid in fertility and an easy childbirth. Aztecs, Mayans, many Native and African tribes, as well as some Greek and Roman warriors, would pierce their septums as signs of their wealth, status, and virility. One of the most common, and wide-reaching, reasons for piercing, however, was magical protection. Several different cultures were of the belief that demons, or negative energy, were deterred by metal, and so piercing the various openings in one’s body (ears, nostrils, mouths, etc.) made it harder, if not impossible, for these negative entities to enter.
How, then, did piercing become popular among cultures that did not hold such beliefs, or engage in these rituals? We can point in a few different directions to answer this. The Punk Rock era helped to popularize piercing in the United States, when punks, in an act of defiance, began piercing themselves with safety pins. This was taken even further when Jim Ward and Doug Malloy opened the first professional piercing shop in the U.S., distributing pamphlets on the art (which later gained widespread criticism for their inaccurate history, but still succeeded in garnering interest and attention), and making their own customized jewelry. Perhaps the most important person in Westernized body piercing, however, is Fakir Musafar, founder of “Modern Primitivism”, and Master Piercer. Musafar developed an interest in ancient tribal practices at a very early age, and began experimenting on himself with piercing, scarification, tattooing, and suspension in his teens. Over time, these separate subcultures became more and more familiar with one another and their respective practices and rituals, and a new subculture was born. In a relatively short period of time, these groups brought piercing from an underground practice to a mainstream form of expression. While many of the ways and reasons piercings are performed have changed, the one thing that seems to remain throughout all cultures and eras is the declaration of self. From ancient times, right up to present day, people are adorning themselves with these markings to claim ownership of their bodies, to make clear their position on individualism and to claim their status, whether as individual, part of a subculture, or as a walking piece of art.
When one thinks about the history of tattoos, they often picture a great-grandfather, adorned with a faded blue American eagle on his bicep, or a Navy-inspired anchor on his forearm. In Western culture particularly, tattoos have, until fairly recent times, been associated with soldiers, bikers, and bad boys. The true history, however, goes back further than anyone could imagine.
When Ötzi the Iceman, the oldest known European mummy (dated to approximately 3300BC), was discovered in 1991, archaeologists were amazed to find his body adorned with several tattoos. It had been previously believed that tattooing had only been practiced for the last three or four thousand years; the discovery of Ötzi’s tattoos pushed that back at least another thousand years, and some historians believe it goes even further back than that.
So how did this all begin? The answer, of course, depends on the culture, as each had their own reasons and practices. It can be safely said, however, that tattooing was (and in many ways, still is), associated with initiation, identification, and the completion of rituals. They’ve been used in every possible way, from marking criminals, to celebrating one’s coming of age, to symbolising a connection between oneself and nature. Coptic Christians often tattooed crosses on various parts of their bodies; ancient Filipinos used tattoos to show their rank, or celebrate accomplishments, Hawaiians would tattoo their tongues in times of mourning, and many tribal cultures believed that tattoos brought magical or spiritual protection and wisdom.
How these ancient tattoos were done varies as much as the reasons they were done. Ancient Egyptian tattoo implements were small pieces of wood and bronze, and resembled wide, flat needles – these were often bunched together to speed up the process, and create intricate patterns. In Tahiti, sharpened shells were attached to long sticks, and tattoos were essentially scratched into skin. Japan and China took to very long and sharp metal needles, while various indigenous tribes would use sharpened pieces of bone. Inks were made of everything from crushed plants and flowers to the natural inks of sea creatures, some created so skillfully that their pigments can still be seen today on mummies and frozen remains.
In the early 18th century, tattooing became a more common and well-known trade, with sailors, traders, and colonists viewing and picking up its many different practices on every corner of the globe. From there came the advent and improvement of tattoo implements, culminating in the first modern tattoo machine, inadvertently invented by Thomas Edison in 1876 (Edison’s “electric pen” had been intended as a duplicating machine, but Samuel O’Reilly saw its potential as a tattoo device, and began modifying and using it as such in 1891).
While most cultures have evolved with the times, improving their tools and sharing their techniques with others, the reasons and rituals behind tattoos still remain as varied as they were thousands of years ago. From deeply ritualistic markings, to spur of the moment experiences, to meaningful pieces of walking art, tattoos have risen far above other cultural fads, only becoming more popular and personal as time goes on.