A couple of months ago, my niece got a tattoo. Despite the fact that I work at a tattoo shop, she made the rather unwise decision to have it done by an inexperienced “artist” (and I do use that term loosely) working out of his house. I was, of course, furious with her, and ranted and raved about it for quite a long time. Until I saw the tattoo. At that moment, the soft-hearted auntie in me reappeared, and my anger quickly shifted to whomever had “tattooed” her (I use that term evenmore loosely). The script was almost illegible, there were two images so tiny that I expect they will be little more than black blobs next year, and – get this – the main part of the design had no ink. Yes, you read that right. He had, rather than tattooing her, scarred her with his tattoo machine. She, being young and naïve, did not ask to see the “tattoo” when it was done. He bandaged her up and sent her on her way, and she had no idea until much later that her beloved design was little more than a faint scar. Now, a lot of the blame obviously goes to her for ignoring everyone and going to a scratcher. But, the little defence I can offer her is that no one goes to any sort of tattooist expecting an inkless tattoo. Using ink is a pretty standard part of tattooing. But it gets even worse. This scratcher that had scarred my precious niece told her that we – I-Kandy – had trained him. That was, apparently, why she had trusted him to do it.
Scratchers and frauds – people that claim to be artists, but are little more than conmen with tattoo machines – have always existed, but thanks to the internet, are more common than ever. It takes about thirty seconds of Googling to find a do-it-yourself tattoo kit that can be ordered by absolutely anyone. People looking to make a quick buck (especially people that have a modicum of artistic ability) can, and will, order these kits, buy a box of latex gloves, and voila – they can now call themselves tattooists. Problem is, they are both apathetic and likely unaware of how much more being a tattoo artists entails. One cannot just pick up a machine and go at it. What is an autoclave? What is a pathogen? How do you properly set up? How is a stencil applied? How deep should you go? How many needles should be used? That is just a teeny-tiny sampling of the questions you should be able to answer before you even think about picking up a machine. Scratchers have no concern for such details, however. They don’t care about your health and safety. They don’t care about cleanliness. They don’t care about skill. They care about being cool, and taking your money.
Don’t be my niece. Never go to a “shop” that does not have a business license, an ultra-sonic and autoclave (every reputable shop will be more than willing to show them to you), and artist portfolios for you to view. Never go to an artist working out of their kitchen. And, if your artist claims to have been trained somewhere, call that place and ask about it. People who were trained at a professional shop do not tend to end up working from their dirty kitchen table, unless they were fired for incompetence, or just plain don’t care about hygiene. It is your health, your body, and your tattoo at stake, here – you have every right to question, to confirm, and to hold out for something better.