When I'm not obsessing over a word or turn of phrase on a manuscript, or the word count on a short story of mayhem and suspense, I'm busy at my day job sticking needles into people. While ink on paper is my obsession, ink in the skin is also something I'm passionate about. But if you've ever read my blog or you're following me on Twitter, you might notice I don't tweet about tattoos or have tattoo artist followers (okay, maybe a couple that slipped in somehow). I don't blog about tattooing either. I do occasionally post a photo on Facebook of a tattoo that I did if I particularly like it.
The reason I don't talk about tattoos is that I find I have to leave the job at work. I have to get away from it. And that's simply to save myself from burning out, which periodically I go through degrees of after ten years in the business. And when my brain is fully immersed in writing and all things fiction and writerly, (which is all the time) ink on the paper and not ink in the skin, is where I want to be. But today, I'm going to deviate a bit from talking about words on paper and talk about....'gasp' tattoos of all the darned things in the world! In particular how it's changed over the years from when I was a miscreant kid, sneaking down to the local tattoo shop and watching my friends get inked.
So just for fun, lets take a look at tattooing today in the year 2011 compared to tattooing in the 80s. And I'll post some photos of my favourite pieces that I've inked....
The tattoo industry has evolved light years since the 80s when I was a kid, in the same way technology has. And that evolution has been almost simultaneous with technology, although the two are really unrelated in that the traditional coil tattoo machine hasn't changed all that much since its invention in the late 1800s. While there are newer types of machines that artists uses these days, the traditional coil still dominates. What has evolved though, in the last decade in particular, is the caliber of tattoo artists themselves and thus the quality of their work. The ability to create life-like images of photographic quality that was unheard of in the 80s, is now commonplace.
You Want It When? snicker...
Prior to the surge in tattooing, before it was fashionable, before all the rock stars had sleeves and when they dressed like girls with their poofy hair and spandex, tattoos were just for clubbers and criminals. But if you really wanted to get one you could walk into your local tattoo shop (every town had at least one and it was usually run by a biker/clubber), and if you weren't too intimidated, you could pick a design off the wall, then you were sitting in the chair getting it inked. Where I grew up in small town Sarnia, Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron, we had one guy in the entire town doing tattoos. Happy Jack's Tattoos. Happy Jack worked out of his basement and he was a miserable son of a bitch. But I suppose he had aspirations. And that's how it worked back then, you walked in, you picked your design, you sat down, wam-bam! Your coolness factor just skyrocketed.
Now, fast forward roughly 30 years into the future and things in the tattoo industry are quite different. Tattooing is no longer underground. It's even mainstream. We have conventions, hordes of magazines, companies providing all kinds of industry products from specialized chairs and equipment, to tattoo machines, and lines of specialty pigments. Shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink allow the average person a peek into the tattoo world to see that we all aren't degenerates but just people like everyone else. Nor do tattoo artists have horns and breathe fire. Well, maybe some of them do...like the Master Of The Macabre, Paul Booth from Last Rites And the customers are average people from soccer moms, to grandmothers and every one in between, all backgrounds, races, religions, professions and levels of education. But the days of getting your tattoo on the spot are long gone. The artists at the good tattoo shops are booked ahead, often months ahead. There are even world renowned artists in the industry who are booked years in advance. Jeff Gogue (my personal favourite) is booked nearly 2 years in advance and currently not accepting any more clients.
Still the average person who hasn't spent a lot of time inside a tattoo shop is always shocked when they ask to book an appointment for a tattoo and we start flipping the pages in our calender until we're in the next season. Sadly we're not like McDonald's, we don't have a drive through window. But like Mama used to say, "Good things come to those who wait". And a good tattoo is always worth the wait. Just ask the people who went for a quickie-cheapie job somewhere less experienced and thus less busy, and then came back to us to get it covered up because it was crap. It always costs so much more doing it that way too. But alas, a lot of people have to learn things the hard way. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't drown them if they don't want to drink. Put a bullet in them maybe... snicker But I digress, we were talking about tattoos, no?
But Mom, I Don't Want A Tattoo!
When I was a teenager (way back a bazillion light years ago) as an act of rebellion you would skip school and go get a tattoo. If you were a girl then the standard was a butterfly, a rose, or a little hot stuff devil, usually on your ankle, your boob or your pelvis. And it meant you were bad. Now, in the new milenium parents are bringing their kids in, helping pick out their tattoos and flipping the cost on their credit cards. In the same way you have the family doctor and the family dentist, you can now have the family tattooist. And we do go through entire families; kids, parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. In fact some parents are so eager to have their kids tattooed that we regularly have them trying to bring their under age kids in to get some ink done. We've even had parents get all hostile when we refuse them. So acts of teenage rebellion, while it can still be getting tattooed for some, others have to get a little more creative and have some other body modifications in order to feel independent, like 3D implants.
Cross-contamination Barriers, Autoclaves, And Other Strange Words...
Happy Jack's fingers looked like a mechanics, except instead of oil discolouring his fingernail beds, it was pigment. Gloves were unheard of back then. So was sterilization. This was prior HIV and Hepatitis and other blood born pathogens, when tattooers didn't always need to change their needles. The innocence of those days are gone. Now, professional tattoo artists take the health and safety of their customers very seriously and are educated in cross contamination practices. Needles are always single use only, and any tubes are properly sterilized in an autoclave that is subject to regular spore tests to ensure it's functioning properly. Here in Ontario tattoo studios are governed by the Ontario Health Board, are subject to regular inspections and required to comply with certain codes of practice to ensure sterility. So tattoo shops operate within the same guidelines as dentists and medical practitioners.
Let Your Fingers Do The Talking, And Your Neck, And Inside Your Bottom Lip...
It used to be that tattoo artists would not tattoo certain areas of the body. Below the wrists, the feet and above the neck was off limits. This was primarily for two reasons. First, the quality of the skin is not ideal to tattoo. It's not smooth, the skin gets lots of wear and exfoliation, the ink tends not to go in very well, it tends not to heal well, and therefore it might not stay well. Secondly, it's a highly visible area that's difficult to hide and it can pose problems with future career choices and eventually become a source of embarrassement, especially on the hands or the neck.
Now a days, we get more requests for finger tattoos, neck and foot tattoos than ever before. Even for first tattoos, people are asking for something on their fingers and on the side of their neck. But when I see a fresh-faced kid barely out of high school asking for Love/Hate across his fingers, the mom in me takes over. "No you can't get that tattooed son, what the hell's the matter with you?" Smack, smack goes my hand up side their squash. Okay, not literally, but believe me I want to. So no, sorry kids no ink on the fingers and definitely no gangster stamps on your necks. Go buy a Sharpie, that way you can just wash it off when you don't like it anymore...like in the morning when you wake up and realize what you've done! Smack, smack, smack.
Go Big Baby, Or Go Home...
Straight up, little tattoos look dumb, especially on a big guy with a big arm. Even worse is a lot of little tattoos in various places on the body, giving one the "fridge magnet" effect. In the 80s and prior it was common to get small tattoos in a frame of skin. Today, bigger highly detailed pieces are astheticaly superior. Tattoos that wrap around the area, and flow with the musculature and the lines of the body, compliment and enhance a person's appearance in a way that a little hot stuff devil on your butt will never be able to do. If it's a custom piece that's really well done by a highly skilled artist, it will be something you'll be proud to display on your skin for a lifetime.
Check out more of my art and my husband Fabien's at Malefic Tattoos