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Tattoo Tips: What to know before the ink

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A tattoo artist’s portfolio is their resume so check out their work. Photo © Gesni | Dreamstime.com A tattoo artist’s portfolio is their resume so check out their work. Photo © Gesni | Dreamstime.com

The general public is bombarded with tattoo iconography. Whether or not to get a tattoo is a serious life-altering decision. Here are some things to think about before you get the ink.

Every time you modify your body you are putting your life in someone else’s hands. People are taught that unprotected sex can lead to disease, what about an unclean artist? Upstart chop shops pop up on every corner offering $20 tattoos and $20 piercings, and with the tattoo culture being embraced by pop culture, people often make the mistake of thinking one studio is just as good as another. Bargain hunting is great for clothes and mascara but not when it comes to something that will last a life time.

Aside from occasional inspections and yearly licensing fees, the state is relatively uninvolved- the remainder of the time the tattoo studio and artists are left on their honor. What if the tattoo studio you walk into has no honor? Each tattoo studio is different- you can’t assume a place is safe simply because they have a license. There are basic things you should know about the industry before handing your life over to someone you just met.

Between 30-70% of the population carries Staph in the nose and on the surface of the skin. In daily life Staph does not affect you, once it enters the bloodstream, however, it can become deadly. Staph causes many complications and derivative infections. Staph is the number one concern of poorly done modifications, reaching near epidemic proportions in the states during the past two years. HIV is delicate and cannot exist outside the human body, and the design of tattoo needles does not lend itself to the transmission of HIV. There has never been a reported case of HIV/AIDS in the US from a tattoo. Hepatitis is a concern if the studio is unclean. Hepatitis is a very hardy virus that can survive long periods outside the human body. A minor scratch with a dirty needle is all it takes to transmit the virus.

Where Hep can only be detected by a blood test, Staph has a number of visible symptoms including pustules, pimples and boils. The pustules contain the bacteria and make this so easily spread because touching the infected site and then touching another surface transmits the bacteria to the new surface and contaminates it, putting everyone who comes into contact with it at risk for infection. How do you prevent this from happening? Know what to look for when you walk into a studio, what to ask to make sure they are safe, what to look for in a portfolio to insure your artist is worthy of your skin, how to take care of your modification to insure proper healing. Search online for local studios and once you decide on the studio you want to use, visit the shop prior to getting your work done.

When checking out shops keep in mind you are interviewing these people to permanently alter your body. First things first: Are the people clean and helpful? Is the studio clean and also well lit? Do they have portfolios available? This is your chance to familiarize yourself with the person you are handing your life over to. Autoclaves are steam pressure sterilizers used to sterilize the materials used during a modification procedure. For safety purposes they should spore tested regularly- don’t hesitate to ask the studio to see their spore test results. This is your body and your choice. Don’t be shy asking about aseptic procedures as a reputable studio will welcome informed questions regarding their practices. Studios are monitored by government authorities in most cases, ask to see their most recent inspection. Not all studios dispose of their needles after each client: ask the artists if they use single service needles only. Once you have satisfied yourself with the tattoo studio and artists, if they don’t have portfolios don’t get work! Take the time to look through the portfolios before looking at the flash on the walls. Flash can be bought off eBay- portfolios show you what you are paying for!

A tattoo artist’s portfolio is their resume so check out their work. Are the photos clean and focused? Are they free of blood and debris? When looking through the portfolio don’t focus on subject matter so much as composition: a tattoo is judged on four elements outlined below:

  1. Line Work: Are lines solid, dense, smooth and consistent? Do they overlap or crossover? Do they look scratchy or faded? Danger signs include blacks that look faded, scratchy or squiggly, a grey haze surrounding the tattoo or any lumpy or rough texture.
  2. Shading: Is the color work dense and bright? Is there dimension and shading in colors? Do the colors work well and flatter the body? Bad tattoos will have danger signs- colors that look old or faded even when fresh, colors that don’t work for subject matter or complexion and colors that seem uneven or blotchy.
  3. Placement: Does it flatter that part of the body? Does it compliment the curves of the body and facing the proper direction? Look at the overall effect- vanities should be straight, images should not face into the body (there are exceptions to the rule such as an image facing a preexisting image on the body) and the tattoo should never take away from the flow of the body’s muscle groups.
  4. Originality: Does the tattoo look like every other butterfly/cross/heart you’ve seen? Are the colors dynamic and creative? Have you seen the same tattoo on a dozen other people? Some images are timeless and will always be part of the tattoo world, but remember you are marking yourself as an individual and your tattoo should be as unique as you are. Designs off the wall are called “flash” because they were originally intended to “flash” ideas at you and give you inspiration for your own piece. If you pull something off the wall you are guaranteed that there are other people running around with that exact tattoo.

Tattoos are an intensely gratifying form of self-expression and should be treated with respect and responsibility. Tattoos are a lifetime investment, please treat your body with the respect it deserves. Find a tattoo artist worthy of your skin!

gothic beauty issue 23This article was originally published in Issue 23.

Issue 23 is available as a back issue.






Featured writer

Gail Brasie

Gail Brasie

Gail lives near Chicago and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Gail loves books, birds and Gothic Americana music.



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