It's becoming increasingly easy these days to get bad ink done. More so the media would be happy to let you think that an accelerated number of young people are getting really awful scraps tattooed on them by a pool of cheap, untrained artists with increasingly diminishing levels of talent.
For full disclosure, I am totally biased here. Three former members of A New Way To Trust run tattoo shops and they're all super talented guys. We come from a culture where people tend to have a lot of tattoos and they tend to start young. Off the top of my head, I can think of two people with Indian ink tattoos they probably regret. So, for a balanced discussion I thought it would be best if I turned to one of those former band mates and asked him some questions about the world of tattoos we've been seeing recently through the media's lens.
The chap in question is the lovely Jordan Childs of Occult Tattoo, which he runs with his equally lovely wife Jess and their beautiful daughter Nora. Joining them at Occult are the talented, fully-trained and wonderful Jon MDC, Dolly and Ruby Wolfe.
When talking about tattoos the media seems to fixate on people feeling regretful for not researching the artist/studio or getting the wrong tattoo. When it comes to people getting cover ups, do you see people mostly getting work done because they're trying to hide something they got done without much thought or by artists who's work is more questionable? Could a little more forethought cut down on these?
In order of frequency, if someone comes in to get a tattoo covered up its because it has been done at home by someone inexperienced and its been botched. Less frequently we get either tattoos that are 30+ years old or names that people want covering up. Most of the work we get in the studio is a new tattoo. People do seem better informed, certainly social media lets you see how good an artists work stacks up against other artists, but there is a big knowledge gap still. A bit of research online or in a magazine should find you a good quality artist.
I try to drive home that everyone should choose the artist that does the style of tattoo you want, I'm not shy of turning someone away to a competitor if I think they will get the tattoo they want from someone else. The positive news is certainly local to us, this is the case with more and more studios, we'll get someone referred from a competitor who thought we could do a better job and vice versa. If only it was that simple, in general a bad tattooist will be cheap and quick to see whilst a good one will cost more and may have a waiting list of 6 months or up to a year. So I try to drive home to be patient and get what you want EXACTLY as it will be part of you forever, people would spend £120 on a pair of shoes that will last a couple of months but are not happy to pay the same for something permanent.
The media also like to repeat about the number of women getting tattoos, does anyone really think tattooed women are unusual these days? To be honest, I see a lot more women with visible tattoos than men. Could it be that it's more acceptable right now for women to have visible tattoos than men?
This is an interesting question. Off the top of my head I would say we tattoo about the same amount of each gender, but that could be bias because the majority of our staff are female. Women have always been tattooed as long as men had, it has certainly been VERY fashionable at various stages in the last 100 years for women to be tattooed. Women are getting much larger tattoo pieces and in more visible places, but coming from the hardcore scene this isn't unusual for me to see, certainly not in the last 15 years, it could really just be that its slightly more acceptable in business for ladies to wear slightly more revealing clothing so you see a bit more of the arms, chest, back and legs than you would on a man in a suit. In my last job role I worked for a very ancient and large US financial corporation, there was absolutely no stigma attached to tattoos, at least half of management had large amounts of visible tattoos (including hands and neck).
In the past decade or so we've become a lot more expressive, people take real pride in saying who they are visually from their clothing through to their laptop wallpaper, through to their custom mobile phone cover. Have you see tattoo art change in that time? I know traditional sailor Jerry designs have become quite popular again, what's the split between people wanting flash and custom hand drawn artwork?
I think it depends on the studio, the sailor jerry style traditional tattoo is still very popular however most of the time the client gets a slightly reworked version that has the artists unique twist, I don't know many pure flash artists any-more, 99% of work that comes out of our studio is either custom for each client or from a portfolio our artists have. Personally I still love a piece of well executed classic flash, even if its been done to death!
What's the feeling amongst professionals about studios that open next to bars or in downtown Ibiza?
Well there is even a tattoo bar in Brighton, I cant speak for everyone but I think these places are like the difference between a restaurant and a fast food joint, one you want to take the ones you love to, spend a lot of time in and visit time and time again, the other you'd only roll up in after too many ales and wake up with a deep sense of regret the next day! Morally I wouldn't let anyone who was intoxicated in any way get tattooed.
How about the tattoo studio reality programs?
I really cant stop watching them, I'm hooked on Ink Master, I should be ashamed of myself! But really They changed the industry for better and for worse, no matter what anyone says they created a climate of acceptable tattoos, they well and truly entered the mainstream and that provided revenue but they changed the nature of tattooing it became a partial service industry. It should have made the public very aware of the process but it didn't seem to, its frustrating because if you take the scripted drama out of it, it lifts the veil on what was a pretty secret underground process and makes it accessible, which should be good for business.
Stick and poke has had a boost in popularity recently, but rarely seems to get any negative press. However home tattoos with kits bought off eBay seem to get regular features in tabloids. Is there a massive difference in the two?
Yes, there has been rumours that Urban Outfitters will soon be stocking a home tattoo kit, that did alarm me that's pretty dangerous in terms of cross contamination or infection, for example, even if you don't take in to consideration the person that got tattooed, what about disposing of the used needles? its not going to be long until some poor bin man gets a needle strike because someone didn't know how to correctly dispose of clinical waste? Handmade tattoos have certainly been a big part of British culture for a long time apart from my parents tattoos I think its my first contact to tattoos was punk rockers with Indian ink tattoos. I think the difference is with a single needle it takes time and patience to create a tattoo of any size larger than a 50p piece, I have seen hand poke artists working really quickly but this is though years of training, putting a line in with a tattoo machine is relatively easy, the hard part is the line being any good. I think the problem with machines being sold so easily is, yes someone could create a massive, awful tattoo on someone, and they do.
We had someone recently looking for laser removal of a very large tattoo that their 16 year old son had made on his father to practice. On eBay, you can buy a kit that claims to teach you to tattoo and it contains everything to make a tattoo (notice I didn't say a good tattoo) for an affordable price, it can be bought by anyone of any age, Like any skill the only way to learn to tattoo is through an apprenticeship it just seems that people don't want to work for the skill and choose to take the quick and easy path to mediocrity rather than work for something and be truly great.