13 secrets of tattoo artists


Tattoos have gone mainstream: what was once seen as a mark of rebellion abhorred by grandparents has become a rite of passage. Today, about 30% of American adults have at least one tattoo, and among Millennials, that number jumps to nearly 50%.

So it’s a good time to be in the world of tattooing. But no matter how up close and personal you are with your tattoo artist, there’s still a lot about the job that you probably don’t know. We talked to a few seasoned experts about the intricacies of inking.

1. The tattoo is really difficult to pierce.

Today, there are more than 15,000 tattoo parlors in the United States, up from about 500 professional tattoo artists operating in 1960. But while the industry is booming, it’s hard to get your foot in the door. The first step is to get an apprenticeship with a reputable artist who will teach you everything they know, but it can take years of perseverance.

“I just got an apprentice and he’s been stalking me for three years,” says Indiana tattoo artist Chad Leever. His best advice for landing an apprenticeship? “Hanging out, getting to know each other, getting tattoos, but even then it’s probably still going to be no. It’s really difficult.

Tattooing has been an exclusive and secret industry for years. The culture of “every man for himself” has its roots in the beginnings of tattooing, when an artist had to protect the tricks of his trade. Sailor Jerry, for example, was known for her vibrant ink shades and Japanese-inspired designs. Captivated by his work, other artists would ask him how he concocted such brilliant colors on his shop posters, and Jerry would tell them to add sugar water to the ink. The imitators would realize they had been sabotaged when they found their posters full of holes, eaten by cockroaches attracted to the sugar.

“Everyone has their secrets and they don’t want to tell anyone else,” says Leever. “You must earn the right to acquire knowledge.”

2. Tattoo apprentices get confused.

If you miraculously manage to land an apprenticeship, prepare to crawl. “As an apprentice, we can make you do anything,” says Leever. During his own apprenticeship, Leever had to have his navel pierced. “They chose the most ridiculous belly button ring,” he says. “It was this colorful rainbow and I had to leave it for 10 days and show everyone that came into the store. It was awful.”

Rituals like these are meant to test how far an apprentice is willing to go for the job. “It’s hard, but you’re going to find out whether someone is going to be successful or not based on what they want to sacrifice for that career,” says Bang Bang, a celebrity tattoo artist in New York City and author of the book. Bang Bang: My Life in Ink. “Do you like it or do you just want to be on the show? You have to prove that you are just a humble and humble student.

3. Tattoo artists practice on themselves.

It can take years for an artist in training to handle a tattoo gun. When they finally get their first chance to ink real human skin, it is often attached to their own bodies. “I just got my apprentice tattooed himself,” Leever says. “It was a terrible tattoo. It turned out awful. He screwed it up and he’ll learn from it, but now things will make more sense the next time he does it.

From time to time, they will have the opportunity to tattoo their close friends or even their teacher. Bang Bang says he was the subject of his apprentice’s first tattoo attempt. “If I’m not brave enough to get it, how can I suggest other people do it?” he asks. “I wanted to show them that I believe in you, you can do it.”

Other non-human practice materials include orange peel, fake skin, and pig ears.

4. They agree with your parents.

If you’re looking for support for your burning desire to get a neck tattoo, you probably won’t get it from your local tattoo parlor unless you’re older and have a steady job. Many artists categorically refuse to tattoo the neck, face and hands of young people because they know that it could affect the rest of their lives.

“I don’t feel like at 18 you understand the risk,” Leever says. “It’s huge. I think morally and ethically, I could do this and get paid, but totally change or ruin this kid’s life.

According to a survey, 61% of HR managers said a tattoo would hurt a candidate’s chances of getting hired. “People are like it’s money you’re turning down,” says Jeffery Page, a California-based tattoo artist, “but it gives me more time to do something more positive. Otherwise, you are depriving that person of at least half of their job opportunities.

5. A good tattoo artist will say no.

Regardless of your age or professional status, there are tattoo artists that tattoo artists simply won’t do, either because it’s not their specialty or because they know it won’t look well or will not heal well. Professionals will be honest about it.

Small intricate designs may not age well and finger tattoos will not last. A good artist will warn you of these potential complications and may even refuse the job. Because so much of their business relies on referrals, their art is publicity, so it better be good. “A good artist will tell you no because your money isn’t worth their name,” Page says.

But that’s not always true, especially for less experienced performers looking to make as much money as possible. “They probably didn’t train with someone who taught them well,” Leever says. “It’s become this cash cow industry where people open a store who don’t know anything about tattoos and hire a bunch of people who don’t know anything about tattoos and just make money.”

6. Tattoo artists hate that you don’t look at their portfolios.

A big pet peeve of artists is when clients don’t even look at examples of their work before requesting a tattoo. It’s kind of like hiring an interior designer to revamp your home without looking at their previous designs or at least checking out their Yelp reviews, except a lot more permanent.

“I want my work to sell,” says Leever. “I want you to watch this and realize that yes, I am the one for you.”

It’s also a sign that a customer hasn’t done their research, another pet peeve. “If you’re in such a rush to get a tattoo that you can’t search for a person, then you probably shouldn’t,” Page says.

7. They’re tired of infinity symbols.

Tattoo trends come and go, but this one just keeps hanging on. According to Leever, there’s been a huge surge in requests for the infinity symbol (which sort of looks like the number eight on the side) over the past few years. “A guy I worked with did four or five in one day,” says Leever. “It’s a poor and boring design. Maybe it’s on Pinterest or something. Indeed, it is, but it’s also on a lot of celebrities, including Kristen Stewart and Taylor Schilling. And celebrities have a huge influence on tattoo trends.

“When Megan Fox first started writing about her rib cage, it seemed like for a whole year we had girls coming in asking for posts about their rib cage, saying it meant a lot to them,” says Page. “But they would never have understood the message on the ribs, because it’s more of a painful area, [except] the fact that she had it meant it was a cool summer addition to their body.

8. They make mistakes all the time.

They just know how to cover them up so the customer never knows. “All tattoo artists get it wrong,” says one artist on Reddit. “We just take the time to fix it as we go, adding a flourish here or there, a little more contrast. No customer would notice.

9. You can barter with them.

Not all tattoos have to be paid for in cash. “I actually love bartering because both parties involved always get what they want,” says Leever. “No money exchanged, it’s easy. Probably the best barter I’ve been on would be when I received a 1977 Kawasaki KZ750 motorcycle with a sidecar. It was quite the deal.

10. Men have the lowest pain tolerance.

Women tolerate having their skin pricked with needles over and over again much better than men, according to Page. “Usually the funny thing is, the more alpha male the guy is, the lower the pain threshold he has,” he says. Leever tells the story of a man who wanted a “Metallica badass tattoo” but couldn’t take the pain. He left the store with a single line running down his bicep.

11. Camouflages pay the tattoo shop bills.

The tattoo industry is self-sufficient in many ways. For example, people rarely stop at just one tattoo. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of tattooed millennials have more than one, and 18% have six or more. [PDF].

But there’s also a lot of money to be made hiding old models. “I make more money from local guys than I do from new customers,” says Leever, meaning his competitors’ bad tattoos. “There’s always a name to cover.” And speaking of names…

12. There are only three names you should get tattooed.

According to tattoo artists, if you want to have a name tattooed on your body forever, it should only belong to your pets, your children, or a deceased relative.

13. Tattoo artists’ bodies take a beating.

“If your back isn’t hurting you, you’re not trying hard enough,” says Bang Bang. “I have a sore neck now after many years of being hunched over. Back problems are very common, as are hand, neck and eye problems. That’s expensive. »

This article was first published in 2016 and updated in 2019.


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