Good tattoo artists are not afraid to tattoo black skin

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Earlier this month, Rachel Leishman and I wrote about prepping nerdy tattoos with Tony at West 4 Tattoos in New York. Not only was Tony a great tattoo artist, but for me, even as someone with multiple tattoos, it was the first time I had a tattoo done by a black person. Walking into many tattoo shops I see more women and more men of different races, but black tattoo artists and tattoo artists who aren’t afraid of black skin are still unicorns in the industry.

In an article by NPRsubsection code switch, there is an article titled “For tattoo artists, race is in the mix when ink meets skin”. In it, they talk about the fact that when it comes to tattooing black skin, it is always considered less attractive than white skin. Much of this shows up in the portfolios that artists put online that don’t often highlight black skin.

“In the reality show ink master, a program similar to America’s Next Top Model, tattoo artists compete for the chance to win $100,000. Many of the contestants’ tattoos are featured on the show’s Instagram. Of the hundreds of tattoos displayed, there is not a single one on black skin.

One of the tattoo artists mentioned is Tyler Brewer of Kensington Tattoo in Maryland, who said the majority of the pieces he’s seen in popular portfolios are done on white skin. “Some people may assume that’s the case because you can’t do the same quality of work on darker skin,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s the case.” However, he adds that he “wouldn’t be able to take something extremely bright and vibrant that I could do on a white guy on a black guy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t color dark skin.

Another artist mentioned is Caitlin Thomas, a popular Australian tattoo artist with 145,000 subscribers, who said in an email response to code switch that “her work looks better on lighter skin”. She continued, “While I definitely tattoo people of darker color, it is not my responsibility to show diversity through my page. The pieces I choose to share are not meant for popularity, but rather to showcase technique and clean workmanship. Thomas also edits his photos to make the skin look lighter, “not a matter of racial exclusion”, but part of a “branding strategy to present tattoos on a consistent skin tone”.

So she tattoos dark-skinned people, but not those with enough technique or clean lines to be worthy of showing off, because that would make her lack “consistency”? Since this article appeared in 2016, Thomas has added a dark-skinned person to his Instagram portfolio.

One of the reasons I haven’t done a color tattoo yet is that I rarely see color tattoos, from those high end places, on darker skin. Mind you, I generally prefer the black and gray look in general, but I remember before I even got tattooed hearing my tattooed white friends say, “Well, tattoos just don’t show up. in the same way.”

One of the many things that was so reassuring about Tony as an artist was that he not only understood my skin, but he wasn’t afraid of it either. He took the time to get the shading right, to make sure the lines were perfect, and to give it the kind of depth it might have had on a lighter/whiter skinned person. “It just takes time,” he said as I sat in the chair. “To get the color you want, with this, you can’t rush.”

Tattoo 2

Going back to that same NPR article, he mentions Christopher Mensah, owner and tattoo artist of the Pinz-N-Needlez tattoo shop in Washington, DC, and he says that when he worked in white tattoo shops, he heard things like “Dark skin is harder to tattoo”, and that comes down to skills that tattoo artists don’t want to learn.

In the Paris reviewan article entitled “A Darker Canvas: Tattoos and the Black Body” by Bryan Washington, from February of this year, also discusses these double standards and Ink Master:

Common excuses are the restriction of the artist’s palette, the “fuzziness” of dark skin, and lack of experience with the “medium”. And they extend from individual stores to the national platform: on the second season of ink master, the eventual winner of the show balked at the idea of ​​working with dark-skinned black men. (“I don’t want dark webs,” Steve Teftt said. “They take away half your skill.”). […] it’s worth wondering who, exactly, we imagine can wear tattoos. And why.

After I got my tattoo, my skin was red, and although I didn’t puff up much, my skin had that glow that showed in the photos. Instead of just rolling his eyes and not putting my picture on his profile, Tony cleaned me up and told me to come the next day after it had healed a bit. I did, smiling the whole time that I now had a dagger and a spear on my arm. The next day we took videos and photos, and all the while I felt like this tattoo was just one of the most perfect things I’ve ever had.

It was seeing black artists like Rihanna, who actually have beautiful quality tattoos, that made me realize I could have tattoos and still be feminine and cool like my white counterparts. I’ve been lucky enough to have been tattooed by great and inclusive people, and it’s been like finding artists like Tony who are great at their work on any skin tone.

So, I highly recommend it and West 4 tattoos to anyone looking for a tattoo in NYC. The shop is filled with non-white tattoo artists who excel at what they do, no matter what skin tone you have, which is what real artists should look like.

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