It’s an understatement to say that our industry has undergone an immense amount of change in the past few years. I have only been tattooing for eight years, and I am sure a lot of artists would say that I am still new to the game. However, even with my limited time in this profession I have seen how these changes dramatically effect even the smallest details of day to day life in a tattoo studio. Some of us welcome these changes while others shun them, but look back to 2005 and we can all see that putting tattoo shops in America’s living room has significantly changed our little world.
What do these changes mean for our future?
Should we embrace them or fight back?
Surely at this point I have an audience that is severely split down the middle, with evolution supporters ready to charge into the new frontier and disgruntled old-timers ready to fight for what they feel is the only way tattooing should be approached. The sad truth is that there is no correct answer, just a jumbled mess of hardheaded individuals ready to spit their opinions on one another. If you are offended that I called you hardheaded, let me apologize, and then let’s take a step back to realize why we all got into this field. I hear people say all the time that tattooing called to them and they have such a passion for it–but frankly, it is a rock star lifestyle. We get paid very well to be stubborn and do what we want to do. Giving society the middle finger is one of the perks of the job, so yes, you are hardheaded. Due to the stubborn nature of all of us, I feel that it is crucial to our collective advancement to look at the facts and opinions that have the ability to shape our future.
As of July 25, 2010, there were 1,194 licensed tattoo studios in the state of Texas. This number is shocking considering that in 2006 there were only an estimated 10,000 tattoo studios in all of the United States. The number of tattoo shops increases daily and it poses the most intense threat to all of us. But even as shops are popping up all around, the number of people getting tattooed has also significantly risen.
According to statistics from National Geographic, only 15% of Americans were tattooed in the year 2000, but those numbers rose to almost a quarter of Americans being tattooed in 2006. There are no up to date statistics, but something tells me that there have been dramatic increases in these numbers over the past few years. I feel this way because I seem to be doing a lot of tattoos that I probably would not have done in the past. For example, I just tattooed a 47-year-old soccer mom from an upper-class neighborhood. Now, I know you are thinking that this is no big deal, but the tattoo was actually pretty big and it was not a tramp stamp. Actually, it was a half sleeve of roses and we her first session was scheduled for after she got out of Catholic Mass on Sunday. While talking with this customer she began to tell me how she was raised to hate tattoos and she raised her children to hate tattoos, too. This continued until family night around the television began to follow new episodes of L.A. Ink. She confessed that she cried on a weekly basis because of the touching stories on the show that pulled at her heartstrings. I rolled my eyes of course, but it made me consider that I could take the good and the bad from this. While L.A. Ink and its counterparts might have brought more people into the industry, it also brought the industry to more people. In a way, it has helped to legitimize tattooing as a true profession rather than the stereotype of a rebellious activity for druggies and gang bangers trying to make a quick buck. I am aware that there are a plethora of issues surrounding this topic, but it is safe to say that these tattoo reality shows have helped pave the way for making tattoos more acceptable in society, which also transforms the tattoo artist’s job into a legitimate profession.
There are still a number of negative consequences that we must deal with on a day to day basis, such as 18 year old kids getting neck tattoos (as Myke Chambers talked about in his blog) as well as the tattoo schools that Tim Pangburn talked about. These issues are severe for our industry, but while we are in a time of great industrial growth and change, we must do everything we can to ensure that ethical standards are upheld. Rather than being disgruntled about the things that we don’t like in the industry, we can actively work to develop solutions to its problems. For example, I started tattooing with a kit that I purchased off of eBay for less than $100. I used the same needle on several people because it was the only one I had and I thought that boiling it was okay. Now I am very fortunate in that I have dug myself out of the trenches and I can consider myself to be a respectable artist–but that eBay kit should have never been available to me in the first place. My wife paid $8,500 and went to school for 1,500 hours to learn to cut hair, yet I just bought a kit off the internet and could have gotten a job in a tattoo shop without a problem.
Despite how many people start tattooing because they saw it on television, it’s our responsibility as the established artists in this industry to hold our colleagues to certain standards. While some of us may not want to admit it, the people that run that tattoo school and the people that sell $12 tatty guns are certainly our colleagues, and therefore we need to hold them to certain ethical standards. In the past, a rival shop would have sent a brick through the window of the shop in question, but I would like to think that as an industry we have moved past these Neanderthal tactics and can now approach issues in a more sophisticated manner. No, I do not mean that we should sue the bastards. Instead we should be collectively approaching state and federal governments to regulate these issues. As I mentioned earlier, Texas has 1,194 tattoo studios, yet there are only two health inspectors to regulate these studios, not to mention all the scratchers. As long as the state receives their $918 dollars, a license will be issued; there is just not enough funding to actively regulate the proper operation of the studios.
Government institutions must be approached and funds increased to better regulate our industry. This can only be accomplished if we stand together to fight for our craft. Sales of tattoo equipment to untrained individuals should be made a crime with real consequences that will deter such activity. The entire process starts with equipment and minimal knowledge making their way to the hands of untrained individuals: we must make a stand against the companies and individuals that disseminate these materials. Making these activities illegal and punishing the criminals is not enough to solve the problem, though. The biggest and most important element is that the public simply does not know any better. Public education on the subject of tattooing–and not just the cool factor—needs to be made a priority immediately, worldwide. People are receptive when you, as an educated professional, are honest with them about the dangers of this craft. That being said, we must put ourselves in front of the public and show them that we, as an industry rather than individuals, are truly concerned for their safety.
Our industry is going through significant changes that are not going to slow down anytime soon. It is imperative that we embrace these changes, yet force that strong ethical approach is maintained, regardless of what changes take place. At times we may feel like the motivation to fight for our integrity as an industry is lost, but together we can bring forth positive changes. I implore you, take a stand today. Call your local health department and report a scratcher, email your congressman about increasing funds to combat illegal tattooing, and educate your friends on Facebook about the facts they may be unaware of. We can all make a difference that will truly benefit us individually, as well as our industry as a whole.
–Guest post by Jeremy Miller
**** Tattoo Snob accepts quality guest blogs from tattooers & enthusiasts alike–shoot us an email.