Tattoo culture; the illustrated man


(As published in the April issue of Torque magazine)

A brief history of tattoo.

In 1769 the intrepid explorer James Cook first made mention of the discovery, by Europeans, of tattoo art whilst on an expedition to the south pacific. Just two hundred and some years on, and there is hardly a man, woman or dog on this lonely planet that hasn't been exposed to the art of tattooing.

Used throughout the history of humanity for religious, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes, tattooing can be traced back as far as the human record extends. The ancient practice is mentioned by classic authors in Gaulish, ancient German, and Thracian society, and tattoos can be found on Nubian and Egyptian mummies, but the oldest historical record was discovered in 1991 on a mountain between Austria and Italy. The frozen remains of a 5000-year-old hunter were excavated and found to be bearing several tattoos. A cross on the inside of a knee, six straight lines above the kidneys, and a host of parallel lines on the ankles has led scientists to surmise, because of the tattoo placement, that they served a therapeutic purpose. Possibly he did it to pick up chicks.

The contraptions.

Over the centuries tattooing has evolved from a primitive means of marking the flesh, to the highly skilled practice it is today. Its advance has been helped by the evolution of the tools used to cause the controlled puncturing of the skin. Some Inuit and Siberian cultures ‘sewed' a tattoo in by drawing a sooted thread through the skin. In Polynesia a tool, usually made of shell or bone and shaped like a rake, was used to ‘tattoo' the ink into the skin. After the 1700's the Maoris, who had been tattooing for centuries, started using metal, which they bartered from the settlers for a more conventional style of puncture tattooing. These traditional forms are still performed in many parts of the world, and in some cultures still remains an integral part of their society.

Nowadays though, for the mainstream artist, the tools have changed, the style of art has changed, and the range of designs that people will have applied to their outer shells is simply astounding. Anything the mind can conceive, the skilled tattoo artist can achieve. The electro-magnetic tattoo machine, or ‘gun' as it is fondly referred, forms the frontline in the arsenal at the tattoo artist's disposal. These machines are based on a very dated design, and the buzzing sound that emanates forth still manages to instill fear, and jellify the knees of thousands of tattoo customers worldwide.

Thinking of getting some ink done?

Ouch!! What about the pain……?

During my career I have inked 1000's of people, and I have never had a single person get off the tattoo chair because it was too painful. A good tattooist will put his client at ease. A relaxed client will have an infinitely better tattoo experience than an edgy one and the artist should continually assess the clients demeanor to determine how they're coping, and vary the speed and duration of each tattoo stroke accordingly. The pain experienced during the tattoo operation is often described as ‘a mild burning sensation.' Each tattoo stroke lasts between 1-10 seconds and as soon as the machine leaves your skin, the pain instantly disappears. The pain associated with tattooing is not very acute, there is some discomfort, but it's no worse than being married.

Choosing the artist and shop.

Armed with a little foresight, the whole tattoo experience should be a very safe, satisfying, and stimulating one. The most important aspect of the experience is choosing the artist who will eventually mark your ‘chassis' for life. You will have to sit with them for several hours usually, so it is important that you ‘gel'. You should ask to see examples of their work or portfolio. It is important that you are happy with their style of tattooing, and you must feel confident that they are able to execute the design that you have chosen.

The parlor that you choose to go to should be chosen with care. It must always look clean and tidy. The shop should adhere to a cleaning and sterilizing regime which should apply to all non-disposable tattoo items, and all work surfaces. Most tattoo needles in reputable shops are of the single use, sealed wrapper, disposable type. INSIST THAT IT IS OPENED IN FRONT OF YOU!!

Be very wary of people who do not work out of established studios. They are not all bad, but often they will be using tattoo needles repeatedly, and not adequately sterilizing the tattoo equipment. This can be extremely hazardous to a customer's health. Usually these people do not have adequate training. They often leave the skin with a lot of scarring, the tattoos smudge and blur, and in my experience, most of them can't even draw very well. Sometimes the really busy tattoo parlors are not necessarily the best option, as the artists may not take the time, as they rush for the next client to ensure the perfection I'm sure you'll desire. Likewise, if a shop is really quiet, it could be because the artist's reputation for shoddy artwork precedes him. The best advice I could give you is to ask around, visit the parlors in your area, and find the artist that is right for you!!

Barbed wire, a tribal, or a pink whale?

Once you've decided that you want to lay some ink on your skin, the next, and probably the hardest part of the process begins. Finding the perfect design.

If it's a pink whale that you really want, fine. But first go into a tattoo shop to have a look at some of the other options. I have had hundreds of clients come in with a pre-conceived tattoo idea, only to be blown away by the range in the shop. A lot of the better shops have hundreds of thousands of tattoo designs called ‘tattoo flash'.

If, after you have seen some other tattoo ideas, you still want the pink whale then get it. If the shop doesn't have the right pink whale for you, get the artist to draw one up.

If he can't draw it on paper, do not let him draw it on your skin.

Remember that getting a tattoo is a serious decision, even though tattoos are not as permanent as they used to be. (They can now be removed to varying degrees using laser treatments, and topical lotions, or covered up entirely by another tattoo.) The design and execution of the artwork, the location of the design on the body, and how large to go are all-important things to consider.

Get to know your artist. The right tattoo artist will be friendly, quite knowledgeable with regards to his trade, and helpful to the max. We will usually offer you a lot of good suggestions, and may open your eyes to all the marvels of modern day tattooing.

Work hard, play hard, ink hard!!

Writen by: Sean Stevens

For any further advice on tattoo related matters, contact the author.

 
     
 

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