(originally published 07/04/2012)
I was reading both a blog post, and some forum posts, about the state of tattooing this past week, and had a startling realization.
There are tattoo artists out there who have never worked in a studio without being asked about a TV show.
The demand for tattoos, good tattoos, and the number of people tattooing, makes this a completely different subculture than it was when I started out.
Does this mean the magic is gone? Am I no longer a wizard? Did reality TV really eat the soul of tattooing?
Maybe a year or two ago I would have said yes, and ranted for a while about it. But right now- No. I don’t think the soul is gone, we are still wizards, and the magic is still there, and as potent as ever.
You can’t do much worse than sell the soul of your work and try to make it popular, AND be upset when you are done cashing your check.
I can understand why, if you sold the soul of your work to the masses, you might worry about the dilution of your wizardry. And you don’t have to suck, or be an asshole, to sell out. People sell out all the time, and we all have different prices. I mean shit- I’ve had work published in magazines, I’ve apprenticed one person, I’ve worked in street shops doing lettuce and tribble all day. I’ll do “breathe” in white on a wrist without even blinking.
But I won’t try to popularize or explain the methods of tattooing to the mainstream. That’s my limit, that’s where I draw a line (well, that and letting pictures of ME instead of MY WORK get published. but that’s more a feminist thing)
When I go to work there’s magic. In handling people’s skins, looking into their eyes, joking with them, marking them. Just because the masses now like and get tattoos does not dilute the power of each individual tattoo for its wearer. Just because there are more tattoo artists does not make any one tattoo less important or interesting in a general sense- after all, there are no cameras watching me work, watching the person sit for it. They say cameras can steal your soul, you know? I can’t mass-produce tattoos. Tattoos, by their very nature, are private and individual. Shining a spotlight on them sucks out the magic from THAT TATTOO, from THAT artist- not from the rest of us.
And as far as new/old tattoo artists go- I was new at one time. I think good artists are rare, in any medium, and tattooing can always use GOOD, CREATIVE people- who also have the mentality and dedication to work with people properly, who live up to some of the old ways.
You should know how to do everything, even if you don’t do it regularly- how to make needles, build and repair machines, mix inks, wind coils, draw, do your bills and taxes, scrub tubes, cut a stencil. These things may not be necessary, but they’re important. They are the secret magical lore of our trade.
I never expected tattooing to be glamorous, and I had never heard of anyone quitting tattooing to do some other work, when I started. Now, I know there are people who have both an expectation of glamour, and a sense of entitlement to learning to tattoo. While I personally disapprove of tattoo “schools” and people apprenticing more than one or two people during their career, that’s not my call to make for everyone else. All I can say is that like any profession, you aren’t entitled to know how to do this. You should have to work hard to learn it. And you should be the one to initiate learning everything. Everything! All the secret lore, all the hidden tricks.
Teaching yourself never has cut it; it doesn’t give you what you need to do good tattoos.
Going to a “school” and then opening your own shop because nobody local will hire you is NOT going to cut it- your exposure to other artists is what shows you how to do things, not thinking you’ve learned it all.
I won’t preach humility, though. Because being good at drawing already makes you a wizard to most people! Your skills and talents are necessary and important in tattooing. Use them! Tattooing is specialized knowledge. Watching a TV show teaches nothing. Nobody can learn to tattoo from that. So even though clients now like to present themselves as somehow “in the know” from watching TV, they AREN’T. We’re the wizards, and they come to us for magic.
We shouldn’t let them down.