Tattooing the skin is the oldest profession in the world. The Japanese, Aztecs, Mayans, Aborigines, and the Africans all had tattoos. The oldest recorded human to date is referred to as the ice man. He was found under what was left of an iceberg near the Austrian border in Italy. Carbon dating places the ice man around 5,300 years old. This was a cultural surprise because he had a few tattoos. Before his discovery, it was popular belief that the oldest culture to tattoo was Egyptians over 3,000 years ago. So the ice man out dates the Egyptians by 2,300 years The ice man had a small cross behind one knee and above his kidneys there were a few tattooed lines about 15 cm long. The first sign of tattooing in the west was brought to us from Tahiti by a man named Captain Cook in 1771. The Tahitian word for tattooing was "Tatau" which was adopted because it's the sound of the traditional tattooing. Initially the traditional tattoos were applied by a stick with a comb like head attached to the end. They used another stick to tap the first; this achieved a stabbing motion. This ancient type of tattooing is rapidly gaining popularity once more. While receiving a tattoo you would not honor your experience if you showed any sense of pain or discomfort and the practice usually was a ceremony that lasted for days often resulting in shock for the patron.
The tattoo machine we all know and love today is nothing more than a modified version of the first electric engraver. In the US we first started seeing tattoos regularly on sailors that had been to distant lands. They brought them back as permanent souvenirs. In the 1800's and 1900's sailors navigated there voyages by the stars and constellations. The "Nautical Star" that you see on every teenager trying to fit in with the crowd is one of the oldest tattooed symbols. It symbolizes the North Star and means that the one adorning such a tattoo is looking for there way. Many military men are known to put this design on there trigger finger to help guide there shot in combat.
30 years ago tattoos were just for bikers and prostitutes, at least this is the common idea. 15 years ago they were just for rock stars. In today's society more people have a tattoo than not. I read a quote once from a famous musician that said "If you want to be different, then don't get a tattoo." If you walk into a room of ten strangers then nine of you will have a tattoo. Now, as time progresses I find myself tattooing doctors, lawyer, teachers, you name it. Once I gave the city I live in a discount because most of the sheriff's department came in to have there shields tattooed in one weekend. It's funny to me that all of these people have tattoos yet you still are heckled by strangers for having them. I have my own theory on this subject. I think that people have this psychological need to hate something. In this day and age of political correctness, I think that tattoo hating is just the last excepted form of racism. It's the only time you can discriminate against some one for the color of there skin and not have a crowd of people say, "Dude, that's not cool!"
The history of the tattoo artist is another story. There are many famous tattoo artists but only a few of them are respected. There is an unspoken code among tattoo artist. This code is based on respect, loyalty and secrecy. In fact it is a fear of mine to be shunned in the tattoo community for writing this publication. Thankfully my willingness to teach out weighs my need for popularity. There are a few different types of tattoo artists. First you have the scratchers. Scratchers are your buddy's friend that tattoos out of his or her garage. They are called scratchers because that's what they do. They buy a tattoo kit from some hack company or online and pay ridicules prices while thinking they got a great deal or they buy from some online auction. There are only a few companies that sell to the public and they mark up prices so a hundred dollar tattoo machine goes for about four hundred, and a fifty dollar machine goes for about four hundred, while out of date machines that should be disposed of go for about , oh four hundred. You get the idea. These companies are part of the problem. They will sell anyone a tattoo rig just because they can take their money. They don't think about the fact that they are selling people (that have no clue what they are doing) the ability to give their loved ones hepatitis.
Scratchers like to think they are tattoo artists because they saw some famous chick on TV tattooing. They think they can watch a few re-runs of tattoo shows and presto, instant VanGough. The truth is yes, scratchers will give you a tattoo for twenty bucks or for a case of beer. While they might have a small idea of how to draw a pot leaf, or the Tasmanian devil, they also have no idea how to not give you hepatitis or some other disease that you can pass to your wife or your children. Sure you can save a few bucks. But you will end up having to pay five times as much to have it covered by a real shop. While you have no idea how many people before you have had that same needle under there skin. So, basically, there called Scratchers because they carve a wound in your leg, or wherever, in the shape of a "yin-yang", just for you to get the pleasure of having a yin-yang shaped infection. You cannot tattoo on self education alone unless you have at least ten years experience. You need a proper education. Unfortunately, many artists think that tattooing for a few years gives them the right to teach, so be careful who you get an apprenticeship from. Another teacher to watch out for is the guy that tells you the old ways are the best. Like anything technology improves with time, you have to learn and change with your environment. If you stop learning, you become out dated. By this same logic, modern medicine would still be using leaches to cure every thing.
Next you have the apprentice. These guys work hard before they ever even start. It took me a few years to talk someone into giving me a shot. Most artists will not teach. So you have to fight tooth and nail to actually get someone just to say yes. A real apprenticeship takes about two years, give or take a few months. These guys work hard. They get to do everything the artist doesn't want to do. Usually, you will work for six months just taking notes and learning sterilization procedures before you ever get to touch a machine. Then one magical day arrives and you get to play with the machine, by taking it apart and cleaning it every day for another six months. Every one fails to realize that tattooing is 90% sterilization and technical knowledge while only 10% artwork. You have to know how to clean a surface, and how to know you're not going to give your next client something that will kill them. Basically, for the first year you will answer phones, study, clean and mop floors, study, Clean windows and counters, study, sterilize equipment, and study some more. You always hear about tattoo artists treating there apprentices like shit. Making them mop the floor with a toothbrush and do many vile jobs. Although I won't do this, it doesn't mean it will not happen. The art of tattooing is one of patience and respect. You have to learn patience and earn respect before you can do anything.
Really the idea is similar to the military. We strip away everything you think you know and teach you the right way. It is a hard and long process that must be done in order for you to be a real artist. The worst part of the whole process is not only do you not get a pay check, but most shops charge you for the education. Apprenticeships can be upwards of ten thousand or more. Me personally, I don't charge but I don't pay either. The way I see it is the student earns their way by doing all the cleaning and the shit work they have to do to learn anyway. I get labor, and they get an education. The only difficult part of finding a free apprenticeship like this is that some hack shops will take you in and use you for free labor. Either they won't teach you much and wait for you to get mad and quit, or they will fire you before they think you are going to start asking for money. So as hard as it is to get an apprenticeship, please don't go to the worst shop in town just because they are the first ones to say yes. If it's a crappy tattoo shop then you'll just learn how to do crappy tattoos.
Once you complete your apprenticeship you will be one of two things, a tattoo artist or a tattooist. There is a big difference. A tattooist is a person that has had a formal education in the area of tattooing, but is very limited in what they can do. This is the stage where you will be caught up with the idea that doing tattoos is the same as being a rock star. Many tattooists will never pass this step. Always know your limitations. Only do what you know you can do and nothing more. If you try a portrait and fail you will loose all reputation you may have, and this is a word of mouth business. A tattooist is a tattoo technician. Some one that knows, understands, and practices proper technique in the area of tattooing, but can only do what a client brings in. For example, if someone wants an image no matter how complicated, then a tattooist can perform that procedure, and make the piece look exactly like what's on the paper. There is nothing wrong with being a tattooist. It's a strong level of professionalism. But you have to know your limitations. Stick with what you can do, turn down what you can't.
A Tattoo Artist is some one who has had the technical training in the area of tattooing, and can do everything a tattooist can do. Although the tattoo artist can take an idea, or a basic thought, twist it, look at it in a three dimensional view, and make it a piece of living art. In this stage you think you are a professional, the real deal. Think of it this way. A tattooist would be a person who can draw cartoons and not color over the lines. Where a tattoo artist paints the "Mona Lisa" and never had any lines to begin with. To be a tattoo artist you must realize that your art is not on paper. It is not, nor will it ever be flat. You have to make it curve and bend to fit your client. It has to fit there body just as much as it fits there personality. To be a Tattoo artist you can not just do small pieces. You have to work hard and learn and practice. You have to earn the trust of your patrons so you can stretch your legs artistically. As an artist you will have more ideas then you can pronounce, but you must not push your ideas on your patrons. Only suggest them and let your patron decide.
If you take an idea and push it on your client then in the end they will end up getting work they don't really want. Every custom piece you should presented as two or three ideas, all from completely different points of view and different styles. Your goal needs to be not to tell them what to get, but to present them with enough ideas that they can be just as much a part of the process as you. Most people when they want a piece of art not flash (standard tattoo designs) they have no vision of what they want. They come to you for the vision. They come to you so you can make it real. Sometimes it's hard to remember they are not an artist like you. Suggest, not decide for them. The fact is that the difference of a tattooist and a tattoo artist is a state of mind and creativity. Many of the world's best tattoo artist spent years as tattooists before they progress. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you can not rush into this change. It occurs with time. This is where you need to stop concerning yourself with studying flash and learning what real art is about. I strongly suggest taking up traditional painting. Study Rembrandt, DaVinci, and Monet. They are the backbone to real art.
The Next type I would like to talk about is the pretend Tattoo artist. What I call "Candy Artists". We live in a day and age where everything under the sun that can sell in a commercial is put on TV. Now days we see Tattoo "shows" on television. This, I think, and most real Artist will agree, is making fun of an industry we have worked hard to get our foot into. These shows do nothing but teach the wrong way to do everything. They are a learning tool of what not to do. These shows are based on ratings and nothing else. Don't think that what you see on TV is in anyway what a real shop is like. Thanks to these shows every kid in America is making his or her own home-made machine and screwing up his or her friends. Now everyone thinks they are a tattoo artist. If you see a TV show with people shooting each other do you shoot your friends? Then why tattoo on them?
These shows are hurting tattooed America more than they could ever help. The only thing good they are doing is showing more people tattoos that might not otherwise see them, thus removing some of the stigma surrounding tattooing. What are the negative effects? Everyone wants to give any one a tattoo; instead they just pass out free hepatitis. People come into real tattoo shops for the first time expecting to find what they see on TV and feel overwhelmed when they need to be relaxed and think about what they are getting. These Shows tell the public incorrect tattoo aftercare, which will cause them to ruin their hard earned tattoos. Adults are letting their twelve and thirteen year old kids get tattoos that they will later regret because they saw it on TV. Tattooing is the last true traditional, untouched, and un-corporate form of art that the world has left and it is being destroyed. The Tattoo artist is a dying breed now. People want to tattoo so they can get on TV. Tattoo artists will not be rich. We do it for the art, if you want to do it for the money then go home, because the real artists are laughing at you.
Something no one seems to understand is that these shows are scripted, just like old reruns of "Matlock". A certain artist went on one of these shows to be a guest artist and they tapped him saying hello six times. It is a show. This is not "MacGyver". He cannot make a CD player out of a pocket knife, a piece of wire, a coconut, and a toothpick. Just like someone holding a tattoo machine on TV is not an artist. If you actually go to them to get tattooed then you should know a few things. I personally have a friend that got a tattoo by them. At any other shop in the world the highest price for a four letter word with no color and letters one inch by one inch tall should be ranging from fifty to seventy-five dollars. My friend paid two-hundred and fifty dollars. Now you tell me where there priorities lay. I actually use these shows as a teaching tool. Every time one comes on, my apprentices have to watch it and make a list of all the things they do wrong. Not just the small stuff, but the things that my local health department would shut me down for. Here are a few of many.
More times then I can count, these "tattooers" have been in the middle of a tattoo with bloody gloves on, have grabbed a bottle of pigment, "ink," and refilled there ink cap. This means that they just put blood on the ink supply that everyone uses. If that person had a disease then everyone that will have a tattoo from that bottle will have the same disease, and bottles last a long time. Another one is they never remember to clean the clip cord, (the wire that gives power to the machine). This means that again they are spreading disease. They also ware black latex gloves because they look cool. Black gloves means you can't see blood, or holes in the gloves. They don't know if they are giving them selves a disease. The last I will mention of many, many more, Is speed stick deodorant. They use speed stick deodorant to apply there carbon pattern to there clients skin. This means that any disease that a person might have is absorbed into this stick and applied with the pattern on the next client. With the stroke of a single deodorant stick you can give someone six or more different diseases at a time! Not only are they spreading disease, but there doing so in mass quantities. This is the land of television. Your watching some one get a tattoo by moneygrubbers and there getting away with things no one else is doing, but your also watching them give disease to all these people that could very well pass it on to there children. Just say no to fake, joke, money-grubbing "tattooers", that wouldn't even give you the time of day for two hundred dollars.
After all the glimmer and the spot light of being a tattoo artist fades and you age into your profession you will be on your way to becoming the most sought after type of artist, a Tattoo Master. If a true tattoo artist can paint the "Mona Lisa", then the master can paint the "Last Supper" blind, and on the head of a nail. Eventually the idea of being a tattoo artist will become dull, and the rock star point of view will make you laugh at the thought that you use to see it this way. Doing tattoos, being a professional artist will make you a popular person sure. After time the life a "Tattoo Guy" will grow old, the bars will get boring and all the friends you've made are just asking for free work. Then you will see the only thing that matters when you go home at night is your own feeling of pride and accomplishment. If you don't take true pride in what you do, then in the end you got nothing.
To be a true master is almost a state of Zen, a feeling of nirvana, perfect. When we first think about tattoos we want to be the one everyone talks to at the party. We want to stand out in the crowd, and we want everyone to know our name. This is a fool's wish. The only way to achieve such "greatness" is to change your entire life to surround your art. To truly be good at what you want to do is dedication and sacrifice. There are a few rules that if you can not do then you need to turn around and find a new career. No drugs or alcohol. This doesn't mean that while you're working, I mean ever. Drugs and alcohol will make your hands shake. You take more to get them to stop shaking; you don't take them you shake worse. You have to be clear minded. You have to be level headed. You cannot work if you are not at the top of your game. Think of your studio as your church. A sacred ground meant for greatness. If you come in with a hang over you will not have the patience or the clear mind needed to perform to the best of your ability.
I drug test all of my students. They know that one time of use means all of their hard work is over. They will loose their chance, gone forever. You think Tattoo Artist then you think, Drugs, Biker, Sex, and Rock and Roll. This is all wrong. Drugs ruin your mind, and your body. You cannot perform under the influence. You cannot take them at home because you think about them while your working and they still affect your steadiness. Drugs and alcohol cause you to loose motor function. What good is a tattoo artist with shaky hands? Wannabe be a biker, Find another lifestyle, Tattooing is not for you. One bike accident and you will damage your hands. Ask anyone that rides and they will tell you that the first thing you do out of instinct during an accident is to put your hands out. Years of work and dedication will be out the window.
So you want sex, sorry. If you chase every piece of ass that walks in, it will be your reputation. Your clients will stop coming around because they no longer feel comfortable in your shop. They will not be comfortable taking off clothes that have to be removed for certain locations. If you see something more private of a person's body then you need to have no reaction you cannot seem prying or attracted. You have to remain modest, and never ask anyone to remove clothes that don't have to be removed. If they can't trust you, then you have no clients. It would be similar to the best basketball player in the world not having a ball or basket. Ok, so you want to use being a tattoo artist to bring company home from the bar? What kind of people go to the bars, or clubs? Your clients do. They see you drinking, or taking home someone, your reputation is a drunk and promiscuous. They see you drinking; they will not come to you. You're a Drunk! Even if you only have one or two beers, you're a drunk in their eyes. Do you want tattooed by a drunk? You take home people from the bar for sex. Every time you have sex with someone you are having sex with every person they have slept with in the last ten years. This day and age you can get anything, anytime. If you get Hepatitis, HIV, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, or any other type of STD, you will not be allowed to tattoo. You will be putting your patron's lives in danger.
You are dealing with open wounds all day. You are performing a medical procedure on the very people you depend on to feed your family and practice your art on. All gone, all down the drain, just because you wanted to go get laid. Rock and Roll, sorry. If you are working on a portrait and you're listening to heavy metal, then by nature your portrait will look sinister. You must play music accordingly to how you want your work to be done. If you're tattooing something evil then metal all the way. If you are doing a memorial piece or a portrait of someone's daughter then tone the music down and relax. Your hand will move to the music you hear. There is nothing you can to about that, it is our natural reaction. You will be nothing more than a tattooist at best. Reach a higher level, be something great. It takes hard work and dedication. It takes sacrifice, and respect. Not just respect for the ones you are working on, but respect in your self more than anything else. Follow the rules or go home. You're just cheating yourself if you don't. I have been tattooing for thirteen years and I'm still another ten or fifteen years away from a master level.
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