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Becomming A Respectable Tattoo Artist

I have always had a fascination for extending my artistic abilities into the world of tattooing. However, starting out as an apprentice in a professional studio was out of the question because here in my country (somewhere in Africa) there are only two studios and in my opinion definitely not professional. I will explain.

I finally took the plunge and ordered my first tattoo kit which comprised of a liner, a shader, tattoo inks, books of flash designs and an instructional video. I couldn't wait for delivery and the 6 weeks that it took to arrive seemed like an eternity.

When the package arrived I tore thru the packing with glee. I examined everything, looked at the flash designs then sat to watch the videos. To my utmost disappointment and disgust everything was in Chinese. Nevertheless, I watched both discs over and over. Now, where do I get someone to try out my new toy?? It was difficult finding someone to actually do a tattoo on (who in their right mind would have let me?), so I did what I saw in the video, I got myself some pig-skin to practice on. I hadn't a clue then that there was synthetic skin for practicing. I tried the liner, did lines and circles, traced around a few outlines of stuff from the flash designs, tried my shader and at first couldn't get the hang of it.

I spent a lot of time on the internet gathering as much information on tattooing as I could. I wanted to do everything by the book. I wanted to be better than what was available here. I read everything I could on sterilization, blood borne diseases etc. I wasn't going to risk being labeled a 'scratcher'. I even spent another 800 dollars on other videos that taught every aspect of tattooing. Some were good, others a waste of time and money.

A whole two months later a friend of mine volunteered to be my first (dare I say), victim. I was excited and didn't waste any time setting up, making sure everything was proper and conditions were as sterile as I could get them. I was doing this from my house and had set up a separate room where I could work in.

He chose a tribal spider and I placed the stencil on him and fired up the gun and went at it with enthusiasm. Two hours later he had his tattoo and I was very pleased with myself. The real test was how was this going to look in two or three weeks. Had I gone too deep in some areas, would he have nasty scars, did I go deep enough in the filling in? All these thoughts ran thru my mind over and over. I was getting impatient for the end result. I checked up on him daily and everything seemed to be going well. He hadn't got an infection from the process so I was relieved that everything had been set up properly.

Everything looked ok after the skin peeled off and there were a few 'bald spots' which I promised to retouch after the skin had healed completely. I was very proud of myself and decided that I would be my next 'victim'.

Earlier I had mentioned how unprofessional the studios here are. First of all, they see an apprentice as someone who will leave them and set up their own practice taking away their means of making a quick buck. Everything is so secretive and they won't part with any info on tattooing. They have no ethics and look at tattooing solely as a business. They will put anything on anyone as long as they get paid what they want. One studio I know of charges for coloured ink used by the drop. I have seen botched up work from both studios where too much ink has gone into the skin and has left raised lines and bumps. Both studios think nothing of doing full colour work on dark skin without advising the clients that certain colours won't last. I have seen some good work they have done but one can't see what's been done until they come up really close to the tattoo. Obviously they have put too much detail on very dark skin. They both have nothing good to say about the other or any of the other tattooists (won't say tattoo artists). There are several other independent tattoo artists who are good at their work but they can't afford to set up studios. Most of them too are in it for the money working in the corner of hair dressing salons. I should be fair and mention that there are a few true tattoo artists who do try their best with what they can afford to.

I don't claim to be an expert or an accomplished tattoo artist. Some observations are just common sense for anyone who strives for the knowledge to be good at what they do.

Almost a year has gone by and I now have seven tattoos of which I have put six on myself and over sixty tattoos I have done on other people. I set up a studio about a month ago and business is good. I pride myself in knowing I haven't transmitted any disease to anyone and I haven't scarred anyone. I would rather do a touch-up than scar someone for life and give tattooing a bad rap. I ask all clients to visit after a few weeks to check whether they will need a touch-up. I talk to anyone who walks into the studio wanting a tattoo, advise them on designs they have chosen and encourage them to take as long as they like in deciding on what they want put on their bodies as they will have it for the rest of their lives. If they have dark skin I explain to them why certain designs are unsuitable, either there's too much detail that won't be seen and the tattoo will look like a big blotch of ink from a distance or coloured work that won't show over a period of time. I won't do a tattoo on anyone under 18, even if accompanied by a parent. I even refused to do a tattoo for my daughter until she turned 18.

Like every true artist, the art comes first and everything else is secondary. I want to enjoy what I do and if I make money in the process, it's all good. I still have a lot to learn about tattooing and I won't stop learning until I am satisfied that I am as good as I can be.

A word to all those who are or have had the chance to be an apprentice..... thank your lucky stars. Some of us would give an arm and a leg for the chance. (Maybe not an arm :) )

Ps. If there's anyone who has read this has any information on setting up a regulatory board or association for controlling or promoting good ethics in the tattoo industry please get in touch with me. Any info will be highly appreciated. Thank you


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 30 Oct. 2005
in Culture

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