Body art has come a long way toward gaining mainstream acceptance in the last 20 years. With the increased popularity of tattoos and piercings has come a newfound respect for the artists who use the human body as a canvas; their unique styles and innovative techniques push the art form in new directions. In addition, state and city laws on licensing and safety practices have served to professionalize the industry, with many shops opting for disposable equipment to further curb the risk of infection or complications.
Still, it can be intimidating to walk in to a tattoo shop, especially if it’s your first time. We spoke with the owners and managers of several local establishments about the whole process, from choosing a design to scheduling an appointment to the most important aspects of aftercare, so whether you’re considering a nose ring or a full sleeve, you’ll be fully prepared to get a piece you’ll love.
Whether you’ve had a design in mind for months or are starting from scratch, the first step is consulting with an artist, who can help you turn your idea into reality. Many artists develop their own unique style over years of practice, so it’s best to do some research online or visit some shops to find an artist whose work fits your vision.
“Our artists are versatile, but they have their own styles,” says St. Sabrina’s general manager Derek Lowe. “If you have a design that seems more suited towards an artist’s talents or interests, we’ll funnel you in that direction.”
Roger Kane, owner of Guns N’ Needles, is influenced by graffiti and originally planned to be a cartoonist, so his work features lots of curved lines and exaggerated proportions. “I’m lucky enough that people come to me and say ‘I want a typewriter or an old-school boombox, but do it the way you would,’” he says.
“It’s a big commitment, so you should do your due diligence,” says Scott Farrell, owner of 4Points Body Gallery. Farrell, who studied art in college in Philadelphia, gravitates toward organic and realistic imagery reflecting his love of nature and work as a sculptor and painter.
“All of our artists can handle any tattoo job, but their strengths differ,” he says.
Many shops offer walk-ins for smaller,straightforward pieces, but for a larger, custom job, be prepared for an initial consultation to determine size, placement and price. You’ll also schedule your tattoo appointment, but keep in mind many sought-after artists are booked months in advance.
The day you get inked will include signing a consent form and going over a final version of your tattoo with your artist before they stencil the design on your body and fire up the tattoo gun. Worried about the pain? Relax.
“If it hurt as bad as everyone thinks it will, word would have gotten out,” says Kane. “Pain is not the part that slows people down; it’s nerves. They get worried and panicky.”
Kane uses a topical numbing agent when he’s working on a big piece that might take several hours to complete. For a standard job, it’s all about relaxing and remembering the pain is temporary, but the tattoo is permanent.
All licensed tattoo artists have training in bloodborne pathogens and are required to follow strict health and safety guidelines. Sterile, single-use tubes and needles ensure the risk of infection is low, with many shops going above and beyond state and city requirements for cleanliness.
Everything that’s not disposable, including the shop furniture, is cleaned and sterilized nightly.
“We sanitize and sterilize everything like in a doctor’s office,” says Lowe. “Complications or infections are pretty uncommon.”
Following your aftercare instructions is key to ensuring your new tattoo or piercing heals well. Your artist will give you specific steps to follow, but there are some basic dos-and-don’ts.
“Don’t touch it unless you have to,” says Lowe, and always wash your hands first.
“Don’t submerge it in water until it’s healed, and keep it and your hands clean,” says Farrell.
Avoiding sun, water and dirt may seem like common sense, but there are sources of bacteria many people overlook. “Think about your environment; dirty towels and sheets,” says Kane. For ear piercings, Lowe points out that a big source of possible contamination is your cellphone.
Tattoos generally take a couple of weeks to fully heal, but taking good care of them during this time ensures they’ll look good for years to come, something your artist is as invested in as you are.
“It’s a representation of their art and their skill,” says Lowe.
The best part of the job, Kane says, is seeing a client happy with the work you’ve done. “It’s instant gratification; the minute you’re done tattooing, people are excited and happy to see it,” he says.
For some, getting that first tattoo is a personal and, potentially, life-changing decision.
“At 31, I tattooed myself to memorialize my father,” Farrell says. “Within a year, I was doing it professionally. One of the best parts of the job is helping people working through something or needing encouragement. That first tattoo I got helps me out on a daily basis.”
A Blank Canvas: Can you undo that tatoo?
While it’s often said that a tattoo lasts a lifetime, modern laser removal technology offers the chance for a clean slate. At Invisible Ink Tattoo Removers, clients consult with a trained specialist who uses a diagnostic tool called Ink Analytics to determine how many treatments their tattoo will require for removal. The system takes in to account ink depth, ink particle size and placement, all of which is used to create a custom treatment plan.
“For many clients, we can get completely clean skin,” says vice president of clinical operations Amanda Carter. The clinic uses a state-of-the-art PicoWay Laser system utilizing lasers operating at three different wavelengths to break up and remove subdermal ink of all colors and on all skin types quickly and safely, with less damage to the surrounding skin (and less risk of scarring) than older technologies.
Treatments only take a few minutes each and, with the help of prescription-strength numbing cream, the process is no more painful than getting a tattoo.
On average, six treatments, spaced six–to-eight weeks apart, are required for complete removal, but the clinic also partners with tattoo shops to fade or lighten existing tattoos to make them better candidates for coverup tattoos.
The motivation for tattoo removal often comes down to major life changes, says Carter. “Be it a business, personal or lifestyle change, [the tattoo] doesn’t reflect where they are in life currently,” she says.