Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What to Do When Someone Wants a Bad Tattoo

 This question was posed in a forum I follow:

 "We've all had clients walk in with a poorly rendered design that their sister/cousin/whoever has drawn for them that you know will end-up on a tattoo-fail-blog.  A design or concept you would not want your name attached to.  I take pride in my work and have gotten in trouble for refusing to do a tattoo someone requested, but it is my career and not the shop-owner's.  How do you handle it?"

 It happens.  Someone walks in with an ill-conceived design or concept.  It could be as simple as something that might be a wonderful piece of art but does not translate well into a tattoo.  Or, it could be something that is badly drawn that the client insists they want as is.  How should this be handled?

A questionable potential client...

 There are limits to what you should or should not tattoo.  Most shops I have worked at, for example, refused to do tattoos that could be construed as gang-related, racist, or derogatory to sensitive segments of our society.  This is for two reasons.  First, the shop's reputation is on the line.  When you do that kind of tattoo, you become known for doing that kind of tattoo.  Others may come requesting that kind of tattoo, but you may put-off a larger clientele base that would consider being associated with that kind of work distasteful.  It is not worth the trouble.  Second, you are doing that client a favor.  One day, they may realize that the tattoo they thought they wanted to be "in" with the group they where trying to impress has hampered them socially and in finding employment.  Your saying "no" may be saving them years of regret in the future.

 These are solid limits that you should stick by.  Everything else comes down to artistic integrity, which can mean many things.  On the one hand, you as a tattoo artist want to have a body of work that suggests excellence and skill.  A poorly conceived design that the client insists on will not help your cause there.  

Funny until your grand-kids get a roll of quarters.

 However, on the other hand is your integrity as a tattoo artist to serve the client.  It is his or her tattoo, not yours.  Your function is to give the client what they want to the best of your ability.  Refusing to do certain tattoos can harm your reputation; you can be perceived as being "stuck-up" or thinking that you are too good to give someone what they want.  While you may be right about a design being bad, the hurt feelings caused by not doing the tattoo can be more damaging to your reputation than doing a bad tattoo.

 If a client comes in with a design that they commissioned or drew themselves, that design has an inherent emotional value to them.  If you look at the design and see a hot-mess, it is your job to educate the client as to their options.  First, be gentle and kind about the design.  Praise the work of the artist.  Ask how much experience that artist has.  Often, it may only be a few years, which can work to your advantage when you try to convince the client to go another way.  Find something you can say is positive about the design, and talk to the client about why they want it.  That design may be something that someone who has passed away has drawn or has some other sentimental value attached to it.  If that is the case, you do not want to change it, or change it much.  The client is not concerned about the quality of the design, only its sentimental value.

 If it is just a design that the client likes, they can usually be persuaded to let you change it.  This is the time to educate the client on the differences between art and tattoo art.  Explain the limits of the medium, why the design may not work well in the skin, or issues with the design itself you are concerned about (proportion, flow, etc).  Suggest allowing you to re-draw the design to make it more like a tattoo.

I really hope this was drawn by the client.

 If the client insists that they want the design as-is, you can try to price yourself out of the tattoo, although this is not always a good idea.  Show the client your portfolio and discuss your style and your strengths.  This may get the client thinking the design could be better.  If after seeing your portfolio the client still wants the design as-is, offer a price 25-50% above what you would normally charge.  If they ask why it is so expensive, explain the effort that will be required to render that design as accurately as possible and overcoming the limits you described about tattooing.  

 Also, have a client sign an "informed consent" waiver, a document that states that you, as the tattooer, have explained that the design selected is ill-advised, and you have discussed with them the limits of the tattoo process and potential issues they may face.  While it won't save your reputation if the client a year from now tries to blame you for a bad design to their friends (why did he let me get this tattoo?), it will give them another moment to re-think what they are doing.

 When you tattoo a design that you do not like, a huge mistake is made if you do not give it the same effort and attention that you would a design you do like.  A design you do not like should be given more effort, to make it as good as possible.  Every line should be clean and every color solid; cut no corners.  Even if the design is bad, the tattoo itself should be excellent.

 Finally, take a photo of the design and the tattoo side-by-side.  This can work to your advantage in your portfolio.  The design may be bad, but future clients can see just how precise and accurate your were in it's rendering, and they can see that the client elected to get that design, as it is distinct from the other tattoos in style and format in your portfolio.

 It is tempting for a tattooer to limit themselves to tattoos that they like or are in a style they appreciate.  It is good to know your limits; one who is not experienced in doing portraits should probably explain to a client who wants a portrait that it is not your thing.  That is being responsible.  Sticking to your style in other matters, however, should not be a major concern until the demand for your style is so great that you are turning down tattoos due to being booked months in advance.  

 Keep in mind also that it is not just your reputation on the line, but your shops as well.  The shop has a stake in every client that walks through their doors beyond their percentage.  The advertising dollars spent brought that client into the shop, which means every client that comes in is an opportunity to recoup that cost that should not be wasted. A client who does not get what they want from a shop will not talk about the snooty artist, but the snobby shop that refused to give them their tattoo.  The shop they go to that does do the tattoo will only encourage this way of thinking in their minds.

Actually tried to sue her artist over this choice.

 Finally, it may not be the design that is objectionable, but the placement.  The hand or facial tattoo will impact that client for the rest of their life.  That silly tattoo across their ass may seem cute now, but not so cute in twenty years.  Advise the client as best you can about the potential risks, and if they insist, video-tape the process and use it for advertising.  

 The bottom line is that tattooing is a service-industry.  We give our clients what they want to the best of our ability.  Do your best to give them a great tattoo, and if they insist on a poor design at least they will get it fully aware of your concerns and in a manner that is as technically sound as possible.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Downside of New Machine Systems

 Originally, I was just going to make a short statement about this on my Facebook Page: Tattoo Nerd Facebook, but it turned into a full-blown post.

Seth Ceferri Workhorse Iron Machine
 I use coil tattoo machines, a tattoo system that has been in existence for decades.  The system is simple; two coils form and electromagnet that actuates an armature bar assembly.  The downward pull on the bar disrupts the electrical circuit, releasing the bar until is makes contact and re-established the circuit.  This system has been in use for so long that we now have standardization in components and a broad base of supplier for parts and accessories (tubes, needles, grommets, etc.).

 Rotary machines have recently made a resurgence.  Most people are surprised to learn that rotary systems where one of the first electric-tattoo systems, pre-dating coil machine systems.  Rotary machines where initially developed by Thomas Edison as a means to create documents that could be copied by perforating the original and then using ink-rollers to transfer the original to new paper. Sam O'Reilly took Edison's "Electric Pen", redesigned the tube-assembly and added an ink reservoir, then patented the electric tattoo machine in 1891.  Edison later modified his pen with an electric coil, and in 1904 Charlie Wagner modified that design for use in tattoo.  

Cheyenne Hawk 
 Modern rotary machines are smaller, quieter, and far more consistent than a standard coil tattoo machine.  Most of these machines make use of the same accessories as coil machines, the same tubes and needles.  Their growing popularity among tattoo artists has resulted in a number of other machine systems entering into the market-place.  One such system is the Cheyenne Hawk.  The Hawk builds on the rotary tattoo system by including a special grip and cartridge assembly, replacing the standard tube and needle.  The advantage is that pigment and other contaminants do not go up the tube and reach the machine, making the Cheyenne Hawk in theory cleaner and safer than standard systems.

Cheyenne Cartridges.  Stock up!
 New devices are designed to look very high tech and operate using novel systems.  The Centri Cobra is one such machine; using two magnets to create a centrifugal force that actuates the needle bar.  This makes the movement of the machine virtually without friction, which should result in smoother operation and greater control.  The cobra comes with a built in spot-lamp, a feature that is popular on many new devices.  

 The problems with these new machines is the price, and it is not all in the initial cost.  As I stated, with a coil machine system I can purchase components from a broad base of suppliers.  Maintenance and modification of my coil machines is simple and I have numerous options.  A Workhorse Iron coil machine runs about $500 (you can get a machine for much, much less).  If the coils on my Workhorse go bad, I can replace them for as little as $20 if I want to go cheap, and no more than $50 if I want top-of-the-line coils.  With a system like the Cheyenne Hawk, I have to use the needle cartridges and grips for their system.  If the Cheyenne company goes out of business, I have a a $600 device (drive and grips) that are rendered useless when suppliers run out of cartridges.  With the Cobra, if something fails with my $600 device, I have to purchase another $600 Cobra if I want to continue using that kind of machine.  

Centri Cobra, from the future!

 This is the reason for the continued success of the coil-machine system; your initial investment is easy to maintain.  The innovations of new devices are interesting, but the marginal improvements in use and convenience (many systems are designed to offer multiple types of stroke, but switching from one machine to another when going from lining to shading really is not that difficult) do not really make up for the high initial price and long-term maintenance costs.  More over, many artists who use rotary machines or some other new system have a set of coil machines as a back-up for when their more modern system fails.

 That speaks volumes, in my opinion.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Friday, November 14, 2014

Following Through With Your Client


 I read one of your articles, and I have some questions.  I recently got a tattoo and I am concerned about the way it is healing.  I don't want to ask my artist because I don't want them to get angry with me for doing something wrong..."

 I get an email like this at tattoonerdz@gmail.com at least twice a week.  Today, after responding to one such email, I found myself wondering why the client did not go back to her artist?  If I go to a doctor and have a question about the procedure or the instructions I was given, I call that doctor and ask.  Ditto for my electrician, my plumber, my auto-mechanic, even my grocer.  If I have a question about a service, I go back to the source.  Why is it different for these tattoo artists and their clients?

 I do not consider myself a great artist.  I am always striving to improve, and I do well as a tattooer, but I am not great.  I write a fair article that people seem to enjoy, but I do not consider myself a great writer.  I am not well known in the tattoo community.  I am making a bit of a name for myself, but even the greats in tattooing are only known by a minuscule percentage of the population.  My point is that these people did not seek my advice because of who I am.  They came to me because of something their artists did, or did not, do.  

 When I get a question from another tattoo artist's client, I do everything I can to avoid being critical of the artist or their work.  This is not a matter of professional respect for my fellow artists, but of respect for their clients.  They are already so clearly anxious about their tattoo that they have reached out to a total stranger for advice. They don't need some guy they will probably never meet making things worse by telling them they made a huge mistake with their choice of tattooer.  That ship has already sailed.  When they get to me, they want an answer, and they want to be re-assured.  

 I give them the information they need based on my own experience and research, and I always encourage them to talk to their tattoo artist and follow his or her instructions.  It is your work, and if you are a professional then you will be fully invested in making certain that the tattoo is the best it can be and your client is happy.

 But, if your client understood that, then why did they reach out to me?

 Getting a tattoo is intimidating.  As artists, I think we forget what it is like to walk into a tattoo shop for a client.  For us, walking into a tattoo shop is like coming home.  For a client, they have no idea what to expect, but they know tattoos involve pain and can go wrong. They know they are going to spend potentially hundreds of dollars in the hope that the artist they select can give them a tattoo they will be happy with.  There is always some trepidation for a client when getting a tattoo, especially that first tattoo from an artist they just met.

 Artists are usually very good at the sell.  They point out the strengths of their portfolio. They demonstrate a firm expertise about safety procedures and best practices when tattooing.  They have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of tattoo history and the industry.  When they get their client in the chair or on the table, they can be very personable.  They can chat the client up and keep their mind off the pain of the tattoo.  They joke and keep things light.

 However, once the tattoo is completed, it usually is about getting the client out the door.  For the artist, the transaction is complete.  They offer after-care instructions, maybe set an appointment for their next session, and thank them as they leave.

 That is not what your client needs.

 We generally tell the client that the tattoo healing process will take about two weeks.  We also know that while they are looking at their new tattoo in the mirror, they are not listening to us.  That ink in their skin is your reputation.  If you are wise about your business, you see every tattoo you do as an advertising investment.  You know that most issues with a tattoo occur when the client does something wrong during the first two weeks.  Why would you leave your reputation to chance in the hands of your client?

 When I go to the doctor, I get a call from a nurse a couple of days later.  It is called a "wellness check", just to confirm that I understand the instructions I was given, that the treatment is effective and not having any unforeseen consequences, and that I am generally content with the visit to the doctor.  In any real sense, how different is what we do from what a doctor might do who performs minor surgery?  

 I typically reach out to my clients after just a few days for the same reasons; do they understand and are the following the instructions I gave them, and do they have any questions or concerns?  That wellness check, after a few days and toward the end of two weeks, confirms in the minds of my clients that I am responsible for the work I did, and that I will follow through with making certain they are satisfied with their tattoo.  It confirms for them that I am a professional who cares about my work, and who sees them as more than a source of income.  That simple email, instant message, or call to ask how they are doing with their new tattoo lets them know that we are in this together.  That bond means they will come back to me for more tattoos, and that they will tell their friends.

 Close out the tattoo session with a solid discussion about after care and ask the client how best they can be reached (phone, email, Facebook, etc). Let them know that you will follow through with them in a day or two, and emphasize for them the ways they can reach you if they have any questions.  That conversation, and the wellness check, is what makes a client into a repeat customer.

 Again, I do not consider myself a great tattoo artist, but those artists who do not follow through with their clients, who do not establish that bond of trust and treat each tattoo as an investment in their own reputations, should know how their clients respond when I give them my advice.


 Thank you for the email.  I feel so much better now, and I will follow your advice and talk to my artist.  If I were in Austin I would be coming to get my next tattoo from you!"  

 A client should never leave your shop thinking that you will be angry with them for asking a question.  Your client should have the confidence in you as a professional to reach out to you and know you will be as professional and competent as when they were getting the tattoo.  It is more than their ink, it is your reputation.

  Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tattoos in the Workplace

 Several stories have been making their rounds on the Internet regarding people who were not hired because of their tattoos.  Bill Roach was told he would not be getting a job with a company in the medical industry because of his visible ink (http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/man-says-unfairly-denied-job-because-tattoos-21715.shtml), and Charlotte Tumilty, who was turned away on her first day as a teacher's assistant at St, John Vianney Primary School (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2802935/teaching-assistant-sent-away-catholic-school-arms-neck-covered-tattoos.html) because of her tattoos.  Their tattoos are not vulgar or distasteful (relatively), but they are difficult to cover with clothes.

I can clean that up for you and get the color back in if you want.
 The cute blonde girl is getting far more sympathy than the dude in California, but this article is not about the blatant hypocrisy of gender and the Internet, it is about tattoo choices.

 You may be surprised by this, but I believe that the businesses in these stories are in the right. While I think it may be time to adjust such policies due to shifts in the culture, I do stand for the right of a business to have such a policy in place.  An employee on the clock who interacts with the public IS the business in the minds of those they deal with.  If a medical company considers tattoos unprofessional and a school considers them inappropriate, then that is their business (literally).  

 Imagine having some person as your representative who acts on your behalf before you meet potential clients or often people you will never have direct contact with.  "Hi, I am Jason's legal and official representative."  Now imagine that person represents you in a way that is diametrically opposed to who you are.  "Jason, as you know, is a tiny woman with a club foot who hates art in all its forms."  

 See, that would not be cool.

"Hello, ma'am.  I with ABC Med Supply. I have your power chair."
 Both of these people claim that they are being discriminated against, and technically they are correct.  Discrimination is simply a matter of opting for one type and denying another. People who lacked the education or training for those same positions were also discriminated against. People who prefer chocolate ice-cream to vanilla are discriminating. "Discrimination" is a buzzword that is meant to suggest that these folks were unfairly denied employment, and I don't think I can agree with that conclusion.  A business has a right to determine who will represent the business to the public, and the manner and form of that representation.

 Moreover, calling it "discrimination" in this instance is not only petty, but it belittles the many times in history that discrimination was in fact unfair.  Race, ethnicity, and gender are all consequences of birth, and clearly discrimination on those grounds is unfair (the individual had no choice in the matter). Religion is a matter of spirituality that is a consequence of our upbringing and who we are at the core of our being, again uncool to discriminate against. Sexual orientation and gender identity, while not through all the legal hoops to become truly protected, is either a matter of birth, at the core of your being, or both, and businesses should not be allowed to discriminate on those grounds.

Actually, I kind of wish she taught me in grade school.
 But tattoos?  You elected to go under the needle and get your girlfriend's lip prints tattooed on your neck?  That was a choice. You made that choice because that is how you want to represent yourself to the world.  A business may choose to exclude you from the way they present themselves to the world. Also, did you think the tattoo through?  Did you really think a neck tattoo would not have consequences in the corporate world?  I find myself looking at people with neck and facial tattoos and hoping that they are fellow tattooers, otherwise they are almost guaranteeing a career that will have to be outside the mainstream.  Do you want to be represented by someone who is too short sighted to see the consequences of undergoing a permanent transformation of their image? What other choices might they think are "okay" if people would just try to understand them?

 Does it suck that people with tattoos are considered less professional than those who have never felt the sweet kiss of a tattoo needle?  Yes.  In fact, most tattooers I know hold themselves to a higher professional standards than many doctors, lawyers, and CEOs you may hear about. But is it wrong for a business to manage itself based on that premise?  No.  I support a business' right to make those choices, even though I will actively choose not to patronize them if I can (choices have consequences).  

"But I look super-cute at the pub!"
 Think before you ink.  A tattoo is a commitment, even in this age of laser-removal.  A tattoo that cannot be hidden by clothing is even more so.  Society will judge you, and if you could not care less what people think (bravo!), don't whine if what people think keeps you from something you want.  If it means mom and dad will kick you out, or that job you want as a paralegal will be closed to you, don't get a neck tattoo.

 Personally, if I were either of these people, I would work my momentary notoriety into a job with a tattoo friendly employer. 

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Using Pig Skin to Practice Tattooing

 How does one get good at tattooing?  The answer is obviously that they practice.  How, though, do they practice?  When you are just starting out, it seems hard to imagine that people are lining-up so a new tattoo artist can TRY to give them a tattoo (the truth is that people do line-up for just such an opportunity because they are more concerned about getting it cheap then getting it done well).  Even if you do have a number of people willing to let you potentially scar them for life, what is the transition from drawing on paper to using a needle in skin?

 I cannot stress the following point enough:

 The best way to learn to tattoo is through an apprenticeship.

 No amount of watching YouTube videos and reading tattoo blogs can make up the difference that a hands-on tattoo apprenticeship offers.  You are more likely to learn a bunch of bad habits than good tattoo techniques going it alone, and what you can learn from an experienced mentor in a few months can take several years to discover through trial-and-error.  

 So, if you are going to even practice tattooing, you should do it with the guidance and supervision of an experienced mentor.  

The skin texture makes a clean stencil difficult.
 That said, if you insist on practicing, typically you do it on something other than people.  You will read about a number of options; the skins of fruit (bananas, oranges, grapefruit), styro-foam containers, chicken parts with skin on them, even fake "skin" sold by some tattoo supply companies.  The best thing to practice on, in my opinion, is pig skin.

 As an aside, don't waste your money on fake skin.  Most the stuff is basically the same material as a mouse-pad.  How much like skin does your mouse-pad feel?  Your needle doesn't really act the same way with fake skin, the stuff does not hold ink in the same manner (if at all), and it is hard to tell what you are doing because of the way it responds when you dab or wipe excess ink off it.  Usually you will stain the "skin" with the excess and discover none of the ink is in your mark.  If I run into a practice skin that is worth anything, I will definitely feature it here, and I welcome any manufacturers who think their fake skin is worth the buy to send me a sample.

 Pig skin, on the other hand, is about as close to human skin as you are going to get.  It is far tougher than most human skin, does not have much elasticity to it, and can smell awful (hopefully unlike most of your clients).  It does hold ink in much the same way, and responds to the needle in the same manner.  You can learn to manage needle depth, learn about speed, practice your line-work, shading, and coloring, basically everything that you might do when tattooing.

Excess ink does not wipe off as easily.
 You can get pig skin at a local butchers or meat section at a local grocery.  Most national food chains will not carry it, but groceries where they cut their own meat will often have the skin for sale for making pork rinds or as trimmings from other cuts of meat.  You want the pig skin as a sheet at least five or six inches wide.  Strips of skin will not do you any good.  I purchase mine from a nearby oriental market.

 Again, pig skin is different than human skin.  The texture of the skin and its tough quality makes getting a clean stencil on the skin difficult.  You are probably better off drawing a stencil by hand on the skin than you are using stencil paper (but it is also a good way to learn to use and apply a stencil with stencil paper).  Ink stains the skin much faster than human skin, though with some effort you can clean the skin off.  The skin also tends to dry out quickly, which means you will find yourself over-working the skin in a complete tattoo's late stages if you do a fair-sized piece.

 You should set-up to do the tattoo in the exact same manner as you would for a real client, observing all the protocols about being aseptic and avoiding cross-contamination.  Practice is the time to form good habits, not bad ones.  Do not cut corners.  When I practice, I place the pig skin on a prepared arm-bar, simulating a limb of a client.  The skin itself will need to be shaves and cleaned.  Definitely wear gloves (again, good habits).  

Skin is dry and not responding well to color.
 You have about an hour to work with your skin before it starts to dry out.  With this in mind, I would focus on one aspect of tattooing at a time or do small tattoos.  Have specific goals in mind when practicing.  If you are practicing lines, focus on consistency, whipping the lines out, and doing clean lines.  When practicing shading, work on getting a soft and smooth gradient.  With color, work on even and solid distribution without over-working the skin (and learning what over-worked skin looks like).

 While the skin will not be very elastic, you should still practice stretching the skin.  Learn how to use petroleum jelly on the skin while tattooing, and learn how to deal with excess ink.  Your mentor should be checking your work every step of the way, making suggestions as you go (without a mentor it is hard to say if your work is right or wrong).  Practice break-down and clean-up the same way you did set-up.  

 Pig skin is not easily saved, and typically is not worth the effort.  However, you should take photos of your work to study and to document your progress.  You cannot get enough practice, but if you can do clean lines, soft shading, and consistent color in pig-skin, then when you have the other basics of tattooing down working with human skin should be far simpler.
 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Changes in Intenze Tattoo Ink Packaging

 I use a mix of tattoo inks from a number of trusted manufacturers.  One of those companies is Intenze, the ink I used while learning to tattoo.  What I like about Intenze is its consistency (a word that will make or break a tattoo artist, as those who read my posts have probably noticed), you can count on Intenze to consistently deliver quality, long-lasting ink.  Their reputation is so well known that counterfeit inks have found their way to the market.  The situation is bad enough that Intenze felt it necessary to respond with a video advisory.

 A legitimate bottle of Intenze Ink has several things that separate it from imitators.  The bottle cap is clear with a black base.  The bottle itself is made of a hard plastic that is difficult to squeeze.  The bottle has a letter "M" (Mario Barth's logo, one of the pioneers of tattoo ink manufacturing) stamped on the bottom.  Most importantly, the bottles have a protective foil seal letting you know the ink has not be tampered with since the bottle was produced.

 The last six bottles of Intenze that I had purchased all came this way, so I was surprised when I received a bottle of Dark Purple Intenze Ink which had none of these earmarks of legitimacy.  The bottle has an all black cap, is far softer than the other bottles of Intenze, has no "M" stamped on it, and (most disconcerting), has no internal foil seal.

 I had received this bottle from a trusted supplier, Element Tattoo Supply, who I had nothing but positive exchanges with in the past.  In fact, they are on the Intenze List of Authorized Dealers, so it was more than odd to receive a product that everything told me was a fake.  When I reached out to them, they informed me that Intenze was changing over to this new bottle.

 I found that hard to believe.  This bottle was everything that Intenze warned us not to trust, or so it seemed.  I immediately reached out to Intenze about the bottle, and had some exchanges with Christine Brown, who informed me that Intenze was in fact switching to a new bottle.  She herself was not certain of all the details, but she promised to have someone to reach out to me.

 The person who finally clarified all of this was James McLaughlin, Marketing Director of Intenze.  James confirmed for me the change to the new type of bottle which is based on feed-back from other artists, and relieved my greatest concern about the bottle lacking an internal seal.

 The new bottles are improved in a couple of significant ways.  They are softer, which makes them easier to squeeze.  This is important when the bottle gets about half-full and you are in the middle of a tattoo trying to squeeze the ink into an ink-cap while wearing cloves.  The other improvement is the cap.  The bottle lacks on internal safety seal, but now has a cap with two built-in seals.  The entire cap comes off after breaking one seal, while the funnel opens after break the second.  The seals are similar to those found on quarts of milk, but made of a far sturdier plastic that cracks open when the cap or funnel is twisted. 

 The roll-out of the new bottle appears to be gradual, meaning that for a time both types of caps will be available on the market.  Along with the new cap, always check the bottle's ingredients (no phosphates are used in Intenze ink), confirm that it has the Intenze address, no bar code, and that you are purchasing the ink from an authorized dealer.  It is always worth the effort to verify the source of your supplies, both to protect your customers and yourself.

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Friday, October 24, 2014

Top Ten Weird Tattoo Requests

 When sitting through a tattoo session that lasts for hours, clients often look for something (ANYTHING) to distract them from the process.  Inevitably, questions are asked about tattooing and the industry; it is a mystery to most people and you have a tattoo artist on hand, so why not?  A question I get asked frequently is "What is the weirdest thing you have been asked to tattoo?"  I create some tattoo designs that are a little out there, which I am certain inspires this particular question.  For the curious, the following are my current top ten things I have been requested to tattoo that I thought were a little weird:

 Number 10: The Inside-Out Tattoo

 This one was not so much weird as challenging.  The client wanted a particular geometric design that had some spiritual significance.  When the design is drawn properly, it is drawn from the center outward.  Tattoos are generally done from one lower corner to the opposite upper corner to maintain the stencil.  The client wanted the tattoo executed in accordance to the traditional ritual.  Thankfully, it was a relatively small tattoo.

 Number 9: The Lesson Not Learned Tattoo

 I had a young lady come in with her significant other.  The plan (or, rather, HER plan, because the guy was less than enthusiastic), was to get tattoos together with one another's name.  The weird part was that she still had her ex-boyfriend's name tattooed on her.  It made me think of the Steve Martin film, "The Jerk", where the girl has so many names tattooed on her that Martin's character compares his name being on her like his name being in the phone book.  Not so much weird as amusing.  If you would like to read why getting that special someone's name tattooed is a bad idea, check out this post.

 Number 8: The Lost Bet

 A couple of college guys; one white and the other black, came into the shop for a tattoo.  The two had made a wager and the white guy lost.  As a result, he now has "100% Cracker" tattooed in Old English script across his abdomen.  I shudder to think what the black guy would have gotten if he lost.

*Update: The owner of this tattoo has reached out to me and advised that I remembered the incident incorrectly.  While I recall that he did get the tattoo with one of his buddies in tow, he had not lost a bet, and apparently the other guy was not black (his term for a gentleman of the African persuasion was far less kind).  While I recall that they both found this tattoo concept hilarious, it appears that there was no wager.  The guy just wanted this tattoo. Stay classy, my friends.

 Number 7: The Sore Loser

 Speaking of lost bets, early in my career a woman came into the shop requesting a tattoo behind her ear.  She was clearly a woman of some means used to having her way, the type of girl who talks-down to nearly everyone she interacts with.  She wanted a letter 'A' tattooed behind her ear, but she didn't seem happy at all about the idea.  When I finally asked her why she didn't seem excited about getting the tattoo, she informed me that she had lost a bet with an "asshole" at work, and it was his initial that she was required to get tattooed.

 She did not leave a tip.

 Number 6:  Clearly I Have Made Poor Choices

 Is the tattoo weird?  Yes, but I love it.  This was another lost bet a friend of mine made with his Kung Fu instructor.  For losing, my friend was required to get a dolphin wearing a sombrero.  I added the mustache and bandoleer to the design, and I think the phrase was his own.

 Number 5:  The Banana Crew

 We had a group of guys, like five guys, all come into the shop at once requesting banana tattoos.  My guy wanted a sculptural looking banana with the words "Top Banana" etched in it.  Among the others were a banana playing a banjo and a banana ejaculating.

 Number 4:  A Rose by Any Other Name

 I don't discriminate, and I generally try to be cool with everyone.  As such, I have a significant number of gay male clients.  I tattooed one guy who appreciated my professionalism, and he told his friends.  One of these friends reached out to me via email, asking about the possibility and price of tattooing a rose around his anus.  He never followed through with the request by setting an appointment.

 Number 3:  The Lover's Kiss Prints

 Early in my career I was working one night with another artist, and a couple of ladies came into the shop.  They were partners, and initially just wanted to see what their idea would cost.  They wanted one another's kiss prints tattooed on their partner's pubic mound, just above the labial split.  The other artist offered them a price they simply couldn't refuse, and I found myself shaving a woman's pubic hair off to apply her girlfriend's lip print tattoo.  I also learned that this mother of two had just left her husband for the woman in the next station.  I guess there is some truth to the idea that lesbians tend to move fast.

 Number 2: The Happy Button Smiley Face

 This may have been more of about making conversation than an actual request, but I was once asked about tattooing a simple smiley face on a woman's clitoris.  It was apparently girls' night out and I was doing a couple of small tattoos on two of a group of girls who were out partying.  One of the friends who was there to offer support just out of the blue said, "Would you tattoo a smiley face on my clit?"  The room full of girls erupted into out bursts of "oh my gawd!" and laughter.  I replied that I would need to see the clitoris to know if it was feasible, but that I would do it.

 Number 1: The Penis Tattoo Cover-Up

 I still have trouble wrapping my head around this one.  A guy contacts me about a cover-up.  He is wanting to propose to his girlfriend.  The problem is that he has his ex-wife's name tattooed on his penis.  Yep, down the center of the top of his shaft.  It had apparently been a point of contention for some time, and I could imagine why.  Before he proposed, he wanted to demonstrate just how committed he was to his lady (and how over he was with the ex).  Executing a penis tattoo is difficult (I initially typed the word "hard", but people might have gotten the wrong idea), a cover-up would be even more so.  I have a feeling I priced myself out of doing the tattoo.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Do You Really Want His or Her Name as a Tattoo?

Love makes people crazy...
 This happens more frequently than I care to admit.  Someone walks into the tattoo studio. They are on Cloud 9.  They have found THE ONE, and they want a way to demonstrate their love and devotion to that person.  They have decided that proof of their unending passion for their lover would best be expressed through having that person's name forever tattooed into their skin.

 We artists happily take the commission.  We may offer some small words of advice; asking if the client is certain this is what they want, but that is all.  Secretly, we are shaking our collective heads.  The name-tattoo is almost always the death-knell of a doomed relationship.  Generally, we can expect to see the client back within six months for a cover-up.  Perhaps it is that passion that burns fiercest dies the fastest, or perhaps their partner questions the validity of being with someone who would make such an irresponsible choice.  Whatever, name-tattoos are probably not the way to express your love.

Hopefully Patricia is okay with you having trouble finding work.
 You should never get a tattoo for another person.  A tattoo is a personal statement, one you hope to take with you to the grave.  Tattoos gotten for someone else, whether going along and getting a tattoo during Girls' Night Out because your friend wants one and doesn't want to be alone or to express you love for another, will almost always be tattoos you will regret.  Before you get that special-someone's moniker inked into your neck, consider the following:

 How long have you been with your lover?  It is shocking the number of people who are willing to do something crazy like get a name-tattoo after being with someone for just one week.  A tattoo is a bit of a commitment, so keep in mind that over half the marriages in the US end in divorce, most marriages only last 8 years, and one third of the people who marry at the age of 20-24 get a divorce.  Maybe you should wait to see how this relationship works out a little while before you get under a needle for the one you love.

 Names and portraits are meant to memorialize and celebrate someone who has had a major impact on your life.  Typically this is your parents or your children.  While this is not so much the case anymore, traditionally these kinds of tattoos were reserved to commemorate the passing of someone you cared for.  The Art of Tattoo is chocked full of weird little superstitions, and one such superstition is against getting a name or portrait tattoo of someone who is still alive.  It is akin to the taboo about laying down in a coffin.  

They deserve each other.  Best of luck!
 If you are coming to get that tattoo as a testimony of your love for another, are they coming along with you?  What does it say that you are willing to make that commitment, and they are not?  Don't buy the "I don't like tattoos" excuse... Or, do, because if they don't like tattoos they are going to LOVE seeing their name etched in your skin everyday until they leave you.  When a relationship is obviously lop-sided with one person being far more invested than the other, the other begins to question whether they should be in that relationship.  First, they may question whether they deserve you, but this quickly turns into whether or not you deserve them.  If you are getting that name-tattoo, don't be the only one.  If your partner is not interested, heed their sound wisdom.

 Again, as you should never get a tattoo for another person, have you considered what you are trying to say by getting that tattoo?  The tattoo is on you, not your lover.  It is akin to saying, "Baby, I love you so much that I bought myself a new watch/necklace to show you, and your picture is on the face/in the locket!"  You may think you did it for them, but clearly this is about you.  Maybe you should embrace that feeling.  If you feel that this relationship is a milestone in your life that is worthy of celebration, then get a tattoo that celebrates that feeling.  Maybe get your birth-flowers intertwined, or have your artist work your Zodiac symbols into a design.  Make the tattoo about that moment in your life, and not the other person.  You will regret the tattoo less if it is about your moment, and not someone else.  If not, have you considered taking that money and maybe getting away for the weekend with that special someone?  The memories made will probably mean more to them than your tattoo.

It is almost guaranteed return business...
 Speaking of other people, ask yourself this question; if your lover had the name of their ex tattooed on them for you to see everyday, how would you feel?  Would you be okay with it, or would you want them to get it removed or covered up?  If it is the latter, this is what you will put anyone who dates you after this relationship through.  Now, I know right now you KNOW this relationship will last forever, but if you think that your lover having his or her ex's name tattooed on them is a bad decision, then YOU MUST question the decision you are making now!

 The bottom line is this: Think before you Ink.  In a tattoo studio, artists are there to give you what you want, no matter how ill-advised what you want may be.  Getting that name tattooed may be the moment in your relationship that seals the deal, but it will more likely be the nail in the coffin.  And, if you go through with it in spite of all that you have read here, remember what your artist tells you as you leave the shop.  I will bet money it is a mention of what he or she charges for cover-ups. 

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Top 10 Things I Would Ask Scratchers to Stop Doing

 Scratch-er,  noun

 : An untrained person applying a tattoo, often out of their residence.  "Scratcher" refers to the quality of the tattoo itself, which often appears to be "scratched" into the skin rather than the smooth look of a tattoo.

 Scratchers in the tattoo industry have always present a dilemma.  Having no training, they often engage in unsafe and unsanitary practices while tattooing, endangering themselves and their clients.  The quality they often produce is sub-par and reflects negatively on the industry as a whole.  They also undercut professional shops in price, robbing trained tattooers of potential clients.  As artists, tattooers are often anti-authoritarian and rebellious in nature who frequently celebrate flaunting the rules of society. Normally, a tattooer might support the idea of someone "doing what they had to do" to be a tattooer, but as professionals, tattooers recognize that scratchers are bad for business and the industry as a whole.

 My personal opinion is that scratchers are inevitable and unavoidable in our industry.  Tattooing is largely unregulated.  We have to meet minimum health and safety standards, but the quality of our equipment and training of tattooers is completely in the hands of the industry itself and often driven by market forces.  We would like to keep it that way, but the trade-off is that tattoo equipment can be purchased by anyone and scratchers are rarely considered a priority by local law enforcement. It would be great if tomorrow every scratcher in the world put their machines down and refused to do another tattoo until they completed an apprenticeship, but that is not likely to happen.  

 So, instead, these are the top 10 things I would ask scratchers to stop doing, in descending priority.

10.  Stop trying to sell me your unused tubes, inks, and needles.

 I can appreciate that you are saying you are getting out of the practice of scratching, even as I know that you probably just really need some quick cash and will be back to it as soon as you can.  The junk you bought on eBay or from the headshop down the street is no good to me.  I might be interested in your machines, if only to get them out of your hands.  Don't get mad when I offer you $5 for a machine that I can get new on-line for $15 and you bought at a pawn shop for $50.  Everything else, you can just throw away.

9.  Stop re-using your grommets and o-rings.

 I should include stop re-using your tubes and needles, and "recycling" (eeewwww!) ink you have already poured into caps or whatever it is you use, but in my mind that should be a given.  Don't re-use your needles.  Don't re-use your tubes unless they are steel, you know how to clean them, and you have an autoclave.  DON'T RE-USE INK YOU HAVE POURED!  I can't believe I would have to type that, but then I have heard some things...  

 Grommets are rubber sleeves that help hold the needle-eye to the armature bar pin.  O-rings are rubber pieces that are used to adjust the function of the springs and muffle the sound of the machine.  Both of these items cost next to nothing, and are made of porous rubber.  Even if you are doing everything else right, these parts are contaminated by the tattoo process and should be thrown away when the artist breaks down and cleans between clients. 

 I recently visited a pawn shop, just to see what kind of oddities they had available.  In a display case was a tattoo machine with a gnarled, worn-out grommet still on the armature bar.  It probably had the contaminants of 100 different people soaked into it.  Simply nasty.  Throw that stuff away.

8.  Don't get "butt-hurt" when tattooers in a legitimate shop treat you like dirt.

 When a scratcher walks into a tattoo shop, he or she often thinks for some reason that we are all "brothers", and that they somehow deserve courtesy and respect.  They are often looking for equipment to purchase or pointers on how to tattoo,  Every tattooer in a shop has completed an apprenticeship and struggled for the knowledge they have and the privilege of being tattooers.  A scratcher who assumes they are on the same level not only demonstrates how little they know about tattooing but also has no respect for the tattooers they are speaking to.

7.  If a tattooer in a shop does agree to look at your drawings or your portfolio, be as professional as possible.

 A lined notebook is not a sketchbook.  Photos on your phone are not a tattoo portfolio.  If a tattooer is going to give you some of his or her time, be prepared to make the most of it.  Be prepared to be critiqued, and be willing to accept a critique no matter how negative it may be.  Set and keep an appointment.  Don't waste your time or the time of the tattooer.  

 6. Stop carrying your tattoo machines in your pants pocket.

 Never mind the mechanical things that can go wrong with a machine that is improperly carried.  Never mind that this machine is probably rarely cleaned and nasty in-and-of itself.  Walking around with a tattoo machine in your pocket just adds your sweat and funk to the microbe-culture that is no doubt already growing there.  Pulling a machine out of your pocket impresses no one.

 5.  It is a tattoo machine or device.  Stop calling it a "gun".

 Tattoo machines do not shoot ink.  The tube-and-grip assembly is not a "barrel".  Calling a tattoo machine a "gun" establishes that you do not understand the tattoo process, and should not be allowed anywhere near someone's skin to do a tattoo.

4.  Don't besmirch professional tattoo shop prices.

 We get it.  You are tattooing out of your kitchen, basement, or garage.  You have no overhead.  You did not invest years and thousands of dollars into learning how to tattoo.  You have no clue what the value of good work is, because you are unfamiliar with good work.  Speaking badly about people who tattoo the right way and offer a fair price for seeing to their clients safety and satisfaction is not helping your cause.

 3.  Stop assuming that you can buy supplies at a tattoo shop.

 I know some shops sell supplies to anyone who walks in off the street.  If you don't see supplies displayed for sale or a sign that suggests that supplies are sold, don't ask.  A professional tattooer is not going to "be cool" and sell you a needle when you come-up short.  Selling supplies to local scratchers just encourages potential clients to get work from people who are competing (badly) with them.  Why walk into a shop and see what a tattoo is supposed to look like when "Jimmy Aroundaway" gets his supplies from the professional shop and will scratch you up for $20 and a case of beer?

2.  Don't talk in front of tattoo shop clients.

 If you are in a tattoo shop in the customer area for whatever purpose, whether as a potential customer yourself or your lucky enough to have a tattooer actually giving you the time of day, don't talk to other clients.  You have no valid opinion on anything that has to do with tattooing.  No one wants to see what you have done on yourself or your girlfriend/boyfriend.  No one cares, and you are out of line offering any advice.

 And, especially, do not dare to suggest that you could offer a better price.  Don't do it.  The life you save may be your own.

 1.  Stop tattooing.

 That really is the bottom line.  Draw as much as you can.  Practice on pig-skin, orange peals, fake-skin, or whatever if you must, but stay away from tattooing people until someone who actually knows what they are doing can certify that you are tattooing safely and correctly.  If you love tattooing and love the life, then you will find a way to do it right.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattooer, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/