Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Stick-and-Poke Tattoo Kit. You Have Got to Be Kidding.

 Gang, I wrestled with the need to write this article.  Some of you will skim through this and decide to buy this product.  Please... PLEASE!  Read what I am saying here.  This is simply a bad idea.  Inevitable, yes, but still bad.

 Here's the idea, based on what Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit (that's the name of the company) tells its potential patron up-front.  Tattoos done at home by amateurs are dangerous.  They tell you that the possible dangers include:

 -Blood Borne Pathogens
 -Toxic Ink
 -Inadequate/Unclean Supplies
 -Dirty Needles, Ink, or Thread

 Let's discuss these dangers for a moment.  Blood Borne Pathogens are generally a concern when you are dealing with multiple people getting tattoos.  This is why tattoo studios strive for cleanliness and use aseptic techniques.  Keeping things clean reduces the likelihood of cross-contamination and the spread of blood borne pathogens.  "Toxic" ink must refer to inks that are manufactured cheaply and with little concern about the potential effects of the materials used on the human body.  Inks purchased on-line from unknown sources are often of a low-quality and their safety is suspect.  Inadequate or unclean supplies are a concern when dealing with "kitchen magicians" that use whatever they have around or re-use the tools they have to administer a tattoo to multiple people.  Dirty needles, ink, and thread are right in-line with the previous point.

Because this can happen.
 The solution, dear readers, is to not get tattoos from an amateur "tattoo artist" working from home. And, guess what you are when you administer your own tattoo at your kitchen table! Do not get a "stick-and-poke" tattoo.  Just don't do it.  Get tattoos from professionals in a licensed studio, and if you want to be a tattoo artist have respect for yourself, your clients, and the industry by learning to do so safely and properly through an apprenticeship.

 Companies like Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit only compound the problem.  A kit which provides "professional" supplies to allow you or your friends to tattoo you is a completely irresponsible grab for your money with no regard for your safety.

 The kit includes 1/2 oz of "professional" tattoo ink.  Before we get into what "professional" means, can you be certain?  We are dealing with a company that is encouraging people to engage in an unsafe practice, going against every industry standard in order to make a buck.  Can you trust these people and what they say about anything they offer?

 "Professional" simply means that it is a product most commonly used by professional tattooers.  Generally, such inks come from known and reputable manufacturers who have earned the trust of their patrons through the consistency and performance of their product.  The brands of ink displayed on the Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit site are none that I recognize.  And, I write BRANDS in the plural because there site features at least three different bottle and label types, suggesting at least three different manufacturers.  You cannot even be certain that the product you receive is the product pictured on the site, let alone that the inks are anywhere near the quality used by professionals (protip: that probably means they are not).

Luckily, most of this will fall out.
 You get a 5RL and a 3RL needle.  In the photo, it appears that they are in blister packs common to the tattoo industry, sealed in sterile inert gas.  If so, they are clean... at least until you open the package.  What happens then?  Does Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit assume that everyone knows how to handle the needles in order to keep them from getting contaminated before they are used and while the tattoo is being administered?  Their instructions don't mention how to handle the needle.  These needles are designed for use in a tattoo machine, not to be held in hand.  What is the likelihood that the needle will slip while someone is poking themselves with it?  Fairly high, I would imagine.  When that needle comes into contact with the floor, the kitchen table, or any other non-antiseptic surface, you are inviting problems.

 The kit also comes with two nitrile gloves.  Ask a tattoo artist how flimsy gloves are, and how easily they rip.  This is why a tattoo work station includes a container filled with gloves.  Now imagine holding a thin needle bar in your hand and trying to poke yourself with the needle without sliding down the bar and tearing the glove on the solder point for the needle group.  Will the persons purchasing this kit have the sense to buy extra gloves, or will they just continue the procedure without?

 The aftercare balm is called "hustle butter".  I could point out that again you need to question the source, but need I say more?  Who is being "hustled"?

 You also get gauze, a band-aid, a witch-hazel wipe, two ink cups (aren't those the paper condiment cups used as fast-food restaurants?), a medical surface covering, and an instruction book.  A PDF of the book is on their website.

 The instruction book is 28 pages long.  THE FIRST FIVE PAGES INCLUDE WARNINGS ABOUT THE RISKS OF USING THIS KIT!  Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit clearly does not want you to seek legal damages from them in the event that their product harms you.  They can point to their book and demonstrate that nearly 20% of the information provided was a warning not to use their product.  Buyer beware!

Gorgeous, huh?
 The funniest line in this book is on page 8; "Tips for Your Design".  The sixth and final tip is "consult a professional".  WHAT PROFESSIONAL TATTOOER IS GOING TO ASSIST SOMEONE IN DESIGNING THEIR STICK-AND-POKE TATTOO?  That's right, gang, not one.  You walk into a tattoo shop and ask about advice on your DIY stick-and-poke tattoo design, and the best you can hope for is a lecture about what a moronic idea that is.  This simply points to the probability that the makers of the Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit have no experience with the tattoo industry and is out to simply make a quick buck.

 The instructions include some real gems as well.  "Create a clean area" (but no information on how to properly create a clean area).  "Poke the skin with amount of pressure enough to puncture only the top few layers of skin" (how do you gauge that without any training or experience?).  They also make some solid suggestions that most people will never follow, like take your sharps to a proper sharps disposal facility or mark your container for your used materials with the word "biohazard".  The people who are cutting corners by getting this kit are already beyond any sound advice regarding public safety.

 It is this kind of product that actually threatens the industry as a whole.  Tattooing has gained legitimacy in our society by demanding a rigorous adherence to safety by those who practice the art.  Enough DIY tattoos gone wrong and we will find professional tattoo studios driven back underground as legislators are given an excuse to demand tighter restrictions.  Just keep in mind that the person who purchase a tattoo kit to give themselves a tattoo probably has an idiot for a tattooer.

 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 an email at tattoonerdz@gmail.com

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Sailor Jerry's Tattoo Stencils" Books I and II

  Before you buy "Sailor Jerry's Tattoo Stencils" by Kate Hellenbrand, you need to understand the title.  I recommend that any aspiring tattooer get a copy of these books, but you need to know what you are getting. This is not, technically, a collection of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collin's flash.  Rather, these are actual transfers from those flash designs, the first stage of the actual tattoos.  What you will get are raw, unadorned examples of the very foundation of a tattoo.  This collection gathered by Kate "Shanghai Kate" Hellenbrand, demonstrates the root of the "American Traditional" tattoo design, the style that many tattoo purists describe as the defining style of a "good" tattoo.  

 The American Traditional tattoo style developed not from an aesthetic choice, but rather the limitations of the tools used to take a design from paper to the skin.  Before the advent of the thermograph transfer, tattooers would cut their designs into a thin, plastic sheet.  Grooves cut into the acetate would be filled by rubbing graphite into them.  The skin was prepared with a thin coat of petroleum jelly.  The acetate stencil would be laid onto the skin, transferring the graphite from the stencil to the jelly.  This provided a fragile pattern for the tattooer to follow with his needle.

 The nature of this process limited the complexity and detail of the designs.  If a design was too intricate, it would be difficult (if not impossible) and extremely time-consuming to cut into acetate.  Thus, American Traditional designs are defined by simple, bold lines, with often no more than two to three line-widths.  The transfer process and materials also limited selection.  Tattoo designs tended to be limited to what was popular to those getting tattoos in those early years; Naval or other Military images, primitive pin-up girls, and well-known cartoon characters.  The same acetate stencil would be the basis for multiple tattoos, with variation introduced during the tattoo process.

 Color in these tattoos, usually red, green, blue, yellow, and black, were also limited by the technology of the time.  Tattooers often made their own ink, and there were limits to what could be successfully and economically produced.  Again, the American Traditional style was a result not of aesthetics, but of the practical limitations of the technology of the time.  These limitations came to set the expectations of what a tattoo should look like.  Today, technological advancements allows for a variety of styles to be replicated in the skin, but "Tattoo Art" has become defined in the social consciousness as consisting of strong lines, a bold but limited color pallet, and traditional subject matter.  Put simply, this style is recognized as a tattoo, regardless if it is in skin or on paper.

 These collections offer insight into the foundations of an art form.  With an understanding of the technical limitations, they also highlight the innovative and creative talent of Sailor Jerry.  While these books will have very little value to most tattoo clients seeking a design, they represent an excellent resource for the tattooer who wishes to create tattoo designs rooted in traditional methods and recognized as tattoo art.

 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 an email at tattoonerdz@gmail.com