Wednesday, January 20, 2010

3 steps to a better tattoo community

So today at the shop we had a nice talk about the state of tattooing. More specifically, we discussed the fact that the whole trade seems to be going into the shitter. Yeah I know that is sort of a wide range statement so I’ll try to specify as much as possible without getting too down on everything. Honestly it was a pretty upsetting conversation.

The whole lovely conversation started when Joy pointed out a statement “Inked” magazine had made in their recent issue. Apparently they plan to open 400 tattoo studios in malls across America. Now I would have figured that statement alone would be enough to strike fear into the hearts of every tattooer. It seems I was wrong. I tried to find more info online and found a bunch of people in a forum trying to defend the move. Many of those arguments were from either folks that worked in malls already, or defended the decision as a brilliant business move. It all actually made me sick to my stomach. Talking about that bit started an afternoon’s conversation that covered all, but not only the rant below…

One of the main things that got me interested in tattooing in the first place was the idea that it was still a craft and not a business. It is steeped in tradition and a sense of integrity that gets lost in mainstream art. It has done that by staying, as a business, extremely small. Amazing really, considering it has been around for as long as it has. That small size has kept it manageable and able to be policed by the few individuals that paid their dues to the craft. It was inevitable that tattooing would grow to the gross proportions it has today. Within that growth there has been progress undoubtedly… but I fear it has grown too far past its ability to self govern. There are magazines that publish darn near anything sent their way (or so it seems… id hate to see what they turn down), there are conventions that seem to only have a criteria of affording the booth fee, and there are shops being opened left and right as “business ventures” where the owner has never even held a tattoo machine or if they do indeed tattoo they are green as hell (can you say blind leading the blind). It seems every time you turn around mediocrity is being rewarded and recognized as greatness. If you add that to the overblown sense of entitlement that has swept the nation, you’ve got a perfect storm of bullsh*t.

I don’t think its possible to ever get the good old days back, but if we are going to still have a hand in our own industry we need to take some steps to keep it ours. Simply complaining isn’t worth the time to write, so here are a few ways to start getting a grip on the industry we have built:

As tattooers we need to take responsibility for our trade, our art, and the service we provide.
1. If you are new to the trade, it is important for you to keep yourself in check. Unfortunately as pointed out, you will be told how awesome you are by magazines, show promoters, and customers. Don’t be fooled. You still shouldn’t be attempting that color portrait as a tattoo. If you cant draw it, you cant tattoo it. Self govern.

2. If you HAVE been tattooing for years, HAVE paid your dues, and can tattoo better than everyone on your block… good for you. Now accept the responsibility for your work. Stop with the how to videos, the online step by step tutorials, and for all our sake stop trying to ride this wave till it crashes. You are killing your own industry. Self govern.
lastly (for now)

3. If you don’t tattoo at all… stay the fu*k out of my business. I have worked too hard to watch you run my passion into the ground. You have no right owning a tattoo shop just because you have the money to open one. (let alone 400) I cannot stress enough the damage done by you and your kind. Leach.

I do apologize for the complaining, I usually try to keep this blog positive. Next time will be more pictures and good feelings I promise. Now I gotta get some sleep so I can get up early and draw my ass off. Long day tomorrow.


  1. 400 shops nationwide?

    Honestly I cannot imagine how that is logistically feasible. I have a hard time imagining that zoning and health boards will allow that in most states.

    IF they manage to make it happen, then that is outright offensive. But then again I assume that may be how chefs feel when they see their craft dumbed down to fast food and take out.

    You touched on something that is more true than I like to even think about, which is this distinctly American sense of entitlement that is becoming increasingly more prevalent. I wonder if just too many parents told their kids "you can be and do whatever you want" and forgot the part of "IF you set your mind to it, work really hard, and are blessed enough to have a talent for it".

    I hope for everyone's sake this magazine is yet again full of shit. I always considered that publication to be a joke. Unfortunately a joke that is apparently turning quite a profit. 400 mall style tattoo shops really could do irreparable damage to the tattoo community. Running truly talented tattoo artists out of business; permanently marking an entire generation with carbon copy crap work tattoos; and degrading a beautiful and ancient craft that was only just starting to earn respect as a legitimate art form.

    Kind of hate everyone right now...

  2. Unfortunately, its the same thing that seems to happen to every craft, subculture, hobby, etc. Its something awesome, so you love it, so you share the love, then it gets popular, then it gets co-opted by corporations, becomes pop culture and consquently ruins the very thing that made it awesome in the first place. No suggestions or solutions here, but I can relate to you on this!

  3. great blog my friend. As someone who is watching her husband go through a major tattoo tornado up here in NH I can relate. There is a reason why Hobo's and CST are owned by Jason alone and not both of us...I don't tattoo and I don't pretend to know how to or how to run a tattoo business so I stay out of it except for to help with the financial bookkeeping.

    I can just see a tattoo shop in our local mall, it would make this tattoo shit storm complete, bleh.

  4. For what it IS worth: things of such a commercial nature often run cycles and those who are truly in something for the love of it stay around, the rest wither and die off accordingly. I want to see more folks tattooed, but I want to see GOOD ones, not just anything.

  5. This is a great post.

  6. i think weve even had this discussion, the "culture" will eat itself. and the real deal people with a true passion for it will be part of the puke, not the shit, well clean ourselves off and rebuild.with the hope that we might once again have a community of tattooists that have it in their hearts, with clients that do as well.
    btw, im rebuilding that rogers piece by piece, down to the original screws, and im having that guideline frame rebuilt for a trade. good deal.
    i miss my duder

  7. I don't have as much to add as some obviously.

    One thing I have learned is that you can never get the good old days back no matter what. I'm sure you know that. I do think that they do in fact pull of this 400 stores thing then years down the line we'll all still be here. All the folks that know what the deal is will continue to give our patronage to our tried and true establishments.

    Hopefully that will be enough to keep it alive until this passes but even when we come out on the other side it's not going to be good old days. What I think is going to happen is there is going to be this mainstream that they are creating. Everyone, like yourself, I believe, are going to be a part of a more underground culture.

    The people that are ruining everything are entrepreneurs. Another more profitable opportunity will present itself and they'll chase that and leave you all alone.

    Forgive me if I'm not getting my point across very well. I'm hopped up on cold medicine. I feel compelled to say this though, I am truly sorry that this is happening to your passion. Is there anything that can be done as far as folks going out to zoning meetings or townships around the country to try to keep them from putting these in malls? Some kind of petition we could start? Ugh.

    A little sunshiney tidbit - your scarf is almost done. The only hang up is, I'm searching for the perfect button and am having some trouble on that front. With any luck I'll see you soon.

  8. man, things sure have changed...i talked with some of my co-workers about this post today to see what they thought and they didn't seem as intimidated as i am by the prospect that bullshit fast food tattoo culture is gaining momentum. the last thing we need is 400 more kitchen magicians with starter kits and instructional dvds... depressing...