4 Secrets From The Guys Giving You Tattoos
More than 20 percent of adults in the U.S. have a tattoo, and that percentage is nearly double when we're talking about the under-30 set. But despite the fact that it's a permanent decision and basically a form of minor surgery, people seem not to put a whole lot of thought into it. To get a peek behind the scenes, we talked to Sam, a tattoo artist who told us ...
There Are Many Types Of Tattoos They Simply Won't Do
"I had one dude who wanted a dog's ass tattooed around his belly button," Sam says. "And yeah, I wouldn't do that to someone. Another kid, he was 19, he wanted it tattooed on his lips, the Joker thing, like the Joker smile. I refused to do that, because the kid is 19." You can scream all you want about your freedom, but they don't need to have your decisions hanging over their heads, especially if they're impressively dumb decisions.
"This fad will last forever!"
"A lot of artists, they won't do arms, face, or neck tattoos if it's the first tattoo," says Sam. That is, after all, a major life decision -- sticking a tattoo of a swastika made of dicks on your forehead is going to permanently change the trajectory of your life.
They also get requests that are probably illegal, and, if not, it's just because no one could have possibly anticipated that it needed to be. "We had one dude who would call about once a month trying to convince us to tattoo his cat," Sam says. "It's apparently a trend in Russia or something. But literally once a month he'd call up and try to get us to come to his house, knowing that we wouldn't allow a cat in the shop, and tattoo his cat. Of course no one did it, but it seriously would not surprise me if he still calls in trying to get it done."
And yes, before you waste a Google, cat tattooing IS a real thing in Russia.
"Oh, how nice, owner, you gave me a tattoo representative of the people
who worshiped me as a god."
There's also a code of ethics between artists to consider. If your artist skipped town or stopped returning your calls because you keep asking them to tattoo your cat, and you walk into a different shop with a half-finished tattoo, the odds are pretty good no one will touch you. "I don't wanna mess up someone else's art," Sam says. "Or, if it's really bad, I don't want to be associated with it. You can ruin your reputation that way." Same goes for people who commission a design from one artist and then once they have it down on paper, shop it around to see if they can get another artist to do the tattoo for less money. "A lot of artists won't do that because that's a person being a dick," Sam says. "The artist put a lot of time into that work, and hopefully they didn't do it for free."
The Prices Are Made Up At Random
Since pricing is so variable -- it's basically up to the artist -- it's pretty easy to swindle newbies who don't really know what tattoos are supposed to cost. "If you come in and say you want a $100 tattoo, we'll do it for $100, if it can be done for $100, but if that same person comes in and says they have $250 to spend, that same tattoo is now $250."
"I want it free, then."
There's also all kinds of ways they can sneak in hidden charges. "Say you drop off a $20 deposit," Sam says. "Instead of a $100 tattoo, that tattoo turns into $120. We just roll it into the total cost." Likewise, "sales" and "specials" are often code for "exactly what we always charge, because how the fuck would you even know?" Sam explains, "If something is 10 percent off, 10 percent is just going to be added to the total cost."
It's kind of like how auto mechanics are infamous for charging whatever they feel like. Getting a tattoo and fixing your alternator are both things the average person can't do on their own without great physical pain and probable damage. You can try to comparison shop, but even then, you're trying to assign a dollar value to the quality of the artwork. Is this guy's Rainbow Dash tramp stamp $50 more majestic than the one done by the dude next door?
"You also get the option of a Rule 34 genitals version."
And then you have the desperation factor, because ...
The Real Money Comes From Covering Up Previous, Regrettable Tattoos
The tattoo business is a self-sustaining organism, because when you've gotten tired of that "1D 4 LYF" just above your junk, it's often cheaper and easier to just get another tattoo over it than to have it removed. And customers will pay a premium for it. "Cover-ups tend to be expensive because we know you want it done," Sam says. "They're not gonna say no."
Especially when they hear about the alternative options.
And whenever a tattoo fad sweeps the nation and ensnares a bunch of new customers, parlors know they're creating a new wave of business down the line. "That's where the real money comes from, when something gets really big and then years later they want it covered up," Sam says. "Butterflies, hearts, dolphins on the ankle." His shop even had special events for undoing the most popular mistakes. "One special we had at the shop was the tramp stamp cover-up special," he says. "Every 20-year-old girl would come in and get the tramp stamp, and now they want it covered up."
To be fair, it's not just the urge to cover a mistake that ups the price -- it's a lot trickier to invent a perfect cover-up than to create a piece from scratch. "I had one that was some type of bug; I guess it was supposed to be a lady bug, I don't know exactly, but it was very bold and they wanted it turned into a flower, and that was nearly impossible to do," Sam says. "You can only do so much. You have to figure out how to place it so it won't look like the old tattoo at all ... the way they wanted it, it would have just been a black blob."
"You wanted a tattoo of an oil puddle, right?"
And then there are the typos. Please remember that your tattoo artist is not going to act as your copy editor. "They have to make sure to spell it right, because we'll do it just how you spell it," Sam says. "It goes through like three people and we make sure, 'Are you sure that's how you want it?' And they'll come back in three days later when their friends say they misspelled it."
To their credit, they will at least try to talk customers out of tattoos they know they'll regret. "Names especially, we do our best to say, 'No, don't get the name; you don't want the name.' Anybody who gets a name tattoo, I'm sorry, it's gonna be something different in a few years. Probably like 10 percent of people with name tattoos still have the original." But if you insist, that's fine, because, "you're just gonna come back to get it covered up."
Yes, You Can Get An Infection
Getting a tattoo is generally considered to be a safe procedure when everything is done correctly. But those last five words are the most important part of that sentence -- that's why the kinds of tattoo artists who don't just start stabbing on sight will give you a list of do's and don'ts before your appointment, such as "make sure you've eaten something recently" and "don't show up wasted, you degenerate." You might be tempted to crumple it up and throw it away, because you're not a toddler, or maybe you are a toddler and you need some liquid courage to handle the ouchies. (Note: Actual toddlers should not be given alcohol before they get a tattoo.)
Unless they're teething.
But they don't give you those instructions because they took one look at your khakis and determined that you're a pansy who can't hang. It doesn't matter how much of a badass you are: If you don't eat, you can pass out. If you're drunk, you can bleed out. OK, you won't die, but it'll be ugly because alcohol acts as a blood thinner. "Normally, there's not gonna be more than a drop or two of blood on the floor," says Sam. "But this guy had, I don't know, maybe a cup of blood on the floor."
Even if you do everything right, you're trusting not just your artist but every artist in the studio to refrain from being fatally gross. You can check for old hidden sharps containers and demand a needle made of pure solid Lysol, but if anyone is sharing ink and any of those people are screw-ups, they're taking ink out and putting infection back in. "We had some bad ink, and anybody tattooed with it -- it was bad," Sam says. "Two of my friends got tattooed with that same ink, so it was kinda obvious. ... refused to throw it away. I eventually snuck in and threw it away." It's not always the filthy parlor at fault, either -- Big Ink occasionally ships out a toxic batch of product. It happened most recently with a company called White & Blue Lion in 2014. In New York as many as 6 percent of people wind up with itching or infections that last longer than four months.
"It says 'amoxicillin' in Chinese!"
As for how sanitary the shops themselves are, it's hit and miss. "The autoclave and that stuff, that's really well-done," says Sam. "I mean, we tattoo each other, so we definitely don't want diseases or anything." Everything else, though, literally gets swept under the rug. "The sharps containers can pile up," he says. "During the health inspections, they'll go and hide them out back somewhere. There's a $500 fine for every violation, so they hide those things. Trash cans not taken out properly, that's $500; any additional trash bags in that trash can, that's another $500. Sometimes the tubes will sit for a couple days, and they end up getting cleaned, but I don't think that's very good for health code."
OK, we suddenly realize why they don't want people bringing their cats in there.
Manna has many ill-advised tattoos and also a Twitter.
Interested in learning more about other's bad decisions? Learn about what happens to your genitals when you detox off heroin in 5 Unexpected Things I Learned from Being a Heroin Addict. Or, for other unusual career choices, check out 7 Surprising Realities Of Wrestling You Won't See On TV.
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