Tattoos Essay, Research Paper

The tattoo industry is an often type cast field, in many instances it is thought of as

a delinquent activity carried out in remote and filthy cesspools of social deviancy by large

hairy burly men who cant get a “real” job due to past felonious activity. I hope to shoot

this popular misconception full of holes. One will find through experience only that this

is truly not the case, these are legitimate places of business, ran n accordance to all health

ordinances by law abiding citizens.

I have targeted a tattoo studio on Bessemer avenue, by the creative name of

“Inkslingers.” As a matter of fact I received three of five tattoos here by Kevin Spainhour

who is also the subject of my interview. Judging by the parking lot, you would never

suspect this place as being a successful propriety. The lot is ragged and broken with no

more than half a dozen parking spaces, of those three are occupied by employees. As you

approach the bright yellow sandstone building you cant help but admire the airbrushed

artwork for a moment. The entrance is surrounded by tonguerings earrings dice and other

assorted items.

As you walk in the front door you find yourself standing in front of a glass

jewelers case. This is the counter where you pay for your overpriced tattoos, jewelry or

other items. The man behind the counter was a very friendly black man about six feet tall

with a pierced eyebrow. He greets each visitor with a welcoming “hello.” There is a

partisian to the right that sections off the tattoo artist’s offices. This is where they go to

prepare the stencils for each tattoo. Past this room is a lounge with two bright red

couches and a glass coffee table with between them. On top of the coffee table sits two

tall stacks of tattoo magazines. All four walls of this room are covered from the floor to

the ceiling with flash. Flash are the pictures and designs that the studio provides for

customers to choose from. Each section of flash is about the size o a piece of notebook

paper and can have anywhere from one to forty different pictures on them. The studios

are usually rather protective of these as each page costs anywhere from two to seven

dollars. Of course customers do not have to chose their tattoo from the flash, they can

bring in their own pictures from the internet, television, magazines, even your very own

artwork or drawings. Their repetuar consisted of hundreds of different things tribal

desighns, flowers, surreal objects and scenery, skulls, an assortment of animals, and any

number of other things. It was quite impressive. From this room the piercing room

branches off. Inside there is a reclining dentist’s chair, a counter, and cabinets. It’s full of

medical grade equipment, sanitizing solutions, and Dixie cups. It is really not that much

difference in appearance to an ordinary examining room that would be found at any

reputable doctor’s office, with the exemption of the pictures of past piercings pinned to

the walls. The last main room has a large pool table and a coke machine. There are four

doors in this room one leading to the bathroom, and the others leading to small tattoo

roooms. The rooms are decorated by their designated tattooist. Kevin’s room was

covered from top to bottom in very interesting pictures. On top of the shelves sit

macabre action figures of Spawn, Kiss and Ozzy. It is slightly cluttered with all the

various trinkets, but it is interesting. It was in this room that I gave the interview. Kevin

Spainhour has been giving tattoos for over seven years. He began as a tattoo enthusiast.

He received several from a man named “Bull” at a shop called “Dynamic Design.” He

ended up spending so much time there, even when not getting tattoos that Bull took him

in as an apprentice. Kevin reminds me that this was just his experience. Eventhough he

fell into it many people plan and prepare for it by attending a school of the arts. After six

months of apprenticeship he began to tattoo professionally but that was not the end of his

education in the field, he is still learning even today. He stays current on new techniques

and styles, he takes a little bit away from each tattoo he does. One might not associate

continuing education with the tattoo education. Kevin enjoys his job each and every day.

He of course has to do the occasional tweety-bird tattoo which is more of a chore than

anything else for him, but for the most part he is very enthusiastic about each piece he

does. According to him one of the most important skills he had to acquire is the ability to

stay slow and steady. It is a natural tendency to want to rush or hurry but a good tattoo is

done very methodically. They have to remain constantly aware of where the needle has

been, where it is, and where it is heading. When Kevin works it is very different from

traditional art, it seems more of an exacting procedure than anything else. If he was not

meticulous in his work the customer will end up with an unsatisfactory piece that they are

permanently stuck with. All tattoo artists have their very own personal influences;

Kevin’s are rather diverse. His include M.C. Escher, H.R. Geiger, Moreau, Norman

Rockwell, japanamation films, and DC and Mcfarland comics. He seems to be attracted

to the unusual. Kevin is unsure yet if he wants to make this his career, he began seven

years ago not planning to spend most of a decade in the business. Like most tattoo artists

his ultimate goal would be to own his own shop. It is unfortunate that this is the height of

success for a tattoo artist. There are no chains or franchises in the business.

As a tattoo artist he enjoys coming in contact with so many different people. It is

a common preconception that people who get tattoos are delinquents. Sure he gets his

fair share, but the majority of his clientele are very normal people. These days everyone

and their goldfish have tattoos, eventhough the majority are young people, Kevin says “I

have tattooed doctors, lawyers, students on full scholarships, hell, two or three months

ago I did a tattoo of a moon and stars for a grandma in her late sixties.” Tattoo is not the

taboo it once was, it is becoming more mainstream everyday. Some enthusiasts have

even lost their enthusiasm for it because it is no longer “underground.” Another

preconception is that tattoo artists are typically degenerates trying to make a buck. This

too is not the case, I was introduced to the owner of the shop, a young guy named Jason,

he has a degree in political science and no criminal history to boot.

“We are proud of what we do here,” Kevin says. No corners are cut, they adhere

to the strictest of sanitation practices, and are serious about their work. When a customer

walks in the door to get a tattoo, they may or may not know what they want. Like a

salesman they try to get a sense of direction from the customer as to what piece they

might be interested in. Once they have this information they make some suggestions and

show the customer what flash they have to offer along these lines. Any changes or

additions the customer wants are gladly accepted. A price is settled on, which is usually

not cheap. Next the customer is given the artist’s portfolio to view while they wait for the

artist to trace the piece onto another piece of paper with special ink that they can transfer

to the skin. Once the copying process is done they go to the room where the act will take

place. The customer is asked to sit whatever way, and remove whatever clothing is most

convenient for the process. The area the tattoo will be placed is then swabbed several

times over with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, green soap, and then water. Next either

deodorant or green soap is used to facilitate the transfer of the stencil to the skin. If the

recipient agrees upon the position then the tattoo begins. The tattooist sets up his small

capfuls of ink and begins with linework. Once the outlines are established the color is

filled in. The customer is allowed as many breaks as they need, and once finished the

piece is sanitized again with green soap or in some very painful cases, alcohol. Of course

no needles are reused, they are always broken and put in a sharps container. The gun is

sanitized before and after a tattoo, and gloves are always used, and the seat is cleaned

with disinfectant after each tattoo.

The men and women who provide this service are exceptionally proud of their

work. Not just in general, but personally. In many cases you will find a tattooist will not

disturb or alter someone else’s work, just as they would not appreciate the defacement of

their own. Oftentimes it can be difficult to get the exact design you choose, so often they

can’t help but add their own personal flare to it. In rare cases a tattoo artist might refuse

to give the same tattoo twice, once it is given it is crossed off the flash samples. It is a

matter of honor; also one might find tattoo artists can sometimes be arrogant and elitist.

They are fully aware of the great talent it takes to do what they do, and sometimes this

can get to their heads.

I think it is safe to say I have riddled the misconceptions of old with so many

bullet holes that they no longer hold water. In the two hours I spent in the shop with

Kevin Spainhour, and in my various other visits over the past two years I have yet to see

that big bald biker guy with the beard to his knees that every thinks of when they think

“tattoo artist.” They are exactly what their name implies, artists, very skilled artists.

They are not criminals, the shops are more sanitary than most doctors’ offices, and the

clients are not social retards looking for a way to blow their ill-gotten money. Tattoo is

quick becoming a mainstream form of self-expression and I think it is only fair that it

finally receives some recognition.

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