tattoo artist

Lookings

Lookings, Part 1 – Body Graphics, Pennsauken, New Jersey: Tom and Pixie 

As I drove down Route 70 on my way to Body Graphics in Pennsauken, New Jersey, on Friday, April 18, 2014 around 12:30 P.M., I didn’t know what to expect. While I had attended the Skindustry Expo with Susette, I had never set foot into an actual tattoo parlor before. Horror stories of chintzy, Vegas-like neon signs flashing into a dark, leaky alleyway streaked through my mind.

When I entered the shop, a clean, tropical aroma draped itself around me and seemed to cast out any reservations I had. Hardwood floors gleamed up at me, and potted plants were speckled around the room. Around the walls of the front desk room were various forms of artwork. There was nobody else in the room, and I looked around, feeling suddenly comfortable.

Not long after I entered the shop, a man in a black shirt, dark hair and beard, and black glasses came around and walked behind the desk.

“Hi,” I said walking over to him. Then hesitantly, “Are you Tom?”

“Yes,” he said and sat down at one of the two empty chairs behind the front desk. Tom and I had been playing phone tag and trying to meet for about a month. When I originally called Body Graphics back in the beginning of March, Tom was all too happy to donate some of his time for walking me through what happens when a customer comes in looking to get a tattoo. Unfortunately, our schedules seemed to always conflict. Finally, the stars aligned, and Tom and I were both available on the same day at the same time.

“Hi, I’m Rachel,” I said.

We exchanged greetings, and I thanked him right away for taking the time to walk me through his experiences.

“I know that you don’t work every day, but on days that you are here, how many people would you say you get?” I asked, diving right in.

Tom indicated that it varies. “It could be one to two people, or it could be five to six.” It depends on the day.

Another woman came into the room and sat at the second chair. She had facial piercings, and when she spoke, I recognized her voice. I assumed she was Pixie, the woman who usually answered the phone at Body Graphics when I called (several times, thanks to my busy schedule) to work out a meeting with Tom.

Tom continued by informing me that when someone came in for a tattoo, he usually sets up a 30 minute consultation appointment first to go over what they are looking for. He said that he likes to find out “what they like and what they don’t like” in a tattoo.

Pixie indicated that some people come in expecting to get the entire consultation and tattoo done in one day. Both Tom and Pixie recapped a man who had come in expecting to get a rose on his torso, two roses on his chest, ivy vines connected them wrapping around his neck, and some lettering on it done in one day. Tom had compromised by simply tattooing one of the roses onto the man’s torso, and the man came back later to get the rest of the tattoo finished. However, Tom made a thought-provoking comment when he indicated that certain tattoos need more than one session. I knew that larger tattoos usually required more than one sitting, but what I hadn’t thought about, what Tom enlightened me with, was how much time in-between sessions there should be. Tattoos typically need at least three weeks to heal, and Tom said that he likes to wait at least that long to give the tattoo the necessary time to properly heal before adding to it.

“Your immune system can only take so much,” he said. And he raised a good point. If your immune system is working overtime trying to heal a tattoo, it would not be a good idea to take on more than it can handle.

I then asked Tom how he felt about customers who came in who had frivolous, non-committal ideas about a tattoo. Customers who wanted a tattoo just for the sake of getting one. Tom said that he gets customers like that and he does his best to work with them to get a good idea about what they are looking for. Pixie, who runs the front desk and is a piercer there, could attest to this, as well, since she sees all of the customers who enter the shop. She indicated that usually they look at the flashes but that generally they decide what they want and leave a large part of it up to the tattoo artist.

This idea of trust caused me to think about the other side of the spectrum: “What about people who come in knowing exactly what they want who don’t like to bend on ideas?” I asked.

Both Tom and Pixie were able to give me information about this. Pixie said that usually customers like that will come in to the shop with a print-out or a picture on their phone, and they want to stick pretty closely to it. Tom indicated that when customers don’t give a lot of freedom to the tattoo artist (“you know, like when they say they want this design and six leaves in the background”) it can weigh a toll on the tattoo overall. If the tattoo is spelled out to the “t,” it can often weaken the tattoo overall because there is less room for creativity. Pixie agreed with what Tom said.

I asked which they prefer: a customer who has no clue about what they want, or a customer who knows exactly what they are looking for and watches them like a hawk. Tom and Pixie agreed that a balance between the two is ideal. You want someone who knows what they want but can still give you some freedom with it. A happy medium is ideal.

I told both of them about Susette and how she had gotten a tattoo at the Skindustry Expo. I recalled a comment that Susette had made, noting how she likes giving the tattoo artist a lot of room to work in his own style and that each tattoo she gets is also a reflection of the tattoo artist and how he/she interprets the tattoo. When I relayed this to Tom, he was impressed and happy to hear that. I went on to say how the sketch of her tattoo included a quill, yet the quill appeared to be left uncolored in the sketch. When the tattoo was finished, the tattoo artist had filled in the quill with black shading. Tom indicated that that was all part of getting a tattoo, letting the tattoo artist take over. Susette was extremely pleased with the outcome of the tattoo, and when I had asked her about the quill, she expressed that she didn’t know he was going to do that but that she thought it looked great.

Thinking back on Susette’s experience, I asked Tom and Pixie how they usually decide on pricing for tattoos. I commented how, at the Skindustry Expo, there were no set prices, and the two tattoo artists were bouncing around pricing ideas before settling on a final price. Tom and Pixie agreed, saying that there is no set price for any given tattoo. Tom commented that a lot of it came down to how much you felt your time was worth. Pixie later clarified that much of the pricing is based on size, location, and how much time will be spent working on it. I had later asked if getting a tattoo with color was more expensive than just black and white. Tom said no, but threw in that color tattoos can be more bigger and more in-depth (even though black and white tattoos can be extremely intricate with the shading), and so if color indicates a bigger size, more time would mean the tattoo would be more expensive.

When I commented on how Susette’s tattoo was not large but was expensive because there was a lot of time involved, Tom nodded his head. “It’s a permanent thing on your body,” he said. He went on: It’s something you’re going to have for at least 30-40 years…that’s longer than a car.

I then asked Tom how he was able to choose his own tattoo artist. Though his black shirt almost touched his wrists, I could see he had a tattoo on each arm. He said mostly he sees tattoos on other people that he likes and asks where they went and who they had. Then he reviews the tattoo artist’s portfolio online, and if he likes it, he moves forward.

“So basically word of mouth,” I said, and he agreed. I told him how a colleague of mine with double sleeves did that to find her artist, as well, and while her first experience was a nightmare, her second outing was a much better experience.

Tom indicated that tattooing comes down to trust: how much you trust your tattoo artist can make a big difference in the tattoo. I asked if he noticed a difference in people’s trust based on how many tattoos they had gotten. Would a person getting their tattoo done for the first time struggle with trust? Pixie indicated that it really depends on the person. Some people are fine, and some people are very nervous. She said that in this job, you have to be a people person. You are dealing with all types of people, and you have to know how to work with them.

I agreed that their entire day is centered around people: some could be pleasant while others…not so much.

When I asked if anyone has passed out while getting a tattoo, Tom said that for awhile nobody had passed out, and that was one of the things he said when coming to this shop. He indicated that other tattoo artists told him to just wait, since he said it had never happened, he was going to jinx himself. And sure enough, he did. He said he had a man pass out on him, and I asked what happens when that happens. “Do you stop? Do you keep going?”

“No, you have to stop,” Tom said.

Pixie said that when someone passes out, they give them sugar and water to raise their blood sugar level. They try to talk to them and bring them back to feeling alright. She indicated that all of the workers at Body Graphics had to have their blood pathogen test done. I mentioned that at the Skindustry Expo when Susette and I were looking through some of the portfolios, a tattoo shop had their CPR and License certificates in their portfolio, and Pixie said that that was a good thing, since not everybody has to have that. They said that they find that sometimes, the “big, tough” guys are the ones to pass out while getting a tattoo. Not that it happens all the time to all “tough” guys, but Tom indicated how one man was getting four letterings done, and after the first lettering, he passed out. Tom had said that the man was even a military guy who once had his back cut up from razor wire.

Tom said that he came here from Oregon and that licensing from state to state is relatively simple. In fact, there are even temporary licenses for each state since so much of tattooing lends itself to travel during conventions, expos, etc. This raised a great point: at the Skindustry Expo, I had spoken with two tattoo artists from Cincinnati, and it hadn’t occurred to me, how are you tattooing in Pennsylvania when you are from Ohio? I told them how, with teaching, if you want to move from state to state, you have to check that the tests you have taken can transfer to another state. If not, you have to schedule the required test for that state.

When discussing after-care instructions, I remembered that in the past when I have given blood, I have been thoroughly instructed not to drink alcohol since there is less blood in the body. While getting a tattoo is clearly not the same as giving blood, I asked if people are allowed to drink after having a tattoo done. Tom indicated that it’s not generally a good idea because your immune system is trying to heal the tattoo, and alcohol can slow it down. One drink isn’t bad, but you don’t want to go partying that night. Pixie indicated that you also don’t want to show up to a tattoo session hungover, because the alcohol is still in your system, and that can affect how the tattoo turns out.

Occasionally, throughout the conversation, people who worked at Body Graphics walked through the front door, and it was clear that the atmosphere was pleasant. Tom and Pixie both waved and smiled at the men and women coming in, and they waved and smiled back. I continued to step aside incase any of the people entering were customers as I did not want to keep Tom or Pixie from business.

As the conversation was winding down, Pixie asked me if I wanted to see the rest of the shop. “That would be great,” I said.

She and Tom took me from where we had been, the room where the front desk, hardwood floors, and plants were, back to the next room, which serves as a type of waiting room. Flashes hung around the walls, and on a table in the center of the room lay a ton of flashes from which to choose. She then walked me back through nifty saloon-wooden doors to where each tattoo artist had his or her own room. A black-and-white checkered floor stretched out before me. Each tattoo artist had a great deal of space to work in, and the rooms smelled clean and sterile.

As we walked back to the front of the shop, I thanked Tom and Pixie again for taking the time to speak with me about their experiences. I shook both of their hands and exited the shop at 1:30, about an hour later. As I pushed open the tattoo parlor door, I stepped outside thinking, “I certainly learned a lot since the last time I was on the other side of these doors.”

Lookings, Part 2: Kim

Kim's tattoo. Artist: Vicky Hunt. Shop: Got Ink? Burlington City, NJ

Kim’s tattoo. Artist: Vicky Hunt. Shop: Got Ink? Burlington City, NJ

I entered Kim’s classroom around 9:45 on Tuesday, April 22nd after she previously agreed to discuss her tattoos and things related to it with me. Kim teaches 6th grade language arts and 7th grade math. Having worked with Kim for three years, I knew she had a tattoo of flowers on her right foot, but I wanted to know more. I wanted her to take me on a journey. During our common prep period, she did just that.

I sat at one of the empty student’s desks sitting sideways facing her. She was sitting in a chair facing me. I asked her to tell me about her tattoo, and she began by explaining that she had wanted a tattoo for a long time, one that would be discreet when necessary, but it took her a long time to decide what and where she got it.

Eventually, she decided to get a tattoo honoring her children: she has four flowers connected by vines. Two of the flowers are blue, honoring her two sons, one of the flowers is pink, honoring her daughter, and one flower is purple, honoring a miscarriage she had. I was surprised when she told me that the vines are actually initials for her children, woven and interconnected to look like vines. She indicated that, when deciding about what tattoo she would get honoring her children, she did not want something cliché like a footprint but that she wanted something “girly and feminine.”

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 1

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 1

When I asked Kim where she got her tattoo done, she said Got Ink? in Burlington City, New Jersey. Her tattoo artist was Vicky Hunt. Kim then indicated that the experience of getting the tattoo was absolutely “nerve-wracking.” She does not like needles, and while she went to the tattoo shop dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, she had to take off her sweatshirt because she was getting hot from the intensity of the experience. She indicated that she felt a burning sensation that eventually went numb, but when her tattoo artist paused to situate things she necessary for the tattoo, the sensation came back. Three months after getting the tattoo, she went back for a touch-up, and that pain was worse than getting the initial tattoo. She speculated perhaps since she went deeper under the skin it was more painful.

I asked Kim if she had a consultation before getting the tattoo, and she answered that she did. At the consultation, Kim showed her artist various flowers of which she was thinking and explained that she wanted the tattoo to be about her children and on what area she was interested. It took her artist a few days to draw the tattoo.

Kim is currently thinking about getting a tattoo when she hits five years of being free of breast cancer. She is thinking of having the tattoo on her wrist and having it say “believe,” with the “L” in the symbol of a pink breast cancer ribbon. Kim indicated that the tattoo must be easily concealed. When I asked her why, she indicated that she wants her tattoo to have a purpose and a meaning. “To me, that meaning is for myself.” I had commented on Kim’s current flower tattoo, saying that upon looking at it, it was not obvious that the flowers were for her kids and that the vines were actually initials. She expressed that she liked that about the tattoo, that the meaning was for her. She continued, I don’t want people “stereotyping me for the artwork on my body,” so keeping the tattoo not overtly obvious is important.

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 2

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 2

She then admitted that she may change her mind about the tattoo she gets. She tossed around the idea of having a butterfly with the body of the butterfly as the pink cancer ribbon. She indicated that butterflies were something her grandmother loved, and so whenever she sees a butterfly, it holds sentimental value for her, so incorporating the butterfly with the cancer ribbon might be an option, as well.

“But who knows,” she said. I might change my mind about that.

Kim had also indicated that many people become addicted to getting tattoos, and that this did not really happen to her, saying, If not for breast cancer, I don’t know if I would want another tattoo.

After speaking with Kim, I realized that I had no idea what her tattoo actually meant. After working with her for three years, I knew that she had a tattoo of flowers on her foot, but I did not understand that they were symbolic of her children and that the vines were actually initials of her kids. This experience made me wonder how many other tattoos I have seen thinking I knew what I was looking at when, in reality, the tattoo might have a completely different significance.

Skindustry Expo Outing: The Art of Bro-ing, Dude-ing, and Man-ing

Skindustry Expo

Skindustry  Expo, http://www.skindustryexpo.com/

Transcriptions

On Sunday, March 23, 2014, Susette (a classmate) and I traveled up to Allentown, PA to attend the Skindustry Expo. The day started off with a kink when we arrived at the Holiday Inn and noticed how barren the lobby was. When we asked the front desk clerk where the tattoo expo was, she indicated that we were at “the wrong hotel” and that where we needed to be was “only twenty minutes away.”

Once we navigated our way out of downtown Allentown, which Susette mentioned looked like “one of those places in movies where you don’t want to get lost,” and found our way onto a main road, we relaxed for the “only” twenty minute drive.

When we pulled into the correct Holiday Inn, our reservations about finding the right place were alleviated: unlike the desolate, leaky parking garage in which we had previously parked (which would, in fact, make a great scene for a horror movie), this parking lot was packed with cars and civilization.

The weather was chilly and the wind blew around us as we walked up to the Holiday Inn Conference Center. The sun was hidden behind the clouds, and a grayish color seemed to splash across our surroundings. As we got closer to the automatic sliding door entrance of the hotel, I noticed that there were several people clumped together smoking.

When we walked inside, two things were clear: my lungs, and the fact that we were in the right place. Besides the countless people milling around holding drinks and bearing tattoos, a big sign read “Skindustry Expo.” To the left was a bar with nice, modern chairs surrounding it. To the right behind double glass doors was a bar/restaurant. In order to get inside the expo, we needed to walk straight ahead and to the left.

Susette and I both paid a $15 entrance fee (after Susette stopped at the inside ATM), and a tall man with lots of tattoos put a neon yellow wristband around each of our wrists. We then walked into the main room.

Immediately, my ears were enveloped in the buzz, buzz, buzz of tattoo machines. The plunge inside was overwhelming. Everywhere I looked, there were people getting tattooed: arms, legs, torsos, back. The room itself was small, and the effect was cramping. I was transfixed.

Each tattoo shop had its own booth, and most shops had signs displaying their name hanging on the cloth dividers between each booth. Susette and I decided that we would start to the right.

Mike & Co. sign as displayed at the expo

Mike & Co. sign as displayed at the expo, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mikes-Tattoo/125998317447586

At the first booth we went to (Mike and Co), there were two artists behind the booth: one white male who looked to be in his fifties, and one Hispanic male who looked to be around twenty. The older male had dark brown and gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, and the younger male had thick, black curly hair. We first spoke with the older tattoo artist who, in addition to being in the middle of giving a man in his fifties a shoulder tattoo, displayed black shirts that read “Tattooed and Employed.” The man, who we would later learn was Mike, asked us where we were from. Once we told him the Philly area, Susette asked him if he had any of the “Tattooed and Employed” t-shirts in a smaller size. (All that was there were larges and extra-larges.) He told her that whatever was out was what he had and suggested that she could wear it as a nightgown and laughed.

We continued walking around the room checking out the various tattoo booths set up. There was one man getting a tattoo who was laying on his stomach while a tattoo artist was tattooing the back of his right leg. I noticed that his left leg was completely covered in tattoos. He was wearing dark shorts that came down just past his knee, and there was no skin exposed that was not covered in ink.

Susette and I continued walking around, and we checked out another booth’s display of past tattoos and sketches. We continued this process for several booths. One of the tattoo booths refereed us to a booth across from them, which was a tattoo removal company, suggesting that we “just talk to them because they are awesome.”

Susette struck up a conversation with one of the men behind the booth who explained that he was a doctor. He was of solid build, mid-thirties, and white. There was a video being displayed of the laser removal process and he went over how it works, how many sessions it would take, how much money it costs per session, etc. Susette showed him a tattoo that she was interested in having faded (not entirely removed), and he explained specifics of it to her. We both took his card and continued walking.

Mr. Blue Sky Tattoos - hand-made tattoo machines on display during the expo

Mr. Blue Sky Tattoos – hand-made tattoo machines on display during the expo

The expo was set up in such a way that there were two main aisles and thus three strips of tattoo booths. After we hit the entire first aisle closest to the back of the room, we ventured onto the middle aisle. We came across a booth (Mr. Blue Sky Tattoo) where they had tattoo machines on display that they had hand crafted and painted. It was an impressive assortment. I asked the man if he was okay with me taking the picture, and he encouraged me to do so. We struck up conversation for a little, mostly asking where we all were from, and continued walking after paying him and the machines another compliment.

Susette, at this point, expressed an interest in going back to the Mike and Co stand (where the Tattooed and Employed shirts were) to get a quote for how much a tattoo she was interested in getting would be. On the car ride up, she told me she was thinking of making an appointment for getting a tattoo done this coming Saturday, but, she expressed, she might get it done here if it was a good price.

When we got back to the booth, the younger Hispanic male asked her to write out the exact tattoo that she wanted. He spoke with an accent that was hard to place. She wrote it down, and he told us to give him about ten minutes while he sketched something out. We killed time by walking around and noticed that one of the booths, in addition to having their past work on display, also displayed their 2013 License and a CPR certificate. I looked to Susette on this, and she said that she had never seen booths display those things before.

We then went to another booth and while we were looking at their pictures, one of the artists broke in. He pointed to a tattoo and asked us if we got the joke: it was a picture of a rooster that was being hanged and was around the shin area. The man continued, “It’s a tattoo of a cock that hangs below the knee,” and began laughing. The person who was getting tattooed, evidently, was the wearer of that particular tattoo, and he laughed, too, and pointed to it on his leg. He was currently in the middle of getting another tattoo. We smiled and walked away not long after that.

We went back to Mike and Co. where the design was ready. The young male had gotten one of the words wrong. Instead of reading, “Great writers are the saints of the godless,” he had sketched, “Great writers are the saints for the greatless.” Susette told him the word was wrong, and he asked, “Oh, what should it be?” He got a new piece of paper and redid the sketch.

While he redid the sketch, we both noticed a woman with double sleeves. She was very attractive: she had on bright red lipstick, heavy eyeliner, and short brown hair that curled under. She wore bright red pants and a black top with white pinstripes coming down. Susette commented that she liked how she wore tattoos but was also still really feminine. I agreed. She was with, we later determined, the man with his leg covered in tattoos.

When the sketch was ready, Susette analyzed it and said that she loved it. She asked if he could add a quill to the sketch, and, when he did not know what she meant (it was hard to hear), she pulled up a picture of it on her phone. He added it to the design and made it look like the quill was writing the sketch. He asked if she wanted the writing in black and red, and Susette said, “I wanted everything black and white.”

While they spoke about the tattoo, I looked around and noticed all of the different hair colors present: there were people with green hair, people with blue hair, men with beards that went down past their chest, gauges, piercings under eyes, piercings on the back of necks, etc. I looked back at the tattoo artist and Susette.

The young tattoo artist, let’s call him A, showed a sketch of what he had done and said, “Mike, what do you think?” Mike said, “What do you think?” A said, “I don’t know that’s why I’m asking you.” “Yeah, I know,” Mike said, “I would say no less than two and a quarter.”

Paperwork Susette signed before the tattoo process began

Paperwork Susette signed before the tattoo process began

Finally, they settled on $200.

While A finished the stenciling, Susette pointed out to me that all of the needles were wrapped and that everything was in plastic bags for sanitary purposes. We looked around the booth and noticed that they had one chair. Susette said that she would have to lie down since she was getting the tattoo on her hip, and we wondered how they were going to work it out. Eventually, A went and got three extra chairs from the hotel and set them up in a row. He put down purple sanitary paper and made a makeshift table.

A sanitized Susette’s hip and placed the purple sheet underneath her jeans to respect her privacy. He set out four ink dips: three were black ink, and one was white ink. A unwrapped everything he needed from its plastic covering. He told Susette as she was laying down that she would need to put her arm over her head.

A white male who seemed to be in his late thirties came over to the booth with his son. His son looked to be about four or five years old and had a shaved head and was sucking on a lollipop. The man admired the “Tattooed and Employed” shirts and asked how much they were. When he paid Mike the $20, the man looked at the shirt and said, “Love it.” They walked away.

 

A working on Susette

A working on Susette

Susette and I had previously agreed that we were dying of thirst. It was taking A a little longer than we thought to prep everything, and when he left to grab some paper towels, I went and got two waters at the bar. When I came back, A was in the process of starting the tattoo.

I did my best to crane my neck and see what was going on without being a distraction for A. By now, the constant buzzing of the tattoo machine had become a familiar sound in the background. Susette had her arm over her head, and she was turned away from A so that he could have the best angle possible.

He continued working diligently: he would complete strokes and rub the excess ink away with a paper towel that was getting continuously blacker. At one point, Mike looked over to check on the tattoo and made a face that seemed to say, “Nice work.” I got the vibe that A was more of an “apprentice” due to how Mike was giving him feedback and, sometimes, instructions. For example, at one point, Mike said, “Dude, if you can’t see her, you have to turn her.” A nodded his head. Mike then said to the tattoo artist at the next booth (who was inches away from Susette), “Bro, turn your light on for him, if you don’t mind, since you don’t have anyone right now.” The man nodded his head, turned his light on, and repositioned it so that the light fell over Susette, giving A a better view.

Susette's tattoo in the works

Susette’s tattoo in the works

As A continued to work, I wondered how Susette was dealing with the pain. She seemed to be doing alright, alternating between tapping her foot and pursing her lips. The tattoo was progressing nicely. A was clearly in the zone and was doing an outstanding job. He did the black ink first and then went back and added white shading in.

When he went to the quill and started shading it in, I knew that A was working on a painful area. Mike had said, Just wait til he gets to the quill area on her stomach. Ouch. A continued to work, rubbing on some type of ointment over the tattoo as he worked.

While A continued working, the next booth over had a customer who was getting a flower design on her right foot. She was in her early thirties, white, and had short red hair. She was with someone who may have been her husband and her son. Her son was about four years old. She hopped up on their bed and the tattoo artist who had turned on the light for A began stenciling in the rose. He kept the light where it was: it was covering both Susette and his own client.

When the man had finished the rose tattoo, which did not take long at all considering Susette was at least two hours in, (hers took perhaps twenty minutes), her son hopped up on the table after the tattoo artist had sterilized it. The woman who had gotten the rose tattoo asked her son if he was ready for his own tattoo. He shook his head yes. The tattoo artist sketched out a tattoo of a shin dagger, and his parents laughed as they told him to pull up his pant leg. He did, and the tattoo artist put the stenciling on his shin, rubbed it with a damp paper towel, and took it off. Someone walked by and said, “Welcome to the dagger club!”

His parents asked him how he liked his “tattoo,” and the boy said he liked it. His mom told him that he could show it off to all of his friends at school. He hopped down, and they left.

At this point, A had been working for about two hours at the tattoo. I stood the entire time trying to get a good view of the work. Occasionally, Mike, who was still working on the man with the shoulder tattoo, had to come out of the booth, and I had to maneuver myself so he could walk by, and then maneuver myself again so that he could get back in.

The finished product! "Great writers are the saints for the godless." Tattoo by A from Mike & Co.

The finished product! “Great writers are the saints for the godless.” Tattoo by A from Mike & Co. Picture thanks to Susette.

Finally, the tattoo was complete. A gave Susette a mirror and showed her the work. The tattoo did look great, and Susette said, “It looks amazing.” He took a few pictures of the tattoo and then covered it with a paper towel.

Susette stood up, and I asked her how she felt. She said horrible, and I told her that she did a great job. She paid Mike, and we walked away. I asked Susette if she wanted any food before we left the expo. We were both okay, so after Susette used the bathroom, we walked out to the car. It was around five-thirty, and the expo was closing at six.

Susette indicated that that was the most painful tattoo she had ever gotten, but she was very happy with the final product. As we drove away, we agreed that it had been an exhausting day. I said that even I was exhausted and I wasn’t the one who got a tattoo! Yawning, I realized that it had been a great day.

 

Jottings, page 1

Jottings, page 1

Jottings, pages 2-3

Jottings, pages 2-3

Jottings, pages 4-5

Jottings, pages 4-5

Jottings, page 6

Jottings, page 6

 

Scene

As Susette and I were making the rounds, we walked over to one of the booths and began thumbing through their portfolio. One of the artists came over and asked how we were doing. After we said we were just looking, he told us that the guys across from them are “pretty awesome” and that we should go over and talk to them just because of how awesome they are.

We looked and saw that they were a tattoo removal booth, and since Susette was interested in getting one of her tattoos faded so that a new tattoo could go over it, we walked over.

go! tatoo removal logo

go! tatoo removal logo

The name of the company was “go! tattoo removal.” Their slogan was, “Kids are forever. Tattoos don’t have to be.” There were two workers behind the booth, and there was a television showing the laser removal process. There was a thick crowd of people when we first got there, and we waited off to the side. When the crowd thinned, we moved in, and a man of solid build came over to us. He was in his mid-thirties, had short, brown hair, no tattoos, and was attractive.

He indicated that he was a doctor and that this was his laser (he pointed to the screen). Susette showed him her tattoo that she was interested in having faded. He informed us that black and red ink fade out the fastest, and after analyzing her tattoo, he told her that it would take about 2-5 sessions to fade. He said each session could take anywhere from 35 seconds to one minute.

Susette showed him a small tattoo on her finger that she was interested in getting removed, and he said that he could do that, too, at “no extra charge.”

The man was very informative and told her that he thought her tattoo would fade very nicely, but he said, “I believe in planning for the worst and hoping for the best.” While he thought maybe two sessions was all she might need, he said, “I would never want you to put that in your expectations.” He continued to explain that the fact that she was young and thin was working to her advantage to having the tattoo removed faster. He also said the fact that the tattoo was mostly black was working in her favor, too, since black fades the fastest.

He continued going over how the laser works, saying “Our laser doesn’t damage skin” since heat can aggravate the skin.

Susette was happy that the price was so good. She informed the man that her doctor had told her that it could cost about $500 a session to get her tattoo removed. The man professionally disagreed saying that her doctor needs to do his research. He was charging $125 a session (if she were to get it done today), but a typical session cost $150. He encouraged her to get a $50-off coupon for when she decides to come up and get it done.

We thanked the man and walked away, agreeing that he was very knowledgeable and had a great price.

Reflection 

During the outing, I learned what it was like to be, what felt like, the only person without a tattoo in a room. As the sounds of the tattoo machines buzzed away, I tried to gain familiarity with my surroundings. As Susette and I walked around, I absorbed the wide variety of people: green hair, blue hair, gauges, men with beards down to their stomachs, etc. I’ve seen it all before, but not housed together in one room. It was quite overwhelming at first.

I think I mentally clung to Susette. She was my link to the people in the room. If anyone asked, she was my friend with the tattoos. See? I belong here.

I learned a few things about tattoos from the outing. For starters, from speaking with a doctor at a tattoo removal booth, I learned that the ink color that will fade the fastest and is, therefore, the easiest color to remove during tattoo removal is black. I would have thought a lighter color would be easier. I also learned that tattoo machines can be hand made. As crazy as it sounds, I assumed that factories turned out tattoo machines, picturing them sliding out on a conveyer belt. One of the tattoo artists had several of his own hand-made tattoo machines out on display, and they were impressive. He was proud of them, and he should have been. I was surprised to see that there were children attending the event with their parents. A venue like this, where profanity and crude language swirled through the air, was not a place where I expected young children to be, taking it all in. Yet, they were there, and I did not judge their parents, but I made a mental note that this would not be an event where I would take my children.

It wasn’t until I returned from the expo that I realized how many times I heard “bro,” “dude,” and “man” used over the course of the day, mostly when men were speaking to other men. It was to the point that I did not write it down in my jottings, but from re-visualizing the event, these terms came to the forefront of my mind.

Questions that I still have: I am still trying to discover the motivation behind putting something on your body that is so permanent. Is it the meaning behind the tattoo that drives people or is it the look and what it says about you that drives people? I hope to find out more about this during my research.

Next, I will be visiting a local tattoo parlor in South Jersey. I hope that speaking with a tattoo artist one-on-one (even though I did this at the event, there was a lot going on, and it was hard to have a real conversation) will help illuminate some of my questions.

The outing was successful in that it was full immersion: it does not get any more interactive with large crowds of people getting tattooed out in the open for everyone to see. At first, I was scared to look at the people getting tattooed simply out of respect. I wanted to give them privacy. It became quite clear, though, that they did not care at all about this. You don’t get tattooed at an expo for privacy, I quickly learned. It was interesting to see the different places people were getting tattooed—on the foot, arm, hip, back, shoulder, calf, etc. It was great to see all of these people getting tattooed in different places and the different positions that they had to have their body in to get the tattoo completed.

If I went to an expo again, I would make it a point of talking more with people. While we struck up conversation with different tattoo artists, I would like to get the chance to talk more with them. (Of course, that was hindered because they were busy either tattooing, working on a sketch, or speaking with customers.) It would have been great to speak to someone getting a tattoo and getting down to the motivation behind it. My shyness crept over me, and I did not want to do anything but observe. Now that I’ve warmed up to the overall atmosphere of tattoos, I think I would be more willing to step outside of my comfort zone and strike up a conversation.

The portions of the reading that helped guide my field notes were from Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. The book indicates not to write down opinions of people (such as the scene where the man was “crazy”), but, rather, writing down objective details, like the color of his shirt, his beard, etc. Throughout the entire experience, I made sure I wrote down facts and not opinions. This helped my fieldnotes because when I reviewed them, I was able to clearly picture the person and was not influenced by my feelings at the time when I wrote them. Had I had formed an opinion about someone early into the outing without really knowing anything about the culture, I would be portraying an inaccurate picture. Had I seen that same person at the end of the outing, I may not have written down such an opinion with a new awareness in mind. So, not wanting to jump to conclusions, I wrote down only the facts, and when I looked at my notes later, I had a clear image without opinions clouding my vision.