As far as historians can tell, the first forms of tattoos appeared between 4000 and 2000 B.C. in ancient Egypt. Most of the techniques used today in tattooing and body piercing have been adopted from the techniques used during the past few thousand years. Improvements, such as electric tattoo guns, have been made, but the fundamental application of the ink under the skin remains unchanged.
With tattooing being such an ancient practice, it is curious that as recently as the 1960s tattoos had negative connotations. Tattoos were associated with sailors, bikers and criminals.
“A tattoo was like a brand that screamed rebel,” said Vince Hemingson, author of Women We Love and Their Tattoos about skin art in the ’60s. But as recognizable people like Janice Joplin started to get tattoos, it became a little less shocking to people and, in turn, lost a little of its stigma.
Today tattooing has gone beyond seamen and celebrities. Popular culture has embraced the idea of body art as a form of self-expression. Tattoos are everywhere and more people continue to get them every day.
In 1936, Life Magazine estimated that 10 million Americans (or about 6 percent of the American population) had at least one tattoo. It was also estimated that one third of that number were in the military, with a higher concentration in the Navy and Marines. In April 2000, National Geographic News reported that 15 percent of Americans — about 44 million — have at least one tattoo, a significant increase from the earlier part of this century.
Tampa has no shortage of tattoo parlors, but surprisingly, out of about 20 tattoo parlors in Tampa, only four of them are in Ybor City. And of those four, all but one is located on 7th Avenue.
Doc Dog, new owner of Valhalla Tattoos, has spent 42 years tattooing worldwide. He personally specializes in cover-up body art that masks old, unwanted tattoos and scars. He owns a shop in London, one in Puerto Vallarta, another in Longview, Texas and one that he purchased in Ybor City one month ago.
“I choose locations that I like to visit,” Dog said. “This shop has been here for six years and I chose to buy it because it’s in Ybor, and because it has potential.”
Valhalla has four tattoo artists and two piercers. The minimum charge for having something done by one of the tattoo or piercing artists is $50.
The studio is open from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Tuesday and from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
“Right now we have more business in the evenings, but I hope to change that soon,” said Dog.
Blue Devil Tattoo Gallery, also on 7th Avenue, specializes in custom tattoos. They take pride in being able to create almost any image, whether it’s a portrait, something from someone’s imagination or from something previously printed. They also do body piercing.
“We have three tattoo artists and guest artists that come in from other cities,” Blue Devil’s manager Blake Russell said. “For the more highly recognized artists we usually do some type of flyer or advertisement to let people know that they’re coming.”
The Blue Devil is in its tenth year of business. Since its beginning, this tattoo parlor with a minimum purchase of $45 (the lowest minimum purchase of all of the tattoo parlors in Ybor) has only transferred ownership once.
Blue Devil Tattoo is open from 1:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and has slightly shorter hours Sunday through Wednesday. They tend to be busier in the evenings, so get there early to avoid having to wait.
Linda Zayas, co-owner and piercer at Shiva’s Pain, opened the shop with the help of her business partner Monte two years ago.
“We choose to be in Ybor because it’s the hot spot,” Zayas said. “I also live down here and I was walking by one day and thought that the building was perfect, so I took it.”
Zayas has always had a passion for tattooing and piercing. “To make a long story short, I am a dominatrix and I wanted to learn to incorporate piercing into dominatrix,” Zayas said. “I ended up falling in love with it, enough so that I opened this business.”
The most requested type of body art from the three tattoo artists and three piercers at Shiva’s is Japanese kanji. They have all kinds of flash work to show the meaning behind every character that they carry. Solid black tribal artwork is also extremely popular with their customers.
The minimum price for a piece at Shiva’s is $60, which is slightly more expensive than the other tattoo parlors in Ybor City. And the two owners like to take the opportunity to give back to the community whenever possible by raising money for charitable organizations that they feel strongly about.
Dec. 7 and 8, from 5 to 11 p.m., Shiva’s is having its semiannual charity fund raiser to benefit a primate conservatory.
“There will be lots of artwork, ranging from tattoos to lots of other art,” Zayas said.
Tattoos and the field of body art have taken off in a whirlwind of popularity by today’s popular culture; the days of tattoos being taboo are long gone.