Tattooing, once seen as rebellious, is now estimated by some to be one of the fastest growing markets in the nation. According to a 2003 Harris Poll, the number of Americans with at least one tattoo has almost tripled, rising from the 6 percent reported by Life in 1936 to 16 percent.
This crowded industry is growing. Popular reality TV shows such as L.A. Ink and Miami Ink have glamorized the tattoo business.
Katrina Bennett, a recent USF grad, said she plans to break into the tattoo industry but realizes it’s a competitive field.
“On one hand those shows are great because it increases tattoo artists’ clientele,” she said. “But it also increases the amount of wannabe’s who want to get into the industry because they think they’ll become rock stars.”
Professional tattoo artists feel the pressure as well. Doc Baker, owner of a local parlor, Doc Dog’s Las Vegas Tattoo, has been in the business for 40 years. Not only did he open the first tattoo parlor in Las Vegas in 1977, but he also helped write the health laws that are still in effect for tattoo artists there.
He agreed that shows like Miami Ink have helped congest the business, advising students to avoid becoming tattoo artists.
“Stay in school, become a doctor or something. There are too many people doing it now. The trade’s so overcrowded,” Baker said.
Bennett said she agrees with Baker but doesn’t think his advice will keep her out of the industry.
“Tattoo artists are getting this sort of rock-star status, so everyone who has even the smallest drawing skill wants to pick up a machine and start scratching on people,” she said. “For every good tattoo artist there are six mediocre ones. But if you really love what you do, the quality of your work shows.”
There are also things for customers to consider when it comes to tattoos. In 2006, U.S. News & World Report estimated that there were 15,000 operating tattoo parlors with an average of a new one opening every day. That’s a lot of choices for someone offering their body as a potentially permanent canvas.
“Don’t be cheap. Spend the money on a good, reputable tattoo artist and avoid flea market tattoos like herpes,” Bennett said. “Do your homework. Ask around, maybe surf the net and find out who the best artists in your area are. Also make sure the shop uses ‘autoclave,’ a machine that properly sterilizes equipment.”
Baker said that besides a clean reputable shop, one of the most important things for the customer is a personal connection with the artist.
“(Customers) should research the tattoo artist they want to get tattooed by,” he said. “They should visit the tattoo shop itself and make sure it’s clean and sterile. Make sure the tattoo artist is compatible with them.”
Baker said that customers should speak with their tattoo artist and find out what first brought the artist into the industry. This way, one can avoid wannabes of L.A. Ink’s
Kat Von D.
Besides using tattooing as a way to support himself, Baker said he was drawn in by the art’s history. “It’s the world’s oldest form of art,” he said.
“It precedes cave drawings. It keeps you in touch with your roots.”
Bennett was attracted to the profession by a friend in high school who worked as an apprentice.
“He pretty much introduced me to that world and the amazing things you can do with ink and flesh,” she said.
“I really love the idea of a tattoo as a living piece of artwork. You can do a painting and it gets put in a gallery or on someone’s wall, but inking someone’s skin is different. It becomes part of that person and changes their life. The art lives and breathes, moves, ages and eventually decays. That ephemeral, human element is beautiful to me.”