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Posts Tagged ‘tattoo culture’

To celebrate the release of the paperback edition of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things on October 3rd, I’m giving away temporary tattoos that I had designed. Kellen’s tattoo becomes one of the things that define him in different ways for different characters all through the book. Aunt Brenda is horrified, Amy is mesmerized, and Wavy is protective over that tattoo, so I thought it would be fun to have people wear them. If you’d like to get a free temporary tattoo, just shoot me a message with your name and address. (North American only right now, as this is for the NA paperback release.)

On the topic of tattoos, I went in to see my tattoo artist for a little work last Friday, and met someone who got me thinking again about how mainstream acceptance of tattooing is butting up against traditional tattoo culture. My father owns a couple tattoo shops, and two of my sisters have worked on and off as tattoo artists for most of their adult lives. I grew up knowing I wanted tattoos as part of my cultural heritage, but also being told that they would harm my career and my dating prospects. As a result of those conflicting messages, all of my tattoos are in what we call “the employment zone.” They’re all easily hidden by the clothes I wear to work, and most people are surprised to find out I have multiple tattoos, because I’m “so clean looking.”

I’m not kidding, I have had employers and coworkers use those exact words to describe their dismay at learning that I have tattoos. I guess they think people with visible tattoos are “dirty looking”? Over the course of my life, though, I’ve watched tattooing get more and more mainstream, and people with tattoos be accepted as normal members of society. This is good. What I find strange, though, are the attempts to gentrify tattoo culture itself.

The woman I met on Friday was there as a walk-in to get what she described as a “small, personal tattoo.” (I think this means mine are large, personal tattoos?) I heard her on talking with the artist who was going to do the work. “Can it be smaller?” she asked, then again, “Smaller.” And a few minutes later, as he tweaked the design: “But smaller.” I never saw the tattoo, but I started to imagine it like one of those pictures painted on a grain of rice.

Not surprisingly, with something so small, it was done in a matter of minutes, and it was cheap. The woman opened her purse and took out … a credit card. The tattoo artist looked at her like she’d farted in church. Honestly, all of us there looked at her that way. The sign clearly says CASH ONLY. I’m sure there are tattoo shops in the world that accept credit cards or checks or maybe even chickens as trade. I have never been to one. When this woman was informed that it was cash only, just like the sign says, she got very angry.

Why don’t you take cards? Everybody takes cards. I don’t carry cash around.

Cash only, lady.

Instead of apologizing and making a plan to get cash, she doubled down.

I’m a small business owner and I can never imagine doing business this way. It’s outrageous. (She really said outrageous, like the artist had demanded part of her soul as payment.)

She ended up leaving her driver’s license there as surety, while she went to an ATM to get cash. When she came back to pay, she spent another few minutes lecturing the tattoo artist about how to do better as a small business owner.

After she was gone, the artists took turns telling stories about people who didn’t realize there are actual rules of etiquette around tattooing. They’re stories I’ve heard plenty of times from my father. People who bring in pics of other artists’ original work and wanted it duplicated. (Flash is one thing, but real original tattoos, no.) People who demand to see final, full color renderings of their tattoos before their appointment. (The art is in producing work on the skin, not drawings on paper or computer.) People who want to micromanage an original piece. (The whole point of an original piece is that it’s collaborative. The artist and the recipient work together to produce the final image.) People who want to be reassured that it can be removed later with a laser! (!!!!)

With tattooing going mainstream, it’s an inevitable clash of cultures. With all things, you have your choice of how to interact with a different culture. You can demand it on your terms, and no doubt there are tattoo shops who specialize in such things. Places where you can demand a full color mockup of your final design and pay for it with your credit card. I’ve heard there are places that offer numbing creams to make the process less painful.

Or you can accept that getting a tattoo is a cultural experience, not a product. Leave your cultural expectations at the door and embrace what it means to get a tattoo: receiving a permanent, collaborative, painful work of art that is your own.

Or you can ask me for one of these badass custom Tattly temporary tattoos. 😉

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