"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!" -Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You People Ruined Tattooing!

I've been tattooing since 1993, and I can tell ya, it was way better before it got so damn popular.  The tattoo  'reality' shows were definitely the beginning of the end for the tattoo industry.  There was a time when the rule in the tattoo industry was that you never talked to non-tattooers about the tattoo industry- it was none of their damn business, and they didn't need to know.  Then came the TV shows- Miami Ink, Inked, LA Ink- greedy TV execs and tattooers that decided that making a good living just wasn't enough- they wanted to be rockstars.  Well, rockstars, you ruined everything.  The number of tattoo shops started growing exponentially- every idiot who'se friends saw their shitty drawings and said 'Dude, you draw real good, you should do tattoos', decided that they were going to become tattooers.  Why? Because they saw it on TV and thought that they could do that and be cool rockstars too, get paid, and party all day (and all night).  Well, guess what- tattooing for a living is NOTHING like what you see on TV.  At the same time, we saw established tattooers, most of them mediocre at best, putting pictures of themselves on the internet holding fistfulls of money and waving guns around- more fodder for the idiotic masses.  Everyone was trying to become a rockstar (except for the people that still believed in the old ways).  Once the number of shops started growing, the number of suppliers started growing.  It used to be that there were a handful of tattoo suppliers, and most of them wouldn't sell to anyone that couldn't prove that they worked in a legitimate tattoo studio.  All these new suppliers started selling to anyone that could supply them with a credit card number, they would ship to your house or anywhere else you wanted your supplies sent.  They were selling inferior supplies, but that didn't matter to the new breed of rockstar tattooers.  These days, you can get on the internet and buy a tattoo machine from China for under 3 dollars.  Three freakin' dollars!  A good tattoo machine would normally run in the $250+ range.  Hell, you can buy a 'complete' tattoo kit for $129.  Forget about the fact that it doesn't include things like an autoclave or anything else that you need in order to tattoo safely.  When I opened my shop in 1997, there were probably 15-20 tattoo studios in the Metro Atlanta Area, a google search now shows 872 listings for 'tattoo' in the area- my guess would be that at least half of these listings are shops.  And, of course that doesn't include all the morons tattooing out of their kitchens, basements, and garages.  Most of these people also started tattooing with absolutely no training.  It used to be that if you wanted to learn to tattoo, you had to seek out a traditional apprenticeship- learn from someone that had many years experience, and be taught to do things the right way.  Once tattooing moved into the mainstream, unscrupulous tattooers saw a chance to make more money- selling apprenticeships.  Teaching anyone that was willing to pay regardless of whether or not they had any talent or would actually be a beneficial addition to the tattoo community.  Then they started writing instructional books and producing dvd's.  Anyone can learn to tattoo for $29.95 plus tax and shipping!  With so many shops, all these hacks that opened shops after ordering equipment on line found that they weren't making money hand over fist like they had expected, so they started doing cheap tattoos, tattooing minors, tattooing drunks- anything to get that money.  The sad truth is that most people don't care about quality- many of them don't even know what a good tattoo looks like.  If everyone you know has a shitty tattoo, then your shitty tattoo looks just as good as theirs.  What happens now is that people go from shop to shop, price shopping for tattoos without ever considering the quality of the work.  If one person tells them $100 for the tattoo they want and the guy down the road tells them $40- where do ya think they're gonna go?  I tattoo plenty of people that I don't even think want a tattoo.  They turn 18 and come to get tattooed because that's what their friends and society tell them they're supposed to do.  The popularity of tattooing has reached (and ruined) every aspect of the tattoo industry.  There are at least 2 or 3 tattoo conventions in various cities every weekend.  There used to be 5 or 6 a year, and they were big events- people would travel from all around the country to attend them, to see their friends, and to see new work by their favorite artists.  Now, no one has to travel- wait a few weeks and there'll be a convention in your city, so attendance is down at the conventions which makes it harder for the artists working the shows to make back the money it cost them to be there.  I remember when you could walk down any street and not see a single person with a visible tattoo- not any more.  Now ya see 18 year old kids with full sleeves and their throats tattooed.  It doesn't seem like things are ever going to go back to the way they were- the days of quality tattooing with integrity seem to be long gone.  There was a time when the tattoo industry regulated itself- I'm not saying that it was the right way to do things, but it worked.  I'm very sad about the death of an industry that I loved, and it gets worse every day as I watch people continue to shovel dirt onto it's grave.


  1. Dave-sad,but insightful essay on the current stateof tattooing. In New York City around 1986,when I started getting tattooed, there was maybe 5 or 10 tattooists around. There may have been more, but it was illegal. The best way to find a tattoist was to ask someonewho had tattoos! Imagine that! Tattooing became legal in the 90s and everyone got covered-full sleeves,necks, backs-it was an explosion. I see the 18 year olds as well covered with crude shitty tattoos. The amount of shops has exploded as well. Horrible artists who can't draw flies wield tattoo equipment. It is disgusting. Getting a tattoo is a huge decision-not one anyone should be impulsive, drunk, or coerced into. But you know this already. I love the blog Dave. Who knew the guy I sat next to in Steve Smulka's class would be a great tattooist? If I can ever save up the money, and muster the courage to go to Georgia,I would love to have you tattoo me. I prefer to wait to get good, quality work-instead of caving into my impulses.

    Mike Rockwitz

  2. I'm currently taking on 10 new apprentices to fill the shops I'm gonna open in malls.

  3. true that bro it spawned a whole new breed of no talent ass clowns

  4. Another thing contributing to tattooing demise...shops owned by non-tattooists. What the fuck!! I remember inquiring about employment at one of these places. The guy wanted a 75-25 cut. Thats 75 for him. What caliber of artist would work for that cut?