"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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

There is NO magic, so let's all be the SAME

Lately I've seen a number of people writing things about tattooing with titles like 'Is the Magic Gone', etc.  They all go on to explain how the magic has not left tattooing and they're still 'wizards'.  Well, I'm here to tell ya that the magic IS gone- that's right, as the High Priest of Negativity, I have to put in my 2 cents.  When I started tattooing (close to 20 years ago), there was a whole heap of magic.  Tattooers didn't talk to people in the 'outside world' about pretty much anything that had to do with tattooing. We kept secrets, and that's what kept it magical.  People got tattooed, and probably watched the process while it was being done, but didn't really know what they were watching.  Now, ya get on YouTube, and everything is explained- usually by someone that only has a slight idea of what the hell they're doing anyway.  Because of the internet and tattoo TV shows, I now have customers ask me questions like "what size needle grouping is that?"  If someone were to ask that question 10+ years ago, a perfectly legitimate answer would have been "None of your damn business", or "it's a BIG one".  I still lie to people when asked questions like this.  I answer with things like "It's a 27B".  There is no reason for customers to really know the answer to questions like that.  The more they know, the less mystery and magic there is.  Now there are 'How to Tattoo' books and DVDs and internet videos.  Every scratcher online is spouting off about how traditional apprenticeships are bullshit.  The old school traditional apprenticeship has been replaced with 2 week tattoo schools and apprenticeships for sale.  These days if there's a shop with 4 artists, there's a good chance that they each have an apprentice- what the fuck is that?  I'll tell ya what it is- it's a bunch of lazy, self important tattooers that don't want to do any of the shit work associated with tattooing.  Well, I still scrub my own damn tubes, set up and break down my station, and do everything else that tattooing involves.  These people are either too lazy or think they're so damn special that they don't have to clean up after themselves that they make more and more tattooers just to not have to scrub tubes.  There was a time when if you wanted to learn to tattoo, you looked far and wide to find a wizard to teach you his magic, and that was pretty damn hard to find. Tattooers knew that the more people they taught to tattoo, the more people would eventually end up as their competition, so they regulated the industry themselves, only teaching someone to tattoo if they needed someone to work in their shop.  Even then it was only if they saw the potential in someone to become a wizard.  Every customer that asked a question about tattooing was seen as someone that may want to start tattooing, and the immediate response to those questions was to NOT ANSWER THEM.  These days, in the new tattoo world full of friendly, emo tattooers, they're less interested in keeping the magic and mystery alive than they are in possibly offending one of their precious customers by not answering their questions.  There is far too much free information that used to not be free- you didn't have to pay for it, but ya sure as hell had to work for it.  That's the problem, it's not something that people have to work for anymore.  If you didn't have to earn it, you don't feel as if you have to protect it.  I know there are people out there that still care about protecting the magic of tattooing- they're friends of mine, but these days, they're few and far between.  The rest of 'em are just interested in the money.  Which takes us right back to why the old breed of tattooers were so intent on keeping secrets- they knew that the more tattooers and the more tattoo shops there were, the less money they would make.  Now, because there are so many damn tattooers, they're all killing each other for customers, so they find other ways to supplement their income, like charging people to learn to tattoo- which makes more tattooers, and it just goes around and around like that.  All the shitty supply companies sell to anyone with a credit card because they are making less money because there are more suppliers.  Now we have gotten to the point where Skin Candy (which is absolute shit) is selling their product in art stores.  I never thought that this would get to the point where people could purchase tattoo pigments at Dick Blick.  It won't be long before they're also selling shitty Chinese made tattoo machines.  Recently, while talking to a friend about the number of shitty shops in my area, he said "You could grow a fancy moustache and just do traditional stuff".  While this is a very funny comment, it is also a very sad observation on the current state of tattooing.  Walk around any shitty tattoo convention these days and you'll see these people- they all look the same and they all tattoo the same- ya can't tell one of 'em from the next, and ya can't tell their tattoos apart.  This idea of looking the same has also extended to the public- they all want the same damn tattoos.  Every customer comes in to the shop with a picture from Google image search of someone else's tattoo, and they're not cool, original designs- they're the same crap I do all day long.  It's not even worth trying to talk people into getting something original anymore because they're so concerned with what their friends will think of their tattoos.  If their tattoos don't look just like the tattoos their friends have, they might be ridiculed- can't have that now can we.  It's far better to be a clone of every other idiot than to be an individual.  Getting tattooed used to be an expression of individuality, now it's done so you can be like everyone else.  So, yes, in my opinion (which I know counts less and less all the time), the magic IS GONE.

Now that I'm done ranting, here's a couple of tattoos.  Both of these are on a friend of mine, Pauly, from Jailhouse Choppers.  First is a Mad Max tattoo that I did a few years ago, but just got healed pics of, and the second is a Santa Cruz Screaming Hand- I can't believe that in 19+ years of tattooing, this is the first time I have done this image, but it is.  The pic is a little bloody, but I'll get a healed one in a week or 2.


  1. I have only been tattooing just under 7 years, and I understand that I was born into this industry the moment it started going to shit. The deeper I get into it the more I learn about the past and that magic you speak of and how disgusting the industry is now. Every day I wish I could've started 50 years ago. Hahaha

  2. It sounds like you guys are going through the same shit photographers are dealing with, every man and his dog thinks they are a pro photographer because they have a shitty DSLR, a little bad knowledge from the Internet and a pirate copy of photoshop and within a year of starting a business selling cheap, sub par photography to the public, they start running workshops to teach other hacks how to live the dream.

    I suspect just as it is in our industry success comes not to the most talented but those who are the best at marketing and being a social media celebrity, and the money is in selling the dream to other aspiring photographers/artists/whatever. I guess it's always been profitable to sell picks to the miners but the Internet has made it very dangerous for professions which require special knowledge if that profession is attractive to the lay person. You'll never have millions of people wanting to dig ditches for a living but telling people how to do something creative is a sure fire way to make a whole lot of competition for yourself.

  3. I really enjoyed what you wrote. I personally have no tattoos. I've wanted a tattoo for over a decade now but every time I think about something I could wear for the rest of my life, I notice something extremely similar on a hundred other people. I want a tattoo to be unique, not because it's 'the norm'. It's sad. I hope it can change.