“GOT INK?” A perspective


By: Ren Walt
For the few of us holdouts who don’t have body art on the brain, the increase of tattoo parlours in the area might not even register. But if you are among the scores of, well, the scored — or if you are thinking of finally getting that ineffable Japanese kanji, or those tribal arse antlers you’ve always wanted — you might be taken aback by the number of tattoo studios in the region to choose from. 

With fourteen parlors and counting in K-W, and about as many again in Guelph and Cambridge combined, one wonders if there really is a corresponding surge in demand, or if maybe the ink bubble, as it were, is getting ready to burst. 

Jeremy, the piercing artist at Aenigma Ink in Kitchener — you can see his work at www.aenigma-ink.com – says the success of an individual studio depends in part on its location, but there definitely has been more demand for piercings and tattoos over the past five years or so, mostly because more and more people are accepting of the practices as art forms. Aenigma’s own customers range from sixteen to eighty-nine years of age. Jeremy says some television shows have probably helped curb the negative stereotypes. It is no longer just burned out rock stars with tats, but a ton of mainstream celebrities. Top Chef contestants are inked, Barbie comes with lower back ink now, and for what it is worth, as Jeremy puts it, “even McDonald’s is getting fucking tattooed”. He told me about a commercial I haven’t seen, but in which there is, no doubt, an attempt to co-opt tattoo culture for the sake of a sale on McNuggets.

Sad as it is for any counter, or sub-culture to be infiltrated by the McMan, Jeremy is right, the TV exposure has been good for inkenthusiasts interested in confronting the negative associations some people still have with body art. Tattoos are, for some, still very much connected with assorted badassery: crime, booze, sailors, the Russian and Japanese mafias (you still can’t sport inkat a gym or hot spring in Japan, even when it is totally obvious that you are not a Yakuza boss).

The negative association of tattoos with sailors might seem slightly more benign at first, thanks to Gene Kelly and maybe Popeye in his later years, but if you’ve seen the film Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, a documentary of Norman Keith Collins, the father of modern American tattooing, you can see how sailors factor into contemporary notions that link body art with debauchery. Mind you, this was at a time when men were men, and conservatives were, apparently, allowed to be critical of the establishment. Thousands of WWII enlisted men on shore leave in Honolulu lined up to get into “Sailor Jerry’s” tattoo house on their way to completing their three fold mission of getting “stewed, screwed, and…” you know.

On the other hand, it is established beyond question in the film that  Collins was no “scratcher” (tattoo lingo for “hack”). He was an innovator, known for introducing needle sterilization as a standard to the practice of tattooing. He is also known for the development of his own colours. He is revered as an artist and visionary known for incredibly detailed work influenced by the Japanese masters in the art. His name is immortalized on the label of a bottle of 92 proof rum next to a picture of one of his hula girls.

Jamie Izumi, an award winning tattoo artist of more than 20 years, and the owner of Tora Tattoo in Waterloo says that tattoos have gotten a lot better since the nineties which helps with acceptance (his own work is absolutely jaw-dropping, check out his website), but he agrees that the popularity of tattoos of late has a lot to do with TV, specifically he says, “ so-called reality TV shows about tattoos” — the kind of shows brought to you by Kat Von D, or Ami James. Izumi thinks shows like these trump up drama and make things look too easy, and they leave out important details about the business. He says he has taken phone calls from all kinds of people: “from kids to school counsellors to grandmas” all wanting to know how to get started in the industry. 

There are a number of established artists in the region, like Nivek Russtle at Kitchener Tattoo, and Todd Evans at Deja Vu Tattoo who share Izumi’s concern that more tattoo parlours probably means that some of the time, some of the people running them might cut corners in order to compete, opting for cheaper equipment, or hiring less experienced artists, all of which affects quality. But then shoddy tattoos are so commonplace, people who have them don’t notice, or care. The bigger issue is health and safety, sterilization and sanitation. So for those of you who think it might be romantic to get the name of your special someone tattooed on your special body part for Valentine’s day, there are some things you’ll want to think about in advance.

You’ll definitely want to get to know a potential artist and parlour by  researching online, and by visiting the studio in person. Look for the kinds of sterilization protocols you’d see in a doctors office: fresh gloves every time, everything coming directly out of sealed packages, certificates posted showing they are educated in blood borne pathogens. It’s obviously a good sign if your artist has good tats. Also it isn’t advisable to go bargain hunting since, as it turns out, cheap tattoos are cheap tattoos. And what might be a more difficult piece of advice to follow, if you have picked a design and are all fired up about getting a new tat right away, is the advice to sit tight. Good artists are busy, but most of the old timers and aficionados will tell you it’s worth the wait for a quality tat. Some artists book months in advance. Seems like a long time, but it could be just the right amount of time for you to think things through and to be 100% certain about getting “I Heart Billy Bob” etched on your arm or “DRAKE” in block letters across your forehead.

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