The hottest trend in tattooing these days is the memorial tattoo. Now I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but hear me out. People have always gotten tattoos to memorialize dead family and friends, and I think there is a place for this type of tattoo. People grieve. But there is something about putting that pain and suffering into a permanent, visible mark on your body that gives me the creeps. When I look at my tattoos, I want it to be a positive, feel good experience, not a reminder of all the death in my life.
The king James version of the bible, in Leviticus 19:28 states “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I (am) the LORD.” Now we can go on arguing all day about bible literacy, but it seems pretty clear to me that if you are going to espouse a fundamentalist Christian ethic and adhere to the Bible in other ways, it would be hypocritical to ignore this one. It’s spelled out pretty clearly in every translation I’ve seen. I’m not saying don’t get a tattoo. I’m a tattooist for Christ sake. And while I don’t adhere to any organized religion, I fancy myself a fairly moral, ethical person. What I’m saying is don’t be a HYPOCRITE. It slays me that people actually get bible passages tattooed on themselves and completely ignore other parts of the bible. How Christian is that, really?
Back to tattoos for the dead. I believe the new resurgence of this trend arises from the cable “reality” shows about tattoo shops. You know the shops where people arrive out of the blue (not pre-screened in any way;-), engage the artist with a harrowing story of the death of a loved one (or their brother’s best friend, or their cousin’s teacher form first grade), describe what they want, go out for a cup of coffee, then come back in and get an armful of memorial tattoo. Okay first off. There are some amazing,talented tattooists on these shows. The thing to remember though, is that these are TV SHOWS. The clientele is carefully screened for certain qualities, one being a good story. How engaging would the show be if people came in and said they just wanted to get a tattoo because they thought it would be fun? Drama sells, and there is nothing more dramatic or engaging than a good death story. Especially if it’s like some other TV show death, you know murder or an especially gross accident. Now I don’t want to sound callous or insensitive to these people’s pain. I’ve been there too. My point is that these shows have created an entirely new type of client. The “I’m not the type of person to get a tattoo, but my sister’s best friend died, so…..” client.
My mentor and teacher had as one pet peeve, the “I’m not really the type to get a tattoo, but….” client. From his perspective, and mine now, if you got a tattoo, you were by definition, “the type”. If you weren’t “the type” you wouldn’t get one, period. The notion that you are getting a tattoo even though you aren’t “the type” implies that you are somehow above the fray, or to put it another way, better than the people normally associated with tattoos. This is hypocrisy at it’s worst. It rankled him then, and it rankles me now. The thing about the death tattoo is that it gives these people an excuse to wade through the muck and mire of all those people who would debase themselves by getting meaningless tattoos, rise above the masses and be able to get a tattoo, even though they aren’t “the type”. It’s become a fairly large percentage of our clientele.
So let’s get off our high horses. If you have a tattoo, you are “the type”.
An offshoot to this phenomenon is the “I would never get a tattoo that doesn’t have deep meaning”. What does it say about all the people who have gotten a tattoo simply because they liked the image, or they just want a tattoo because they think tattoos are cool? Are you somehow better because you actually have a tattoo with meaning? Let me tell you something. If a person decides on an image, coughs up the fairly large amount of cash required, and then voluntarily endures several hours of pain, their tattoo has meaning, whether they or anyone else knows what it is or not. It has meaning just form the very fact that it was chosen and endured. Tattoos rely on the language of symbolism. Every tattoo, by definition, is symbolic. If you are so arrogant to think that you can consciously know the deep significance every symbolic choice, be my guest and and create your next tattoo image based on that. I believe that if you follow your heart, your guts, intuition, whatever, you will get the tattoo you deserve. Put your conscious brain away and choose images that appeal to you. They’ll be the right ones, I promise.
Let me say this right off the bat, the tattoo shop is not your Internet provider. It seems the new habit is for people to arrive, tell you they brought in what they want, then whip out their cell phone and show you their masterpiece (or more likely someone else’s tattoo) on a two inch screen. Now as a graphic artist, it is imperative that I have good source material to work from. It’s like ingredients to a chef. The better the source material, the better the results. Period. A blurry photo of some skanked out tattoo does not constitute source material. We need printed out pages of things that look like the tattoo you want. The more reference you bring in, the better chance I have of coming up with the design you have in mind and the better chance your idea has of becoming a high quality tattoo. There’s an old saying in tattooing, “everybody gets the tattoo they deserve”. So wake up, do your homework and don’t think that because your printer is out of ink that it is your local tattoo shop’s responsibility to print out a dozen pages of your source material. What’s that? Printer ink is expensive? NO SHIT! Buy your own.
Let’s face it. Any honest tattooist will tell you that although there are several reasons why we got into the business, the reason we stay, year after year, is the bread. It’s the intermittent reward that is the most powerful and after a zero day or two, a nice $500 day can really give you a good buzz. Now it seems to be part of the job these days to care about or be “into” a person’s design (as in, “I want you to be stoked on it too”). Well I hate to tell you, but after years in the business, a tattooist cannot afford the mental and spiritual energy to be “into” every tattoo that they do. How “into” that spreadsheet were you? How “into” that last plate of veal scallopini or brake job were you? Give me a break! We’re just skilled craftsmen, trying to get through a busy day. Don’t get me wrong. We do our best to provide the best service that we can, but to ask for an emotional attachment or investment in your choice of body adornment is just going too far. If you want me to be “into” your tattoo, Start off by giving me a $200 tip up front and don’t micro manage the piece. I promise I’ll be “into” it then. Did someone say whore?