Soldiers, sailors, bikers, prisoners, ballerinas, soccer-moms… Wait, what? If that list was numbers, it would be one of those confusing math problems where they start a sequence and then expect you to finish it, but you have absolutely no idea how they’re even related. I’ll help you out here (if the title was something you chose to skip over); they are all people that could easily have tattoos these days.
Now, I’m not going to profess to be a major ink guru. I really only have one single tattoo, albeit a fairly large half-sleeve on my left arm, it hardly qualifies me, in my opinion, to claim I know it all. What I can do though is try and spell out some of the things I’ve learnt about the art, about having a tattoo and how life does change in a way once you’re walking around with a piece of art on your skin.
Should I get a tattoo?
Well my first reaction to anyone asking this question is, “Yea, why the hell not?” But I do understand that it’s not the simplest decision to make. I confess I’ve always had a bit of a rebel spirit in me, so when I made my decision to get a tattoo, many of the things most people may be concerned about, hardly even featured on my mind. As I already stated, I myself only have a half-sleeve instead of a full-sleeve as it can be out of sight and out of mind if ever needed, this was a conscious decision that there will be times when I’m meeting girlfriend’s parent’s, potential bosses etc and if we’re entirely honest here, we know tattooed people typically have a stigma attached to them. I do feel as though this is changing though. A trip to the beach in summer will reveal that there are more and more people walking around with ink adorning their bodies. It must be pointed out that I work in an industry where creativity and rebel spirit is generally awarded, so I can’t speak for corporate industry types such as lawyers and accountants (As a reserve member of the military I also know where my limits lie with regards to tattoos).
So should you get a tattoo? Yea sure, if you know what you like and you definitely realize that once it’s there, no amount of your mom’s Omo is going to remove it. Think about where you would get a tattoo placed on your body and then ask yourself some hard questions. If you’re hoping to be an advocate someday then I would suggest avoiding facial, neck and hand tattoo’s for reasons, which should be fairly obvious.
It’s going to look so gross when you’re old
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard this as an argument against getting a tattoo. We’ve all seen tattoos from older generations, which are admittedly a bit on the rubbish side. It is essential to bear in mind that the tattoo industry itself, has come a very long way. The quality of things right down to the types of gloves artists wear are now of impeccable quality compared to what was being used 10, 20, 30 years ago. Inks are now amazingly vivid in colour and will hold for many, many years. Up-keep of tattoos has also drastically changed. We are a generation which knows already that hanging out in the sun for too long is probably not a good idea (little thing called skin cancer kind of messed that up for everyone). When you have a tattoo, it is a work of art. Hard work put into the design and like any piece of art, which would get ruined in the sun, you should want to take care of your ink. Keeping it out of the sun or at the very least, putting a good sunblock on it goes a long way in helping to avoid that faded green-blue look that your dad’s friend Mike’s tattoo has.
On a final point to this, many older tattooed people have never gone for touch-ups on their tattoos. I can guarantee that getting a tattoo done by a professional and then looking after it properly will ensure it doesn’t look ‘gross’ when you’re older.
Tattoos are just popular now, because they’re the ‘in thing’
Ok, I won’t try and kid you and say that that’s nonsense. There’s no denying the amount of many people that get inked only because their favourite musician is inked. Even Justin Bieber is walking around with some pretty decent pieces (love or hate him, his tattoo artist does some awesome work). Obviously tattoos have been around for a very long time. Just about every culture in the world has had some form of tattooing in their history going back quite literally centuries and even more. I would then say that it would appear that they are not just a passing phase.
What has happened is, society is far more forgiving in their tolerance of many things that just 10 years ago were seen as extremely taboo. Back to the list I opened this article with – the usual idea of someone with tattoos has probably always been someone like a biker or a rock-star, but it is not uncommon these days, to see middle-aged businessmen with some pretty exquisite works of art tattooed on them. I know many of my own friends parents who are well into their 50’s that have recently had their first tattoos. Many of these people may have wanted a tattoo since they were teenagers, but due to societal taboos and stereotypes surrounding the culture, they never had them. Walk into a decent tattoo artist’s workplace these days and you will be impressed by their professionalism, cleanliness and outright class. This is because tattoo artists are finally being recognised as true artists in their own right, working on a very unique medium – human skin.
This brings me to my final point – be wise about it. You must do your homework when deciding you might want a tattoo. Tattoo artists, like any other artist, have their unique talents. Just because your mate had an awesome tattoo of a portrait of his dog ‘Shnuffles’ in grey and black done by a specific artist, that artist may not be the right girl or guy to do your all-colour piece of Scooby-Doo down your thigh. Visit shops and ask to see portfolios of different artists. You will also find that a good artist will be honest and will point you in the direction of a colleague that can do what you want done. I’ve even heard artists I’ve been to, be honest enough to tell a client if their idea of what hey want is just really, really bad. I admire that, as I realise that like any job, turning down a client’s request is literally turning down a paycheck, but integrity goes a long way. Work with your artist, listen to their ideas and collaborate their views with your own. You wouldn’t tell a dentist how to drill into your teeth if he knew what he’s doing is for your benefit, likewise, trust a tattoo artist once you’ve really grown to trust them and you will have a truly amazing piece of art.
Ultimately getting any body-modification is an extremely personal decision to make; a tattoo is possibly the biggest. It will be with you for a long time. Yes there will be days when you think, ‘Why did I do this?’ I’m being honest, but they are few and far between if you make sure from the start that you’re getting what you want and getting it done properly. Another thing to note, don’t try and be cheap about this, a good artist charges what they need to for you to have a quality piece that you and they will be proud of.
A special word of thanks to Morag Pringle of Skinscape Tattoo in Gardens, Cape Town, for allowing me to make use of these superb images of some of the tattoos she has done. You can view more of Morag’s work and get in touch with her on her Facebook page.
Matt is a Copy writer and rifleman currently residing in the city of Cape Town. Click here to check out his website.