Why We’re Obsessed With Tattoos, According to a Tattoo Artist

Everyone seems obsessed with tattoos these days. In fact, nearly half of millennials have them, according to a 2010 Pew Research study. What once was associated with biker gangs or punks and considered unacceptable in the workplace has now become a worldwide trend—and tattoo artist and reality TV star Megan Massacre has been a major part of this phenomenon.

An artist all her life, Massacre took up tattooing during college and has since been featured on TLC’s NY Ink and America’s Worst Tattoos. She’s since continued working at Love Hate Social Club in New York’s Lower East Side, where NY Ink took place. She’s also one of the tattoo artists showcasing her work on Tattoodo, a site co-founded by Miami Ink’s Ami James for people to read about tattoos, browse designs, and hold contests for artists to design tattoos based on users’ descriptions. Tattoodo recently launched an app that’s basically Instagram for tattoos, letting people post and search for the designs and artists they like.

While she was filming a new tattoo-related reality show in Australia, we chatted with Massacre about what’s behind the current tattoo craze, and how she became a part of it.

What was it about tattoos that first drew you in?
Massacre: The first time I actually thought about tattooing, I was in high school. A classmate came to school with a tattoo, and everybody thought it was so cool. I also thought it was so cool, but being an artist, I was like, “I could do a better job.” I was very interested in art from a young age and wanted to learn every kind of art there was. That was the first time I saw tattooing as an art form, because at that time, most people didn’t think of it that way.

Why wasn’t it recognized as an art form then?
We didn’t really think about it because of the stigma surrounding tattooing. A lot of the types of people that you saw getting tattoos were involved in gangs. There was a lot of negativity surrounding it. People thought criminals got tattooed, so I think a lot of artists shied away from it and never really looked at it from that perspective. In the past decade, you’ve seen a huge shift in tattooing to an actual art form that many artists have become interested in.

How did that shift occur?
When I first started tattooing a couple years before Miami Ink came out, it was very stigmatic still. I had a bunch of tattoos, and when I went outside, when I went grocery shopping, people would look at me weird. They wouldn’t want to walk through doors that I held. I would have people coming up to me that I didn’t know, being like, “You’re going to regret this.” Then, a couple years later, the show Miami Ink came out, and all of a sudden, people started looking at it differently and realizing we’re just normal people like everybody else. It made it sexy. It made people who weren’t interested in tattoos actually think about getting one. Also, obviously, musicians and sports players made tattoos very cool.

It also seems like online communities like Tattoodo have played a big role in popularizing tattoos. How have you used them?
Personally, as an artist, I love Instagram and all different kinds of social media. I follow tons of tattoo artists, but it’s actually hard to keep up with all the artists. If I’m looking for something in particular from a particular artist, the Tattoodo app is really nice and consolidated, and it’s constantly updating. There’s also a cool new feature where you upload a photo with information about the tattoo, you put what body part it is, and then you hashtag the style so that it’s really searchable. If I have a studio in New York and I’m looking for a black and gray artist, I can look up the hashtag #BlackAndGrayTattoo and find all the black and gray artists that are out there. I’m always traveling and working and doing all kinds of stuff, and I want to be able to access the information very easily. It helps me keep up with my own industry.

How did you first get involved with Tattoodo?
I first heard about it a couple years ago when one of the artists told me about it. It’s a community dedicated to tattooing from an artistic standpoint, whether you’re one of the artists or a tattoo collector who appreciates tattoos. A lot of it is blog-related, exploring all the different facets of the tattoo industry and new technology in the tattoo industry, talking about tattoo trends. It’s really interesting to see all of this stuff that’s relatable to the artist and the collector in one spot.

The contests for customized tattoos seem like a really cool idea.
The contests are really cool because there are so many people who want to get tattoos by some artists and it’s also pretty expensive, but the contests give people the chance to get tattoos who haven’t had a chance before. Maybe they live in a completely different country, but the contest allows you to get flown to wherever the artist is.

What is it about tattoos that makes them important to enough people to form all these communities?
It’s a way of expressing the things that you love most in life. People express themselves through color and clothing, and tattooing is just another way to customize yourself. You’re born a certain way, but as you grow older, you kind of fall into the skin that you feel comfortable in. You get to change yourself.

Do any of the tattoos you’ve created stick out as the most meaningful?
The best stories are the kinds where tragedy is overcome. They other day, I tattooed a woman who is a cancer survivor. When she got the news, it was terrible not only for her own health and safety but for the well-being of her kids. People like her wear tattoos like badges of honor. She got initials for her kids.

What advice would you give someone considering a tattoo?
There are some people who put a lot of thought into it and some people who are just on a whim like, “I’m going to a tattoo shop.” That’s cool and all, but think about it, because it’s obviously very permanent. Then, even if your tattoo gets old and doesn’t look as good as it used to, you’re still going to love it because you’re going to love what it stands for.

12 Tips To Tattoo Shop Etiquette

You never want to be “that guy” in the tattoo shop who is haggling for a lower price, criticizing the tattooist’s design, and basically telling everyone in the shop how to do their jobs. It’s rude to the artists, managers, piercers and other clients. This kind of behavior can cause a huge distraction and kills the vibe of the shop. When you get a tattoo, you don’t want to be a dick about it, you want to be the best possible client. Everyone gets the tattoo they deserve, so here are our twelve tips to tattoo shop etiquette.

1. Do your research.

Always know what you want when you go into a tattoo shop. Bring reference photos (but not an overwhelming amount) that can give the artist an idea of what you want. They can’t read your mind, so they will need your help on this.

2. Remember artists specialize in particular styles.

Don’t go in wanting a realistic black and grey portrait of your grandmother and ask a color New School artist to do it, or vice vera. Don’t be offended when they tell you there are other artists who would do a better job. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to do your tattoo, that just means there’s an artist out there that can render your idea more closely to the style you are looking for.

3. Be open to your artist’s ideas.

Your tattoo artist is (hopefully) a professional for a reason. They know best. So when they tell you the lettering should be bigger or that a mandala on your back will come out cleaner than one on your ribs, it’s most likely because it will hold up better in the long run and read more clearly.

4. Don’t be a back seat driver.

Again, your tattoo artist knows best. Don’t overwhelm them with nitpicky details about every single shade of blue that you want added to your tattoo, how many centimeters apart something should be in the design, or how many hairs that portrait of your grandmother should have on her head. If you did your research and picked an artist you trust, your tattoo will turn out beautifully. That being said, if there is something major in the initial design you really don’t like, speak up and let them know. A good artist wants to work with you and make sure you’re happy with the final result.

5. Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good.

This is nonnegotiable. Your artist has his or her set prices for a reason. Respect that. If you haggle for a price, you are disrespecting the artist.

6. Be patient.

Setting up a tattoo station and preparing to tattoo someone takes time, especially if you are getting a walk-in tattoo. Allow time for your artist to design the piece or even finish up with the clients who walked in before you. A patient client is an appreciated client.

7. Have good hygiene.

Your tattoo artist is going to be up close and personal with you while you get tattooed. Make sure to shower, shave and brush your teeth before your appointment. You don’t want to be known as Sir Stinks-A-Lot every time you get inked.

8. Be sober.

Always get a tattoo sober. This should be a no brainer, but make sure you go into the studio without any alcohol or drugs in your system. Not only will this ensure that you pick the idea you actually want, but it will make saturating the tattoo easier for the artist. This means try not to drink the night prior to getting a tattoo as well. Alcohol thins your blood and will cause you to bleed a lot more.

9. Don’t bring your whole family to the tattoo parlor.

One friend is fine, but more than that is overkill. It crowds the shop and creates distractions for both the client and the artist. Also, no one wants to deal with your rude, nitpicky aunt who keeps claiming you should have gone with that other photo of grandma halfway through the portrait session.

10. Don’t set time restrictions.

Yes, some artists charge by the hour instead of by the piece, so don’t go into the session saying you can only afford three hours and ask for a six-hour tattoo. If you can only sit for a few hours, let your artist know before hand so they are prepared in case you have to tap out after several hours and come back to finish the piece.

11. Don’t eat.

To eat while getting tattooed forces you to wiggle unnecessarily and is unhygienic, and in some states, like New Jersey, it is also illegal. Take a break if you need to get your nom on.

12. Tip your artist.

Tipping is not expected, but it is appreciated. It shows that you love the tattoo and appreciate all of the hard work the artist put in to make it. Tips should probably be somewhere between 10-20% if they are monetary, but sometimes cool gifts that you know your artist would be into are just as acceptable!

BODY ART IS MORE MAINSTREAM THAN EVER…

Tattoos are traditionally associated with “outlaw” cultures — bikers, gangs, punks, ex-cons, and sex workers. (Can you count how many tattoos you’ve seen in a porn movie lately?) But the 90’s saw tattooing move into the mainstream in a big way.

Since then, everyone has been expecting a tattoo backlash. And indeed, laser removal clinics have been doing strong business for two decades and counting. Lots of people, especially younger ones, seem to think that laser removal allows relatively easy removal of unwanted body art. If so, they may be surprised at the dozens of hours and the thousands of dollars required. And sometimes, the procedure merely fades the art instead of removing it entirely. (A better choice might be a cover-up tattoo from an experienced tattoo artist.)

Some traditional tattoos are sexual in content — think of the topless mermaid who wriggles when a sailor flexes his bicep. Genital tattoos are still rare, but they are done. For some, tattoo-adorned skin can become a fetish in itself. “Tabu Tattoo” is a magazine dedicated to pictures of racy tattoos in naughty places. Photographer Charles Gatewood is famous for his documentary photos of outlaw-style body art of this sort.

Does it hurt? Yes, but the amount of pain depends both on the person receiving the ink and the area of the body that is tattooed. Ink over bone hurts the most; work done over a well-muscled, fleshy area of the body (thighs, biceps, butt) hurts least.

How individual do you think you’ll be if you pick a design off the wall? The designs that tattoo parlors display on the wall is called “flash art.” They’re cheaper and easier to execute than custom designs, but you’re also more likely to run into that black panther stalking across someone else’s shoulder as well as your own. Some people are fans of the old-fashioned flash art style, however, and it a design appeals to you and you don’t mind sharing, go for it. If you do want to work on a custom design, most tattoo artists will happily assist, and can even work up the art for you from a verbal description or rough sketch. Many have extensive libraries of art in their studios, which you can browse for inspiration.

Make sure that your tattoo artist follows sterile procedure. Blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis are easily transmitted by dirty tattoo needles. Your tattooist should use gloves, autoclave their needles, and shave your skin with a disposable razor. Talk to the artist beforehand about their precautions, and take a look at their workspace before getting down to business.

Even with increased acceptance of tattooing in society, think twice before getting a tattoo that can’t be covered. If you’re considering a career in law enforcement, for example, you might want to know that most departments forbid visible tattoos.

And remember, unless you’re already saving up for that expensive laser surgery removal clinic, tattoos last a lifetime. How many times have you broken up with a lover? Dumping a tattoo is even harder to do.