Tattoos have made their way literally throughout history and still continue to remain and are growing in popularity. Some will say that they are beautiful works of art and others may despise them. Regardless tattoos are mysterious and amazing at the same time. We recently sat down with a good friend and professional tattoo artist to pick his brain on the subject of tattoos and being a tattoo artist. Finally we will close out this article with “3 Facts To Know Before Getting a Tattoo.”
The word “tattoo” comes from the Maori word “tatau” meaning to mark. Historians have found that tattooing is one of the oldest forms of art and self-expression. Tattoos have a rich history among tribes and cultures for the purposes of decoration, rank, warrior status, and even healing of the body. What most people do not realize is the original form and still practiced by some tribes today, is called Ta Moko. This is not like tattooing that we know of in modern times.
Ta Moko is a process of actually carving the skin of an individual with a chisel known as a uhi leaving permanent grooves within their skin. The Maori influence, will mostly likely take the credit for the heavy influence of tattoos among sailors, which has obviously continued through into the present. Tattooing for sailors became popular during their travels. It enabled them to create memories and mark their bodies with memories of their service and comradely.
Over the years the influence and increase of tattoos has continued to spread across the cultures. Unfortunately tattoos have also been associated with gang affiliation, giving tattoos a dark reputation among some people. For instance in prison systems many gangs that operate within, use tattoos to declare forms of rank and membership. In Japan the infamous organized crime syndicate known as the Yakuza, identify their members through full length body art. For the most part tattoos have gained popularity and a positive light.
So the reason you’re probably reading this today is because you’re considering getting some fresh ink. We’re glad, because you came to the right place. We want to introduce you to Joel “Suga Bear” Brennan, professional tattoo artist and owner of Steadfast Tattoo Parlour in Erie, Pa. Joel has unique insights for anyone desiring to get a tattoo.
fact #1: It’s more than just ink and Pictures.
Joel is originally from Kingston, New York. He is currently 35 years old and has been tattooing for 16 years. “I never wanted to become a tattoo artist, because I was a cook at the time. I had been freshly booted out of the Navy and thought I would be a cook the rest of my life. I ended up drawing some tattoos for some fellow sailors and myself. When I took the drawings into the tattoo shop, the artist asked me if I ever thought about doing tattoos. I said I would think about it and two weeks later I went back and started tattooing.”
As we sat with Joel and listened to his heart and passion for the work he does, we were about to gain some insight into the world of this artist’s view, which is a great view to adopt when you’re considering getting “inked” for the first or tenth time.
“I think that people watch too much TV, and tattooing has become glamorous. Tattoo artists are fortunate to do what we do, it’s a privilege. Very few people really understand the history of tattoos. Much of what we see through the course of the day has really come around in the past 200 years. Tattooing has been around for hundreds of years. Not the way we see it today, but it’s something that has always been used to mark the body. We get to carry on a piece of history! Yes, we get to draw images and place them on people, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about this person, living a life, and is choosing to document it, by adorning images on their skin.”
Keeping Joel’s words of wisdom in mind when considering a tattoo can be pretty powerful and important. Getting an image permanently on your body is a huge deal. Sure there are other avenues available today to have tattoos removed, but you still need to consider the process before you get “inked.” Here are a few things to consider before you get a tattoo.
fact #2: there’s a “3” step process.
We took the liberty to narrow down for you a 3 step process for helping you choose a tattoo. Please understand that we realize there are many other elements to consider when considering a tattoo, but these are our thoughts.
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH. It’s super easy to walk into a tattoo parlour on the weekend all “high” on energy and the experience of getting one, pick an image off the wall and plop down in the chair and get a tattoo. My father did exactly that when he was younger. I loved my dad, but he made rash decision. He went on a Friday night and Saturday morning he woke up to having the classic “Heart with an arrow through it” that said “Mom” on it. He tried to remove it with a wire brush. He wasn’t successful.
Do your research. Take your time and look for the tattoo that speaks to you personally. If you are getting something done in another language, just don’t settle for the interpretation you see in the picture. Seek out the real meaning of it. The last thing you need on your skin is something that is disgraceful or offensive to someone else.
2. KNOW YOUR ARTIST. I personally have known Joel for several years and we have developed a great relationship even outside of the tattoo parlour. Here is what Joel has to say about this.
“Look at their artwork, but look for their connection relationally. You don’t want someone just drawing images on you that’s angry all the time. Life is about respecting one another and the boundaries with one another.”
You don’t have to hang with your artist 24/7 and become best friends, but all we’re saying is take your time getting to know the one who is doing the work. You don’t want to be another number.
3. WAIT IT OUT. Who doesn’t want to get a tattoo right away?! Getting a tattoo is so adventurous and addicting. Plus we want to share it on social media with all of our friends and acquaintances. On the other hand, there should be a waiting period before you take the plunge and eternally commit. You don’t have to follow this unspoken rule, but once you have decided what you would like to adorn your body with, consider waiting three to six months before acting. This gives you ample time to decide if this is what you really want.
fact #3: it takes time.
We are about to give you a brief outline of what getting a tattoo will usually entail. We are fully aware that many more steps can be added, but this is not a primer on the subject of tattoos.
1. RESPECT THE ARTIST. While talking with Joel here is what he had to say on this specific topic.
“The best part of my job is also the worst part of my job. The people. I have been able to make so many awesome connections with different people. Tattooing is what makes the relationship. The worst part of my job is the people. From the minute they walk in the door all the way to the table they want to be in control. I’m the artist, and they’re paying me to do a job and it is about them, but what I need from them, is to allow me to continue the process and allow me to produce the tattoo. They have to know what they want. It’s about respect. Go in with respect for what tattooers do. Allow them to do what they do. You’re walking into their world when you go to get a tattoo.”
2. IT SHOULD BE STERILE. From the moment you walk into the shop to the end of the tattooing process, everything should be sterile and safe. This means that the floors should be swept, trash kept in the trash can, the chair or table sanitized and prepped for you. Everything from the ink to the needles used, should come fresh out of the package. As a paying client and for the safety of your health, you have the right to ask the artist if things are sterilized properly.
3. IT’S NOT A PARTY. Yes getting a tattoo is a fantastic experience, but it is not a communal one. This is not the time to bring your entourage with you. For the safety of the tattoo artist and yourself, leave the majority of your friends at home and take one person with you at maximum.
4. THE STENCIL. After your designated area has been properly prepped, a stencil of your tattoo will be added to your body. The artist will then peel it off. This creates a “map” for him or her to follow when tattooing.
5. THE NEEDLE WORK. This will now be the outline of your tattoo. In my personal opinion this is what hurts the most. He or she will use a tattoo gun that is loaded with a liner needle and thin ink. The liner needle covers less surface and this is what produces the pain I spoke of. After the line work, you’ll be wiped and prepped again.
6. THE SHADING WORK. Once the outline has been completed and you have been wiped down and prepped again, the artist when use shading needles, which are multiple needles known as magnum needles. There needles will deliver more ink to the designated area. Once the shading is complete, any color that is needed will then be added.
7. THE FINAL PREP. Once your tattoo is completed the artist will wipe you down with soap and water, pat you dry, add an ointment, and then bandage you up with a sterile bandage. You can expect that once you remove the bandage to clean your tattoo, that there will be a little blood and ink attached to it. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal. In order to prevent any type of infection during the healing process the tattoo artist will give you a specific set of instructions. Follow these instructions step-by-step.
We asked Joel one final question about keeping balance in his work and marriage to give us all a perspective of his work and life. Here is what he had to say.
“I have been overly blessed and fortunate that my wife started as a client, which gave her a perspective and understanding of the nature of the business. That is the biggest factor for success with our marriage, life, and work. My spouse understands that it’s my responsibility to keep the shop open. That’s the nature of a business. God has blessed me with a wife that is more adventurous, loves the industry, and the culture.”