By Dawn Cooke
Leave it to me to write about the less exciting things about tattooing. This might just be one of the more important subjects I could have the honor of making you think about. With more popularity for tattooing comes more attention from the government. This means laws and money. I can talk about Michigan specifically and explain to you all what’s happening here...
The interesting thing about all of this is actually the complexity of it. First and foremost public safety should always be foremost. Laws are being passed to promote public safety and true professionals agree with that notion. In fact, at the shops I worked at we always practiced under Michigan OSHA guidelines for safe and best practices concerning bloodborne pathogens, long before our state decided they needed to regulate “body art.” Here’s the problem with how our laws actually don’t work for promoting public safety.
In Michigan’s case, the authorities and health departments are doing nothing at all to stop people from tattooing in unlicensed facilities such as someone’s kitchen. Meanwhile “body art facilities” are required to pay the state for very expensive licenses and are subject to some arbitrary requirements. One such requirement is that we aren’t supposed to wrap a tattoo with “Saran wrap” because saran wrap doesn’t endorse this use of its product… Meanwhile in Cousin Lary's kitchen, little Johnny is eating his peanut butter jelly sandwich next to Aunt Bobby Jo's bloody arm while she gets her angel wings and the words, "love, peace, jesus, Mom, Dad " and foot prints for all her kids and nieces and nephews. You get the picture.
Another arbitrary requirement is that they would like us to keep our ink in a closed cabinet. Why? I can only guess. But I think it has to do with avoiding cross contamination. First of all changing gloves is a more viable solution to that. Secondly, I have seen more cross contamination going on at the dentist office then I ever have at a reputable shop. Next time you go to the dentist count how many times he sticks his hands in your mouth and touches the light, tools and more without ever-changing gloves. Then wait and see if they wipe every thing down afterward. In my experience they don’t and I’ve experienced this at more than just one office, but I digress.
Ironically the people writing these laws usually don’t get tattoos and piercing and generally have no clue about or interest in how our craft or trade actually works. They are more interested in how much money the “industry of body art” can generate for the state. They have no idea that we are a group of people who compose a whole culture of tradition and history nor do they probably care. Maybe some of them do (you can’t say EVERYONE) but you better hope you are lucky enough to get that inspector. Most people in general think that they know everything there is to know about tattooing after watching “reality” TV.
Obviously, if you have a few tattoos that qualifies you as an expert according to rock and roll super star Dave Navarro… Note the sarcasm. Try actually reading and learning about a trade you are trying to get involved in or at least consult the professionals in your area who have a proven track record of professionalism.
Everyone and their brother thinks they should open up a tat shack and make millions, so no wonder the government wants a piece of the pie!!! The truth is, it’s a whole lot more work than that, and you’re not making millions! The pie just isn’t as big as it looks on TV. More and more non-tattoo artist are opening studios, some exploit their artists. They generally have no idea what they are doing. On top of that, they tend to hire substandard artists. (Again, not ALL of them don’t get your panties in a bunch. Maybe 1 out of a thousand are actually decent.) Substandard artists open up their own tat shacks too and it’s all the same. You get an amateur with a little cash and they think can rule the world. The truth is they are not much of a threat to me personally. I’m busy and do quite well with fixing and polishing turds. They do however lower the standard expectation of the general public and harm the tradition and honor of the craft. They do saturate the market with cheap poor quality work and make it harder for true craftsmen in tattooing to make a fair living.
Lastly, Michigan’s laws do not mention anything at all about an apprentice, how old they should be, what requirements they must complete. And frankly the state has no business giving us any stipulations on that at all, in my opinion. If anything, require that they have bloodborne pathogen training. Tattoo artists have been passing the tradition of tattooing down from generation to generation for as long as people have been tattooing. Two famous examples are the Horiyoshi Family, and the Leu Family. If you don’t know who they are, look them up before you try to say you know anything at all about tattooing.
What should be regulated are the suppliers who are putting the tat kits into the hands of children who are scratching one another up left and right from kitchen to kitchen across America right now. Reputable suppliers will only sell to professionals. The suppliers who do sell to amateurs are usually selling garbage equipment at best. A true professional tattoo artist ought to know as much about their craft as they can. They should not only know the proper ways to apply a tattoo, but should know how to make their own needles, mix ink, build and tune a machine. Even if they never choose to do these things they should know how.
Why should you all care about this? Because if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and what we love and who we are, we will be lost.
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(Dawn Cooke is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine can be found at Depot Town Tattoo, 33 East Cross St. Ypsilanti, MI 48197 www.dawncooke.net and www.dawncookeart.com) Dawn Cooke is featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine #21: