By Myke Chambers
I was talking with a friend a little while back about the state of tattooing today, comparing it with how things were just 15 or 20 years ago. He made a really good point... A lot of people say, “Yeah tattooing going mainstream sucks but now there are more people getting tattooed so we're all making a lot more money.”
But he then reminded me that yeah, 15 years ago there weren't as many people getting tattooed but there also weren't as many tattooers either, so anyone that wanted a tattoo didn't have a whole lot of choices. Today there are sometimes a hundred shops in a city or maybe even upwards of 300 in a big city...
When I first started tattooing there was still a veil of mystery surrounding a tattoo shop. I fucking loved that. It was part of what attracted me to this craft. The local tattooer was like a wizard to me. I remember skateboarding down “the drag” as a little punk kid in Austin and we'd go try to sneak a peek in on Dave Lum before getting run off. It's sad to think that the amazement and wonder I had back then at stepping into a real tattoo shop will never really be felt by another kid again... Now they'll walk into a shop for the first time expecting NY Ink, LA Ink or Whatever Ink. That mystery and awe is gone for the most part... though there are those among the new generation that still hold tattooing sacred.
The milk is spilled... so the only option we have is to move forward. Tattoo television is the new trend right now and most of the shows out from what I've seen are mostly manufactured drama and very little to do with tattooing, though there are a few really good tattooers on these shows. Some of which I call my friends. Then there are a few really awesome, true to the craft indie/doc shows being put out like Tattoo Age, The Gypsy Gentleman and a few others, which are a breath of fresh air.
I guess the popularity of tattooing in the mainstream is a double-edged sword of sorts. I feel the mainstream shows out have brought some good things about... but then there's TLC's Tattoo School, which was picked up for a series. These “TWO WEEK” tattoo schools are the beginning of the end. I'm amazed at how many people think this show and a two week-long tattoo school is actually okay. It blows my mind but really that show is only a fraction of the problem, and in any part I'm pretty sure it got canceled after its first season ran.
Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? If not, you should. Here's the basic rundown. The stupid people keep breeding and having a lot of kids while the intelligent couples are only having one kid or none at all... then it jumps to the future and the human race is now totally stupid because the intelligence gene has been bred out... I'm seeing this starting to happen with tattooing to an extent. The good, solid tattooers are not wanting to apprentice anyone because there are already too many tattooers as it is, but the sub-par tattooers that really have no business teaching anyone else (much less tattooing period) are apprenticing three to five people at a time. Then other apprentices are taking on apprentices themselves after tattooing a few months.
Most people who take on apprentices only want the slave labor, to feel cool and above someone, or to charge money and could care less about putting out a solid tattooer. I'm guilty of apprenticing a couple of guys six years ago when I really had no business teaching anyone, and I had been tattooing around 13 or 14 years at the time. Shit’s wrong, and I was wrong back then. I can’t tell you how many times I've seen this happen. It’s sad because the apprentices haven’t got a clue and sad as it seems their mentors usually don't know how bad they are either or that the habits they're passing down are wrong and more often than not hazardous to the general public aside from giving bad tattoos.
So what's the answer to this dilemma? Public education, so the public will stop going to the sub-par tattooers? I believe so. It's our only hope in my opinion and that means reaching the public on a larger platform... Tattoo TV. Sometimes you have to deal with the beast and in order to maintain damage control we need solid tattooers with good ethics to step up. Not just bitching about it in their circles and various social media, but to take action and get involved to bring about positive change.
The stark reality that these people who are getting into tattooing are quickly faced with is that tattooing IS NOT a glamorous lifestyle as portrayed on TV, magazines, or the Internet. The truth is that most tattooers are barely making ends meet. To those of us that truly love our craft we know the sacrifice we pay.
The endless hours in the shop only to go home and continue to draw our next day's tattoos into the wee hours of the night, then to wake up the next morning to start it all over again. The total loss of a substantial social life. The wear on relationships with our partners and children, the mental and physical fatigue... the list goes on. Most don't really understand the cost, nor do they have what it takes to endure year after year on the grind and hustle. So I guess in the end the weak get weeded out.
I've now come to the conclusion that the only answer to this dilemma is public education. With that said I was honored when Crash asked me to be a part of the Tattoo Culture Magazine movement. Yes, this is a "movement" and a much-needed one, and who better to spearhead it than the folks behind the best industry magazine there is, Tattoo Artist Magazine...
Tattoo Culture Magazine can be downloaded for free here: http://www.tattooartistmagazine.com/
(Myke can be found on the road and at Freaks & Geeks Tattoo in Asheville, NC and Northern Liberty Tattoo, in Philadelphia, PA.)
Read more from Myke:
Myke Chambers: Westward Expansion
Myke Chambers: Sorry if I Sound Like a Dick, but Your Tattoos Suck
Myke Chambers: Fox in Rose Tattoo (VIDEO)