Prestigiousness in Tattooing
By Ben Shaw
We were once warriors, tribal leaders and medicine men/women. Tattoos were once sacred images used for many purposes; warrior markings, rites of passage, sacred journeys, social status, healing, etc. The revolutionized tattoo machine eliminated much of the pain, price and time required. So from the late 1800s until today, our craft has become readily available and widespread.
Everything happens for a reason. Tattooing today has entered the world of fine art and is so elaborate and beautiful. Our tools and tricks have evolved the art to a whole new level. During this process of evolution it has opened many of the artists to the ancient processes within. Seeking imagery through meditation and contemplation. Actually reaching out to life experiences to find inspiration for art. Many artists are opening themselves up to the client's desires, becoming the “ear” for the client to vent. Helping them through emotional and spiritual needs.
There is a growing niche of tattoo artists within the professional community who wish to reignite our ancient heritage as tribal/community leaders. Remembering that we are guides, teachers, and healers. It is our position to educate the current and next generation of clientele in our communities about ethics, health, and safety in tattooing. We must do this in whatever way that suits our particular style and personality.
During my research, I came across a tattoo artist who has truly reached back to the ritualistic healing aspects of tattooing. Her name is Jen Shakti, ashamanic tattoo artist based out of Orange County, Ca. Jen owns Mermaid’s Tale Tattoo. Besides being a successful and established tattoo artist for over 21 years, she teaches Sacred Tattooing seminars at the Paradise Tattoo Gathering and holds community conference calls. *refer to end of questions for more details.
I joined in on a conference call and found it profound and inspirational. I wanted to pick Jen’s brain a little more, and she graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions via email:
Besides giving a client a tattoo, how else do you help a client? Pre- tattoo I have a “Conscious consultation”, or “creative visioning” session with them ahead of time. This is where I can get to meet them and understand how I can best serve them. I plan my strategy for design and execution of the tattoo. I’m “tracking” what’s happening with the energy in their body. I ask questions, I make some notes. I listen to the information my inner guidance is receiving, through their words, and body language. I help them to be prepared for the day of their tattoo by helping them clarify the intent, the deeper meaning and reason for getting a tattoo. I offer a “sacred tattoo ceremony” as part of the actual tattoo session. I have a basic structure of the “sacred tattoo ceremony”, which includes opening sacred space, building a small altar and a sage clearing. This honors the rite of passage. The healing component begins as a short spoken guided journey where I invite my client to draw in and use the sensation of the tattoo needles to “move energy” wherever it is needed in their body. This is very similar to acupuncture, but more intense! How do you physically, mentally, and spiritually prepare for a clients skin transformation? By living the best life I can. Caring for my body temple with healthy foods, drinking spring water. Practicing yoga and daily meditation. I always intend balance, between work and play, rest and activity. I invest time and money in the things I’m most interested in like taking workshops and traveling. I’m working on making more space for my creative pursuits like art making and completing the “Sacred Tattooing” book.
Tattoo artists were once tribal leaders, medicine men, prestigious guides through rites of passage. Where are we going now? It’s important to remember that we can still be modern tribal leaders, medicine men and women leading our families, customer base and tattoo community through rites of passage. If we choose to “be the change we wish to see in the world” the shift will happen. It IS happening. That is why I dedicate myself to the re-emergence of the sacred in tattooing, to connect with other artists who feel this stirring within. This is direction I want to see tattooing head. What other advice on customer communication, physical and spiritual, do you have for the next generation of tattooers? “ Do your best to treat each client like a friend.” Any effort in this direction will help to draw clients to you to match that vibration. Even if it feels insincere at first, it feels better than being grumpy, aloof, or resistant. On the most basic level its good for return business, and some of those people will actually become friends. I find most people have an interesting story. If you find that this is a real challenge, and you hear yourself saying internally, “I just don’t like people, or I’m just not a not social person,” etc… I feel this is an indication there is room for personal introspection and healing. Resistance on any level is rooted somewhere in fear. Seek to let go of it by intending to attract a self help book, try meditation, or simply pursue something that makes you feel good. If you don’t know what that is keep looking- ask someone you trust for assistance. The smallest step can get the energy moving and will lead to something else. The quality and enjoyment of your life is worth it. What do you think the importance is for tattooers to remember our craft's heritage? It is very important to have a sense of the bigger picture, and honor where we have come from. It is such a rich and interesting history, I don’t know why anyone involved in tattooing wouldn’t be interested on some level. I suppose it speaks of someone’s sincerity or lack thereof. On a more esoteric level, there is a great deal of information available if we connect to the lineage of the ancestors of tattooing. It is as simple as a quiet conversation communicating your intent for what you desire to learn. I believe the depth of my interest, good work, sincerity and respect for the art is how I came to “be rewarded” to receive the inspiration to develop the sacred tattooing work from the ancient ancestors. It’s really amazing how information comes to me at just the right time from unexpected places I could never have found on my own. It’s like a spiritual version of the internet. If you didn’t study your tattoo history, you may not know that both Sailor Jerry and Paul Rogers (among many others) were prolific letter writers in their lifetimes. They corresponded with tattooists around the world sharing tips, techniques and innovations. Obviously they were interested in sharing what they knew. So wherever their energy exists “out there”, learning about who they were, and studying their work strengthens your ability to connect to their wisdom. I have framed original acetate stencils of mermaids from both Sailor Jerry and Owen Jensen at my workstation. I consider them my “Tattoo Grandfathers” looking over my shoulder that I can ask for help or guidance when I need it. Works for me!!
Where is your journey heading now? I’m putting my energy towards the aspects of the Tattoo Community I love, and wish to see grow. I'm attracted to participate in events with other artists who are dedicated to their fine art paintings, and continuing education. My favorite events are TattooNOW’s Paradise Artist Retreat and Paradise Artist’s Gathering. Gabe Ripley and his team are doing an awesome job putting on these events that have a supportive energy of inspiration, learning and FUN that is so vital to the health of the industry. The first retreat I went to in 2010, I felt like I had been looking for that type of event my whole career. It was so positive and open. I am so excited and grateful to be meeting so many more good people. Its been a really great atmosphere to teach the “Sacred tattooing” workshop. *Sacred Tattooing workshop Saturday September 14th @ the next Paradise Tattoo Gathering, Keystone Colorado. Contact Jen for more information@ 714-418-0269 http://mermaidtale.net/ *Community Conference call third tuesday of every month.To participate, call 605-475-4700 enter passcode 712635 then # say “Hi” announce yourself, your location and shop name.. I am so very grateful for Jen’s time, input and wisdom. I implore anyone feeling the inner pull of sacredness, that sense of longing for more with your craft, to join the community of sacred tattooing. Seek the truth within. Open up to the possibilities that you are more than just a tattoo artist. You a leader in your own right. You change people every time you touch them. Choose what direction you want your client, your community, and our world to follow.. ...see you on the other side. ZenBenShaw.com archetypetattoo.com