Tony Corzo has been a tattoo artist for the past 15 years and has seen the industry change with the times. The greatest change in the industry has been in the variety of clientele seeking his services. When he was an apprentice, Tony’s customers were mostly bikers and musicians and few of them were women. Today there is no stereotypical customer who visits The Lion’s Den in New Hope, Pennsylvania where Tony works. On any given day, Tony is just as likely to adorn the body of a man or a woman, a truck driver or a doctor, someone in his twenties or someone in his sixties. According to Tony, he enjoys the hugely diverse clientele. A more heterogeneous group of customers also means a more heterogeneous type of tattoo.
A Flood of Design
Years ago, when Tony entered the business, if you wanted a tattoo you went to a tattoo parlor and searched through traditional pictures to find an image that best represented you. Now there is a greater variety in the types of tattoos people are seeking. Instead of choosing an image off the wall, people are far more likely to search the web or art books and commission a tattoo artist to reproduce an image of their choice. Tattoo artists are also being chosen based on the uniqueness of their designs.
Style and Scale
“The trends in imagery people seek tend to ebb and flow. A couple of years ago Polynesian tribal tattoos, geometric shapes in solid black, were huge. Lately, people seem to be seeking a more artistic look, like oil paintings on the skin,” says Tony. Better ink quality and more sophisticated machinery have also resulted in better quality tattoos over the years. Artists can create finer lines, more detail, and better depth of shade, which means just about anything within reason can be reproduced on the body.
One of the things that Tony has noticed over the years is that people have become so video and computer screen oriented that they can’t easily grasp the concept of size and scale.
“Somebody will come into the shop with a download of an oil painting he wants to be reproduced on his arm. I have to say, ‘Dude, that’s a 10 foot by 20-foot fresco – it’ll never fit on your bicep!”
Location, Location, Location
The areas of the body people choose to tattoo have changed over time as well. It used to be mostly arm work. Now for women, it seems tattoos on the feet or lower back are popular while men choose between the shoulder blades as well as on the arms. According to Tony, feet and hand tattoos are a bad idea. “Those areas are high maintenance areas. The skin takes a lot of abuse and rubbing. It’s a difficult area to heal and the tattoo eventually wears away. The skin is constantly trying to get rid of it and the image is basically sloughed off.”
Tony says people have also become savvier about where they are willing to get their tattoos. They know what questions to ask when they come in – How are you sterilizing your equipment? Do you use disposable parts? They’re less likely to turn to scratchers, people who are tattooing out of their basements and garages. People want a clean, sophisticated-looking, professional, establishment and there are way more of them to turn to than there were fifteen or twenty years ago. “The last thing you want to do is get your tattoo at a tattoo party in someone’s living room, with the equipment boiling on the stove. Unless you use autoclave sterilization you aren’t killing off everything, like hepatitis. Chances are good you’re going to get a lousy tattoo out of it as well. If somebody can’t get work in a reputable place, then most likely he can’t give a quality tattoo. He may be an amazing artist on paper, but that doesn’t mean he can tattoo.”
How can you be sure to get a high-quality tattoo? Tony says stick to reputable places. Ask around to see what kind of a reputation they have. Before you choose an artist, look at the tattoos he’s done – in person. Look for fine lines with smooth stops and starts. Notice how the tiny details look. Are they blurred or sharp? Be realistic about what you want the artist to accomplish. Work with him to design an image. Don’t expect him to copy a highly pixilated image off the web. In this industry, you get what you pay for. Don’t choose the cheapest option for something you will have to live with for the rest of your life.”
Once you’ve chosen the artist and gotten the high-quality tattoo, Tony says the most important thing you can do to make sure it remains high quality is to take care of it. “People don’t think about tattoos as something you need to take care of, but it’s your skin. You have to take care of your skin! Follow the directions on the after-care sheet. After it’s healed you still have to maintain it. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you have to put sunscreen on your tattoos or the sun fades them. If you don’t moisturize your skin, your tattoo won’t look its best. If you’re spending a lot of money to put something on your body forever, make the effort to care for it!”
Another area of the tattoo industry that has changed and improved is the removal of tattoos. Tony says people ask him all the time about removal. He tells them,
“it’s all done by laser now, but it still hurts a lot and it still costs a lot too. If you are serious about removal, you need to talk to a plastic surgeon.”
According to Tony, a much easier solution to a bad tattoo is to have it covered up with a better one. The other option is to cover it up with a high-quality make-up made specifically for that purpose, like Dermablend.
A relatively new issue in the tattoo industry is copyright. In the past decade, tattoo artists have attempted to protect their designs by paying a small fee for it to be copyrighted. Tony says it’s a complete waste of time because you would drive yourself crazy trying to control it.
“All you can really do is control where you put your designs. If you put up a website, make sure you pay to block downloads. We don’t allow cameras or even camera phones in our shop. We watch our books because people will try to steal the designs right out of them. You can never control it completely, partly because of the nature of the art. Every tattoo is different because the body is part of the artwork, and every body is different.”
There will always be the traditional tattoo client cut in the biker image that one envisions, and there will always be people seeking the traditional tattoos of skulls, flames, hearts, and roses. There will also always be the traditional back-alley tattoo parlor, but the industry no longer ends there. So what about the future of the tattoo industry? Tattooing the human body has been popular since the earliest civilizations; it’s not going anywhere soon, and these days, the sky’s the limit!