As part of a Hot Press Tattoo Special, we look at why tattoos have exploded in popularity, the many different forms and styles available, and how to decide on the best design for you.
Tattooing has existed for millennia. Modifying the body with art and ink is an ancient ritualistic practice. It is carried out in some societies for religious or tribal reasons. Inuit tribes of North America used tattoos on the faces of women to signify female beauty, strength and maturity. In some cultures, it is believed that women cannot pass into the spirit world without tattoos.
So why does your Granny think that they’re for convicts and sailors? Probably because they were, at one point. When European missionaries colonised North America, they demonised indigenous tribes and nations for their tattoos. In the case of ancient Greece and Rome, they were used as a form of punishment for slaves and ne’er do wells. They were also used as a form of identification for sailors and other seamen to avoid conscription into the Navy. Elsewhere, tattooed ladies made appearances in circus and sideshow acts, their whole bodies – save their faces – covered in various inky images.
Today, tattoos are less taboo. Especially among young people, the practice of covering yourself in body art has become fashionable. Gone are the days when inked skin was for miscreants and vagabonds. Gone too are the days when tattooing was an exclusively underground practice. There are now more than 200 tattoo parlours in Dublin alone! So let’s find out more...
Get To Know Your Artist
• Lucas Costa works at Wildcat Ink’s St. Stephen’s Green location. He was always passionate about drawing, but fell in love with the idea of seeing his art on other people’s bodies. He does blackwork and fine line tattoos with immense skill. He has been tattooing for three years.
• Titin is originally from Korea, and is a resident artist at Wildcat Ink North on Jervis Street. She has been tattooing for five years, and uses black and gray ink. When asked why she decided to become a tattoo artist, Titin replied: “My first tattoo was a commemorative tattoo. So I thought it would be great if, in turn, I could give someone that kind of experience.”
• Caroline, also of Wildcat Ink’s northside location, is one of the best in the biz. She started tattooing nearly 10 years ago, and blends beautiful floral and ornamental themes with geometric elements.
• Bruna from Wildcat North is a neo-traditional tattooist. She has been tattooing for two years. She fell in love with tattooing watching her older cousins do henna ones.
We also spoke to Jess, an organiser of the Dublin International Tattoo Convention and part-owner of Malahide Body Art Studio – along with one of her artists, Ali. Ali, who has been in the biz for 15 years, made a living as a tattoo artist in New York City, and describes her style as “feminine and pretty.” Ali also specialises in mastectomy tattooing, for women who are looking to celebrate their breast cancer scars.
Do your research!
I asked all of the artists what advice they’d have for someone comtemplating their first tattoo. They all agreed on one basic principle: do your research! “I’d recommend searching for a tattooer who does the style you like,” Caroline of Wildcat North says. “If you can talk to someone who has a tattoo by that artist, all the better.”
Ali agrees: “Get in contact with your tattoo artist and have conversations,” she says. “If you’re getting an arrogant vibe, don’t waste your time. You want to make sure you have a good rapport with your tattoo artist.”
“Don’t rush,” Lucas offers. “And above all, choose on the basis of quality rather than price.”
“Deciding what you want to put on your body permanently is a big decision,” Ali adds.
My advice for first-timers: when you decide on the image you want, make it your phone screen background, or put it on your mirror for six months before you get your tattoo. If you get tired of looking at it by the time your appointment rolls around – you probably shouldn’t get it on your body forever!
We’ll leave the final word to Titin of Wildcat North. “Tattoos are a trace of life,” she says philosophically. “Please choose carefully.”
There’s still a stigma around tattoos in corporate environments. Many businesses have a ‘no visible tattoos’ policy. Titin is hoping this might change soon. “Tattoos are just an expression of the individual,” she says reasonably. “It has nothing to do with a person’s ability, or their efficiency in work. It’s like dying hair, wearing makeup, or dressing a certain way.”
It would, she adds, be entirely wrong to discriminate against someone who has a tattoo. “Like or dislike it, a tattoo is a personal choice,” she argues. “You have to be careful not to discriminate against a person who has a lot of tattoos. We have to respect people’s choices.”
Carol is even more outspoken. “It’s the most nonsensical thing!” she states. “Your skills can’t be measured by having – or not having! – tattoos.”
Some artists are sympathetic to people who are unsure about tattoos. “We need to respect the older generations as well, because they may not appreciate or understand it. It’s not for everybody,” says Ali. “We can’t expect things to change overnight. But ultimately having a tattoo does not affect your ability to do your job.”
Besides, the content of a tattoo can be an issue for an artist: this too involves a personal choice. “I wouldn’t tattoo any form of hate speech or prejudice,” Lucas says. “I’d have nothing to do with racism,” Titin says, “or any kind of discriminatory symbol.”
Sounds like a good plan to us!
The Handpoke Controversy
Although the tattoo scene has surfaced from its underground status, there are still artists who prefer to go the underground route. “Stick and poke” and home tattooing methods are a divisive issue within the community.
“Hygiene is very important,” says Bruna of Wildcat North. The clear implication is that this is not a gig for amateurs. The bottom line is that your safety is in the hands of the artist. “The handpoke technique is not the actual problem,” says Lucas. “There are loads of good, professional artists doing tattoos that way. The big problem is that for every tattoo, you have to know and follow hygiene procedures and have an adequate place to execute it. At the end of the day, tattooing is way more than just the technique used.”
Sarah Ryan, a home tattooist, says that she ensures the safety of her clients by using completely clean and disinfected workspaces and tools. “Aftercare is the number one thing to ensure a tattoo comes out the way a client wants, so I have guidelines to give everyone,” she adds.
The consensus in the community is that you have to be super-careful. “Avoiding cross-contamination is really important,” Lucas concludes.
Making His Mark
Last issue’s Hot Press cover star David Keenan talks about his steadily growing collection of tats.
- “Bless the mad ones”: These words were etched onto my breast in Prague towards the end of September 19. Perched up on Letná’s viewpoint, I sang songs with Hungarian nomads and a Czech friend called Karol. The Vltava river passed no remarks, sing on! As the sun stopped sulking and brought renewed clarity, myself and Karol made a pact to celebrate our shared madnesses and mutual understandings and set out to find a parlour, in which we both had those words engraved. It was her first tattoo. I’ve heard since that she ran off to Rome and showed it to Peter Doherty. Bless you Karol.
- The Tree of Life: I have this beautiful old tree on my right calf muscle. A few years back an apprentice artist sent word out that he was looking for some obliging heads to provide him with trust and a canvas on which to demonstrate his burgeoning skillset. I had a hankering for something elemental, a grounding force on the self, the mythical Ewe in cyclical motion to represent life, death and rebirth. The man’s movements with needle and gun were at this time still fairly stiff and I can remember asking him, in a cold sweat after what seemed like a season on the table: “Do you intend to let me go at any stage, Man?” Then came the sudden jolt from what I perceived to be the gun, but on a much higher position on my upper leg! Put it this way, if I ever have children I’ll get them to add to the one solitary crow-shaped line that now flies alone, above my Tree of Life.
The Ryan Line
Sarah Ryan travels the world tattooing – and sometimes being tattooed!
- I just got a blackout Joshua Tree on my arm which I’m in love with. I’ve wanted it since I went to the Joshua Tree in California a few months back. I really wanted a blackout tattoo on my arm, they look cool and it reminds me of being there. Many of my tattoos are reminders, I’m a very sentimental person. Along with my sister, I have ‘Grá’ on my forearm, which has a dual meaning for us: it’s ‘love’ in Irish, but it’s also my mother’s nickname. That’s probably my favourite tattoo.
Wildcat Ink Tattoo and Piercing (South & North)
206B, Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin 2
• (01) 478 4273 • wildcat.ie
Unit 3, 1 Jervis St, North City, Dublin 1
• (01) 878 0551 • wildcat.ie
Wildcat is one of Dublin City’s longest-established and most revered tattoo institutions. They have been piercing and tattooing happy customers since 1999. Their highly skilled team of international artists spans across two studios in the city. Lucas (South), Titin (North), Caroline (North), and Bruna (North) all contributed their thoughts and artwork to this feature.
Malahide Body Art Studio
Unit 110, New Street Shopping Mall, Malahide, Dublin.
• (01) 806 1493
• Instagram: @malahidebodyartstudio
Owners Nando and Jess chose to base their parlour in the picturesque seaside village on the North Dublin coastline. Ali, one of Malahide’s artists, has been tattooing for 15 years, specialising in what she calls “feminine” tattoos. She also offers her thoughts here.
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