Hello again dear reader and welcome to another tale from the naughty step.  Having just attended the Paradise Tattoo Gathering – which is a completely different take on the tattoo convention idea and involves far more emphasise on education and discussion – I have a few things I want to talk to you about based on an idea I’ve had whilst attending the evening discussion panels.


Actually I have a a lot of ideas and thoughts, but I’m going to concentrate on just one for now.  Partly because it’ll fit in the space here and partly because I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in New England typing as fast as I can (which isn’t fast!) to try and beat my deadline before I head off for the day!

During one of the Gatherings evening discussion panels, which are pretty freeform chat based around a chosen central theme, someone referred to tattooing as a service industry and I thought ‘hang on no we’re not’.  We sell art for money.  Yes we do offer good customer service but that doesn’t mean that we’re a service based industry and I think this is one of the many problems facing tattooists right now.

From the beginning of our artistic journey, we’re taught to strive for perfection and that, to achieve this, we need to have flawless technique, and unmatchable skills.  But talk to career artists however, and they’ll tell you that the key to getting clients isn’t artistic perfection – it’s artistic expression.  That it’s far better to be a one-of-a-kind voice thatshocks, provokes, screams, jokes and wows – even if that voice is a little messy at times.

If we put ourselves in the service industry – as artists – our portfolio is at the mercy of our clients.  We will be forced to constantly regurgitate the same old tired designs until they, our clients (not us) decide to move on to something else.  The tattoo scene will be governed by not the best art but the most popular.  Sound familiar?  Well if it’s you then maybe you should stop doing it and try a non-service industry based approach to tattooing.

You sell art for money.

Speaking in your own voice is the smartest thing you can do to distinguish yourself from the crowd.  And let’s be honest, it’s much more fun.  Imagine if Pablo Picasso had crowed sourced his art or Led Zeppelin their albums.  Creating only works that were the best by popular consensus, do you really think that would have been a very different and distinctly more vanilla flavoured affair?

Or imagine going to a gallery to buy a painting, finding one you love – a bowl of bananas and then asking the artist to change the fruit because your grandmother recently died and she loved apples.  You would politely (hopefully) be told that it is impossible and you ether take the painting ‘as is’ or attempt to commission the artist to paint what you want for a much higher price.

The historical way of getting a tattoo and the foundation of our industry is – in fact – very different to the TV version of it.  You simply walked into a shop, picked a design that would be a suitable memorial for dear old gran, sat down and got it done.  There was nothing wrong with it then and there’s nothing wrong with it now.

You bought art for money.

The current fascination among clients seems to be one of ‘personalising’ their tattoos with times, dates, places and all manor of things that have more in common with info graphics than actual art.  Many of them seem to believe that this is the way it’s always been when tattooing is (largely) a boring process to film with lots of head’s getting in the way of the shots etc and something needs to be done to fill the dead airtime.  So someone came up with the idea of interviewing the clients and asking them ‘why are you getting the tattoo?

To create more interest TV the execs simply picked increasingly bizarre people with increasingly bizarre reasons as the seasons went on.  So season 1 it was ‘I nearly died so I’m getting a skull’ but by season 5 it had spiralled down into ‘I saw the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich so I’m getting a grilled cheese sandwich’.  The reason had become the subject and clients are perpetuation the vehicle created – not by the tattoo industry – but by the TV execs.

My question is simple.  Why ask the same when we – as an industry – are dying to create uniqueness just for you?  As creative we are supposed to push the boundaries of every new medium, and define the new clichés it’s what we do and what we love and were pretty bloody good at it if you bother to pick up a few magazines and take a look at what we’re really capable of.

So, in the face of this, why try to create an amazing piece of artwork or theme yourself by cobbling together some greeting card level images and popular images internet memes?  Because neither are concepts or even unique.  When you could let your artist create something amazing for you that no-one else has.

The fact that there are currently over 665,000 ‘clock and rose’ designs on google should tell you that what was a nice idea has now descended into cliché just like those flocks of silhouetted birds did last year.

Until next time