By Tim Hendrix of Saltwater Tattoo
Are the blind leading the blind in tattooing these days? This is a question that has been a major topic of discussion between my peers lately. With tattooing becoming as popular as it is these days every person that knows how to doodle wants to become a tattooer. I can only complain about it so much before I start feeling sad and a bit responsible as a result of partaking in crappy reality TV. When I first watched a tattoo being made it felt like I was in something out of a J.R.R. Tolkien book, it felt totally magical and mysterious, and in some ways it really was. Myke Chambers described it best when he said “This local tattooer was like a wizard to me”. Tattooers would perform the most amazing magic act, and they’d be damned if they would teach you how their trick was done. Now days you can go to a ‘school’ for tattooing and pay money in trade for second-rate so-called knowledge on how to tattoo. It’s a terrible shame, those who know little or nothing about our trade trying to teach the undeserved how to tattoo… for money.
Reality TV is a joke, it’s not real. If you haven’t figured that one out by now then you are an infant. What you watch on TV is not how tattooing really is. Tattoos take longer than three minutes and most ordinary people don’t sit and talk about this incredibly breathtaking story behind it. For the most part tattooers get along pretty well in shops, and even if they don’t they usually just find a common ground and agree to disagree. Tattooing is not a glamorous business, I repeat, TATTOOING IS NOT A GLAMOROUS BUSINESS. This is a working class job, there is no big money in it, no benefits and no retirement plan. Working for twenty years as a tattooer does not end with a pension or a condo in Florida. Twenty years of tattooing is your halfway point, it’s the point where your back starts to hurt really bad, you’ve already accepted and dealt with the arthritis in your hands on a daily basis, and you’ve maybe saved enough money to buy a humble home with a low income loan(that is if your one of the lucky ones).
So why do we do it? I can’t speak for others, I can only say why I do it, because there is still magic left in it for me. If you were brought in to tattooing the right way and you bring something positive to the table of tattooing on a daily basis then tattooing will have its own rewards, the magic will not die. Those who do not have or contribute these things get nothing, they have never had or ever will experience the magic the we as real tattooers know. As juvenile as it is to take pleasure in others misfortune, it makes me glad to know that most hack tattooers now days will never make it in our business, never understand or experience the magic, and never be part of the joy that is our family. They don’t get to have what we have, and it cannot be bought. Most of the tattooers that I know are so grateful that somewhere along their life path tattooing found them, and they wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world, it is what they were born to do. If you saw tattooing on TV and decided to be a tattooer then tattooing did not find you, and you are most likely not bringing anything to the table of tattooing, maybe it is time to set the machine down and find your true calling.
I don’t believe that this is some ‘cool kids’ club that no one can be part of, nor do I believe that we are above anyone. In fact it’s just the opposite, I yearn for new talented up-and-comers, new ideas and new input. We are just a bunch of men and women that care so deeply for what we do that we want to protect it, tattooing defines us. It’s like Luke Wessman said, “Shit man, no cool guys club. Just some passionate old dudes that believe in principles of our profession.” If you are a young or new tattooer that is bringing something positive to the table of tattooing, has an open mind and great work ethic, then I welcome you and look forward to learning from you.