Qualitative Research Methods: Fall 05
Thesis and Motivation:
What do you get when you cross a collective of freelance artists, a human relations
department, and a doctor’s office? The answer is a tattoo shop. There’s no question about
it; the modern tattoo shop is not your grandfather’s tattoo parlor. If you have taken time
to look for tattoos, you’ve no doubt noticed that they aren’t just for prison convicts and
badass bikers anymore. This is a new generation, a new breed of tattoo, and a new
evolution of the tattoo shop.
For this paper I sought to explore the tattoo shop in terms of both a business and a place
where the initiation into the culture of the tattooed occurs. I feel that many people in the
United States split tattooing into the categories of before and after—not tattooed and
tattooed—and, in doing so, overlook the process completely. The interim, however, is a
culturally rich category worth investigation.
The intentional use of symbolism has always attracted me to learn more about tattoo
culture. Even when the designs are picked from a book of stock images, known as flash,
the person’s choice to be permanently marked is deliberate. I feel that in the
Anthropology world, subdivisions of your own culture are too often overlooked as being
illegitimate areas of study. I, however, feel that there are few things more eye-opening
than exploring facets of your own culture. What better way is there to figure out who you
are and where you lie within your culture as a whole?
It is with this positive predisposition that I delved into the tattoo world, hoping to find a
part of myself. My initial methods even included getting pierced by the shop that I was
hoping to research. As a researcher, it is my responsibility to be as unbiased as possible,
but as an active participant (I received two piercings during this research), it is impossible
for me to completely remove my personal opinions and still fluidly conduct my research.
I feel it is necessary to be upfront about this.
For the purposes of this research I chose to focus on the employees over clientele. By
focusing on the employees, I would have access to more consistent and more detailed
information, both about the artists and about the shop in which they worked. I wouldn’t
run into the confidentiality issues that might occur by talking to clients, and anytime I
wasn’t conducting interviews, I could sit in Dominic’s and observe the shop without issue.
My research consisted mainly of ―presearch,‖ participant-observation, and informal and
formal interviews. One of my first actions was to gather information on research
potentials by attending a local tattoo convention. I spent a day perusing portfolios, talking
to artists, observing how friendly and talkative the booth workers were, and how
professional the workers acted. By the end of the weekend, I chose the shop that I felt
would be best matched for my research—Dominic’s Metal and Gear, now called
Dominic’s Downtown and Dave Zappia Tattoo. When they weren’t focused on tattooing
a client, the workers were friendly and smiling. They allowed me to sit and flip through
artist portfolios at my own pace, and were good to answer any questions that I had. I
heard positive things about Dave Zappia from people who he had tattooed, and I sought
out his work to see if I felt the same way about his professionalism. I did, not only about
his work, but about the work of all the artists at Dominic’s. Hearing positive things about
the shop before that weekend, and seeing impressive results during that weekend, I felt it
would be easier to get information on a shop that had nothing to hide.
I spent many hours referencing books and websites in order to get a better understanding
of the information that the shop workers gave me. My goal was to figure out as much as I
could before getting to the shop so that I could be part of an educated dialogue. I visited
the shop at least once a week for two months, spending any amount of time from five
minutes to two hours observing and talking to the staff, mainly the apprentices. I
conducted formal interviews with four separate artists, including the shop owner. Each
interview was audiotaped and then later transcribed. Other research artifacts consisted of
copious field notes—a more strictly observational set written while in the shop, and then
a second reactionary and interpretive set written after leaving the shop for the night.
I began the participant portion of my investigation by paying to have my ear pierced. In a
culture that I felt was based on reciprocity, it seemed a fitting way to show my interest in
the shop, both economically and personally. Receiving a piercing from one of the
workers at Dominic’s allowed me to have regular dialogue about how the piercers
function within the shop. Though I didn’t focus on piercing for this paper, such
conversations lead me to better understand the social dynamic of the shop, as well as to
get a feel for how the employees felt about each other.
Grounding tattoos as cultural:
I’ve mentioned tattoos as a culture several times already. It’s necessary for me to explain
my reasoning for this in order to provide a better understanding of the shop. A basic
definition of culture is based on the meanings, social practices and artifacts shared or
created by a group of people. In context to this project, it means that any group of people
occupying the same space, sharing ideas, engaging in similar actions and rituals, and
having objects and markings in common, are a culture.
Tattoos are man-made objects that provide information about the people wearing them.
Logically, anyone with a tattoo wouldn’t be likely to claim that tattoos are ugly, tasteless,
or taboo. Every artist and piercer at Dominic’s has several of these markings. Each of the
artists I’ve talked to agrees that the best tattoos are the custom designs that hold personal
meaning for the client getting them. Being trained in tattooing under the same teacher,
each artist is exposed to, and internalizes, similar levels of respect for their fellow artist,
as well as for anyone who walks through the front door. They maintain a certain level of
honesty and directness with one another, allowing them to openly critique each other’s
sketches and designs, all the while respecting each artist’s personal style. Without these
shared values, the staff couldn’t operate as a team, and without that teamwork, nobody
would be able to learn or improve their art. Says one artist, ―It’s a team effort. We’re
really vocal as far as asking questions... and we evolve from each other’s strengths...
Everybody’s pretty respectful of the other artists and they recognize potential.‖
Not only do the artists share similar values, but they also abide by the same set of rules
when it comes to tattooing. Everyone must use sterile equipment, break all needles after
giving each tattoo, and throw away all disposable items before the client’s eyes. You are
expected to greet clients when they enter the shop, and to meet their designs with an open
mind. When designing a tattoo, all designs must look inward or forward, and all flash
designs are to be altered 30% by the individual artist if the client permits.
Out of these similar rituals grew a shared language. Equipment terms—such as mag, flat,
or machine—and aftercare terms are used pretty universally by all who work with tattoos.
However, there are a few interchangeable terms in the tattooing industry that are more
shop specific. An example is the use of the words tattooer or tattooist. Both refer to a
tattoo artist, but depending on the shop, you will hear more of one over the other. In the
case of Dominic’s, employees used the word tattooist almost exclusively. A second
example is the name given to those who are coming in to get their first tattoo or those
who are returning customers. Terms such as tattoo virgin and tattoo veteran are
descriptive, but the preferred names for these two groups at Dominic’s were first-timers
and collectors. The speech mannerisms between the men are similar in levels of
informality as well. Vulgarity and teasing between employees isn’t uncommon. For more
relating to tattoo terms, please see the lingo section near the end of this paper.
About tattooing as an industry:
Laws regarding the safety of tattoo vary from state to state and tattooing is not regulated
by federal law at all. In the state of Minnesota, statute §609.2246, Sec. 25 states:
Subdivision 1. [Requirements.] No person under the age of 18 may receive a
tattoo unless the person provides written parental consent to the tattoo. The
consent must include both the custodial and noncustodial parents, where
Subdivision 2. [Definition.] For the purposes of this section, "tattoo" means an
indelible mark or figure fixed on the body by insertion of pigment under the skin
or by production of scars.
Subdivision 3. [Penalty.] A person who provides a tattoo to a minor in violation of
this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Beyond this rule, it is up to the county or the city that the shop is in to regulate the reuse
of needles and other various standards. Neither Duluth nor St. Louis County has any
further regulations on the books. In the state of Minnesota, it is legal to reuse tattooing
needles if they have been sterilized. As long as work from a commercially zoned building,
you are paying into the taxes of that community and you have a Doctor of Business
Administration, you can call yourself a business. If you can call yourself a business, you
can call yourself a professional tattoo artist.
A good tattoo shop doesn’t operate solely on the rules set up by the state or federal
government, however. Organizations such as the Alliance of Professional Tattooists
(APT) and The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) are in place to guide and
regulate their members. Formed in 1992, the APT provided a much needed standard for
sterilization and safety regulations in regards to American tattoo shops. They mandated
the use of autoclaves and latex gloves, and sought to educate the tattoo industry about the
transmission of blood-born pathogens, such as HIV and hepatitis. Their ongoing
intentions include keeping tattooist up to date on the latest dangers, equipment and
procedures though seminars, conventions and quarterly periodicals. They also seek to
educate the community and lawmakers by dispelling untrue myths about the tattoo
industry. The APT has been recognized by national health officials and lawmakers as a
professional, ethical, and authoritative voice in the industry. It is not required for a tattoo
shop to become a member of the APT, but ones who do exchange yearly membership
fees for monthly and weekly autoclave check-ups, as well as for respect and trust within
the industry. The APP operates in much the same way, keeping piercers up to date on the
latest procedures and giving them a louder voice within the industry.
The Food and Drug Administration plays a more minimal role in the tattoo industry.
Pigments used in tattoo inks and in permanent makeup are regulated by the FDA, though
their application is not. Though some pigments have been approved to topical application,
no ink has been approved or disapproved for injection under the skin. Tattooist have the
choice of over 50 different types of inks now, some of which are labeled as suitable for
car paint and computer ink. Dominic’s has chosen not to use ink unless it has been
approved by the FDA.
The general rules for a quality tattoo shop include but are not limited to:
Use of germicidal soap, new latex or nutrial gloves, sterile equipment, single
use needles and single use ink caps.
A well-maintained autoclave, complete with records of monthly and weekly
inspections. (all tools must be sterilized by dry heating in an oven at 320
degrees Fahrenheit for at least one hour or steam pressure treatment in an
All needles and instruments shall be kept in clean, dust-tight containers when
not in use.
Confirmation that the tattooist keeps permanent record of each person tattooed
for a minimum of two years.
Separate rooms for tattooing with restricted access and furnishings that are
easily cleanable, well constructed and maintained, and kept clean.
Sinks should be accessible from tattoo room so that tattooists may wash their
hands and return to the tattoo room without touching anything with their hands.
Lavatories should be clean, well-maintained, and free of storage.
Quality tattoo shops will also maintain a welcome and friendly environment.
Dominic’s Metal and Gear opened in November of 2002, but its history is two years older
than that. Dave Zappia worked and ran Tatts by Zapp for six and a half years, alongside
his father Dave Zappia Sr.. Four years into this partnership, Dave started working on the
project of separating body piercing and tattooing. His intention was to create two separate
shops. With the partner companies working side-by-side it would give each one the
opportunity to better specialize, and would increase the overall clientele base and revenue
of the business. From this project, the idea of Dominic’s Metal and Gear was born.
However, towards the end of his six and a half years at Tatts by Zapp, Dave and his
father stopped seeing eye-to-eye in regards to the business. Not too long after, they both
sold their shares of the partnership and decided to invest in other projects. Tatts by Zapp
in Duluth became known as Anchor’s End, while the Tatts by Zapp in Stillwater,
Minnesota remains under the ownership of Zappia Sr.. It was at this time that Dave made
the decision to pour all of his resources into Dominic’s Metal and Gear, a shop which
consisted of not only body piercing but tattooing as well.
What’s in a name?
Tattooing is more of a family business than people may initially think. The name Tatts by
Zapp is a shortened version of Tattoos by Zappia, and Dave credits his father with being
the one to introduce him to tattooing as a career. It was because of the support and
inspiration of his father that Dave was able to open the second shop.
With the decision to separate, came the need for a second shop name. ―Who better than
my father's grandson, and my son, Dominic?‖ states Dave. The shop carries more than
just Dominic’s namesake. The ―Metal and Gear‖ portion of the shop was intentionally
named by Dave as well. ―Since my son was two or three years old, he’s been racing and
riding dirt bikes. When he’s 16 and he’s still into Motocross, he can turn the shop into
Dominic’s Metal and Gear Motocross Apparel... Bringing Dominic into it was continuing
Employees, Apprenticeship and Wage:
Dominic’s employs four tattoo artists and two piercers, giving the shop a close-knit feel.
When it comes to employees, the tattoo industry is based more on seniority than
hierarchical promotional. Unlike more conventional offices with cubicles and 9-5 hours,
tattooists don’t get promoted over one another. This allows them to focus more on
cooperation, experience and respect for one another. This is a world where job titles are
practically nonexistent and your experience both with art and with people speak for you
more than anything else. To call upon the words of one of the employees: ―That's the
great thing about art. You can have all the gab in the world and talk up your talent until
the cows come home, but in the end, you say the most by not saying anything at all.‖
Every tattoo artist at Dominic’s is referred to as a tattooist, from the owner to the tattoo
apprentices. As with any business, however, there are some differences between
employees. With the highest level of respect and most experience, we have the shop
owner, Dave. Next to him stands the manager, Jimmy, who assumes the right to make
business decisions in Dave’s stead. Decision makers are important to any business. This
being the case, I never once heard Jimmy refer to himself as anything besides as tattooist
and a family man. Everyone has the ability to call Dave if they have a question, and
whether Dave is in the shop or not, his employees and students still know that it is his
shop. ―No one is higher; you come in at the same level, but the people who come after
you are naturally going to be less experienced in the field of tattooing,‖ states Dave. In
the end, you compete against no body but yourself. You contribute your strengths and
improve upon your weaknesses, and it’s that process that improves the business overall.
The matter issue of wage is more complex than some might realize. Though everyone
works within Dave’s shop and he teaches them, they basically operate like subcontractors,
signing on under Dave and assuming so of the responsibilities of working in his shop.
Each employee maintains autonomy, however, and is free to leave at any time.
Each employee uses Dave’s shop as a base to conduct business from, just like renting out
studio space provides a painter with a place to create paintings. The shop benefits by
collecting a portion of the artists’ profit from his work, which is know as a courtesy. How
the courtesy is collected can be based on a weekly percentage or on the percentage of
individual tattoo profit, depending on what the artist and the owner agree upon. The fee
an artist charges to give a tattoo is based not only on design size, complexity, location on
the body, and time it takes to finish a design, but also on the demand, quality, and
experience of that artist. Logically, the bigger the design, and the more experienced the
artist giving it is, the higher the final tattoo cost will be.
The case of apprentices varies from that of full-fledged tattoo artists. In example, for a
standard piercer apprenticeship, someone with pre-existing knowledge of the field would
come into a shop, pay $5000, and sign on to work with that shop for one and half to two
years. The problem with a setup like this is that it strips out people who are interested in
learning about the field of piercing or tattooing, but do not already have experience, or
the money to pay for the apprenticeship. As a shop owner, you could miss out on a lot of
potential talent this way.
Dave has done something different to modify the apprentice process. People approach
him one or twice a month asking for an apprenticeship. From those, or from word of
mouth, he chooses who he will accept in order to teach, based on the amount of space and
time he has available. He will ask the apprentice to stay with him for four years for
tattooing, or two years for body piercing. Because of their lack of experience, they can’t
pay for the apprenticeship, nor can they pay for a place in the shop. Dave will actually
provide these workers with a stipend, which allows them to keep learning and also to
provide necessities for themselves. One of the artists I talked to figured he was making $8
an hour and was quick to tell me that ―We’re here because we like to do what we do. We
have bills like everybody else, and this provides us a way to pay those bills, but we’re not
here for the money. I'm not here for the money.‖ After the first year or two of working at
the shop, a tattoo apprentice begins to make enough to give back to the shop. And by that
time, there is a sense of loyalty to your teacher. ―I'll probably courtesy Dave another year
or so [after my apprenticeship is over].‖
“Ultimately, the goal is to train and teach an artist or body piercer the service and
professionalism, and then keep them... You would rather them do the apprenticeship,
earn good money, earn a good living, build a clientele base and then stay for 20 years.” -
When I asked Dave if he had a rule on how close to the shop a leaving employee could
work, he told me that he doesn’t require anyone to sign a waiver regarding this. Some
shops in the industry require employees to move outside of a certain area in order to work.
Dave doesn’t believe in that method. ―I'm not to pick and choose where people make a
living,‖ he stated. He discussed a case where one of his employees moved down the
block after being let go from the shop. ―It’s a verbal commitment and either we all stick
to it or we don’t... I feel that there is a certain amount of respect involved that if I don't
offer the artists something worthy of staying then that's ultimately my loss or my fault,
because I didn't offer what it is that they needed to continue.‖ Dave understands that
tattooing is still a hard market to make a living in. Not only is it dependent on supply and
demand, as well as competition with other tattoo shops or studios, but it is also still
affected by some stereotypes. In his mind, each artist has to earn their right to work
within a community.
The layout of the shop is complex. When you enter through the glass door, the first thing
you see is open area all the way to the front counter. To your immediate right is a black
couch similar in style to a restaurant booth. To your left are a wall and an unobstructed
archway leading to an employee only part of the shop. Continuing on your side of this
wall towards the counter, you will see shelves housing open flash books, artist portfolios,
and merchandise. Near the shelves are a water cooler and a twenty-five cent candy
dispenser. Behind the candy dispenser is a list of Dominic’s piercing prices.
When you get to glass counter you will notice that it doubles as a jewelry display case.
Behind the counter is the piercing room, separated by a red vinyl curtain with black
flames and walled with mirrors. On the other side of the wall to your left is a tattoo room,
a lavatory, a work space for the artists, and an upstairs area where ink and supplies are
maintained and stored. Between the shelf with the flash books and the wall is a stairway
leading down to a second tattoo room, second bathroom, and more storage and sterilizing
The shop decoration and coloring consists mainly of white walls, silver mirrors and shiny
sheet metal, black leather materials and red fabric. The ceilings are high and open,
making the shop an amalgamation of industrial, gothic, trendy, and contemporary styles.
Various types of art hang on the walls, including pencil sketches, photographs, charcoal
drawings, and posters of buxom women and Hindu gods. Also displayed are tattoo
magazines such as Skin and Ink as well as stickers and posters promoting the APP.
Music is constantly playing, whether it be from CD or a local hard rock station. The
music helps to drown out the noise of buzzing tattoo machines, eases clients, and
provides the shop with a feeling of livelihood.
“Make sure you’re greeted. A lot of tattoo shops think they’re so hardcore that they don’t
have to greet anybody. I don’t think that’s right, because if it weren’t for the people, we
wouldn’t be here” – Jimmy
Many tattoo shops opt to cover the walls with flash, making it the first thing people see
when they come in for a tattoo. Dave made the conscious choice to avoid this. Though
flash is still readily present, clients walking into the shop are greeted far before they ever
get to it. BC, the apprentice who mans the counter on a regular basis when he’s not
tattooing, makes a point of saying hello to customers and asking if there’s anything he
can help them with. On one occasion, he even chided another employee for not coming
off as approachable enough.
When dealing with clients either on the phone or in person, the language of the
employees changes slightly to be milder and more formal. Phones are always answered
on the on the second or third ring during business hours and the person calling is always
greeted by the name of the shop and name of the employees answering the call. The
apprentices are always good about returning your message, should you have questions.
When clients come to schedule time with an artist, it is immediately noted down in the
appointment book. If you need to talk to someone while they are tattooing, the employee
won’t interrupt the tattoo session, but will leave a note for the artist to give to them as
soon as they are done. When the artists know the client by name, protocol becomes a
little more informal. Language changes slightly, conversation becomes more personal,
and the areas the people are allowed access to increases a small amount. Overall though,
the rules stay the same: customers must be greeted with a smile, and an open mind. In
regards to the design of the shop and the way customers are dealt with, Dave says, ―It’s
our job to make you comfortable enough, long enough, to be honest with us about what
you like [when it comes to your tattoo].‖
About the artists:
“Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million
dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be
your career.” – Office Space
As with any art-related career, you won’t get anywhere if your heart isn’t in your work.
The job of being a tattooist, when your art is permanent and your buyer keeps it with
them at all times, is certainly no exception. All of the tattooists I talked to share the trait
of loving their work. Each one also mentioned being a family man. Out of their passion to
excel in their career, and their dependence on one another for that improvement, a second
bond was created at the shop; loyalty and respect manifested itself as a family.
Everyone is expected to work together and be social with one another. The apprentices
keep the shop clean more than the full-fledged tattoo artists are expected to, and everyone
has respect for the shop owner and their teacher, Dave. Smoking is a communal
experience, and on slow days the artists who are working may order food together. The
tattooists sometimes bring their children into the shop. Occasionally, employees will
bicker back and forth, but in the end, each one knows that they have a role to play in the
improvement of the business.
The quotes that follow come from interviews with the tattooist of Dominic’s Downtown
an Dave Zappia Tattoo. They are the words that I am reminded of every time I think
about the artists. These, for me, are the words that best sum up their personalities and
outlooks on tattooing.
Jimmy did the best job describing to me the technically process of getting a tattoo. He
made me give a lot of thought about the concept of tattooing as an involved process. For
many artists it’s not just a job; it’s an experience.
―Everybody has something inside them... whether they know it or not. That’s where we
come in, to dig it out. Hopefully they found out something about themselves [during the
process] and they like it.‖
―[When giving a tattoo,] I've got to make sure I’m vibing; I’ve gotta make sure you’re
vibing. It’s my job to make sure your skin is vibing. You’ve got to know how to work the
skin. If we know how to work the skin, we can make you [comfortable enough to] sit in
that chair for six hours and be okay.‖
―To be a tattooist, you have to be open-minded. You get a lot of people [in here]. A lot of
racist people. A lot of different people. Gay people, straight people. Young people, first-
timers, collectors. It’s interesting. It’s fun... I never judge anybody because I’m always
surprised by them.‖
As an apprentice, BC works the front counter when he’s not tattooing. He’s the one who
greets the majority of clients when the step in the door. He also acts as the public
relations department for the shop, calling back companies with questions, and making
sure magazines and advertising agencies have the information about the shop that they
need. It was his playful bantering and quick wit that solidified the idea of the shop
workers as family.
―People will ask, ―Well how much is it per letter?‖ They ask that, and it makes no sense
because it’s not factoring in size of the letter or anything else. Like every letter’s the
same size. But they always ask that. ―Oh, how much is it a letter?‖ Well, I don't know.
We could put one letter on your entire back that could be a couple thousand bucks or we
could put a really small one and that would be only 50.‖
―How do you keep from laughing at someone who asks that?‖
―You do laugh at them. Nobody said I shouldn’t be myself.‖
―So, do you have any tattoos?‖
In his best deadpan, BC responded, ―No. It hurts [way too much].‖ After a long pause, a
look of confusion from me, and a grin, he added, ―I have a bunch of tattoos.‖
Chris is the second tattooing apprentice at Dominic’s. When interviewed, he talked the
most about his love for art in general. He first came to Dominic’s in order to paint
additional murals on the walls. After Chris completed this project, he asked Dave to stay
on as an apprentice. Should he leave the tattoo industry, it will probably be to pursue art
in a format that he has yet to try.
―If you have the capacity to make something better, no matter what you’re talking about,
why not do it? Why not paint a picture on the wall? Who knows how long it’ll be there
but for as long as it is, anybody that walks by [will see it]. A lot of people work to make
the world an uglier place, and it’s cool to not be one of those people. Just maintain
positivity [sic] and do cool stuff. That’s what it all about. Tattoos are cool. Paintings are
cool. Portraits are cool. The level of communication that you are driving at and surviving
on, existing on... it’s a powerful thing.‖
―I feel really blessed. There are a lot of people who have to work a lot harder than I do
because of my artistic gift, but it’s not something that I’m trying to brag about because I
don’t feel like I have anything to gain [from that]. I’m just utilizing the brush. I’m trying
to share with other people because I feel like that’s what we're supposed to do. No matter
what kind of talent you have. You’ve got to dish it out.‖
The following is a list of words and phrases common to Dominic’s. Their definitions are
based on both textbook definitions as well as meanings pieced together from the staff
Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT) – An organization for American tattooists
intended to provide a standard for health and safety. They keep their members informed
of advancements in the industry with seminars, conventions, and quarterly newsletters.
Autoclave - A strong, pressurized, steam-heated vessel used for sterilization.
The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) – Similar to the APT, the APP focuses
on professional piercing in America. Tattoo shops can also acquire information on the
latest sterilizing procedures by being members of the APP.
Bag balm/Bacitracin – An ointment used in tattooing to help moisten the skin and
minimize skin irritation. Also helps the tattooist’s hand slide smoothly and aids in needle
penetration and cleanup. Not recommended for aftercare.
Caps – Disposable cups the size of your little finger, designed to hold a single-use
amount of ink for a tattoo. After the tattoo is finished, the cap and any remaining ink are
thrown out. Designed to prevent contamination and infections by blood born pathogens.
Clients/Clientele – Preferred term for the people who come to a tattoo shop for a tattoo.
Collector – A term used to describe someone who has a lot of tattoos. This term can be
split into two categories. 1) Someone who simply has a lot of tattoos 2) a person who
actively collects tattoos from different artists and different shops, often times researching
events in order to track specific artists down.
Courtesy – Wage provided by the artist to the shop as a form of rent for using the shop,
or by the shop owner to the apprentice as a stipend in order to keep the apprentice
Family Man – A man devoted to his family.
Flash – Stock tattoo images provided in books for the intention of generating ideas for
Flat – A flat configuration of tattoo needles.
Industry – Meant to refer to tattooing as a business, i.e. the tattooing industry.
Machine – The devise that hold the needles and is used to tattoo with.
Mag – A stacked, flat, configuration of tattoo needles.
Rapport – An important factor when choosing a tattoo artists or dealing to clients.
Relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity.
Shop – The preferred term, along side ―studio‖ for a tattooing business. (Not parlor,
which is a term that hold an unclean and unprofessional connotation.)
Tattooer/Tattooist – A tattoo artist (Tattooist being the preferred term).
Tattooing is a complex business, as it stands aside from the conventional business
hierarchy and is highly personal in terms of employees and services offered. The
tattooing industry also faces unique challenges in regards to lack of regulations. It is
impossible to separate the tattooing process from the tattooists giving the tattoos and the
clients receiving them. Though it is much more tolerated in contemporary culture,
tattooing still sits a little on the outskirts of mainstream. It is apparent that tattoos are no
longer just for Hells Angels and Vietnam Veterans. Myths about the tattoo shop still exist,
however, and the stereotypes have shifted from the tattooed to those who want to make a
living tattooing. As a business, it is a constantly evolving industry.
Tattooing is an open, but guarded culture. Everyone has the potential to become tattooed,
and everyone has their own reasons for doing so. Membership, for that reason, is more
open-minded than exclusive. Anyone can have a place in the culture of the tattooed, but
those who take the time to create custom pieces, or designs with personal meaning, will
be regarded with more respect than those who chose something from the flash because it
is popular. Tattooing is guarded, however, for the reasons that it is so personal. Still
emerging away from stereotypes, it is logical that those with tattoos may still be slightly
defensive about them.
All in all, I enjoyed this research experience, and would like to give a huge thank to all
the men of Dominic’s Downtown and Dave Zappia Tattoo, for their willingness to let me
observe their shop and their openness towards my questions.