On my eighteenth birthday, I was barely out of my last high school exam when I scrambled out the doors of the school and made a beeline to the local tattoo studio to book an appointment.
At the time, I had been so excited to finally put the ink into my skin that I had so longingly dreamed about since my “Dashboard Confessional and too much eyeliner” phase, that I didn’t care about finding the cleanest, or one with the most qualified artists to suit my needs.
To pump myself up for my meeting with the needle, I accompanied a close friend while she got hers done, a large rosy, cookie cutter floral piece placed smack dab in the center of her stomach. I watched over her the week after it was done, seeing the healing process up close and personal.
I then noticed that the tattoo remained very swollen and red in sections, and it started to demonstrate the effects of a deep infection set in due to a lack of hygiene and safety precautions by the shop and artist. The night she went into the Emergency Room, her skin aflame with an antibiotic-warranting bacterial infection, I called the (admittedly) grimy local shop and cancelled my appointment booking.
Flash forward to my third year of post-secondary studies. I was a transfer student, coming to the culture-soaked, student-driven City of St. Catharines, and I got my long-awaited tattoos. I ended up doing this four times in the span of a semester. While getting the first tattoo (a fine-detailed line work piece resembling a Fibonacci spiral, done as a tribute to my constant drive of using both the logic-driven and creative sides of my brain), I felt relief. Not only relief in that I had made the commitment of getting the work of art literally embedded in me, but relief in that I knew I had made the right decision, asked the right questions, and ensured that I was making not only a positive decision for my ink, but a positive decision for my overall bodily health. I was determined to make these tattoos stand out for the right reasons. In addition to my ink sessions, I added to my collection of bodily piercings, reaching a total of twelve with no infection or aftercare problems.
Choosing the right artist and studio for your body modification needs (whether that’s a tattoo or piercing, or another form such as subdermal implants, scarification, or body suspension) is a laborious and research-heavy task if you’re looking to get your modification done exactly right. For many, this often means visiting multiple studios (not necessarily always local) and asking questions to ensure you’re going to get the best treatment possible.
According to the non-profit Association of Professional Piercers, it is important that body modifications are completed in a “safe, informed, and consensual manner when performed by a qualified practitioner.”
Being safe, informed and consensual means being fully aware of what’s going on around you in the shop.
It is very important to always head into an appointment or walk-in session sober. While that infinity symbol-feather combo might sound like a great idea to ink onto your backside after a few shots of tequila, getting it done while intoxicated can put you at greater risk in terms of the tattoo healing properly. You also won’t be fully aware of something that’s going to be on you permanently (or at least semi-permanently).
Ask to see certifications (e.g. Apprenticeship completion certificates, health inspection forms, training in sterilisation). Sure, you could get a sewing needle forcefully shoved through your flesh by your friend’s sister’s friend from out of town and pop a stud earring into it, but generally it’s a good plan to make sure your piercer or trained artist has the qualifications to do so in order to ensure the least possible amount of pain and the most end result satisfaction. This also ensures they are able to answer questions before, during, and after your session is complete, so you are well-informed throughout the entire process.
Take a peek at the jewelry and equipment being used: Is all of the jewelry brand new in a sterile, sealed package? Are they using a new needle for every customer? Where is the autoclave (sterilizer for tools)? How often are the workstations/rooms cleaned? Are the tattoo machines functioning correctly? Is the shop generally clean-looking? These are all important questions to ask either aloud or to yourself as you walk through the shop.
Browse artist portfolios extensively. Keep in mind, especially for tattoos, that this art will be permanently pigmented into your skin for the rest of your life. That’s a huge commitment. You want to choose an artist that will not only be able to collaborate with your ideas to design the perfect piece, but one who is experienced in all of the aspects of your tattoo (i.e. script work, shading, etc.).
You want to make sure that you’re walking out of the shop in the end happy and satisfied with something you’ve dreamed about having on your skin, and also probably something that you’ve spent a hefty portion of your paycheque on. Tattoos start at the shop minimum, and can reach up to thousands of dollars for pieces like high-detail sleeves or ones that cover larger areas of the body.
Most importantly, use your head and trust your gut instincts. If you’re visiting a potential studio and something doesn’t feel right, or if you’re uncomfortable with your artist, make the decision to leave. You’re not obligated to go with that shop and it’s crucial that the relationship between you and your artist is a positive one with open lines of communication throughout the entire process.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed your crash-course education on the art of body modification, and can pursue your art in a safe and healthy way. Farewell and happy inking!