No, the magic is not gone.

Posted by resonanteye on 07/04/2014

strength tattoo on women

(originally published 07/04/2012)

I was reading both a blog, and some forum posts, about the state of tattooing this past week, and had a startling realization.

There are tattoo artists out there who have never worked in a studio without being asked about a TV show.

The demand for tattoos, good tattoos, and the number of people tattooing, makes this a completely different subculture than it was when I started out.

Does this mean the magic is gone? Am I no longer a wizard? Did reality TV really eat the soul of tattooing?

Maybe a year or two ago I would have said yes, and ranted for a while about it. But right now- No. I don’t think the soul is gone, we are still wizards, and the magic is still there, and as potent as ever.

You can’t do much worse than sell the soul of your work and try to make it popular, AND be upset when you are done cashing your check.

I can understand why, if you sold the soul of your work to the masses, you might worry about the dilution of your wizardry. And you don’t have to suck, or be an asshole, to sell out. People sell out all the time, and we all have different prices. I mean shit- I’ve had work published in magazines, I’ve apprenticed one person, I’ve worked in street shops doing lettuce and tribble all day. I’ll do “breathe” in white on a wrist without even blinking.

But I won’t try to popularize or explain the methods of tattooing to the mainstream. That’s my limit, that’s where I draw a line (well, that and letting pictures of ME instead of MY WORK get published. but that’s more a feminist thing)

When I go to work there’s magic. In handling people’s skins, looking into their eyes, joking with them, marking them. Just because the masses now like and get tattoos does not dilute the power of each individual tattoo for its wearer. Just because there are more tattoo artists does not make any one tattoo less important or interesting in a general sense- after all, there are no cameras watching me work, watching the person sit for it. They say cameras can steal your soul, you know? I can’t mass-produce tattoos. Tattoos, by their very nature, are private and individual. Shining a spotlight on them sucks out the magic from THAT TATTOO, from THAT artist- not from the rest of us.

And as far as new/old tattoo artists go- I was new at one time. I think good artists are rare, in any medium, and tattooing can always use GOOD, CREATIVE people- who also have the mentality and dedication to work with people properly, who live up to some of the old ways.

You should know how to do everything, even if you don’t do it regularly- how to make needles, build and repair machines, mix inks, wind coils, draw, do your bills and taxes, scrub tubes, cut a stencil. These things may not be necessary, but they’re important. They are the secret magical lore of our trade.

I never expected tattooing to be glamorous, and I had never heard of anyone quitting tattooing to do some other work, when I started. Now, I know there are people who have both an expectation of glamour, and a sense of entitlement to learning to tattoo. While I personally disapprove of tattoo “schools” and people apprenticing more than one or two people during their career, that’s not my call to make for everyone else. All I can say is that like any profession, you aren’t entitled to know how to do this. You should have to work hard to learn it. And you should be the one to initiate learning everything. Everything! All the secret lore, all the hidden tricks.

Teaching yourself never has cut it; it doesn’t give you what you need to do good tattoos.

Going to a “school” and then opening your own shop because nobody local will hire you is NOT going to cut it- your exposure to other artists is what shows you how to do things, not thinking you’ve learned it all.

I won’t preach humility, though. Because being good at drawing already makes you a wizard to most people! Your skills and talents are necessary and important in tattooing. Use them! Tattooing is specialized knowledge. Watching a TV show teaches nothing. Nobody can learn to tattoo from that. So even though clients now like to present themselves as somehow “in the know” from watching TV, they AREN’T. We’re the wizards, and they come to us for magic.

We shouldn’t let them down.

20 Responses to “No, the magic is not gone.”

  1. Ralfy said

    Absolute truth, and thank you for showing me a healthier way to look at things, I’ll keep this page, and when I’m having a bad day, read it through to remind myself that


  2. Cynthia said

    Beautiful Anji. Perfect.


  3. Dank said

    You said it homie, and the wizardry goes on. It’s becoming funny to me to see the very same sellouts that sold their magic away cry about the state of tattooing. Them and the fame seekers who think they are some kind of famous big time tattooers because they chase attention and magazines. In reality some of the best tattooers/artist I know are far from famous or well known yet stay booked solid month after month. They are the real wizards if you ask me.


  4. There’s a local shop that does the “mass market” tattoos, and then there’s another local shop (where I got my last one done) that FIXES all of the tattoos from the other shop. At least, for the people that actually care that they’re putting permanent marks on their bodies. As a consumer, it’s kind of nice that they’re separated out like that. I want to get a tattoo done by someone who cares that there’s actually a meaning behind my tattoo.


  5. DeweysNook said

    This is the case with a lot of things I realized. It’s so easy to relate. When someone has a passion for something it shows, but when someone does something for say the money, or because everyone else in their family did it, or just because, it shows.


    • being a pro means earning your living at the work, so money is always going to be a reason, and don’t think there’s anything wrong with expecting to get paid for the work you are passionate about.

      I think that the passion us what makes the learning, the attainment of skill , worth the investment though.

      if youre not passionate about your craft, there are other fields to go into! haha


  6. Lots of history~~fast media fails to research most venues, spouting false facts like they know gospel truth (we all know how much of the gospel is kept intact and available to the public after…well, that’s another story…) def not limited to the steeped history of this medium. And true, anyone can sell out, make a mistake, lose their magic, then make amends, while the collective responsible will always remain intact and not fail us.


  7. Perfectly said! I have seen tattoos that you could tell that the artist’s heart and soul went into the piece and made it a personal work of art. And THAT is what is amazing about tattoos and art. If someone is just a pretender and truly doesn’t put 100% into their work, it WILL show. Anji, you are an awesome artist and anyone can easily tell that you put your heart and soul into everything that you do. Great article!


  8. Beautifully said! I have seen tattoos. And I have seen TATTOOS. World of difference. You can tell by looking at them who does and does not pour their heart and soul into what they do. Take photography as another example, in that people who take a few pictures seem to think that they are photographers and have the right to sell their work as fine art. Not. No. Never. If you have a love affair with what you craft it shows. If you are just playing at being an expert that shows too! Smooches!


  9. Milli said

    I’m old (older) and I have a small tattoo while my daughter, who is an artist but not a tattoo artist, is heavily inked. I love tattoos and I hate reality TV.

    The human body as a canvas is an extraordinary thing and the skill required to produce a good quality tattoo is, in my opinion magic! If I ever get another tattoo it will be a small representation of the Tattoo Artists work and not something I mashed together. I collect art and collecting art that is draw on my body seems like the next logical step although I might be a little bit sad to take a work of art to my grave, literally. No the magic isn’t gone for a good tattooist, but art is being diluted by the horrid tattoos that some are getting. Let’s go back to inking only “art” where the real wizardry is!


  10. daddylove said

    Still, the fact that you can be an artist and have TV coming after you at all is a HUGE step for the art, as well as a dilution of the art AND an avenue for the sellout. The hoopla of the new will die down and the art will go on. If you don’t think so, remember comedy clubs.


    • I agree. I think some of the people who were involved with these shows forget that at base, they are still just tattoo artists. And that the wave will break.

      I see more clients being educated as a big step forward, too. You know this about me- I think clients should know more about what makes a good tattoo, not just rely on fame of an artist, that people ought to know to check portfolios rather than just name-check.


  11. justteejay said

    Beautiful. Thank you Anji.
    You are right, no one can take the magic…. but we can give it away and/or lose it. It’s up to us to protect what we love.


    • Thanks!

      Yeah I think that every man does have his price. It seems like if you value and love your craft, your price would be much much higher than a little money or fame.


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