Who gets tattoos?
More and more I notice young women sporting stunning drawings etched into their skin permanently. I thought this practice was more popular with men, so this winter, I researched and interviewed people at two Bangor tattoo parlors, one tattoo artist and several customers to answer my many questions. First, I will not name specific places of tattoo businesses, because not one business owner returned my calls or personal inquires. Some information I gleaned from their websites and some from speaking with their employees and all of this information I will share. To answer the number one question I had, what is the percentage of tattoo customers that are women? The answer from one parlor, 80%, another 50%. But, my own observation supports more women by far are showing tattoos like never before!
Art or crap?
Remember the board game “Truth or Crap”? Players are given fictitious and real scenarios to decipher. Prejudices are often revealed during play. Well, my own personal bias prior to this informal research about tattoos, I placed most in the crap category. However, today some “inking” parlors hire art school graduates and these people are talented drawing artists with a college degree to back them up! The intricate linear designs are stunningly displayed not only on the company’s websites but also in framed exhibits lining the lobbies of the tattoo “spas”, as well as on their clients. Truly these enterprises are similar to art galleries and add credibility to the process. Today’s tattoo salons are not your grandfather’s stereotypical back alley shady shops. In fact, two years ago, the Bangor Art Society held our monthly meetings in the lobby of one of the local tattoo establishments for several months. They were very accommodating to local artists and also held evening life drawing sessions with models in their studio.
One hundred years of tattoos on women
My husband’s grandmother, “Sitto” from Beirut, Lebanon came to America through Ellis Island in 1918. She was David Joseph’s bride and she had never met him. Their families arranged the marriage escaping persecution because they were Mennonite Catholics. To look more beautiful for her new husband, she had Arabic mehndi henna designs tattooed on her hands, wrists and fingers to simulate bracelets, rings and fine jewelry. She was 14 when she came to this country and lived in Waterville for all her married life. She was photographed for an Easter baking article for the Waterville Sentinel newspaper in 1980, and you can see her henna patterns on her right wrist.
Watercolors on your body
With the expertise and tattoo technology today, some ladies are sporting “watercolor” tattoos and other brilliant hues on their skin. Will these colors fade through years of showers and normal skin sloughing? Time will tell. Sitto’s henna designs looked dark after 91 years! The watercolor ink technique is very specialized and not all licensed artists can spread the ink it this manner, I was told. When I asked what the “ink” is made of, no one would give me a clear answer, saying, “every manufacturer puts different ingredients in their pigment”. But the definition of henna is a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering tropical plant. However, henna may cause allergic irritation and is not necessarily organically safe just because it is plant based.
Are tattoos safe?
Another question that people avoided answering completely, are tattoos made of the same elements as car paint? The FDA, Food and Drug Administration, only regulates things people ingest by eating or drinking. Tattoo ink is not covered by federal laws, but some states do have regulations. Maine’s rules list 160 tattoo artist licenses and a person must be 18 to get a tattoo. I learned from researching tattoo pigments on line that some inks and colors are made from lead, titanium dioxide, chromium, nickel, iron oxides, ash and carbon black. Some pigments are “industrial strength” and are similar to automobile paint. Accordingly, some of the oil paint I use on canvases are toxic, especially the red and black hues. For this reason, oil painters wear plastic gloves to protect their skin. Final question, does tattooing hurt? The tattoo artist I spoke with said, “yes there is some bl
ood during the process, but it’s more like irritation, like a bad sun-burn.”
Is Wearable art a problem?
The ladies’ tattoos shown are technically beautiful and stunning. Many women I met are planning to get full sleeves or more. They look great but, will the permanent designs clash with their dresses or uniforms, etc? Another issue more serious, a colleague of mine got a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. One day she complained of swollen glands and soreness on her neck. At the doctors’ appointment they discovered her lymph nodes were filled with tattoo ink. My friend had surgery to have the ink removed from the nodes. She was lucky, as the ink chemicals do travel through the blood stream and things could have been serious. Therefore, I appreciate the artwork embellishing ladies anatomies, however, my skin will be devoid of tattoos. I will wear colorful clothes to express my creative style and leave tattoos to Sitto and others. I deeply appreciate the women who posed for me and who proudly displayed their personal freedom of creativity. See you at the galleries! I would love to see your own favorite tattoo design.