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Only One


Deb Yarian
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There was a time that I could be pretty sure - that at any given time , I was the only tattooist on a plane flight or at a baseball game or at parent- teacher school open house.

That if I met another tattooist at such an event it would be like meeting a former schoolmate while vacationing in a foreign land. What are the odds of that?

I remember a time that I could tell , just by looking , that someone did what I did and we shared a common bond and if you spotted one another at an amusement park or a mall- you knew one or the other of you had travelled out of your own territory.

There was a time when introduced into the life of a child that they would remember you, for the rest of their lives as the tattooed man or lady.

There was a time that when responding that I was a tattooer, when asked what I did for a living - was met with the same awe, disbelief or astonishment as if I had answered that I was an alligator wrestler, an astronaut or in the French Foreign Legion.

That was a great time!

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I think the original point is that there used to be far fewer tattooists in the past and now the field is over-saturated? Once again, I'd say quality over quantity. How cool is to show someone what a good tattoo looks like?;) "This too shall pass."

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Think your still missing it, used to kinda be like a badge of honor being able to say "I do tattoos," and people would stare at you thinking WTF you put pictures in other peoples skin. All the while only having a handfull of other tattoers in any given city big or small. I wish I could have been born in that earlier time, cause there is no going back only foward. In this point of the game the pie is getting smaller and smaller even if your a fantastic tattooer it's only the tattoo enthusiast that will seek you out from afar.

But then again I'm neither old enough to know about that those golden days or a tattooer, so I could be wrong, this is just what I see.

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This analogy of pie you refer to isn't a bad thing, if there is a demand for it, more tattooers will be out there. Now, over-saturating an area or people doing bad tattoos and art is something different. Just like any other industry, things will evolve, expand, and become larger.

But then again I'm not a tattooer just a collector.

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Why get into tattooing to be different though? Yes it's a subculture in it's own right but it's an overstatement to say that still as a tattooer you're somehow thought of as just a normal everyday person. Be happy you get to have one of the coolest jobs to this day. Why reminisce of the "good times" as it seems in your post when you can still create the same, awesome atmosphere for yourself? Times change, and so do people. If you want to be in a job that never changes or creates new obstacles, personalities, and entities then work in an office and be content that everything will ALWAYS be the same.

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I'm sorry for the misunderstanding; I bet that was an awesome time. You could always start documenting some of that as a memoir or even in a blog-people love hearing about that stuff. A cafe racer forum I'm on has something similar where this guy shares his experience about being a 'true' cafe racer in England-very cool stuff.

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I'm sorry for the misunderstanding; I bet that was an awesome time. You could always start documenting some of that as a memoir or even in a blog-people love hearing about that stuff. A cafe racer forum I'm on has something similar where this guy shares his experience about being a 'true' cafe racer in England-very cool stuff.

Oh it's ok --just sharing

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Deb,

I totally got it, and appreciate your perspective. I can't imagine living in a world where you could tell by looking at someone that they were actually a tattooer, since it's not an uncommon look these days. Was it just their look, or was there something else that they had that you recognized?

Last night, at a chain store pharmacy, there were 4 register lines open. I intentionally got in line behind the large heavily tattooed man, because the rest of the people in the other lines all looked a little crazy to me. I'm pretty sure that 20 years ago, most small white moms in Oakland wouldn't have picked the big tattooed guy as the safest choice. It's definitely a different world.

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I got my hands and neck done only a year into tattooing (1998), admittedly before I should have. I had sleeves, but no torso work yet. Anyway...my hastiness was due to wanting to look like a TATTOOER. ONLY tattooers had hand and neck tattoos and often 9 times out of 10 a person with sleeves was a tattooer. You ALWAYS knew a tattooer when you saw a heavily tattooed person. (I used to always get asked "Where do you tattoo?" now it's "Are you in a band?")

Of course, these days, a lot of hipsters and rocker types wear the look. It's been diluted, and in my opinion, destroyed. It's the reason being a tattooer is cliche, like a girl with weird hair being a hairstylist. (No offense to hairstylists).

I hate being associated with these douchebags because of my hand and neck tattoos, and even I roll my eyes at these jokers. And as much as we'd like to think so, these tattoos are no longer "job killers". Wether it's Hot Topic or Target, or even Nordstrom or Marc Jacobs i see employees with sleeves and neck tattoos. I even had a TSA screener at O'hare Airport that had a giant script tattoo on his neck.

Times have changed, and i know it's just the way it goes...but i can't help but feel we (tattooers) lost something special.

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Job killer? Maybe not; but it can stunt career growth. Austin,TX is liberal and heavily tattooed, but I still see a bias in the professional world against tattoos. I wore long sleeves for five months when I started my job. It was only after I saw that the owner's son had a tattoo that I wore a polo. But I'll probably have half-sleeves until I'm my own boss. Totally different perspective, but I have yet to meet a C level professional with a neck or hand tattoo.

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Hi Deb thanks for the poetic insight. I feel ya. When I need a good quote, I look to Mark Twain for inspiration. He seemed like a timeless man, full of wisdom when it came to watching the trends of time pass and renew themselves. "The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them". Mark Twain. My father talks of the same changes...having been a biker in the sixties til around the nineties. I remember people pulling off to the side of the road in fear of us coming along side them on the highways in LA. Of course I was just a little one then, wondering in awe, why I saw fear in those peoples faces. I realize now, my pops and his friends looked like demons to them. Now. Well, lets say when I see someone riding by on their new Harley, with their shiney new Harley gear, tassles and all. I know. Its just not the same. Im happy to know the difference. Im happy to have witnessed a small part of the small tattoo clan that existed. The clan has grown for sure. Some will never know what it was like to be disowned from family/friends because of our want to be tattooed/die our hair blue/cut it into a mohawk, fight to show our individuality, in a time when society looked down on us for choosing to go against the norm and follow the life we loved. Quality still shines, even then. Because of quality, mainstream adopted us. Love and respect, Mikki

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Mario I thought of your post the other night when I watched "The Next Food. Network Star" and THREE of the contestants were sleeved, one with hands and fingers, the other on to his neck.

But Mario even in a convention hall full of people you manage to stand on your own with your unique and individual style sense --- and that's a good thing!

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Mario I thought of your post the other night when I watched "The Next Food. Network Star" and THREE of the contestants were sleeved, one with hands and fingers, the other on to his neck.

Didn't you know all cooking shows are required to have at least one "alternative"/tattooed chef?!

More seriously though, I would like a little insight from the tattooers on the topic of heavily tattooed non-tattooers. Is it always a negative knee-jerk reaction when you see a regular civilian-type with a lot of visible tattoos? Does it depend on the quality of work or if the person is just obviously a douche bag or what? Do we all get lumped in together?

There were always those customers that were pretty covered, like Omi or the Human Autograph or whoever, that were not tattooers and I've said it in another thread, but I'd like to think I'd be getting tattooed regardless of the era.

Similarly, as someone who got tattooed the minute I turned 18 and always planned to look like those guys in the old black and white photos, it does bug me when I see more conservative types with tattoos who think because they watch a TV show or own a t-shirt they're well-versed in tattoo "culture" and can inform me about the GREATEST TATTOOER OF ALL TIME, Kat VonD. Ahem.. Maybe this is like the next tier down from what you all (Deb, Mario, Ms. Mikki) have said, for us, the tattooed non-tattooers.

I can certainly sympathize though I know I can never fully understand. Makes me almost wish it was outlawed again, see who actually wants to get tattooed then.

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There is so much to chew on. Where to start. I guess, time does distort perspectives in alot of cases. I used to think my pop's was heavily tattooed. I know my mom was when she was alive. She even had a monarch on her hand. Then, years later I started hanging with my pop's as an adult, and I remember, being shocked, when seeing his tattoos, that he really wasnt as blasted as I had remembered as a kid. I mean he was heavily tattooed. But by this time, I had full sleeves. It was odd to wrap my head around, the distortion of my childhood perspective. When I started getting tattooed, you were either an adventurous collector which consisted of the norm, you were a stripper, in a band, a convict, or a tattooer. The adventurous collector, didnt reveal their tattoos unless they had crossed the line and jumped head long into the freak catergory. I dont mean freak in a bad way at all. It was just how society treated them. They were people who went way out of the standard of the norm. Past the military regulation. Past the caution of their tattooers advice. Past what their family thought of them. They jumped out there, when no one else was out there...just to do it. The price they paid was being treated poorly by their peers, their families, by society in general. Not all of course. Some, and I still think this is a variable, had mental illness. Attention seekers, one shot ponies trying to make a name for themselves, being a freak. The magazines pushed this into the limelight. I saw quite a few people dive into the trend because after a couple shots of themselves in the magazines, it seemed they became addicted to the exposure. Every magazine for a stretch, you can see them having more tattoos in a short amount of time. I won't name the obvious. All you have to do, is look back in the archive of the rags. I thought I was heavily tattooed with my half sleeves and chest panel in the early nineties. I was to my biker boyfriend. Then I met a young woman in Sacramento that blew my mind. She was younger than me and had her entire body tattooed. I loved it. I had known Elizabeth Weinzirl, and a couple other heavily tattooed women. But not any around my age. I had been the freak amongst my peers, until I met this other young lady. It was inspiring to me. She was beautiful. My point being. It wasnt so common to be obviousily tattooed. The norms hid their bodysuits under their fancy suits and white ties. The little old swinger lady carefully dressed herself while in public as to not stir a commotion of interest in her until she wanted to reveal her secret. The rest of us, didnt care what anyone thought and we werent trying to be apart of a clan. Then, the mtv generation hit. Every dumb fuck from every part of the planet wanted to purchase the look of a rockstar. Neck sleeves, hand tattoos and socks. Let me tell ya, you get those boys naked and it was a huge turn off. They had run the course backward. It was a turn off to me, because of the time I came from. I was brought in through a different door, so to speak. So, in the beginning of my career, there was no, tattooers being tattooed vs. norms being tattooed. We were all in the same boat living on different islands. As society became more seasoned to the art of tattooing. I noticed high end restaurants in SF and NYC hiring tattooed beauties as servers. It had become schick. And it certainly was. Main stream had caught on, with how beautiful tattooed people can be. The only shortcircuit feeling I get from people now, is those that get tattooed to be apart of the scene. Example. Look at when the suicide girls started. It was hot!. All those lovely punkrock grrrls I had never seen naked, were displaying themselves for the world to see. Difference from then til' now. Those first bunch of grrrls were the real deal. Most all the ones that came afterward, got tattooed to be like them, or they simply got tattooed to be a suicide girl. I hope you can see the comparison Im trying to make here. Its like watching the eighties style cloths come back into fashion and the youngsters are wearing all the crap the cool people didnt wear back then. They are caught in a trend. I definitely have been caught in a few myself. Guess thats how we learn. What you see now on tv, is because its a trend. Its acceptable, so the networks seem to be marketing towards those that they think would be interested. They too, and Im thankful for this, have missed the mark. As some of you may be experiencing. Its past tense now. So, once they see that with their ratings, they will move on to something else that strikes our fancy. Im too old and fat now adays to be sold to the public. Especially on tv. The tv shows came after my prime. We didnt have internet, websites, even some of my close tattooer pals in the industry, didnt know what I could do. They didnt seem to care who was doing what unless they were in a magazine to confirm their talents. And if a bunch didnt know you, then who were you but someone slinging ink to get by. I guess another way to explore this, is if I had a kid, he/she would be in their mid twenties now. Possibly heavily tattooed or not, having been raised in a tattoo household. Being a different generation. Even my kids, if I had had them, would not know how it used to be, accept from the stories I would have told them as to how it used to be when I was a kid. Sounds like repeated history. :) Is there a moral? If you love tattoos, then wear them. Just make sure you are doing it, because you love them and not because everyone else does too. Respectfully, Mikki

ps. Sorry Deb to rant on your topic. :)=

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Is there a moral? If you love tattoos, then wear them. Just make sure you are doing it, because you love them and not because everyone else does too.

Ms. Mikki, there were too many great and insightful things to quote you on in there, but I think the end sums it up nicely. Thank you a ton for the incredibly thoughtful response.

ps, I always miss the anonymity of the winter months in those first few weeks of summer and I have to wear short sleeves. Big difference from the idiot wearing a t-shirt with his one sleeve rolled up in 40 degree weather just to show off his sweet dudebro tat..

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