The Official Blog for Tattoo Artist Magazine

Ollie XXX: Why Are We Relying on Other People?

By Ollie XXX
Lately I’ve been hearing all sorts of talk about people coming into tattooing and profiting off our industry, without actually being tattooers or being involved in it in any way. After a few years of this, I’ve come to wonder… Why are we relying on other people? Do we really not have the time to do anything for ourselves anymore? More importantly, how many people involved in tattooing actually know how? Obviously begging the question, should they be involved?

A few of my close friends and I sat down a few weeks ago and started questioning this. We’ve always made most of our own ink, and a few people I know have gotten into making their own needles again. Most of us know how to make a clipcord, or keep a machine running indefinitely (though I’m sure some people might not know where spring stock comes from). I’m not going to get too into how we figured all the other stuff out, so as not to step on the toes of the very few reputable suppliers out there, but all in all, we realized that we don’t need other people to keep us afloat. Which makes my lil’ survivalist heart pump just a bit harder than usual.

I read someone’s interview recently, in which this tattooer mentioned that anyone who cannot make their own needles should be dismissed from our industry. Which led me to thinking, a lot of people these days seem to think that laws and regulation will help their dwindling businesses, when all it really does is leads scratchers to get licensed and be viewed by the public as being on the same level as someone reputable.

I don’t like the law, I don’t care too much for regulation of any sort, but if people were going to waste their energy on getting these sorts of things past, shouldn’t they just start with needles? I know it’s far-fetched to think of outlawing the sale of pre-made, pre-sterilized (in china) needles, but I imagine the number of people tattooing would be cut in half in no time. The truth is that the people who’ve taken the time to learn how to make them are the ones who once had to do it out of necessity, or the younger tattooers who actually care about learning their craft, inside and out.

We saw a similar thing happen with a certain company’s pigment powders a few years ago, and it seems like pre-made colors are getting regulated just about everywhere you go now. Every time I hear about another pigment company being faced with laws imposing restrictions, I wonder, what would happen if suddenly they outlawed them all?

People like my friends and I who make our own would be fine, I imagine a few select guys making colors (one in Baltimore, and one in Florida) would likely continue to distribute them to people they know and trust, but a lot of people would end up totally fucked.

Maybe I’m not giving artists enough credit, but I’m relatively certain that a lot of tattooers wouldn’t even be able to figure out where you could get a clipcord sleeve, or what an ink cap really is, if it wasn’t for the Walmart-esque supply houses that funnel them to everyone unquestioningly.

Our freezer fed generation’s mentality has crossed over into tattooing and I’m pretty sure most tattooers out there would rather send a machine back to the builder or buy a new one, than simply figure out and fix the problem. Ink too thick? They just buy another brand. It always shocks me to find out that there are people who’ve never used a soldering iron before, but I have to think, when I was a kid, most of my toys could be fixed with one…. Well, you know what, now, as a tattooer, most of our toys can once again be repaired with one.

(Ollie XXX  is a tattooer and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. Ollie can be found at: www.goodoldfashiontattoos.com.)

9 responses

  1. I am a young artist and I was taught to make my own needles and actually much prefer them to the ones you can buy. Unfortunately, do to laziness and convenience, I have been using pre-mades as of late. I have to say though, I believe the days of pre-mades for me is about over. The quality of what I can make for myself far exceeds the quality of what I get from even Eikon Supply. Plus, making needles is like meditation for me. It’s comforting to know each needle made by me is made with care and perfection. These are my tools. These are things that help me create art. I want them to be perfect.

    January 5, 2012 at 5:24 PM

  2. Nice blog Ollie. Here’s my take…

    Could it be because it just makes sense and we’re professionals?

    We could all, time, will, resources and common sense, make our own machines, needles, mix pigments and find the necessities of doing what we need to do what we do. The craft of tattooing wouldn’t dwindle to the chosen few who think themselves the keeper of such magic. It’s just not reality (never was, never will be).

    Just like the mechanic who buys the best tools of his trade instead of building a machine shop to fashion his own wrenches and lathe his own bolts and nuts. We buy machines from machine builders because they build a quality product (even though some of us have our own machine shops). We buy quality needles from suppliers that provide a good product (and save us a shit load of time, time we could be spending drawing or with our families [yeah, some of us have kids, lives outside the studio, etc])

    Or the surgeon who gets his blood from a blood bank instead of doing door to door collections on his own with bags he fashioned with his homemade bag machine. We buy our pigments from people that make a quality product, in a sterile environment and mix it how we like it, etc (even though we could access the powder and mixing agents we would need). We buy our ink caps and other necessities from suppliers who can supply us with a quality product.

    I think it just makes sense and is a big time saver, in particular for folk who see this craft as one part of a whole life (i.e. have families, other responsibilies, enjoyments to attend to). :)

    January 5, 2012 at 5:52 PM

  3. I am glad to hear someone actually using some intellect to look at solutions for the affect of sales of equipment to anyone and everyone who can spend $50.00 to $150 on a Tattoo kit, some would say the Cat is all ready out of the Bag when it comes to equipment and inks, there are so many How to do Books and YouTube video’s anyone who can read can learn basics of building machines and needles.

    Progress always produces abuses in the name of making money the tattoo business is no different. In India they make a pipe called a Hookah and it’s primary use has been for Tobacco smoking BUT in the 60’s and 70’s the US Used the Hookah primarily for pot smoking and then gave way to the Bong which has been in use Laos and Thailand, and all over Africa for centuries.

    Point is an explosion of Retail Business opening Head shops to sell Pipes, just like tattoo equipment. Then the government made it Illegal to sell or use Hookahs and Bongs for pot smoking and started arresting business owners and user Illegal.

    Tattooing is not Illegal used to be but now it is not and nether is the equipment. Can we get the government to stop all sales of tattoo equipment NOPE not without making tattooing itself a crime?
    So what is the solution?

    Following the same logic by making the UNLICESEND USE of Tattoo Equipment Illegal, when it is used by unlicensed, untrained, uncertified Individuals to tattoo; make the sale of equipment to unlicensed, untrained, uncertified Individuals a Crime.

    I can buy a Hookah for Tobacco use or for medical use ONLY, changes from a legal pipe for smoking Tobacco to going to jail when caught using it for pot, it’s turns into ILLIGAL PARAPHERNALIA.

    Can I buy a Laser machine and start blasting skin removing hair, no in most states that would be a crime, can I buy Acupuncture Needles and start sticking people NOPE that is a Crime, OK, Ok can I read a How to be a Physical Therapist and provide physical therapy, I won’t use needles, no meds, NOPE that is a Crime too.

    Hmm I can buy a Laser machine, I can buy Acupuncture Needles and I can read or watch every book there is but unless I am Licensed by the State and or city I cannot practice the use of this equipment on the public in any of these fields of endeavors, WHY?

    PUBLIC HEALTH INTEREST this is how we can effect a positive change in the Tattoo Industry, increase the requirements qualifications to become a licensed tattoo artist nationwide, also require proof of competency and proof of a Apprenticeship that meets the degree of requirements needed to weed out the under trained individuals, make tattoo studio owners also meet competency requirements and qualifications to become a licensed tattoo studio operators, just like a building contractor or other fields, finally make it a crime to sell certain tattoo equipment and supplies to unlicensed individuals.

    If you like to become a part of the solution come join US TATTOOING PUBLIC SAFETY BILL 2012 were just getting started, Florida just passed laws like the ones discussed, you state could be next be a part of the change.

    Sincerely: Randy Holder

    January 5, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    • I agree to an extent and I strongly disagree with your views on regulation. Many industries have proper licensing and requirements to be met however many counties including mine do not have these. Anyone can open a shop in my county literally! Why are so many tattoo artists afraid of regulation?? If done properly it would be just like many trades and it would make it quite a bit harder for scratchers to get licensed and open studios! There is a proper way this can be done and by sitting back and doing nothing we are the ones to blame for all of the unqualified people in the business now! We sit back and bitch about it but do nothing…regulations and laws are not always a bad thing and Serve their purpose where needed if done correctly. We just had a hearing yesterday which will change many local laws and regulations here which I have been working on for quite sometime. Theses changes will reduce the amount of scratchers on a large scale! By not having proper licensing, permits and required professional experience by a preofessinal qualified teacher these scratchers are being viewed as equals to professionals as is. There will never be a perfect system but a good system will definitely help us by reducing these numbers greatly! In my opinion this is the biggest thing lacking and we need to start there!
      Sincerely,
      Jared

      January 6, 2012 at 9:32 AM

  4. Interesting perspective Ollie… however if you fallow it to its ultimate conclusion, then a REAL tattooist should be able to learn and succeed without the support of anyone, including that gained through a master-apprentice relationship, a self taught artist can simply develop a style and method of embedding ink that is unique to his individual circumstances so long as the final effect if achieved–TATTOO.

    Furthermore, your perspective is hypocritical to all the elemental skills that were taught to you by those you were intimately dependent on in your past, that is, of course, unless you were raised by a pack of baboons…

    January 5, 2012 at 10:21 PM

  5. I agree with Laura, I’ve never known another trade that equates building your own equipment with skill in your field… like I’ve never known a chef that builds his own spatulas and does his own stove repairs. I’d rather have the spare time to draw (and tattoo!) and support a craftsman who builds great machines and makes that his focus.

    January 6, 2012 at 8:38 AM

  6. In my opinion, making your own needles could turn out to be really impractical. I don’t know any artist who has the time to make thousands of needles. There’s no way in this day & age that you can re-use them either. Its not just the public that need piece of mind, the people who have to sterilize the needles do too.
    I spend a lot of time cleaning & sterilizing my equipment, as well as the artists equipment. Personally, I’d refuse to clean needles. I’m not risking being pricked with a potentially contaminated needle, just because my boss doesn’t want anyone else to make her needles for her.

    Machine building, on the other hand is very useful. The artist can build a machine to their exact specifications & have it run they way they want to run.

    I guess its down to the individual artist. These options should be made available, but those who prefer to buy their equipment in bulk should be able to do so too.

    January 6, 2012 at 10:53 AM

  7. I made needles for years coming up as an apprentice, sometimes up to 300-400 a week and I built my own machines to get started. I definitely understand the merits of knowing how to do these things. But if the customer leaves at the end of a tattoo with a smile and a really good tattoo, do you think they are going to care how many years you spent in the back room with flux burning your fingers? I don’t think judging that sort of technical knowledge is really the way to accurately regulate who should be a tattooer

    January 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM

  8. Hey Kate…
    When we HAD to make our own needles, most tattooers I knew were doing at least 10 tattoos per day…
    Now, the busy ones do 2 or 3 per day…
    Plenty of time to make needles…

    January 19, 2012 at 6:50 PM

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