Dawn Cooke: The Tattoo Shop Environment
By Dawn Cooke
My tolerance for suffering and a small amount of self-loathing has always made me able to stand sometimes-intolerable environments. Also a drive and fight against resistance has always been fueled by passion to do my work. To everyday people some of the happenings and things said in the tattoo shop are not PC to say the least, in fact some people might be down right disgusted and offended at most of the things that are said and topics discussed within the shop atmosphere…
I can’t speak for every single shop, just only the ones I have worked at. I worked at mostly good places, but I also have had my experiences at some not so great establishments. Even the “good” shops have a seediness that I have come to know and love. But I can see how some things would be offensive to many people.
For the general public, I think it is important to explain what sort of things you might hear at a tattoo shop. Four letter words are a down-home favorite. Words like, “fuck” are commonly used in normal speech. Also discussions on the topic of feces or anal sex aren’t uncommon. Being called a “dick-head” or “cunt-face” wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reality if you work at a tattoo shop. Of course, most artists are respectful enough to refrain from a lot of raw language around certain customers. Talking about pissing in a guy’s ass by way of a construction cone, might not be a great topic for granny and her grand-babies.
Outsiders certainly have a difficult time understanding the nuances of the [tattoo] shop environment. It’s like Never-Never Land. I like to think of it as the land of the Lost Boys, for me it is home and they are my family. I have met some of the most genuine people at a tattoo shop. I have met some people at the bottom of the barrel too, and everyone in-between.
What I love about the environment is that usually what you see is what you get. For the most part there aren’t any hidden agendas or conspiracies against you. There are always these unspoken rules in the shop. People who have been tattooing the longest have paid their dues and get respect. While new people always have a lot to prove at first.
One thing is for sure; it’s not an environment for the faint of heart. The environment is rooted in prison, biker and gangster culture. Even if the artists today are not affiliated with these groups directly, the environment and traditions of etiquette within the environment pervades. Part of its charm is that it isn’t so PC and it is a welcomed difference from the world outside where you have to constantly walk on eggshells with everything you say or do for fear of offending everyone and anyone. The charm is that it is a welcome escape from the complexity of our regular society…
I do think though, that it must be said that artists should realize that the whole rest of the world doesn’t operate like the tattoo shop and when certain customers are visiting to spend money we should take care, and not offend them too terribly. We are after-all professionals deserving of the respect of our patrons. It could do us some good to maintain some standard of class. Just don’t forget to always call a spade a spade.