Skin Deep 161

There is a term in tattooing that you may have heard of; ‘scratcher’. This term is used to label someone who tattoos from home. But how do you define the term ‘scratcher’? Recently a very well respected and multi-talented tattooist posed the same question on the Skin Deep forum ( In many people’s eyes, a scratcher is someone who may not have their clients’ best interests at heart, will tattoo a poorly designed image that will probably not stand up to the test of time, don’t give a fig about cleanliness and are only interested in the money it can bring them.

Saying that, there are tattooists who again work from home, but do have good sterility procedures, will keep his or her workplace clean (which will be purpose-built for the job), have a good level of artistic skills and produce a good tattoo. These underground artists may have a variety of reasons why they do not want to have the grief of running a High Street tattoo studio. Indeed, a healthy percentage of tattooists who are regularly published in Skin Deep work from home. Does this make them a scratcher?

So again, there are two sides the tattooing story. 

In recent months there has been a lot of talk within the tattooing community about the problem of large Internet companies selling tattoo kits and uncertified autoclaves to all and sundry. These unscrupulous companies have been the bane of the industry for quite a few years now, with many artists getting hot under the collar about these practices.

From what I can see, you can be in one of two camps when it comes to what you feel is ethical about selling tattoo equipment to the public. On the one hand there are some who say, ‘Why not? How else do you expect folk to practice and gain the necessary skills to become a tattooist? And at the same time, by not selling to the general public, are you not denying tattoo access to someone who may be the next Paul Booth or Filip Leu?’

The other side to this argument is; how do you safeguard the public against poor tattoos and control this newcomer’s health and safety issues with regards to cross-contamination and sterility? There are no laws saying that you have to have an autoclave and an ultrasonic cleaner if you buy tattoo equipment, and in my eyes this is the biggest worry for anyone starting out in tattooing. Cross-contamination and shoddy cleanliness will undoubtedly cause infection and the possibility of someone getting a life-threatening disease is high, so it’s something to really keep an eye out for when going for that first or subsequent tattoo.

Or is there a third angle?

Read pretty much any tattoo artist interview in Skin Deep, and when we have asked the question ‘How did you get started in the industry?’ the answer will mostly likely be ‘I bought some equipment and started on myself and my mates.’ Therefore, legislation may not be the best route. Blimey, we have way too many laws in this country as it is, and the powers that be seem to do nothing more than spend all day thinking up new and increasingly stupid laws - isn’t it nice to know our tax money is going toward something worthwhile?

If legislation is the way to take tattooing forward, whom do we trust to enforce it? Certainly not the government; they have tried to enforce this on occasions and are only interested in the money that this kind of legislation could create for them.

For my money, tattooing should be legislated from within its own ranks. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, I think you will agree that educating the general public must play a part in improving tattooing.

So maybe the way to go is education? After all, if you know even a little bit about a certain subject, doesn’t it make you a slightly wiser person, able to judge for yourself whether something is right for you or not? The one thing everybody wants to see in tattooing is the education of the public to the safe practices of this ancient and wonderful art.

How many of us through impetuous youthfulness regret getting a tattoo that was maybe too small or badly placed just because we wanted it right away? I waited until I was twenty, thinking that I was a ‘man of the world’ and old enough to know what I wanted, but I had no idea what to expect when I eventually plucked up the courage and walked through my local tattooist’s door. He was a miserable old sod and told me I could have anything that I saw on the walls. So I looked around, pointed to a design and an hour later walked out with my new tattoo. My point is; I knew no better. I have no idea if he was clean and using sterile practices, I assumed (quite wrongly) that because he had a shop, he was good. 

Had I been better educated to the processes of tattooing and what to look for in the artists, their studios and more knowledgeable about the subject matter available, I would have had a much better tattoo.

And to this end, Skin Deep each month brings a selection of the best tattoos and studio interviews as possible to show folk that;
a. Tattooing is a moving canvas art form to celebrate,
b. We aren’t all criminals without two brain cells to rub together and are in fact very interesting and articulate individuals.
c. You are only limited by your imagination as to what can be tattooed on you, and
d. Tattoos are there for life, so make sure you get it right first time.

So in this month’s issue of Skin Deep we have produced a ‘Your First Tattoo’ supplement for those of you who have questions
about the art form.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is if you want a tattoo and haven’t had any, please spend some time researching your design (it’s there for life!). Get out and about and go to many studios and conventions and speak to as many tattooists as you can about your chosen design, then go and do some more research.

You won’t regret it. 



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