Skin Deep 183

Standards, what are they all about? We all have come across them from time to time and they are a necessity in everyday life. I mean, if you go to a restaurant, you expect to get served with a good, nicely cooked dish, and if something is not to your liking then you are perfectly within your rights to take it back and ask for it to be rectified. The chef sets the standards for the restaurant from the outset, aimed to please their guests. 

So what about tattooing? We have all seen the increase in tattoo studios popping up like inky mushrooms in virtually all cities and towns. I am receiving an ever-increasing number of disks loaded with images land on my desk. But recently I seem to be getting disks with a worryingly poor standard of tattoos on them and this has got me thinking about the standard of tattooing available in this country. Some of the work that comes into the Skin Deep office is, to be brutally honest, appalling. I know I am going to upset a few folk by saying this but it really concerns me that in these highly enlightened days with a myriad of magazines dedicated to the art or tattooing as well as the plethora of TV-based tattoo programmes, that folk are still naive in their choice of studio or artist.

Ok, it’s not the fault of the customer as much as the get rich quick studios and the lack of the standards mentioned above, and I am by no means tarring all tattoo studios with the same brush, as the majority of studios house many incredibly talented individuals who produce stunning tattoos. These guys make the UK a force to be reckoned with when it comes to quality tattooing in the world and my hat goes off to these tattooists.

This brings me back to standards - or a lack of them. At present, if you have enough money to buy an autoclave and fit out a shop with booths and put some designs or flash on the walls, you can open a tattoo studio. There is no legal requirement for those working in studios to show any form of competence in the art of actually putting a tattoo on skin. 

All the local health authorities are looking for is that health and safety legislation is being adhered to (and these laws vary as each area has its own set of rules). There is nothing in any UK rulebook to say something akin to: “You must be competent to set up your tattoo machine and be able to create a solid line or blend colours properly.”

Now is it me, or is that bloody scary? I am often asked what ‘artistic qualifications’ a tattooist must have. People are amazed when I say “None”.

So this leads me to the question; should there be minimum standards for ‘tattooing ability’ set in the UK, and what would these standards bring to the customer? When this subject has been aired in the past, I am reminded of the Native American proverb that States: “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”. This doesn’t mean a thousand people saying the same thing; it means a thousand people sharing their version of the same story. 

All of us want the same outcome: a standard of tattooing which will give the customer confidence when walking through that shop door. For the tattooists, it’s the ability to take pride in the whole of the industry and not have to apologise for the substandard work, because the only time that anyone outside the industry ever remembers or references tattoos is in a bad light. Just look at the tattoo stories you see in the tabloids.

So this leads me to the question; should there be a set of minimum ability tattooing standards set in Britain?

But who will judge these standards? At what level will these standards be set? Will there be costs involved? And many other questions get banded about to such an extent that the matter gets dropped due to the technicalities of the subject, so nothing ever gets done.

We were talking about this subject in the Skin Deep office the other day and the question that kept popping up was, “Who would enforce these rules, and how?” Each time my answer was, “Keep it within the tattoo industry and use the tattoo fraternity to self-regulate.” 

A few years ago, the government tried to bring in a set of rules for the industry but this was met by a huge amount of distrust and opposition from the tattooists, as the proposed governing body was not to be the tattoo industry.

Luckily, this was thwarted but again, nothing came from the apparent threat of change and the industry settled back to doing its own thing.

It is virtually impossible to get tattooists to agree the way forward on this subject. Many feel we do not need such draconian rules within tattooing and can be self-governing. Others would like to see far more regulation put in place.

So would it be possible to set up something like say, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? This is a professional honorary organisation that brings us the Oscars each year by voting on films and filmmaking. We could have a rotating panel of industry professionals (tattooists) who would vote without bias on each tattooist that applies for registration on certain subjects like experience, training, cross contamination, and post examples of their work (on fake skin) to a web site. Then, the panel liaises with that local health authority to agree or decline the license for that studio? 

There are many ways higher standards of tattooing could be encouraged. 

Take America for example; in the state of Oregon they have something similar in place where prospective tattooists have to take exams to gain their licenses. These exams are to ascertain that the applicants know all about processes of tattooing and sterilisation and have to show that they have done over three hundred and sixty hours of instruction, which includes a written examination as well as practical lessons. 

I know there will be many reading this that will say “We don’t need these nanny state measures as things are fine as they are”, but at the end of the day, anything that keeps tattooing progressing and helps those people who walk into a studio and keeps them safe in the knowledge that the person with the tattoo machine actually knows what they are doing has to be a good step forward for tattooing, does it not?

At the end of the day, if nothing gets done about this issue then do yourselves a favour and set your own standards when it comes to your next tattoo. 

And aim damn high!

Enjoy your ink!


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