Remember, tattoos are forever

People thinking about getting a tattoo are cautioned to note theses are permanent marks on their bodies that may affect their lives in the future. Photo / Thinkstock
People thinking about getting a tattoo are cautioned to note theses are permanent marks on their bodies that may affect their lives in the future. Photo / Thinkstock

With the summer heat it means more bare skin is on show. Which means the tattoos are out on display - the good, the bad, and the regrettable.

One of the stranger moments in recent tattoo history occurred when rock star Ozzy Osbourne turned to the TV camera during his short-lived reality show and urged teens to skip the ink.

The problem, said the man with O-Z-Z-Y spelled out on his knuckles, is that tats, once subversive, are now ubiquitous and mainstream.

"Kids, if you want to be special," he said, "don't get a tattoo."

Fat chance. A recent Pew study that looked at millennials (people in their teens and 20s) found that nearly 4 in 10 have at least one tattoo, with half of them sporting anywhere from two to five tattoos and 18 per cent having six or more.

With US TV's Miami Ink bringing tattoos into people's living rooms, actresses such as Angelina Jolie sporting tattoos on their limbs and high-fashion lines like Rodarte giving runway models temporary tattoos for the catwalk, tattoos have definitely gone high-profile.

Here are the thoughts of three well-known San Francisco tattoo artists about trends and factors to consider before going under the needle.

Jeff Rassier of Black Heart Tattoo, widely regarded as one of the city's best, said TV has made tattoos so mainstream that more people are asking for bigger tattoos than ever, but with unrealistic expectations.

"People see it happen in one TV episode," said Rassier, a two-decade industry veteran. "To get your entire arm tattooed takes 20 to 30 hours over the course of a year."

Memorial tattoos - a symbol, word or portrait to commemorate a loss or a death - are in vogue, he said. Tattooed quotations or poems are also popular, along with religious tattoos, such as Hindu and Buddhist deities, and even floral tattoos that help mastectomy patients hide their scars.

Customers are also generally more informed than in the past because they have researched procedures and styles on the internet, said Tanja Nixx of Lyle Tuttle Tattooing. That shop, and Tattoo City, founded by Don Ed Hardy, are among the most famous in America for their pioneering work in the '60s and '70s in expanding the pictorial possibilities in body art. Tuttle worked with the city's Department of Public Health to develop standardised practices for equipment sterilisation.

"People used to walk in off the street, asking for stars and butterflies, but now they look at the photo galleries of artists' work online, trying to find styles they like and colours they like," said Nixx, a graphic artist who has been tattooing for 15 years. "I've actually had more women in the 40s, 50s and 60s come in than in years past, typically women attending conventions in town."

One disadvantage of the internet, said Shannon Archuleta, an artist known for her Art Nouveau and floral designs, is the proliferation of how-to tattoo videos. Some contain unsafe practices such as the artist failing to wear latex gloves while tattooing (blood is wiped off the skin during needlework) and the use of underarm deodorant, rather than surgical scrub soap, as an agent to transfer a stencil to the skin.

Archuleta, with 16 years of tattooing under her belt, said she has recently seen more 18-year-olds coming in asking for tattoos on their necks. Sometimes she turns them down.

"They're going to be bummed when they realise what they can't do with their lives because of how they look," she said. "I mean, do you really want to work in a coffee shop your whole life?"

Factbox

Five things to consider before getting a tattoo, as suggested by tattoo artists:

* Find an artist who specialises in a style you want, whether Old School (simple lines, flat shading, with blue, green, red and yellow), New School (based on modern graffiti), Biomechanical (depicting muscles and sinews), Tribal (decorative lines and shapes in black) or Irezumi (Japanese koi, dragons, samurai and geisha). Some artists are great at one style but not others.

* Pick a design that has meaning, rather than choosing on impulse. Cover-ups and removals are possible, but not easy or foolproof.

* Understand the medium, not just the art. Skin changes and shifts over time, meaning that the ink in crisp, finely detailed images can spread and turn the design mushy-looking over time. Some design choices are longer-lasting than others.

* Women planning to have children might avoid tattoos on the breasts and bikini-line area, where stretch marks from pregnancy can alter the design.

* Avoid designs with the name of your significant other. These are often sought as a fix during relationship turmoil, but rarely achieve that goal.

- AAP

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