If you ever saw a tattoo artist with little to no tattoos, you might think that was quite unusual. And you are right; they are very rare.
Can a tattoo artist be tattooless?
Is it necessary to wear ink to be credible as a tattooist?
As it turns out, tattooless artists exist, and if you've watched the American show Ink Master, you've probably heard about at least one of them.
Since tattooists with little to zero ink exist, what impacts their credibility as artists? Are they still credible? Are they good? Would you trust one of them? Here are our thoughts and finds on that specific and exciting topic.
Yes, most tattoo artists have many tattoos. Many are recognizable with massive body suits, face tattoos, or even eccentric looks. The tattooing field has long been and still is a job for passionate souls. Most artists we spoke to are addicted to ink and have fallen in love with their craft long before being on the other side of the needle.
Like most hairdressers who have their hair done regularly, many get tattooed regularly. It's just a perk of being in that industry. And we can envy them. It's so tempting to be around such talented artists. What is the best use of your time to fill the gap when there is a no-show or during low season?
Most shop managers are in the best position to get inked regularly, and many are living catalogs of the art from the artists in their shop. After all, they are passionate about that industry too, and they usually wear their tattoos as badges of honor. We've even seen shop managers with more tattoos than some residents/guests themselves.
We could not use the word 'normal' for them not having ink on their body and be a tattooless artist. However, we could change the question to: « I once saw a tattoo artist with no tattoos and thought it was quite unusual. What could the reasons be? »
The answers could be many, and we could think of some of them being: he is allergic to ink; he could be scared of needles; he follows a religion against body modification; he is waiting for the right artist to tattoo his skin; he doesn't feel like having any ink on his body. There are many answers to that question.
Tattoo artists might feel pressured to get tattooed early in their careers, even during their apprenticeship. They can be encouraged to test and try on their own body. Some prefer to wait years in practice to be 100% sure of what they want or meet with the right artist. Tattooless Artists belong to the category of people who go big or go home, and when they decide, they will move forward with their ink without hesitation.
In The Black Hat Tattoo, throughout our journey, we met with one young and highly talented artist from Eastern Europe who was inkless. He also studied in art school and mastered multiple techniques outside of tattooing, and tattooing was helping him to pay for the degree he was pursuing. When we popped the question about being tattooless, he had a specific idea of what he wanted to get, a complete sleeve project with a particular artist, but he was waiting to finish school.
We also know a tattoo owner who doesn't have a single tattoo despite being entirely dedicated to the industry, a great supporter of artists, and a fantastic contributor to body modification in Europe. The reason is simple, this person has a specific skin condition and cannot get tattooed.
The younger generation of tattoo artists wears visible tattoos, and it has become common to see artists with face and hand tattoos. However, the older generation, has avoided visible tattoo areas of their bodies to escape the discrimination associated with it.
Therefore, if you see a tattoo artist without a visible tattoo, it could hide a massive back piece or a more personal project. Cultural backgrounds have to be taken into consideration. In Europe, artists may have more creative freedom with a visible part of their skin compared to Japan, for instance.
Here again, opinion differs. An artist should have ink on his own body to understand every aspect of creating tattoos, and being light-handed when tattooing is a skill to acquire. A talented tattoo artist can understand, empathize and adapt to their customers' pain. With experiencing yourself, it's always easier to put yourself in someone else's shoes.
Some in the industry will argue that being tattooless shows a lack of devotion to the art. It is also more difficult for them to find a place in a tattoo parlor when not showing visible tattoos. Most shop owners who have expressed themselves on that topic confirm the stigma and criticism that inkless tattoo artists face. Many of them seem reluctant to have one of them on their team. The trust might be slightly more challenging to give on a first chat with business owners or potential clients.
Even though tattoos are mainstream now, many of us still struggle to enter, understand, and comprehend all the subtilities within them. From a marketing point of view, having a tattooed body is a tattoo artist's uniform, and it's part of the play they must have to make a name for themselves and a career in the field.
While it might seem superficial or even from a marketing perspective of the craft, it is considered important as a good sales practice. It displays their taste and is regarded as one way to express who they are and what they like.
Wearing tattoos is an excellent way to promote the industry, and by having plenty of great tattoos on them, artists are selling themselves. Just because the person is tattooless or does not have a significant amount of tattoos has absolutely nothing to do with what kind of artist they are. In other words, it is not because a tattoo artist displays a full body suit of excellent ink that his skills will match what he is wearing on his body.
While it shouldn't be perceived as a lack of credibility, being tattooless can translate as a loss of clients for himself when customers see he has no tattoos. When you think about it, almost no one will get a big design from someone who is tattooless. Not having ink may prevent artists with zero to little tats from growing in their craft and reaching the clientele they deserve while being absurd from a technical point of view.
With little to zero tattoos can have many qualities a client will appreciate. Firstly, it strongly indicates that they could be picky and a perfectionist. They can also be highly patient, waiting in line for their favorite tattooist to be available or gathering enough money to travel to them.
Secondly, with the temptation of being surrounded by qualitative artists around them, they display much willpower in saying no to free tattoo offers throughout the year.
Finally, this could indicate that they prefer quality over quantity, which is a good omen for your future ink.
Would you trust a skinny chef?
While an artist being tattooless can be quite confusing, a tattooist covered by ink, even by beautiful ink, is not a guaranteed quality for yourself.
The younger the tattooist is, the more tolerant you could be as it takes time, sometimes a couple of years, to wait for the person you want or to figure out what exactly it is that you will ink on yourself.
As a tattoo artist, you can start your career with no tattoos. However, be ready for the question. One day your coworkers and customers will ask why you don't have tattoos.
It is up to them if they are heavily inked or not. When you are in your decision process, look at portfolios, and talk to them instead of judging only on their tattoos or style.
Tattooless artists are a rare find, and if you find one, you might be tempted to ask yourself their story or the question. Let us know!
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