Tattooing has been practiced for centuries throughout the world. The oldest mummified body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice in the Alps and dated to about 3,250 BC.
But tattooing has often been considered uncivilized in the western world.
“In the earlier days of tattooing, it was construction workers, people in the military, bikers and ex-felons who sported tattoos,” said Chris Lee, owner of Shanghaied Tattoo Parlor in Astoria.
“People who don’t have tattoos often ask themselves what kind of lifestyle a tattooed person has,” he said.
Many people who get tattoos now are of an age when tattoos were not exactly taboo, but certainly not accepted by most of society.
In the past, more men than women got tattoos. Now Lee sees more women getting tattoos than men.
Lee tries not to work on a person more than three hours at a time. “Any longer than that can make it difficult for the tattoo artist to remain sharp. I want people to come back more often to finish their tattoos,” he said. “I try to keep the process simple so people will come back and refer their friends.”
He suggests that people know what they’re getting into with a tattoo. For example, know the approximate dollar amount and length of time the inking will take.
“Hydration is most important,” Lee said. “Make sure you are well hydrated before the artist starts on your tattoo.”
Why is hydration so critical? Dry skin is more susceptible to tearing by the tattoo instruments.
Cathy Lucero, from Antioch, California, a mother of four and grandmother of two, got her first tattoo when she was 40.
“A friend and I went together to celebrate our birthdays,” Lucero said. “I wore ankle bracelets a lot, and people would comment on them, so I decided to get a rose tattoo on my ankle. It was just a rose with a little vine that didn’t go all the way around my ankle.”
Eventually, her kids chipped in so she could have the vine completed. “Now I have a tattooed ankle bracelet,” she said.
Her grandpa had a tattoo of a hula dancer that moved when he flexed his muscles, she said. But he told her and her brother not to get tattoos.
“My mom and dad weren’t too sure about me getting a tattoo, either,” Lucero said. “I recall telling my mother, ‘I’m a mother, I’m 40 years old, I’m getting a tattoo.’”
Lucero’s youngest son, Nick, has several tattoos.
“Nick was able to find the Lucero family crest, so that is one of his tattoos. He also has the entire boot of Italy, and Family First tattooed in Italian,” she said.
“My daughter, Christina, has plans for her first tattoo,” she continued. “She was very close to my father, who passed away. Christina wants to get a tattoo of her grandfather’s dog tags.”
Lucero’s husband, Tony, had several tattoos done by a famous Bay Area artist when he met Cathy. As happens with tattoos over time, Tony’s began to fade, so he visited a tattoo parlor and asked if someone could touch up the tattoos.
“The art on Tony’s arms was immediately recognized by the people in the parlor,” Lucero said. “Tony was told they would put a frame around the tattoos, but they wouldn’t do anything to alter the previous artist’s work.”
Tanner Scanlan, from Lacey, was 21 when he got his tattoo, a black tribal armband on his upper right arm. It was free, done by a tattoo artist while Scanlan was in the Army and deployed to Tonga.
“I think a tattoo should have a special, significant meaning,” Scanlan said. “That way you’re not stuck with a barbed wire tattoo you got when you were in your 20s because it was ‘cool’ to have.”
Not as easy as it looks
Kevin Fink, owner of Ocean Park Tattoo, is in his 31st year of tattooing. “I started on the East Coast — New Orleans and South Beach in Miami,” he said.
Giving back to the community is important to Fink. “Once a month I do a free cover-up of a racist or gang-related tattoo,” he said.
When he can’t tattoo anymore, he wants to write a book about the art.
Fink has an apprentice, Daniel Valdez.
“I got into tattooing by accident,” Valdez said. “I’m from California, and I’m a 49ers fan. I made a bet with Kevin that the ’9ers would do better than the Seahawks one season. I lost the bet and got a Seahawk tattoo done in 49ers colors.”
Fink asked Valdez if he was interested in being his apprentice when he found out Valdez could draw. “I agreed, not sure at all that I would like it,” Valdez said. “The first tattoo I did was on my wife, and after that I was addicted.”
Valdez has a great deal of respect for tattoo artists. “Tattooing is not as easy as it looks,” he said.
Some people get grief from family and friends about their tattoos while others, like Tanner Scanlan, don’t.
Fink’s wife, Candi, said her parents hated her tattoos.
Barry Coleman, from Ocean Park, didn’t get any negative responses about his tattoos, while his wife, Jeannie Dolby, said her mother couldn’t understand why she wanted to do that to her body.
On the inside of her right arm, Dolby has four stars silhouetted and shaded in four different colors. Originally she had planned to have the colors go all the way around her arm.
“My mom passed away three years ago, and I had a dream that she was mad about me getting the color bands done,” she said.
Think before you ink
People get tattoos for different reasons: memorializing a lost loved one, marking a significant point in life or symbolizing their heritage perhaps.
On the downside, sometimes a person may end up with a tattoo after a night on the town. This could lead to wondering if a tattoo can be removed. The answer is yes, but the removal process isn’t easy.
Tattoo removal has come a long way from the days when some tattoos were surgically removed. Before laser removal was developed, tattoos were removed by dermabrasion, application of an acid that removed the top layer of skin, or salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt).
A couple of options now are covering a bad or undesirable tattoo with one more appropriate or acceptable.
There is also laser surgery removal, in which the laser breaks up the pigments of the tattoo. The body then absorbs the loosened pigments. However, the surgical option takes place over several months, depending on the size and colors.
“Laser removal is expensive,” Lee said, “and it is realistic to expect to need a cover-up tattoo after the removal.”
This cover-up tattoo would serve to minimize any skin color differences and/or scarring after the laser surgery.
So make sure your decision to get a tattoo is an informed one. Talk to people whose tattoos you admire. Visit tattoo parlors, and ask lots of questions.
And remember: One tattoo may very well lead to another.