book review: Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo

 ‘Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo’ is an interesting proof of growing popularity of tattoos. Publishing houses certainly do some research before deciding what to publish, so obviously there must be at least some demand for such books. Granted, it’s not the first book of this kind available but if there’s some interest in the subject, then there also must be some chance to profit from it and here we have this particular guide.

The main goal of Alpha series is, as one can read on wikipedia, ‘providing a basic understanding of complex and popular topic’ which is true about tattoos – popular they sure are and definitely more complex than it seems at first.

The author is John Reardon whose name may be not particularly well-known but who seems to be knowledgeable and able to present the subject of the book in a clear, easy to grasp manner.

The guide is divided into three parts: ‘what is a tattoo,’ ‘beginning the tattoo process’ and ‘get in the chair.’ Each part contains several chapters describing such questions as history of tattoos, tattoos and the society, choosing a design and the right artist, basic information on skin and how the tattoo machine works, tattoo process itself and proper aftercare once the tattoo is done. Chapters are short and pretty well focused although one can’t expect elaborate information on history of tattooing, indigenous cultures or intricacies of meaning behind tattoos as that’s simply not the goal of the book.

Despite the limitations of the book (its size and goal), the author managed to convey a few interesting pieces of information about tattooing in the modern Western society, gang tattoos and changing attitudes about tattoos although it’s certainly not a book one would use as a main source of information. If the reader is a potential first-timer, however, this book may certainly ease the fears and make the whole process less intimidating – knowledge is power and here one can see what steps must be completed before a good quality tattoo is achieved.

 The guide is well indexed. Appendix A contains glossary of the most important and common terms used in the industry.  Flash designs in Appendix B and ‘dramatic full-color photos of tattoos’ added as an extra are not really that impressive although some of them are able to show the magic of tattoos and what can be done by a skilled and imaginative tattoo artist. Appendix C contains titles of several books recommended to read.

 All in all, it’s an interesting title showing the growing interest in tattoo subculture in the mainstream society. It also is a small database of important information on the subject which makes it quite good an idiot’s guide.

 John Reardon, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo, Alpha Books 2008;

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ecology and passion

A post-Thanksgiving thought in ‘inkless and thankful’ which I categorized as ‘gem;’ if there is one ‘valid’ reason for getting tattooed, it must be so all the people against body modification could write and whine about it! Personally, I’m thankful for having gotten as many tattoos as I have to date and I’ll be thankful if I get many more.

Tattoos and good cause again in another ‘Ink, not Mink’ ad (Linkin Park singer this time) and an interesting initiative from the UK based Ultimate Holding Company: the Extinked Project.

‘Slightly’ different is, of course, Wim Delvoye’s project and here another article about him, just to remind people out there of him.

 ‘Tattoos are no lost art’ discusses sports and tattoos again – we’ve already heard all about it. And even if many athletes get inked, many sports fans do so as well; here a Polish gallery of ‘football fans and their tattoos.’

 Athletes, actors and musicians have done quite a lot to change the bad image of tattoos; people in the West are aware of that. In Vietnam the process has just begun: ‘celebrities break tattoo taboo.’

 A nice article from Germany about the oldest tattoo shop in the country shows us quite well the history of tattooing in Europe and a few old-timers covered in ink. Worth checking out!

dangers, oddities and good books

Interesting links from two first days of this week:

DIY/home-made tattoos in ‘inmates risk lives with DIY tattoos at tough jail’ and ‘aspiring artists reject fears of harming their customers.’ The latter is interesting as home-based tattooing is not as simple as people from the industry would like us to believe and, at the same time, it isn’t the way these ‘aspiring artists’ would like us to believe, either. The only thing that’s probably really simple and true here is that most people would like to get a good quality tattoo and pay for that as little as possible.

 Odd news from the Netherlands where people get offered a tattoo of their official BSN number.

 Tattoos and good cause in ‘Ink, not mink’ from Australia.

 Art show by tattoo artists in ‘Drawing Blood II.’

 If you’re not fed up with tattoos and church yet, here’s another one: ‘Washington church features live tattooing.’

 Maybe this book review is not very related to body modification but the English title of the book is ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and since I’ve just finished reading the book, I can wholeheartedly recommend it and say that one of the main characters is not only modified but also nicely shows that a modified person can be (usually is? ;)) intelligent and talented!

multilingual tattoo fun

A German movie review for starters – ‘Hori-sho’ about Japanese tattoos;

Another German one about something less traditional: ‘how people become cyborgs’ show future possible improvements of human abilities. In the same vein a little more about LED tattoos (and here a link to an article in Polish, too).

Local artists and industry in ‘artwork on a human canvas’ and ‘conformity tattooed to all to see’ about tattoo industry and tattooed people in Richmond, VA.

In case someone would like to get a more traditional design, here are ’10 tips for getting a tattoo in Tahiti.’

Books about tattoos: ‘books that get under your skin’ sadly don’t seem to bring up anything new although some good titles are included.

 Church and tattoos with a little twist: ‘church tattooed with hoax text.’

 Something to browse through at a slow pace to end this post: ‘best Philly tattoos.’

experience, stability, fads

A tad of localness in a few articles about local artists in articles about an experienced guy, a relative newbie and an Ink TV star.

 ‘Stability important at Lousiville tattoo shops’ discusses mobility within the industry, at least on a local scale.

 A pretty interesting point made in ‘Chinese tattoos are the stamp of a new generation but still bad art.’

 German article by an author ‘amazed’ by American tattoo trends (which seems to be a trend on its own); this time it’s ‘armpit tattoos’ (with a gallery!).

 A bit of gossip from the entertainment world: body painting allegedly helpful for 50 Cents and others.

movie review: Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry

Sailor Jerry For most of us today ‘Sailor Jerry’ means two things. It’s the name of one of the most famous tattoo artists in the history of tattooing (but it’s the name only) and it’s a term to describe ‘old school’ motifs such as anchors, eagles and hearts. We read about Sailor Jerry and we toss ‘Sailor Jerry tattoos’ back and forth while discussing our own tastes and interests. Sounds quite empty, though. ‘Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry’ does a good job on reviving the character and showing us who this guy was.

The movie is a documentary and it portrays not only the character of Sailor Jerry himself but also shows his times and places he lived in, thus showing him in a broad, detailed context, pointing out what made him the way he was and what he made the way it is now.

Documentaries can be made in many ways and some of them are more interesting than others. The director of this one decided to go for combining both the fragments of the old films of the era in question (WWII and later) and interviews with the people who knew, admired and learned from Sailor Jerry to become famous tattoo artists later on. Among the people featured in the movie are such big names as Lyle Tuttle, Bob Roberts, Mike Malone and Don Ed Hardy who share their experiences with and memories about Sailor Jerry with passion and emotions. They describe the master with colors, swear words and emotions that they, obviously, still feel toward him. A few selected quotes by Sailor Jerry himself add some more depth to the movie and show (kind of ) first-hand what a colorful and strange personality he was.

A very good ‘performance’ is given here by Don Ed Hardy who talks not only about his master but also discusses the history of modern tattooing, pointing out important moments, people and influences within the movement. He also brings it to a more personal level with his own childhood memories, his own development as a tattoo artist and the goals he’d worked on. He sounds authentic and convincing and I definitely was able to forget about Don Ed Hardy merchandise and commercial crap he’s mostly associated with nowadays. Here I could see a great tattooist and historian, not a guy overexploited by the modern pop culture.

The movie is about 70 minutes long and the DVD also contains special features (director’s commentary, deleted scenes, letters from Sailor Jerry (only two but quite brilliant ones!) and theatrical trailer). The DVD is region 1 which might be quite inconvenient for people from other parts of the world but it’s worth watching and having in your collection of books and DVD’s on the subject.

 Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, dir. Erich Weiss, 2009;

catching up

A week without news-related updates does not mean I’m slacking; I’ve been busy with reading this ‘Electric Michelangelo’ novel, then reading another book about tattoos and watching ‘Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry’ DVD as I got it in the mail on Thursday and it worked on my DVD player despite this damn region 1 restriction. On to the news, though:

Tattoos of the future? ‘blood-powered digital tattoos’ sound interesting!

 Young Germans and meanings behind their tattoos.

 But at the same time … ‘Tattoo trade is the Wild West’ with few rules;’ which might be true a degree as this opinion appears over and over in articles not only from the US. After all it’s so easy to get a tattoo kit, even if you’re only a beginner.

 Tattoos for good causes: ‘ex-soldier gets tattoos of dead’ to support ‘Help for Heroes’ charity in the UK, also from the UK is the one about a 60-yr-old woman whose first tattoo raised £ 1600 to support people suffering from cancer and an American press note about ‘Get Ink for Autism benefit.’

 Religion: ‘faiths debate whether tattoos are appropriate’ and ‘modernity casts spell over magic tattoos in Cambodia.’

 Old negativeness around tattoos in short articles from Inverness: ‘Club tattoo ban threat to war heroes’ and ‘Club war breaks out over tattoo ban’ (the first article on the subject in this post of mine).

 Lack of health regulations and more extreme body modifcations in “hooked on pain’ (and yes, this one is about suspension!) and ‘body art that’s on the cutting edge.’

 Don Ed Hardy and his overcommercialized by now tattoo art in ‘WTF? Ed Hardy water’ (thanks to Bastian for this one!) and ‘Ed Hardy’s tattoo art is booty for digital pirates.’

book review: the Electric Michelangelo;

MA pic It’s year 1921 and Cyril “Cy” Parks is about to start his lifetime adventure and career as a tattoo artist. His apprenticeship, as he feels is, lasted a decade and was as ‘old school’ as one can possibly imagine. His master and teacher is eternally drunk and abusive and yet his personality is empowering and fascinating to Cy. From his early childhood exposed to the mysteries of the inside of the human body envelope, Cy learns how to look at human body from new and different angles and yet only many years after he comes to know that human skin is yet another body organ, as crucial as any others.

It’s year 1933 when Cy’s master dies and it’s time for him to become a full-fledged tattooist himself. Leaving behind everything he knew so far and moving to the Promise Land across Atlantic, Cy cannot leave behind his memories of the two people that mattered the most to him, his mother and his tattoo master, and they are always with him, in the new world and in the nooks and corners of his own inner world. Cy can’t leave his past behind him but he assumes a new name, the Electric Michelangelo, and builds his world anew from old demons of memory and new places and new people.

It’s spring 1940 when Cy meets Grace for the first time and something moves within him, ready and yet hesitant to open and let her in. She’s a fascinating and odd woman, gentle and rough at the same time; a part of the circus world thriving on Coney Island and about to become the Lady of Many Eyes, ready to undergo a metamorphosis thanks to Cy’s tattooing skills and to make Cy change himself.

* * *

There are seven important characters here and only four of them are people; two others are places, totally different and yet similar with their carnival-like atmosphere, crowds coming in and out and a feeling that anything can happen. Cy’s childhood’s world is the coastal Morecambe in England, a place to which ill people and tourists come in search for illusionary salvation and temporary rest; his adulthood’s haven is the American Coney Island, a vast and bustling freakshow, not immune to the changes of time and human moods and wants.

And finally there’s the art of tattooing which mysteries, beauty and ugliness appear over and over again in-between the lines of the novel. Tattooing here is not always shown as a glorious art that makes people become who they want to be. Tattooing here is shown as a complex art on the fringe of the society (it’s a novel about the past after all) that demands a serious approach, imagination and sensitivity founded on the thick skin. The tattooist’s job is not only to adorn their customers with flash designs, skulls, daggers and images of frivolous women, but also, or maybe above else, to deal with human skin, smell of people’s fear and doubts, their blood and sweat. Tattooing here transgresses the everydayness and becomes both something amazing and something vulgar, exposed and yet hidden in many social contexts.

Reading this novel reminded me of the biography of Tattoo Theo and him meeting his own mentor and master, Christian Warlich. The novel has the same ‘old times’ touch and feel of authenticity to it and reminds me of the long-gone past of the trade that still tries to establish itself as an art form.  

 A very good novel about the old times, tattoos, loss and gain, love and hate and many other things, that’s what this book is about.

Sarah Hall, The Electric Michelangelo, Faber and Faber 2004;

stats and bans

A little more about Sailor Jerry and Tattooed Under Fire documentaries; I really hope that this ‘under fire’ one will be possible to buy.

 Various statistics about tattoos in the USA are old news by now but this one presents both more general and local data: ‘Tat stats’ from Minnesota. ‘All ink and bodies’ presents the tattoo industry in Fiji – more exotic and more rarely described a location.

 Interesting oppositions: a fancy NYC hotel gets a tattooist-in-residence (quite famous a one at that) while a small club in Scotland seems to be banning tattoos; another in the ‘ban’ vein is the one from MO where a nursing school bans visible tattoos.

 This one is in Polish, so let me say more about it; the title is ‘already an art form or still a subculture?’ and one of the people quoted in it offers an interesting (and quite unrealistic, I think) idea that soon tattooing will be offered at art schools as one of the possible career paths. Any thoughts?

army, experience and some local touch

I’m still waiting for my copy of ‘Hori Smoku’ documentary and here is another interesting one that should be made more accessible: ‘tattooed under fire’ about soldiers and tattoos ( trailer).

 In China tattoos seem to be a huge obstacle if one wants to be a soldier, though: ‘terrible tattoo, a sad way to lose college and army opportunities.’

 Another Asia-related one is ‘Yakuza: Japan’s Not-So-Secret Mafia.’

 My personal impression is that it’s a very American thing to combine years of experience to advertise a business – two artists with 10 years of experience each thus make 20 years of experience combined. Sometimes years of experience are pretty impressive anyway, though: the OH artist working here does really have (over) 31 years of experience under her own belt.

 Another local shop and artist, this time from NJ, in an article about Tattoo Tony.

 Nice, quite random tattoos in a blog post ‘Weekly Ink.’

 The Living Canvas book by Karen L. Hudson reminded me that body art is not only about tattoos, piercings or scarification but also about less permanent forms of art; here pretty stunning examples of body painting!