Remember your first tattoo?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?”

I recently tattooed this on a client. Not the quote but the bird trapped in a heart. We decided that this was much more visually stimulating than making people read Bukowski.

The images I first started tattooing when I was a new artist seemed repetitive. We would keep popular Disney characters next to the copy machine to cut down the time it took to redraw the same request day in and day out. I would wonder why so many people wanted to get the same tattoos over and over again and my day to day grind of filling customers requests for “Bugs Bunny” and “Taz” began to be questioned. I thought to myself, “So this is my career choice, huh? I transfer cartoon characters on skin all day.” Now I can look back and see that they were all “safety tattoos”.

Safety tattoos are the entry level tattoos for a new collector. It is an image that has been proven worthy through repetition. The idea of having a permanent bad choice on your skin is scary, but the drive to get tattooed is overwhelming. The new tattoo junky is going to pick an image that they have already seen as a success. Basically they pick something that has a smaller chance of getting made fun of.
The classic safety tattoos are subject matters like religion, country and moms. It’s like saying “I dare you to make fun of God, America or my Mother!” But the other safety tattoos change with trends. Let me try to paint a picture for you…
Sally is a 16 year old who is too young to get a tattoo. She knows by the time she turns 18 she will eventually get one. The current trendy safety tattoo is tribal on your lower back. This would be the tattoo she would get right then if she legally could. Fast forward 2 or 3 years and Sally is now old enough to get tattooed, but now the lower back tattoo is played out. People have seen so many of them that they now have negative nicknames like “ass cap” and “tramp stamp”. Sally moves to the next Safety Tattoo and picks a Chinese character that to the best of her knowledge means “Courage”.
Why the change of heart? Not as many people have Chinese characters yet but enough of her friends do so she knows she won’t get ridiculed by her peers for her decision.
Sally’s little sister, Tammy, is now inspired by tattoos, but she is only 16 and can not legally get tattooed. If she could, she would get a Chinese character. By the time Tammy is 19, Chinese characters are played out. So she gets an obscure quote from a book she read. Why? She knows a few people who have done the same thing and it seems like a safe bet.
Some of these new customers stick to getting tattooed and will eventually rely on an artist rather than an image to help make their choices. How will they view their old decision? If the first tattoo is on a part of the body that is not in the way of future projects, then the kanji will be left alone. But trends like tribal arm bands and paragraphs of words on the ribs are on prime real-estate.
When I see the current trend I contemplate if this will be a future cover-up. I try to do some preliminary damage control, things like making sure the placement of a new tattoo won’t interfere with a back piece or sleeve. Making sure that a girl with little wrists isn’t getting her new favorite quote up her entire forearm.
Unfortunately, today, the damage control is a bit harder because kids want their first tattoos huge and in paragraph form. Do you know how hard it is to suggest to someone that they need to reconsider their choices?
Listen up. Nobody wants to read your favorite book on the side of your ribs! Nobody wants to stand there for twenty minutes while creepy dudes read your favorite Hemingway passage on your back. I know the guy changed American prose, but he would kick your ass if he knew what you had done.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?”

read full poem at http://plagiarist.com/poetry/137/

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