Tattooing has Changed, Have You?

In 1995 there were 14 tattoo shops from O’fallon, Illinois to O’fallon, Missouri. In 1998 there were 40. With each shop averaging 3 artists working in house, that would equal 78 new jobs for tattoo artists in three years. That is almost a 300% increase in the industry. As impressive as those numbers are, where did these skilled artists come from?

The average apprenticeship before 1995 lasted a minimum of 1 year. Without a possible explanation to how all of these new artist appeared on the scene, you can assume a majority of the new artist boom derived from self taught amateurs.

A lower grade Tattoo Artist lacks the common knowledge of their equipment. They lack an understanding of integrity and professionalism needed for this important job. If the weight of this responsibility to tattoo a person it is not properly conveyed, then it is taken light heartedly. Without a seasoned mentor in place to nurture the growth of new tattooists, the impact on tattooing was felt in a negative manner. Years of crawling out of the back alleys and fighting with city board members to be recognized as a legitimate craft get diluted by niave and ignorant new step children of tattooing.

Twenty years later, the flood gates have been ripped wide open. The control of equipment sales has been taken away from the industry forefathers. It was a tradition to pass along the importance of what it meant to use a tattoo machine on another person. A new artist buying a machine off the internet will not grasp the magnitude of what that tattoo machine represents and the power it has to change lives.

Uninformed tattooists from the 1990’s have multiplied. They have created new branches of pedigree that lack the foundation needed for a healthy career. The only saving grace is the information on the internet has help these lost souls understand what a good tattoo looks like. They can replicate imagery in tattooing that is truly impressive. A positive byproduct from this immigration is the depth at which the boundaries of tattooing have been pushed. If only out of sheer ignorance of nobody telling them that they could not do it, they have invented new styles and approaches previously unheard of. What they lack in the soul of tattooing, they are making up in the technical craft of tattooing.

This is why it is so important to embrace the change in tattooing. The old guard needs to recognize the talents and opportunities these young cats have brought us. There is an opportunity to mentor this new blood and help bring them into the fold of the tattoo culture as we know it. Right now they out number the old guard. There is not enough of us to hold our ground and make demands.

I have a different approach. My model is to teach once and learn twice. I would rather help this new generation with positive information rather than fight an impending change. I have started the St. Louis Tattoo Artist Meet Up to be held once a month. This is my way of reaching out to the new artist still fresh in their career. This platform will not only put me in touch with the with the younger and more ambitious alumni of tattooing, but hopefully I can help them to become the best product they can be. In turn, this will lead to a healthier crop of tattoo artist and bring the level of tattooing as a whole higher than what my generation could have done. In return, I hope they can give back by passing along what they have learned. I am excited to find out what I can learn from them.

Ambition breeds ambition.

-Matt Hodel

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