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What’s More Important, the Tattooer or the Tattoo Shop?

I’m a big fan of looking at the big picture. It’s important to step back from your myopic view of life inside the tattoo shop and try to pull the entirety of what’s going on in tattooing into focus in an effort to try and understand the changes...

by AdamSkyArtist

November 28, 2005

...that are happening around you and hopefully forecast a little bit of the future. This is more difficult that you might imagine. Tattooing for a living every day keeps you bent over, hyper focused on a few square inches of skin at a time, only to look up from time to time to dip your needles in a fresh ink cap.

And while we were all busy slingin' sick tattys, things changed. Well, tattooing hasn't simply changed, it's evolved.

For decades, tattooers have predicted that we were living in a bubble economy for tattooing; that one day we would reach a crescendo of tattoo shops and artists, so much so that the market wouldn't be able to bear it and we'd plummet into a chasm of tattoo shops imploding into one another with the inevitable fall out of tattoo artists lining up at Subway for job application forms.

But the bubble never burst; instead it grew wildly beyond almost everyone's imagination. What was it that enabled so many people to do tattoos and so many to get tattoos? What was the catalyst for so much unprecedented growth for tattooing? Quite simple: It was the Internet.

Evolution occurs due to changes in the environment and the nature of the tattoo shop has indeed changed. For a very long time, it was the tattoo shop and its convenient location that reeled in its customers. Tattoo shops were located close to naval bases, or on busy boardwalk frontages at popular tourist beaches. Most potential tattoo customers were content to travel to a known 'tattoo part of town' and find an empty chair belonging to whichever tattooist was available at that moment. But by way of a lot of bad tattoos, folks started to realize that getting a recommendation for a good tattooist is as important a first step as deciding what to get inked. And now, browsing and comparing the work of hundreds of tattooers can be done in the comfort and convenience of your own home by way of a Web browser.

Believe it or not, there are still a lot of tattooers who think the Internet is the worst thing to ever happen to tattooing. Many would prefer if we regressed to a point where the decision making process of getting tattooed was restricted to the inside of the tattoo parlor.

But you cannot stop the march of technological progress.

Tattoo customers have decided that the Web is the tool they're going to use to shop for their tattoos. Smart tattooers have embraced the Web and have exploited new technology to enhance their tattooing by publishing online portfolios, sharing photos of their tattoos and paintings on sites such as and blogged and networked to reel in new customers. The Web is an awesome place to show other tattooers photos of your tattoo art and in turn, it pushes progression and inspires other artists to be better.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking that the hyperbole of the value of the Web is ancient news but trust me, dear reader... there are a lot of tattoo artists who scoff and moan at the suggestion of the Internet as a resourceful tool for artist and customer.

But what the Internet has also done to change tattooing was to switch the focus of the tattoo shop as producer of tattoos, to the individual tattoo artist as the shining star. As customers research their tattoo, they research their tattooist. So inevitably a transition happens where the artist becomes more important than the tattoo shop and the symbiotic relationship between artist and shop tilts in favor of the artist - the artist and their creative abilities is now the main attraction.

The question 'What's more important, the tattoo artist or the tattoo shop' is one of those Zen Buddhist like questions such as 'If a tree fell in the woods and no one was around to hear it, would it make a sound?'

Meditate on it a while.

Adam Sky

Managing Editor,

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