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Evolve or die.

You're either with us or against us.

by AdamSkyArtist

February 10, 2005

As long as there have been tattoo shops on busy main streets or in shady back alleys, there's always been tattoo artists who believe that then end is neigh. Well, maybe not the end of the world but certainly the end of tattooing as we know it. There are people who'll tell you that tattooing celebrated a Golden Age ten years prior to whatever moment you're currently privy to the conversation being bestowed upon you. To some, tattooing is just now beginning the gentle slide on a slippery slope into some sort of tattoo deprived oblivion. But in reality, that 'just now' moment has been repeated on the tongues of tattooers for decades.

There's no doubt in my mind that tattooing is more popular than it's ever been in the history of modern civilization and certainly that statement is not any kind of profound and grand revelation. What's curious is that instead of tattoo artists reveling in the hype and popularity of their trade, many perceive tattooing's popularity as a curse that leads to the ensuing tattoo doom's day.

So what's kept this paranoid flame burning? I would say it's nothing less than the love of tattooing and for some artists, the hatred of tattooing.

The lowest common denominator in the tattoo profession is the person who has no love for tattooing; someone who looks at putting on tattoos as some sort of escape from the drudgery of having to do real work to make ends meet. This type despises any sort of personal progression and they'll spin yarns of fable to disguise their general inability to produce a quality tattoo. These people have given up and they're content to simply sustain their inability but always under an invisible cloud of fear that someone will eventually discover them to be the fraudster that they know themselves to be. There have always been fraudsters and hucksters behind the needle and undoubtedly there always will be.

There's another character that does tattooing no favors; the tattoo business owner who does not tattoo. With extremely rare exception and I say this with only the vaguest attempt of a disclaimer, this person is the financial vampire of the tattoo world. A non-tattooing shop owner or tattoo supplier or editor of a tattoo magazine or whatever is someone who sees tattooing as simply a business opportunity. In most retail ventures, this would be acceptable behavior but tattooing is not like most retail ventures.

Tattoo shops are usually opened because a tattooist needs a legitimate environment to make a living plying his craft. Other tattooers are often invited to work at someone's tattoo shop to generate more revenue for the business but I'll tell you a secret... No one ever gets rich being a tattooist. Tattoo shops are not money making cash cows. Only so many tattoos can be done in a day and only so many tattoo artists can work at one time in a tattoo shop so there's a ceiling for how much revenue a shop can generate in a day. If a tattooer is good, they can sustain a decent living but in the dozen years that I've been traveling the world, meeting people in the industry, I've never met a rich tattooer. Some of the most respected and reputable tattooers in the world drive cars held together with bonding putty and duct tape. No lie. The shop owner who doesn't tattoo has nothing to contribute to the betterment of tattooing; they only siphon money away from tattooing but do not replenish anything to the better of tattooing as a whole.

The betterment and uplifting of tattooing is crucial to its survival. This seems like a simple maxim but it's surprising how many people are lost to this. Tattooing must always get better if it's to survive the general improvements in the standard for quality of life in our modern culture. If tattooing did not progress artistically, technically and creatively since even 20 years ago, public perception of tattooing would be something completely different than what we're enjoying today. The innovators in tattooing are like the sun to a growing plant. The fraudsters and vampires are the pot that's too small that keeps roots from finding the nutrients needed to expand and grow.

People who love tattooing want to see tattooing continue to improve because if the quality of tattooing improves, the quality of the perception of tattooing will improve and it's public perception that keeps tattooing alive.

Adam Sky is a tattoo artist at Sacred Heart Tattoo in Vancouver and is Editor in Chief of


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