Getting tattooed: tattoos and the changing faces of those who wear them
Not so long ago, tattoos told a whole different story.
The assumption was that if you had a tattoo, you were either a sailor, a member of a motorcycle club, or maybe spent time in the joint.
And if you didn’t fit into one of those groups, the ink was probably the result of one misguided party.
Nowadays, the clientele of tattoo parlors is almost mainstream.
An ever-changing clientele
Sitting in the lobby of Redemption Tattoo, a Maricopa shop run by Nick Sanchez, you see all kinds.
Wait a minute, he’s an elementary school teacher. Next is a grandmother. In fact, far more white-collar professionals are getting inked than ever before.
There are so many different types of customers — first responders and contractors of all kinds among them — that it’s hard for Sanchez to keep up.
“I tattoo a lot of teachers,” Sanchez said. “You know, just yesterday I took my 5-year-old daughter to a daddy-daughter ball, and I ran into a teacher who complimented me on some work I had done for them.
“I get a lot of people who own their own business,” he said. “There are a lot of different people, and very often they inspire me to take my work to the next level.”
Asked about his average client, Sanchez said that doesn’t exist.
“That’s one of the main reasons why I feel so lucky to do this job,” he said. “I meet so many people from so many different backgrounds that I would never have met otherwise.”
The evolution of society’s position on tattoos
Several studies have been conducted on who gets a tattoo. While the numbers differ depending on which report you read, they all seem to hint at the same fact: tattoos are on the rise.
In 2019, an Ipsos study found that 30% of all Americans had at least one tattoo, a number that had increased by 21% since 2012. And a January study by Rasmussen Reports found that nearly half of all adults under 40 now have at least one tattoo.
Tattoos were used to represent an element of danger, or perhaps to signal to run with the wrong crowd. It’s a completely different situation now. Always an outlet for artistic expression for artists and inked people, the reasons people get tattoos are varied, Sanchez explained.
“I have a lot of clients who want to celebrate a special moment in their life,” he said. “Or maybe they want to use it to tell a meaningful story for their journey.”
Greg Grossi, 43, used a full sleeve tattoo to showcase his growing family. It took several sessions over the course of a year to complete.
“I wanted something to represent my family, my children and my fiancée,” Grossi said. “I wanted to do something meaningful.”
Norm Bradley, 45, works at the Nissan Proving Ground in Stanfield. He got his first tattoo at 19, but grew more comfortable with showing them off, adding to his collection over the years.
“I’ve always wanted tattoos and found them intriguing,” Bradley said. “As a young man, I was trying to make it in the corporate world of ‘no tattoos, no tattoos’, and you had to cover them with a shirt. Now I’m a bit older and in a higher position, and I started thinking to myself, you only live once and I’m going to do it. I will express myself and I don’t care what people think.
Bradley has a 22-year-old son who recently got a tattoo.
“At first, I didn’t really want my son to get tattoos when he was young,” Bradley said. “But then he told me about how established people in his field worked and I realized times were changing.”
Depending on the length of a tattoo session, Sanchez really gets to know his clients.
“Sometimes I feel like an adviser,” he said. “In some cases, I spend hours with them, especially with the big chunks. People tell me all kinds of things. And especially if it’s just me and them, they impose quite heavy things on me. Sometimes I don’t know what to answer. So I just listen.
“That’s why they call it ‘ink therapy,'” Sanchez said.
The pain of getting a tattoo can also be cathartic.
“A lot of times people get a tattoo of a relative who has just died or they’re trying to get through some grief or a difficult time in their life,” he said.
Getting a tattoo is a way to turn mental and emotional pain into physical pain, which for some people can be therapeutic.
“You kind of release that pain and it’s almost like a workout,” Sanchez said. “Because in many ways you are putting a strain on your body while you are getting a tattoo.
“While you’re getting a tattoo, your body is constantly releasing endorphins, which will make you feel better.”
There is also the sense of purpose.
“And when you’re done with the tattoo, you feel like you’ve completed something, or you feel like you’ve achieved it,” Sanchez said.
This stress is why not everyone is a candidate for body art.
“That’s why we don’t tattoo pregnant women,” Sanchez said. “Because you put the body under stress and you don’t have to do anything that could cause a miscarriage.”
Choose the right artist
As society changes, so do tattoo parlors. Most stores today are clean and welcoming environments.
It’s a far cry from what you might see on TV or in a movie, where a gruff, unshaven tattoo artist gnaws on a stogie while thrusting the needle into a client’s skin.
Tattoos are permanent and some require an investment of time.
Jenece Mordt, a retired teacher with a few tattoos, offered some advice.
“I think you have to look at the artist and the kind of work they do,” she said. “I think you also have to look at the store, what it looks like and if it’s clean. You really have to make sure you have a good atmosphere with the artist.
Bradley said he learned of his first tattoo when he was 19.
“I picked something and I thought it was going to be cool. As I got older, it wasn’t so cool,” he said.
Eight years ago, Bradley decided to go for it again.
“I was going to a nice taco shop in Laguna Beach, California, and there was a tattoo parlor nearby. I stopped, I picked something,” he recalled. was going to be cool and then the same thing happened again.”
Ruth Strickengloss, who retired from the Navy, has seven tattoos. She feels it is important to take charge of the situation.
“Make sure you know what you want,” she said. “Ask to see their portfolio. Determine what kind of tattoos they do best. Do your research if you want quality.
Sanchez, who has been a tattoo artist for 16 years, recommended going online to look at an artist’s work before sitting down in his chair. And many artists post their work on social media like Instagram.
“You want to look at the work they do and see if it’s what you’re looking for,” Sanchez said. “You also want to see how clean their store is and ask a few questions, for example, do they have cross-contamination prevention procedures in place?”
Along with that, there is a personal side to getting a tattoo.
“Take the time to talk with them and figure out if you have that vibe with the artist and if you feel anything,” he advised. “Because they’re going to put something on you and it’s going to be with you forever.”
Learn more about editor Justin Griffin and InMaricopa reader tattoos.
This content first appeared in the June issue of InMaricopa magazine.