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While getting my hair cut in The Barbers Rooms on Trinity Street last year, I noticed work going on in the basement. "What's happening down there?" I asked the barber. "I'm opening a tattoo parlour. It's being fitted out." With a little more digging I found out the original plan was to open a "Male grooming room" but as the recession hit it became clear that this wasn't going to fly. Mimicking the rescission of the 80's, tattoos seem to be making a small revival and this business was adjusting to take advantage. In this case opening the new stand was a small gamble but with the right artist it has become a big win and should continue to draw custom in any climate. As Kit, the tattoo artist, later pointed out to me, "There are always (tattoo) collectors out there, whether it's trendy on television or not."
Tattoos have been around for a long time. They have been discovered as far back as the fifth millennium BC where it's believed they were used for healing purposes. How they know this I don't know but let's take their word for it. They were introduced to the western world by sailors returning from places like the Philippines where the art was widely practiced. And, not unlike today, tattoos were viewed with interest as they gave a status to the bearer. "Show me a man with a tattoo and I'll show you a man with an interesting past," was a saying from the time. However, their use by gangs to identify membership quickly put a downer on it. Even in today's Japan entry to gyms and hotels will be refuse at the sight of one, something that was famously learned by the spice girls while on tour there. But here in the West, people like the Davis Beckham and Cheryl Cole breathe life into this ancient art and display them to the masses as fashion.
When I spoke to Kit, a Canadian who's been working here in Ireland for the past 14 years and is currently based in The Barbers Rooms, I asked how he had gotten into the business. "Well I always liked painting and drawing, then I got an apprenticeship where I learned the skill and practiced on my leg." Kit showed me his portfolio, a collection of photographs displaying a stunning array of original work.
He explained to me how he likes to sketch a drawing for each tattoo rather than simply pick something off a wall. "I prefer it if they have the subject matter that they want. I can then make the decisions of how it's best going to fit on the body. Unfortunately people sometimes come in with an idea that doesn't really translate into a tattoo well."
Kit's advice on identifying a good parlour is simple. "If someone states to have a qualification it's a gimmick. Suss the place out and see if you like it, then check the portfolio." He says photos are important also, not just art. "You can always see the artwork but it's about how it turns out on the skin. And if they don't have a portfolio, get the fuck out."
Tattoos are generally charged for by the hour, usually at a rate of â‚¬60-â‚¬70. While some small designs can be completed in no time at all, others could take multiple sessions. It's important to discuss cost with the artist before work is started.
Taking to the streets of Dublin we questioned the public. A petite and shy looking Alison gave us great surprised when she told us about hers, "I have one and got it about a year ago. It's big and covers my left shoulder and onto my shoulder blade. I wonâ€™t go into the meaning because it is personal but simply put, it's a giant budding flower just a pen-and-ink style drawing no colour. I love it because it is beautiful and looks bad-ass at the same time. I had heard from many friends they always regretted how small they went out of fear, so I went big and am really happy I did."
Another surprise was Elaine. Tattoos have had many purposes over the years; spirituality, cosmetic surgery and identification. But it seems she has taken it one step further with slimming. "I am going to get a tattoo when I reach my goal weight, somewhere that I wouldn't want to stretch in future so that I would have the incentive to keep weight off."
Although we did find one unhappy punter. John told us, "I've had my tattoo for about five years now, and I'm glad of two things; itâ€™s small and it's somewhere I don't have to see it every day." Removal of tattoos involves lasers and is still a painful and expensive experience that is to be avoided. Kit suggests thinking hard before you get one and refuses to ink anything that could make someone unemployable.
Without a doubt tattoos seem to be more popular than ever, and their acceptance in our society is great. It seems like a cool way to mark a unique and timeless achievement if you can find the design you really want, a tattoo without a story just doesn't seem worth the trouble.
One final nugget of wisdom Kit gave me was, "I recommend not getting your girl friendâ€™s name tattooed, or even your wife's, it seems like a jinks."
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