Joolz Information Leaflet No.3

Tattooing and Piercing


Before we proceed any further, please be aware that the persons recommended below (information regarding addresses etc. were correct when this leaflet was first written, but may have changed by the time you are reading it, so check before visiting the studios) and the advice given result from my personal experiences in the tattooing and piercing world over the last twenty-five years or so. I am not a doctor, psychiatrist or your mother. I am not in any way whatsoever responsible for your decision to engage in body art; you, and you alone, can make that choice. Legally, in the UK, you must be over 18 to be tattooed. Piercing is not regulated in the same manner so be extra careful when choosing your piercer as this lack of regulation allows many unscrupulous and unqualified persons to set up shop as piercers.

Recommended Tattoo Studios:
Lifetime Tattoo
97C Monk Street
DE 22
01332 200088

I have also had work by tattooists Micky 'Sharpz' Lewis (now retired from studio work), Adam Dutton, Ben Stone, Jen Akinyemi, Teresa Gordon-Wade, John Sargeson, Tatu Pier, Inia Taylor 111 and the late Paulo Sula'ape, to whose memory this leaflet is dedicated. My piercings were in the main done by Warren Deane, formerly of Perforations, Brighton. These are persons who have worked on me, have my personal recommendation and grateful thanks for enhancing my physical self and inner spirit.



1) When you choose a tattooist, ask to see photos of work they have done – if you don't think it's very, very good, find someone else. If the studio looks dirty and unhygienic, find someone else. If, when you make your enquiries, the tattooist or her/his assistants are rude or dismissive, find someone else. Never, ever settle for second best, or select an artist just because they're 'local'. A Tattoo Is For Life, Not Just For Ibiza. To find a good piercer, look at the work they've done on previous clients – is it neat and well placed? Does the client speak highly of the piercer, their immaculate hygiene standards, and their aftercare service? Talk to the prospective piercer – do they have a responsible, professional attitude? If not, find someone else. Don't 'go ahead anyway' because you're gagging for a labret to show off that night at the club. This is your body you're altering; be calm and patient. Remember that all piercings leave noticeable scars when you remove the jewellery. Don't have a piercing 'for fun'. Think before you modify: The rest of your life is in front of you. Never let anyone persuade you into getting pierced or tattooed. Ignore comments like 'everyone's doing it', 'it's so fashionable', 'oh, don't be boring, just do it'. Tattooing and piercing are highly personal steps on your life's journey and only you are competent to judge if you are ready for them. Also, never try to persuade anyone else to have work done. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

2) Tattooing is permanent. That means it lasts until you die – and after, if you're lucky enough to become an Ice Mummy or similar. Removal is painful both financially and physically – and sometimes, impossible. Consider very, very, very carefully the design you want. A good, well thought out, sincere tattoo is a thing of great beauty. A jokey bit of nonsense means you'll be a pensioner with a cartoon baby devil and a wonky mis-spelt scroll reading 'Live Fast, Dye Young, Dude!!!' tattooed on your wrinkly old butt. A badly executed, carelessly chosen or anti-social, negative tattoo (do not have pejorative names like 'Slut', 'Nympho' or 'Waster' put on your body – I have seen these done and the wearer spends the rest of their life living down to them) can be a source of lifelong embarrassment and burning shame. Remember that the adored loved one whose name you want on your bicep today may be the ex-partner you loathe tomorrow and the brand-name, band name or statement you think is cool now may be a faint, foolish memory when you're middle-aged and sick of explaining why you had 'NikeAir', 'Babyshambles Proper Rule' or 'Fuck The Pigs' tattooed on your leg whilst pissed on holiday in Falaraki aged 16. Whilst some tattoos can be erased by various surgical means such as dermabrasion, skin grafts or laser technology, such options take a lot of time and patience, are painful, extremely expensive and leave scars. Your skin will not magically be exactly as it was prior to the whole tattoo/removal process despite what it may imply in the glossy brochure from the private cosmetic surgery/laser clinic. Another option is to have the existing design tattooed over with another, usually larger, design. This is an extremely specialised area of tattooing and if you are thinking of this you should seek out only truly expert tattoo artists with excellent reputations for this kind of work. Or you'll be left with a big dark ugly mess instead of a small ugly mess. So in reality, preparation and research leading to a wise choice of design is the only sensible course of action. Study art/tattoo art books, tattoo/piercing websites and tattoo magazines like 'Total Tattoo', 'Tattoo Revolution' etc., then think long and hard. Find a style and a design that expresses your inner self and that you're positive you can live with comfortably for the rest of your life. If in doubt, don't – wait until you're sure. As to piercing – jewelled or fancy studs, rings or bars are not suitable for insertion in your newly done piercing. Disappointing, perhaps, if you think of piercing as just a fashion statement, but that's how it is – so bear it in mind before deciding you've absolutely got to have your belly button pierced the day before your holiday in the Balearics. Only a plain stainless steel ring/bar/stud is appropriate for new piercings. If you see the piercer shoving gold-coloured, diamanté encrusted or any other type of fancy jewellery into fresh piercings – go elsewhere to someone who actually knows what they're doing.

3) Hygiene is of the utmost importance in both tattooing and piercing. Both are blood-transfer processes. Bad hygiene can cause terrible illness and even – yes – your death. There is, as yet, no cure for HIV/AIDS. Other infections passed by blood transference include MRSA, Hepatitis and Syphilis – just for starters. All tattooists and piercers should have up-to-date autoclave sterilisation equipment and use it. They should use full Board of Health approved procedures to avoid cross-contamination, just like a good hospital. Do not accept any excuses; excuses put your – and your partner and family's – health seriously at risk. Tattooists and piercers should work wearing latex gloves without exception. Needles should be changed for each client without exception and shown to you in their sealed sterilised package before being opened in front of you. Increasingly, tattooists and piercers are immunised against all forms of Hepatitis, for your protection, and theirs. If in doubt about any aspect of hygiene – ask. If you aren't satisfied, are fobbed off, or ridiculed for being 'soft' etc – leave. It's your life and health, and the life and health of your loved ones.

4) Be courteous and respectful to your tattooist and piercer – and expect the same courtesy in return. If you don't like their attitude – leave. If you feel intimidated or are made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable – leave. There are plenty of good, thoughtful, courteous tattooists out there, you just don't need to put up with the stupid few who think they're some kind of pop-star. No matter how famous or how expensive the artist, you are a client and deserve their proper attention. In return, they are giving you their experience, expertise and creativity – all priceless commodities. Mutual respect should be the keynote of your experiences in the tattoo/piercing world. There is also the question of hand tattoo work; this is tattooing done by ancient methods such as pricking and chisel work, as opposed to the modern electric tattoo machine. To many people, hand tattooing has a sacred dimension and is a reflection of a return to a more spiritual and tribal outlook in tattooing. It is not to be undertaken because it's the 'latest thing' or because you want something 'different' to boast about. You will need to do research about what kind of hand work you feel suits your persona and also on the history of tattoo, its tribal and cultural origins and whether as a Westerner, you feel comfortable with adopting the tattoo imagery and significance of another culture. Embarrassing mistakes such as a man asking a hand tattoo artist for a design he thinks is 'cool' but which is in fact a traditional tribal women's tattoo done to celebrate their first menstruation can be avoided with suitable research. A hand tattoo artist will not appreciate a slapdash, don't-care-just-stick-it-on-mate attitude to this delicate and painstaking work. Think very carefully before you embark on hand tattooing; it is not for the faint-hearted, the materialistic consumer or the ignorant. However, if you feel able to accept its strictures and embrace its history, it is the most rewarding of all the tattoo experiences.

5) Book in advance. Don't think 'it's only a tattoo/piercing studio, I'll just pop in . . .' Most good artists are booked weeks, if not months, in advance so if you just drop by the chances are your chosen artist will be unavailable. You could then choose to be worked on by an apprentice or one of the other artists in that studio who might be free, but if you have heeded No.2 you wouldn't want to do that, would you? Also, when you ask a tattooed person for the name of their artist and they recommend someone at the other end of the country, don't say; 'oh, that's too far to go for a tattoo/piercing – I know a fella round by us who does it in his back kitchen – I'll go to him, it'll be cheaper and less hassle!' You won't get any sympathy from the person you've just said that to, and it's foolish in regard to No.2 ( and No.3) if you think about it, isn't it? Also, out of interest, the expressions 'tattoo gun' and 'tattoo parlour' are now considered inappropriate, unless an artist using them is being deliberately retro. The current usage is 'tattoo machine' and 'tattoo studio'.

6) Follow the instructions regarding the aftercare of your new tattoo/piercing given to you by your artist. Do not ever listen to your best mate/Auntie Vi/ a bloke in the pub or any other Old Wife. Horrific and deeply stupid suggestions I have personally heard about aftercare range from 'soak a cotton wool pad in your own urine and apply three times daily', 'swab it in neat Dettol', 'rub it with surgical spirit' to 'I wash it in Bell's whiskey, me, comes up a treat . . .' or the truly scary 'let the dog lick it clean, dog's spit is healing'. Only in that person's mind, believe me. Don't be tempted by these or other bizarre and dangerous suggestions: The artist knows best – they've had years of experience in these specialist fields. Be clean; only attend to your new tattoo/piercing with freshly washed hands. Give your body time to recover – consider a suitable vitamin/mineral supplement and eat healthily. Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Don't sunbathe, sunbed, swim, play contact sports (rugby + new tattoo + mud = septicaemia) or go clubbing with an uncovered, unhealed tattoo. If you have a problem, however small you may think it, phone or visit the artist who will advise you. Don't ever, under any circumstances, pick or scratch at the scabbing on your new tattoo even if it's itchy and take great care to avoid knocking or scraping it. Don't fiddle with or pick at new piercings. These things result in damage to your body art and possibly infection.

7) Don't let anyone disrespect you for choosing to be tattooed or pierced. Deal with abuse, insults or snide questions like 'I simply can't understand why a nice-looking girl/boy/person like you has to ruin/spoil themselves . . .' calmly, quietly and with dignity. Do not rise to the bait, however infuriating and cruel, because that's what the ignorant and socially inept person making such comments expects and wants. Don't give them the satisfaction. If – and this is very common – someone wishing to seem clever (usually in a social situation where they are seeking to impress others) makes a remark like 'but, isn't tattooing simply self-mutilation, a form of self-harming?' in patronising way, do not reinforce the existing prejudices against tattooed/pierced people by becoming angry, abusive and inarticulate. Your intelligence, restraint and courtesy are your best weapons against those who seek to disempower you. On the other hand, don't oppress others by your choice – boasting and sneering at the untattooed and unpierced is merely crude and immature. Enjoy your body art with quiet confidence – you made your choice and you are an individual – smile. Life is good.

Remember – Fortune Favours The Tattooed/Pierced Heart; be lucky.

This is a Full Lunatic Production. © Joolz Denby. First edition 2003. Updated edition 2011. Others in this series include: Gardening Is The New Prozac: The Good Magic Guide: Older Women Are Fabulous: Creative Writing Tips: It's OK To Be Crazy As Long As You Know You Are: Living With Cats, A Survival Guide: Performing Your Poetry/Speaking In Public, A Survival Guide: Survival – A Life And Literary Workshop Guide: Get Fit And Stay Fat: Home Cosmetic Hints: Rosacea – How To Cope: Groovy Spaghetti Sauce Recipes: Men & Women Are Only Human: The Good Goddess Guide: Why Hard Work Is Good For You: Sociology/Poetry/Art Made Simple: Life: Death.

Joolz is now a Patron of the charity IDAS - a practical, grassroots organisation helping anyone who is a victim of sexual violence in the North of England.

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