Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Why Do Tattoos Cost So Much?" Read up and know the deal...p

Plumeria Tattoo By Ben Karnofski @ Lucky 7 Tattoo
Back in 1986 I got my first tattoo. It was around my 18th birthday, and I was so ready to take the plunge in to the pool of ink. In those days you pretty much had to pick your tattoo from a flash sheet off the wall of the shop. The price of the tattoo was listed on a small worn white sticker next to the pattern, so you knew up front how much you were going to be charged. $20 was like a $100 to me back then, but I paid the $18 happily and walked out of that old biker shop in Belmont California as happy as I ever was at that miserable age.
Monkey in Branches By Russell Fortier @ Lucky 7 Tattoo
During the next 6 years I ended up getting 4 tattoos, all at different shops. Prices for tattooing were going up, and the pricing stickers began to come down as more an more California shops opened, offering custom tattoos. At this time the tattoo customers were starting to choose  their tattoos on areas of their bodies that were more difficult for the tattooer to manage. More lower backs and inside arms increased prices and the artist opened nicer, cleaner shops and studios. Demand increased for the small number of great artists. A new style of shop and artist was coming up in the early 90's. I became a piercer in 1992, getting to watch this industry evolve from the biker "parlors" of the past, into full on businesses.

In the last 5 years tattooing has exploded. No longer am I looked at by older folks as some type of demon for being covered in ink. For better or worse, television has taken a rebel act - a way of life-and made it an acceptable art form for almost everyone. Television and the media have advertised tattoos as a type of meaningful  "keepsake" for the masses. It has created the mindset that each tattoo must be thought out, always be uber original and have some deep meaning in order to "justify" getting the tattoo. Trust me dear reader, until this decade most tattoos had no more meaning than to say "F+*# You to the rest of society by the outlaws who wore them. Alas, things change, and I appreciate anyone who walks through the doors of my shop to get ink from my family. Which brings us to the topic I started this blog entry with. "Why Do Tattoos Cost So Much?"
"Weathered Tree with Raven" By Russell Fortier @ Lucky 7 Tattoo

Did you ever notice that you never see money change hands on the tattoo television shows? My guess is because it doesn't make good t.v. I also imagine all the fans of these programs would have their dreams of getting ink by a celebrity tattooer flattened and stomped on by the rates these famous tattoo artists charge. More power to these stars for their great marketing skills-yet it makes it difficult for us in the real world to explain to a tattoo virgin that Lucky 7 prices are $140 an hour, and yes it really takes many hours to ink a sleeve. It always looks easier on tv!

In this new era of the business of tattoo, no longer do potential new customers come in and look at portfolios for the quality of our work. First thing is asking "how much", while trying to describe an idea they have. When we politely answer  $140 an hour, you see some folks just about pass out. Eyes roll and attitude comes forth where none existed before. When we let the potential client know our minimum is $75 for even a tiny star on a finger we also get the big sigh of displeasure. Soon after loud comments of "My friend got hers done in Oklahoma for only $35." Also this gem, "well another shop told me half that price." Or my personal favorite is when I am shown a terrible home made mess of a tattoo done in a kitchen by a so called "licensed professional" or "friend who is learning ", and then being told they paid $25 for this pile of excrement and expect me to fawn all over them for showing it to me. This is what we now deal with daily. Thanks the GODS that we have a large regular clientele that appreciates great tattooing by artists who love what they do. If not we would be in the position of so many of these new fly by night shops popping up by the dozens. Hiring so called "tattooers" who never apprenticed under an established artist, or even learned the correct placement of a needle into a tube. Self taught with too much bravado for their own good. Making a mess of peoples bodies for the lowest price possible just to make scratch to pay the rent on the hovel of a shop, and bounce around the local watering holes acting like a stuck up jerk just because he thinks he can tattoo. Yes these are the folks we now compete with in a tough economy. Each day we see the horrible mess these scratchers put forth. Often times people come to us so we can fix or cover up these messes. Sadly they now have paid much more to go through the tattoo process twice and spent twice as much to get what they wanted. All in the quest to save a few twenty dollar bills. Sucks for everyone but the scratcher.
Butterfly Skull by Corey Boobar @ Lucky 7 Tattoo
And all those mobile tattooers, or the ones that advertise on CraigslistScatchers do this because they can't get a spot in any shop, good or bad. They can charge very low prices because they answer to no one. Not the health department, not a landlord, not even you if you are not happy with the end result. The don't care because if they did they wouldn't lower themselves to operating outside of the law. Each person who tattoos outside of a licensed shop is breaking the law. If they don't care about the very basics, perhaps they don't care about reusing needles, or pouring inks back into the bottle? Who really knows?! No one, because they answer to NO ONE.

Let me break down what it cost to run our family owned shop. All amounts are per month. $2000 for rent. $400 for insurance, $200 for power, $100 for phone and internet, $150 for trash and sharps (needle) disposal, $300 for basic office supply, $500 for needles and inks, $200 for gloves, $60 for cleaning products, $90 for distilled water..this is just the bare bones of operations and we are already past $4000 a month! That is before any one of us takes home a dime for ourselves and our family. The shop is always first in line to be paid for.

There is no such thing as an "easy tattoo." It is a huge pet peeve to the artist when people beg us to cram them in to a very full schedule. "But its a really small and easy tat" they whine. To the person who is inking you for life, they take on a level of stress that cannot be fully described. Yes, some designs and locations are easier than others. Yet we strive for perfection on every tattoo every time. Would you want anything less? Understand that any good artist should make a fair wage to do their craft, and to take on the stress of your tattoo. Have patience when an artist says " I can't tattoo you today, but let me design the tattoo tonight and schedule you on another day."  Know that good artists and reputable shops are not trying to rob you! What you pay for is a great tattoo in a licensed shop that is following the letter of the law. Those laws are in place to protect your health as well as the artist. I am sure you don't want a burned out tattoo artist who has to work 14 hours a day just to make a livable wage, right? Then please respect the prices tattooers charges for great work in a clean shop. You get what you pay for.

Last but not least. It is smart to price shop a pair of Levis 501 jeans. It is the same pair of jeans in every store, just some stores have better service and atmosphere. Save money on goods. When you choose a service -which is what tattooing boils down to- always pick the best you can find and afford. If money is short, save up! Waiting a few weeks isn't going to kill you. It makes you smarter than so many people who rush in without doing their research. That "bargain" tattoo isn't going to seem like such a deal when the joy of paying so little wears off and you hate the results that last a lifetime.