Beaudette De Lahaye, author of Art Angel Tattoo: Piercing the Surface has written a guest blog post for Inkluded readers. In this extract, and her new book, she discusses the darker side of the tattoo industry that is rarely written about.
Art Angel Tattoo: Piercing the Surface is a thought-provoking memoir that does not shy away from the truth. In this emotional memoir, Beaudette explores her development and growth as an artist, and reveals the dark and dangerous side of the tattoo industry. Having faced violence and threats throughout her working life, she openly recounts her experiences…
The shop is in full swing and there are the formidable tones of symphonic death metal band’s Within Temptation playing in the back ground. My customer and I are in harmony with the artwork understanding and were just about to get started. My mind is completely focused on how I am going to approach this tattoo piece. Everyone is comfy and the buzz begins.
For anyone who has been in the chair this will be a familiar pictorial. You may remember the notions and reminisce about those pre session butterflies that dance in your stomach prior to undergoing the tattoo? The excitement represses as soon as you feel the needles kiss your skin and you settle into an endorphin promoted stupor. Ahhhh yes the exultation of new ink.
I spend a fair bit of time with my customers. In this trade you can spend hours at a time with one customer so the basic customer relation boundaries do not get enforced on a definite basis. There is still a level that differentiates me as the service provider but the customer’s ultimately want to feel relaxed in their tattoo artist’s hands and the conversation flow doesn’t really have boundaries.
As we start the tattoo and engage in some light weight chit chat. The customers feels as ease and the stories start to flow. I have always wondered if the openness or eager desire to share information was bought about by the touch of another person. Or was it the safety and trust that individuals place in their tattoo artists? Either way something happens that entices the customers to spill their perspectives. From break ups, to work wars and we as tattoo artists hear it all.
In business knowledge of your geographic, area location and size of a tattoo shop can determine the supply, demand as well as the tattoo content demand. Areas that are slightly inland or located outside of cities do not benefit economically on the tourism trades and rely on their town surrounding population. Often the town ship or areas are categorized into regions and the region is ‘owned’ by a particular gang. This statement may be hard to prove. However if you speak to anyone and they will tell you “yes, such and such owns the tattoo shop there and he /she is connected with the blah blah gang”. Its public knowledge. Everybody knows!
So I have recently moved to a new area and picked the location to set up my tattoo and custom studio. There are many reason why I picked this area, its location, shop size and affordability. Geographic and target market potential is also a factor. However the actual fact in this instance as to why I chose this town for my tattoo and custom shop was: that I would not be treading on ‘anyone’s’ toes. Anyone being the local biker gangs that would have a problem with me opening up a shop in say… a popular beach setting location? Yes, I am in total agreeance that it is out right disgusting that the gangs and bikers have such and influence over decisions such as where a tattooist may be ‘able’ to set up their own tattoo business.
I have set up my tattoo and custom shop, my creative haven where my team of artists can feel comfortable enough to grow their own careers. And together as a team we can all push our artistic boundaries and feel the value, appreciation and belonging that we need to get to the next stage in our artistic journeys.
My shop is very different in every aspect in comparison to a ‘traditional tattoo shop’. First and foremost my customers can have an expectation in all areas of the services we provide. The shop has implemented boundaries and perimeters for the benefit of both the tattoo services and custom paint services which are tailored to support not only the artists but the customers experience and over all deliverable.
Life is about experiences, journeys and moments but I don’t need to outline that to you. Acquiring a tattoo does fall directly into those categories. Therefore we endeavor to provide a good solid legitimate service here at my small town tattoo and custom shop.
My shop is about the customers and the artists. Not the lining of ‘certain’ pockets… We have surrounding towns that host tattoo parlous and thanks to the local ‘chit chat’ I am privy to be educated as to who is who and what is what. And let’s stop beating about the bush as I know that you ‘the reader’ knows exactly what I am talking about!
I amazed at the public knowledge of who owns what shop and the gangs that those shops are associated with. The general public knows exactly what’s going on. They know who’s just had their tattoo shop closed down and for what reasons, which artist has not had their licenses approved and which artists have had their hands broken for trying to take tattoo customers from the shop and work from home. I am informed all of the time of direct connections of tattoo shops to gangs and whilst the local authorities claim that they are doing their best to ‘clean up’ the industry by implementing steep licensing conditions, fines and locking down close associations. They in-fact are not. The areas they have implemented make it harder for the tattoo ARTISTS.
The bikies just sideline the tattoo parlors by maneuvering the business credentials into partners’ names or the names of ‘clean’ associates. Or if you have a clean record, then you the tattoo artist. Tattoo artists who are first and foremost artists but also family members, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters and whom couldn’t give two shits about gangs or their carry-on. They are tattoo artists because they love tattooing and performing art as a means to earn a living (earn a living which is a means to a life). Which is not much of a life with the way the industry is exploited.
I personally received a call interstate asking me if I would take on and run a particular shop, of course lavished with a nice incentive. I out right declined, there has been two offers now. Tattoo shops still operate as the cash cows for gangs. Its public knowledge. Artists get treated poorly and the customers get a dodgy service. I have been in the industry for almost 12 years now outside of my apprenticeship. We have lost too many good artists along the way. And tattooing is too ‘bloody’ awesome of a career to continue with the underworld’s noose that continues to choke hold its beautiful industry.
It is out right disgusting that weak people, yes men, can group together with their powerful posies, detrimentally orchestrate and actively hinder the good from people that have something wonderful to offer.
I personally will not subject an artists – whose dream is to become a tattoo artist and who is prepared to place magnanimous amounts of their effort and energy into their up and coming career. Be put through anything similar to what I had to endure during my so called Bull shit tattoo apprenticeship.
Just to clarify some areas. I have completed two apprenticeships. A three year formal apprenticeship as an automotive refinisher. (I absolutely loved my apprenticeship and honed my paint and custom skills during that time; of which you can read about in my next book Countess of Kustom.
I also had the so call gangs spill out all over this area of my art work as well. It seems I could be of use to them here too… As I encountered ‘hot’ bikes bought in for custom paint. A cosmetic change and a convenient place to store the bikes whilst the away from the heat. – The biker blokes sell ‘you’ on the job and as a female in the custom arena acquiring the job is an outright fight in its self. I also completed my number two apprenticeship as I always dreamed of becoming a tattoo artist. I then endured this industries slapped together tattoo apprenticeship. During my apprenticeship I did not have any magnificently talented artists to look up to and the shop was solely driven by making money for the local gang. As explained in my book the day to day detail was magnanimously archaic. I found myself running around like a maid for the other artists, being treated like a dog and threatened with my ‘career’ – my dream, if I didn’t do as I was told.
So, yes it’s time for some awareness and who knows maybe…. a change? I love tattooing as a career, it’s fantastic and any artist should be encouraged to embrace it.