As she walked nervously into the unfamiliar environment, sophomore Karen Hernandez noticed the overpowering smell of cleaning products and examined the unconventional art adorning the walls. She reviewed all the questions she wanted to ask; excitement and adrenaline swept over her as she approached the tattooed man behind the counter.
Thousands of college students walk into tattoo studios every day and walk out as permanent pieces of art. Tyler Junior College students as well as some of Tyler’s most well-known artists reveal their experiences and advice about tattoos.
Paul Masson, owner of Lil Paul’s Tattoos in downtown Tyler, has been branding people with ink for about 14 years and said he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Every day is something new. Every tattoo is a challenge, but I work on people like I want them to work on me.”
For someone who has never gotten a tattoo, the first question seems to always be, “will it hurt?” Obviously, an individual’s pain tolerance differs, but the majority of people said it didn’t hurt badly, unless it was on an area of skin close to bone. However, John Manfood of Lil Paul’s Tattoos said otherwise.
“I answer this question 200 times a day. The top of the head is the worst,” Manfood said. “It’s really all the same. Different people believe what different people are told. Because your brother said it hurt when he got it over a bone, it’s going to hurt when you get it over a bone. It’s all in your head.”
While tattoos sometimes get a bad rap for spontaneous decisions made on a whim, many students claimed the exact opposite, saying you have to be mentally prepared to get the tattoo.
Sophomore Ben Huffine said he carried the design in his pocket for months before actually getting the tattoo. He said that when he felt he was ready, he wanted to be able to do it right then. Sophomore Joyle Rosenberg agreed with Huffine.
“You have to build up,” Rosenberg said. “If you aren’t sure you want one when you walk in, you probably won’t get it.”
Sophomore Janie Jackson also prepared for her first tattoo – for years actually.
“I had wanted one for like two or three years before I was 18. So I was begging and bugging my mom to death, and she said, ‘if you still want it when you turn 18, we will go get one.'” So on my 18th birthday, we skipped school and went over there to get it together,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t nervous, because I had wanted it for such a long time.”
While the majority of people said they got their first tattoo at age 18, Paul said people of all ages come to the shop on a regular basis.
“I would say anywhere from 20 to, believe it or not, older people like 60 years old. Everybody is getting them. Really, right now, there isn’t an age.”
An unusual story behind a tattoo came from sophomore Mary Tarbutton.
“At 15, me and my best friend left our house and it was when the state fair was in town. We met a couple of cute guys that were running one of the rides. We ended up leaving town with them – and the fair,” Tarbutton said.
“We lied and told them we were 18 and had fake everything to prove that we were not what we really were. We got to Shreveport and there was a tattoo guy set up there. My friend and I picked the design that we wanted. Mine says ‘friends’ and hers says ‘best.'”
Two of the six tattoos that Tarbutton has, she got when she was young and believed she could “conquer the world,” but has since had the two covered, and plans for modifications on another.
Covering tattoos is a viable and common option for 18-year-old spontaneity. Manfood said about half of the work he does is cover-ups and a Kelly’s Tattoos artist said they usually get at least one cover-up every day.
Tattoo studios usually have a minimum price for a tattoo. At Lil Paul’s Tattoos, the minimum is $40 to provide the most sanitary conditions.
“It costs about $35 to provide you with new needles and all the safety equipment to do it. So our shop minimum is $40,” Manfood said. “Other people have a lower shop minimum, but I know it costs 35 bucks to provide a clean tattoo.”
Paul recommends that no one try to tattoo without first completing an apprenticeship.
“There are little scratchers out there spreading diseases because they are sitting at home tattooing,” Paul said. “Doing it at home is really unsanitary. There are a lot of people that come in to cover up scars from trying to do tattoos themselves.”
Most studios have apprenticeships available for people interested in the art.
“The full apprenticeship is pretty crappy but it’s the aftermath that you work for,” Paul said.
Probably the most well-known apprentice is Yojiro “Yoji” Harada of the TV show Miami Ink. However, Manfood said a real shop is nothing like the show.
“Shows like Miami ink and LA ink… it’s a load of crap. That’s not what shop life is like at all. It’s kind of like an ER nurse watching scrubs. It’s nowhere near what’s going on.” Manfood said. “It’s just fake.”