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Getting Inked

Being tattooed, or more commonly referred to as “getting inked,” is often frowned upon. People sometimes look at tattooing as if it were a separate lifestyle from their own, and many with tattoos have experienced some form of prejudice.

“The biggest challenge so far has been getting the City of Tyler to let us be over in this part of town,” said Derek Kastning, professional tattoo artist and owner of Derek Kastning Tattoo Company. “They didn’t want us in their shopping district.”

Kastning broke the Guinness World Record of most tattoos given to an individual in a 24-hour period in 2008. His company charges an hourly rate of $100/hr minimum.

“Ninety percent of people that come in to get tattoos are just coming in ’cause they want a tattoo,” said Kastning. “They don’t care what it is. They have no clue what they want. They just come in. We help them come up with an idea and all the sudden, they’re on board.”

Although faced with a negative stigma in the past, the fad of body art is rapidly becoming more socially acceptable. Tyler is no exception.

“If I say ‘you know that’s a pretty shade of green,’ somebody else is going to say ‘oh that’s puke green, man,'” said Paul Greenwood, professional tattoo artist and owner of Firing-Line Tattoos. “There’s a difference of opinions on everything, and I’m not in the argument business.”

The reasons and motives which drive different people to get tattoos are diverse. Some people want others to see and even recognize their tattoos, while others simply want to get them to satisfy a personal desire.

“Some people get tattoos as a memorial… some people get tattoos to commemorate events in their life,” said Greenwood. “You can just look at them and see by the tattoo that there was something that caused them to get that tattoo, and generally it’s because of something close to them.”

Typical tattoos range from roses to tribal symbols and from hearts to snakes.

The location of a tattoo is also important. Research shows that there are more- and less-sensitive places on the human body to get a tattoo.

“If people have a question, it’s always ‘how bad does it hurt,'” said Greenwood. “It hurts just like any time you’ve gotten any sort of a scratch. If you have ever reached into a rosebush and were careless pulling your arm back out, that’s just what it feels like.”

Greenwood’s family has been in the tattoo business for more than 100 years.

“I think we’re the number one shop in East Texas because of the quality of artists, the way that we treat our customers, and the effort we make to make sure that every tattoo that walks out that door is the best that it can possibly be,” said Greenwood.

Another tattoo studio, Lil Paul’s Tattoos, has been serving the local Tyler area, including its fair share of college students.

“We see quite a bit of college students,” said Paul Masson, professional tattoo artist and owner of Lil Paul’s Tattoos. “Especially art majors. They’ll bring their own designs up here and we fix them up.”

Firing-Line and Lil Paul’s accept both appointments and walk-ins. Both have a $40 minimum and the prices go up from there.

“We don’t want to take all your money,” said Masson. “We just want to do our work and have fun doing it.”

Due to the permanent nature of all tattoos, factors such as choosing the location, the color and the design of the tattoo, can often be some of the most difficult decisions.

“A lot of tattoo studios around will say ‘you’re getting this or you’re getting nothing,'” said Masson. “We’re not that way, we like to customize our stuff to you.”

While tattoos are seen by many as the desecration of the skin and body, some view it as a form of creative expression.

“Everybody has thought about getting one at least one time in their life. I don’t understand why people put other people down for being tattooed or getting tattooed,” said Masson. “I don’t like Ford trucks, but I don’t put people down for driving them. I don’t like some name-brand shoes, but I don’t put people down who wear those shoes. I realize tattoos are a little more permanent, but it’s really no different.”

The major concerns about tattooing include the health risks such as allergic reactions, AIDS, HIV and the aging of the tattoo itself.

Tattoo shops in Texas are required by law to be licensed by the Department of State Health Services. However, to avoid expensive studio prices, many younger people turn to “homemade” tattoos.

“For example, say you and me were boyfriend and girlfriend. We could go in there [to a house-hold artist] and as long as we used the same needle and the same ink, he would charge us $25 and a lot of people go for it,” said Masson. “But what nobody understands is that cheap isn’t good… you absolutely have to find the right place to get your tattoo.”

In December 2009 a Smith county teen tested positive for a communicable disease resulting from a tattoo. A Tyler resident was arrested and put in jail for illegal tattooing.

Paul Masson is currently working in cooperation with the Health Department to start a petition to “crack-down” on unlawful tattooing practices.

“The more I keep seeing about diseases, the more I want to stay, just to get these people off the streets,” said Masson.

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