Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

The problem with scratchers.

December 9th, 2008 by

I had wanted to be a tattoo artist since I was about 12 years old.  Other kids wanted to be fireman or pro wrestlers or Batman, I liked to draw on myself and chewed copious amounts of Bazooka Joe gum (only some of you will get that one, the old some of you’s).  At seventeen I convinced my folks to sign for me to get my first tattoo.  Dad was against it but knew that saying no would just further increase that rift the tends to occur between a father and his teenage son and besides, I’d be eighteen in a few months (and thus totally unstoppable).  In my high school year book my classmates voted me most likely to ‘end up owning a tattoo parlor’.  Thirteen years later I’m a professional tattooer, heavily tattooed, and totally fucking unstoppable.  Thanks Dad.

I had friends that got tattooed at parties when I was a drunk teenager but I’d always avoided that.  I did however get tattooed by a fellow Marine when I was stationed in Japan (I was young and stupid, his work looked okay to me, and I didn’t know enough to find good tattooers in Japan.)  That scratcher tattoo hurt like all hell.  I rememeber that guy drinking beers and blasting Sublime for the duration of the three-hour outline, meanwhile I’m watching my sweat pool on the floor as a result of trying to sit still through this impromptu torture session.  When he’d finished his outline I went downstairs to get a good look at it in the mirror and as soon as my shirt came off my roomate said ‘He fucked your back UP!’  this did not bode well.  Upon inspection of said fuckery I realized that I’d made a horrible mistake and I’m sure I mentioned my difficulties with anger management, so I went upstairs to have a little talk with the guy.  I decided to use a metal tee-ball bat as a mouthpiece.  I knock-knock, he opens door, I split his forehead open.  The ensuing court-martial resulted in an E-5 being reduced in rank to an E-1 (almost unheard of in my experience) and the guy was to receive a Bad Conduct discharge from the Marines, which would prevent that twelve-year veteran and career Marine from reenlisting.  This happened, the court said, because the senior Marine should have known better than to mutilate his fellow Marine and that others had stepped forward to speak against him (though their tattoos weren’t nearly as large or as screwed as mine).  I got a slap on the wrist since I had won Marine of the year for my base that year and I had to live with my mistake for the rest of my life.  Marines, ya gotta love ’em.  A few years and a few hundred dollars later and I had a decent cover-up to hide my shame.  So even wildo makes mistakes…

That being said, the problem with scratchers is that they always have and always will exist.  As long as people remain uninformed and until tattoo is seen as an art by more than just the folks who have ’em, stupid people will try to save a buck or two by letting some supremely confident and completely ignorant asshole scratch on ’em.

For scratchers:  The reason your tattoos will never be worth a shit is because you don’t care enough to get good.  You don’t care about the people you mutilate, the artform you trash, or the fact that you’re making life harder for the people who have worked so hard for so long to bring ethical practices to this business.  Your work will always suck because you can’t get the pigment I use or the machines I use, and you know nothing of the application of either of these things in a professional context.  You don’t know what terms like frame geometry, angle of deflection, hertz, magnetic polarity, tempered steel tensile strength, or metal fatigue mean.  You don’t know shit. You don’t care enough to learn how to do it right, you just plain don’t have the heart.

Things that will help:  Until there are standardized laws across the lower 48 states that provide professional tattooers with an consistent basis from which they can ply their trade there will always be scratchers.  Until those laws include a moratoriam on selling to unlicensed individuals, driving unethical suppliers out of business or forcing them to clean up their act there will always be scratchers.  Until existing laws regarding scratching are enforced, and the penalties for those laws stiffened we won’t be rid of scratchers.  Until tattoo is appreciated for what it is and nothing more or less than that, those people who get tattoos from scratchers will continue to get tattooed by scratchers.

And here’s the crux of the situation:  If licensed shops are not held accountable by the public health authorities and unethical practices (such a supplying scratchers) are not corrected we can not stop scratchers.  I recently spoke with a tattooer from another shop about a problem we both had, about another shop in our area that was doing the most horrendous tattoo work I’ve seen come out of a shop in my life.  I’ve actually met one of the scratchers who bought his supplies from them and the local police have had to bust the place on more than one occasion for drugs.  These guys have no shop minimum and I’ve seen first-hand a number of face and hand tattoos they’ve done on people with few or no other tattoos.  These guys are scratchers who managed to get licensed and open a shop and it’s people like this that are the real danger.  Lots of people who would avoid getting tattooed by a drunk at a party wouldn’t think twice about getting tattooed by the same guy at his tattoo shop.  Here’s the problem, even if they did get shut down they could just reopen down the street or in another county or state for that matter.  The only way to stop them legally is for tattooing to become so unprofitable for them that they can’t survive and have to close the business.  Be careful where you get tattooed people and do your research, because lax enforcement of health codes is one of the reasons scratchers are allowed to exist and these same enforcement officials are the ones who are inspecting your local tattoo parlors.  So now you know the dirty truth, you have been warned, you are responsible for your own safety.

I’ve heard horror stories about licensed scratchers (for lack of a better term) who would sign off on a guy’s paperwork for a fee.  No actual training takes place, but after a year that person can get a very legal tattoo license and if that license is maintained they can open a shop of their own within three years or so.  This is the local racket but I’m sure there are laws that are much less stringent in other states.  The people that protest tattoo parlors in shopping malls aren’t protesting tattooers, they’re protesting their perception of what tattoers must be and they’re basing their decisions on the assholes that are just out to make a buck off of people’s ignorance.  I hope this clears a few things up,


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