A look into why tattoos are trendy today when they’re as old as we are.
There are some elements that have always been around mankind. Tattoos being one of them. Even so, it strangely has been a taboo for a long time. Only recently have tattoos become a normal part of everyday society and not just within tucked away cultures.
“Tattoos are as old as we are. Something magical about changing yourself for life. It can be symbols, a guide to remind you where you’re going. Those are the tattoos that are important to me or the ones that I like doing.” Shaun Beaudry, a tattoo artist at Anonymous.
A Small Line of Beginnings
- Pre-Columbian cultures of Peru and Chile. 10,000. There were tattoos on the torso, limbs, face, and fingers. It still isn’t clear as to their purpose.
- Otzi, 2000. He was believed to have tattoos to help lessen his joint pains. All tattoos were centered around weakened joints, and this would be a reasonable conclusion.
- Ancient Egyptians. 2000. it was mostly women that received bead-like tattoos across the stomach. They’d also get tattoos around the thigh and breasts. This was all in a therapeutic support for health and fertility.
- Nubians to the south of Egypt. 2000-1500. Mummies of women with tattoos also around the stomach and breasts.
- China’s Taklamakan Desert. 1200. To mark criminals
- Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain Region. 382 BC. Bodies were found with tattoos on the fingers.
- Ptolemy IV. 210. Believed to have ivy leaves to symbolize his Dionysus devotion.
- Polynesian. 200. A bodysuit of a geometric design was used as an identity scrapbook. It was used to tell their rank in society, genealogy, and status.
- Northern European tribe, Picti. 297. Also known as “The Painted People.
- Maori. 1200. Their geometric tattoos were focused on the face and believed it made them appear more desirable.
- Japan. 1200. Began as a symbol of protection. This transformed into a way to mark criminals or banning. The practice kept when foreigners really liked the aesthetic.
- Native American Cree and Inuit. 1475. They tended to focus on facial tattooing.
- Sailors and Coalminers. 1750. Both of these professions used tattoos as a way of protection. Both jobs were always so dangerous, there wasn’t much guarantee of survival, but through these tattoos was the survival of hope.
Cory Hand, a tattoo artist at The Butcher, referenced an Abraham Lincoln quote that his father would tell him: “I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”
Tattoos weren’t meant as a self-proclaimed pointer to the artist, but more to showcase how powerful body ink can be. This has repeated itself continuously through our ancestors.
Sudden Burst in American Popularity
For the longest, tattoos weren’t always normalized. When did that start to change? It’s crazy that something humans have always been doing has only just been truly allowed in present day.
Reality TV. When Miami Ink aired, everyone was able to see the true world of tattooing. It showcased that tattoos are for anyone, and started normalizing them.
Celebs. Soon, celebrities started celebrating their ink or making a point to get tattoos. Because idols were getting ink, it gave people the courage to get tattoos and defend that successful people can also have them.
Social Media. This has allowed the craft to strengthen and elevate into a new era of tattooing. Up and coming tattooers are able to build their platform, as high tier artists continue to reinforce their followers. Artists are able to grow from one another in ways never done before.
In Savannah alone, there are several shops
- Red Ocean
- Southside Custom Tattoo
- White Bluff Tattoo Company
- California Tattoo Company
- Black Orchid
- The Butcher
- Savannah Ink
- Resurrection Ink
- Twin Tiger
- Kustom Hustle
- Good Fortune
- Fifth of Ink
- Ghost Town
It’s easy to say that the industry may have reached it’s “trend peak” a few years ago, but it has become normalized. A perk of becoming a normal part of society is that a lot of people go every day to get work done.
Anonymous and The Butcher are next door.
Each shop has different vibes, as do the tattoo work done there. They attract different types of clientele, and both businesses do well. So when interviewing tattoo artists from both Anonymous and The Butcher, they responded that they were on good terms.
Like girl code, there are unspoken rules that you just don’t cross. For example, if an artist started a piece of work, another artist isn’t going to just pick up and complete it. Then again, if an artist never started a work that they said they would, then its open game.
The cool thing is that with all the shops, there is a tattoo artist that can do the desired work or genre a client is specifically searching for. There is the ability to “cater to a certain demographic.” Kelly Borders, a tattoo artist at The Butcher, says.
Like music, the genres were small but they quickly branch off and form several. These are the main genres with a little extra.
Bold outlines and bright colors. This was when sailors were heavily inspired by different cultures they visited.
Starting in the late 1990’s, this form is the kind that jumps from your skin. Whether it’s portraits, animals, or objects.
Work that seems it’s painted or brushed with color rather than inked on.
Always done in black with elaborate patterns, but vary within each culture. This seems to be the original genre of tattoos.
This started taking place in the early 1990’s, with a cartoon-like aesthetic. This exaggerates characters, concept, objects. It became very timely with the type of 2D shows/comics that were released around the same time.
Cory Hand’s favorite tattoos are these. “It leads to different line weights and forced perspectives. it’s almost like surrealism because there’s a lot of texture use and lighting. Like graffiti, its a lot of loud ass colors.”
There is still strong linework, but this time around it has more line variety. There is still prominent color, but with more united palettes. There is often more detail accomplished.
A traditional Japanese style that originated during the Edo period (1603-1868). These are meant to highlight Japan’s past, and use dramatic smoke and waves to better keep in line with the style that originated so long ago.
Kelly Borders niche stays rooted in Japanese. “It was the first thing I studied when I started tattooing. And it’s just a style that stands the test of time. Dragons, samurai, koi, simple woodblock imagery.” When I asked her how she felt about the history of tattooing, she responded, “I feel the strongest in here about taking what they figured out a long time ago and still applying that. The Japanese created a black and grey background to a color piece. It makes the color stand out. The bigger the tattoo is, the better it will age. We were told you should be able to see it across the room.”
Uses only black ink and currently the most experimental. This can be anything from geometry or ornamental.
Typically these are freehanded. These copy the functionality of cyborg or alien and incorporate that into the client’s body flow.
This maintains the traditional Japanese subject matter, but with a stronger hint of realism, color, and detail.
Walks the line between traditional and realism. There is a bold outline and sharp color combined with realistic shading.
These are created from overlapping styles and are inspired by Salvador Dali.
When asked his favorite kind of tattoos, Shaun Beaudry said: “Stippling, black, and grey. Anything organic, nothing stiff. With a creature or rose, there’s so much going on that if there’s a little wiggle in the leaf you won’t even notice.”
Just like us, tattoos will continue to evolve and become more than just embedded lines on the skin. The tattoo artist must be able to draw and mold a masterpiece in the skin. They must be aware of the skin treatment. And how far they can push boundaries. The tattoo artists are close to that of a surgeon, and it’s taken far too much for granted.
Because of its boost in popularity, it opens for a new market. Tattoos have the biggest platform ever and it shows. This media has elevated to an elite art form that has never been properly recognized before.