Art Whore

DIY Yr Dye – The Rise of Home Tattooing

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Recently, we have become intrigued with the rise of the controversial practice of home tattooing. The DIY / punk as fuck alternative to the increasingly bureaucratic world of standard studio work. Home tattooing is raw, dangerous and intimate – attributes we at Art Whore value in any art.

Well, instead of a mere rant, we at Art Whore are blessed to be able to call a recent home tattooist as a dear friend – Namely Beat. So we decided to visit Beat, witness some home tattooing explore the art further.

Read all about it, below…

Tattooing isn’t anything special anymore. It was birthed in time immemorial as a tribal/religious phenomenon, spread the world thanks to sailors, was a sign of rebellion if not downright criminality in the 1950s, a bastion of bikers and rockers in the 60s n 80s… and today? Well today tattoos are acceptable. Your boss may have one, your priest, parole officer, umpire, politician… grandma.

This current popularity, we feel, can be traced back to the 1990s and the rise of the tribal tattoo – boy bands had them (see Robbie Williams of ‘Take That’ + Nick Lachey of ’98 Degrees’), media heirs too (see Lachlan Murdoch), even heavyweight boxers (see Mike Tyson), wrestlers (see The Rock), and politicians (see Justin Trudeau + Barry Goldwater – though he was an actual rebel and got his in the 1930’s or so).

The tribal tattoo – all swirls and patterns – caught on because it was visually less risque than your standard tattoo. No nudity, violence, skulls or other ‘scary’ / ‘immoral’ tropes. Tribal tattoos are apolitical and non threatening. You could get one in the 1990s, and yeah it was a bit outsider, but it was still acceptable. And hell, if you got one and weren’t part of the culture connected to them, you could always say you were paying tribute, being spiritual… And back then at least – that was o.k. Today however, and with hindsight, it kinda reeked of cultural appropriation…

Politics aside, the major impact of Tribal tattoos was that it led to general society being exposed to tattoos in a way they hadn’t seen before. They saw them on normal people, non criminal people, sports-players etc. And these tattoos of a certain type, on people of a certain type gave the whole field a sense of bourgeois moral acceptance. And from there in the 20 or so years since, slowly all forms of tattoo have crept in and become acceptable – biker, traditional sailor, criminal, floral. Hell… it’s just body art right? And on top of this acceptability and spread of tattoo in the 1990s, began the rise of the symbiotic industry of tattoo removal. So even if you don’t like it in the future, or societies views change, it can all just be removed.

Tattoos are normal now. And importantly, thanks to technology, tattoos are not even permanent anymore. They can be as ethereal as changing a t-shirt. A hairstyle. Sure there is more pain, time and money involved… But the point remains.

The Rise of DIY Home Tattooing

What’s interesting, is just like most underground cultures, tattooing – when faced with growing respectability – has morphed. Twisted. Returned to it’s roots… but with a DIY punk twist.

It’s new form? Home tattooing. Either by machine or stick-and-poke. This form is free of many of the bureaucratic oversights that exists in tattooing today. No waivers to sign, no certificates needed for the operators, no OH+S, no tattoo parlor even. Home tattoos are done DIY. Just like a 1970’s punk record.

(Pictures below showing some home tattoos by Beat)

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Now – A new entry to the home tattoo scene here in Sydney, Australia, is our dear friend Beat. Beat is proudly trans, in his mid 20s, parent to 2 children and all round never not working class hero. He only started doing home tattoo recently, on close friends so as to hone his practice.

So in mid October this year, we ventured with our mutual friend Nina of ‘Sad Scouts Club’ to visit Beat in Newtown, Sydney and get Nina a home tattoo!

The Act

We walked into Beat’s single story terrace on a rainy Monday. The house interiors had just been painted white – so the art, photos and other ephemera on the walls and shelves all stood out. Beat tattoos in a small open living space in the middle of the house. The area demarcated by some black + white square patterned vinyl.

Beat had methodically cleaned and sterilised his tattoo space. Lots of cling wrap, gloves and disinfectant. Dingy this was not.

(Picture below of Beat’s workspace)

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In an old fireplace nook at the rear of the space Beat had his desk and flash prep area. You could see perfected flashes on the wall, and partial and uncertain ones on the nook desk. The flash a mixture of witchy symbols, portraits, dinosaurs and skeletal body parts.

Nina knew she wanted a classic 2 leaf wreath, but on the day noticed a flash on the wall that caught her eye which she wanted to get as well – an open hand, with a moon in the palm. This design was quickly incorporated into the wreath in a new flash by Beat.

(Pictures below of Beat’s flash prep area)

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The flash was placed on Nina’s arm… it didn’t transpose perfectly, so was re-worked over by hand in marker. From there the machine was turned on and the tattooing commenced. Beat was explaining it all to us as it went. How unsteady he was, how he noticed himself improving each time, how Nina may need to come back for refinements and general gossip.

(Pictures below showing the process)

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The whole thing took maybe an hour or so. With Beat and Nina chatting throughout. Beat occasionally adjusting the machine, or wiping excess ink from Nina’s arm.

The end result is a beautifully imperfect tattoo.

Sure some of the linework is a bit off, and parts will need to be redone as the ink didn’t take… BUT most importantly, Nina loved the process, and the end result.

(Picture below of the finished tattoo when healed)

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When asked her thoughts on the experience and how it differed from tattoos done in a studio – Nina told us:

Well, it was more of a process – i know i’ll have to go back and get parts re-done – but ultimately it felt more natural. Less clinical, less cosmetic compared to studio work, and more spiritual.

And our thoughts after alla this? Well nowadays getting a home tattoo is kinda like scoring drugs – it’s illegal and dangerous. If you know and trust the person, a beautiful experience can be had… but there are risks… you could catch a disease, end up with scars, a bad tattoo or even die.

So tread lightly people! Do your research! And be certain you can trust your home tattooist with your life!

Links

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** Editor’s Note – In certain States and Countries it is illegal to engage in home tattooing for financial reward. For this reason, no money was exchanged for Nina’s tattoo. **

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