Walk Through the History of Tattoos in America
Walk Through the History of Tattoos in America
The Americas have a rich tradition of tattooing. Continue reading here to find out more about the history of tattoos in America.
Thinking about getting a tattoo? Do it! You’ll be joining the many that have come to understand the rich art that is tattooing.
Though, tattooing wasn’t always viewed that way.
Before you go jumping the gun, let’s take a look at the history of tattoos in America. You’ll be surprised to find how this art form has developed, and may even find inspiration for your next piece!
Let’s dive in.
Early History of Tattoos in America
Towards the end of the 19th century, tattoos were widely considered taboo in America. Socialite Ward McAllister had this to say about them: “It is certainly the most vulgar and barbarous habit the eccentric mind of fashion ever invented. It may do for an illiterate seaman, but hardly for an aristocrat.”
Though socialites like McAllister may have looked upon tattoos with disgust, there were many who valued tattoos for what they represented. Those in the military, especially, shared the understanding that tattoos were symbols of courage and patriotism.
Records of these 19th century-style tattoos were found in naval logs, letters, and diaries written by seaman. The designs of these traditional American tattoos developed from the artists who traded and improved upon each other’s styles. The tattoos evolved a series of stories and symbols that united soldiers and sailors across the World Wars.
The most well-known tattoo artist of the time was Martin Hildebrandt. In 1870, Hildebrandt opened a studio on Oak Street in New York City, considered the first tattooing establishment in America. He worked there for over 20 years, where he would soon see a shift in the country’s perception of tattoos with the rise of the traveling circus.
The Circus Sideshow
The traveling circus was the spectacle of the year for many small, rural towns across America. There, those who never left their homes and farms could experience such wonders and horrors that seemed out of this world.
One of these sideshow attractions was that of the fully tattooed person.
Frank and Emma DeBurdg were one of these exhibits. Along with the usual designs of patriotic insignias and religious symbols, the couple also displayed tattoos they shared to represent their relationship and bond.
Frank had tattooed on him a beautiful script with the words “For Get Me Not” inscribed above a pretty portrait of his wife, Emma. She, in return, had their names beautifully adorned and displayed prominently for all to see.
This display of affection for one another caught the attention of the public, appealing to their romantic senses. The DeBurdgs saw great success touring America and Europe, and with their exposure so did the art of tattooing gain appreciation with the public.
Traditional tattooing was a bit cumbersome for the artist.
Early tattoo artists used a needle attached to a wooden handle. They would dip this needle in ink and then manually stab the skin two to three times to imprint the ink onto a specific spot. The technique required great dexterity and mental fortitude.
Samuel O’Reilly revolutionized the practice almost overnight.
In addition to being a talented artist, O’Reilly was a skilled technician and mechanic. He theorized that if up and down motion of the needle could be automated, the artist could tattoo nearly as quickly as they could draw on paper.
In 1891, O’Reilly released his invention and offered it to the public along with enriched colored inks, tattoo designs, and other tools. Tattooing in the United States was turned on its head overnight. O’Reilly was swarmed with orders for his invention as more and more artists entered the field of tattooing.
Working class men in America commonly adorned tattoos primarily as symbols of masculinity and pride. Soldiers and sailors that served on foreign lands, however, brought home with them a different form of body ornamentation.
While on their travels, these soldiers and sailors experienced the practices and customs of the indigenous cultures of Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific. Their individual uses of tattoos were a bit different from that of typical American art.
This caused a revival of interest in tattoos in American societies across the country. That is to say, specifically, the rebel youth culture of the late twentieth century.
The Beatniks of the 1950s and the Hippies of the ’60s gained a great appreciation for Asian tattooing practices. They admired the personal expression of spiritual and mysticism found in these cultures.
Conversely, the youth of the Punk movement in the ’70s and ’80s used tattoos as symbols of rebellion. They found solace in tattoos as a representation for their feelings of imprisonment by society’s standards for class and decorum.
Modern Tattooing Practices
While tattooing was once a taboo topic in America, now it’s a rising career field for many fledgling artists.
More and more artists are being professionally trained in academies across the country. A study done in the late 1980s estimated that the number of trained artists per year has doubled in comparison to the number of artists that graduated in the ’70s. However, not as many galleries are being built to host the works of these young artists.
But there are plenty of people looking for tattoos.
As a result, these trained artists are bringing with them the plethora of skills and techniques they’ve learned from these art programs. They carry a sense of innovation and experimentation, already giving rise to new tattoo styles such as New Skool and Bio-Mechanical.
What was previously a disdained and marginalized artform, tattooing has been undergoing a process of cultural reform the past few decades. New meanings of tattoo are being developed by gallery exhibits and critics that reframe the practice for what it is: art.
Get Tattooed Today!
There you have it—the rich history of tattoos in America!
If you’re in the area, give us a shout and we can give you an in-depth look at our history with tattooing. Our artists are always happy to give a consultation on any tattoo or design!
9 Tips for How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist That Fits Your Desired Style
9 Tips for How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist That Fits Your Needs
Once you have the idea for your dream tattoo, you need to know how to find the right tattoo artist to fit your style. Check out these tips to avoid any regret.
Nothing says “regret” quite like a bad tattoo. Whether we’re talking blurred colors, messy lines, or misspelled words, you have to live with these mistakes for the rest of your life. But when you know how to find the right tattoo artist you avoid these problems altogether.
Choosing a reputable tattoo parlor with talented and professional artists marks the first step in ensuring you’ll be proud of the ink you get. But finding that special artist proves easier said than done. Read on for nine tips to find a tattoo artist.
1) Shop Around
Don’t settle with the first tattoo parlor and artist that you come across. Instead, shop around and do your research. After all, there’s so much diversity when it comes to styles, techniques, and talents.
Make a list of potential studios and local tattooists. Check out as many of them as possible.
While visiting each location, talk to potential artists. In fact, come prepared with a list of questions. Soon you’ll recognize good tattoo shops when you see them.
Why do we recommend visiting each place in person? Because you’ll see which studios feel clean and professional and which ones don’t. A tattoo parlor should appear as clean as a medical facility. If not, then it’s time to leave.
What should you look for in terms of specifics?
Artists should use all sterilized equipment and as many disposable items as possible. For example, they should use small disposable ink containers where they pour just enough ink for each individual client.
Make sure tattoo artists wear gloves when they’re doing their jobs. This goes for applying ointments and Vaseline after getting a tattoo, too.
You also want to look for a studio that takes client’s needs seriously. So, if you show up at a spot, and they leave you waiting for twenty minutes without so much as a greeting, it’s time to move on.
Customer service represents a crucial aspect of the tattoo artist-client relationship. That means maintaining an organized shop with clearly scheduled appointments. Look for shops where customer needs get put first.
4) Ask Around
References represent an excellent way to find a good artist using word-of-mouth. If you have friends and family members whose ink you admire, start by asking them for recommendations.
If you don’t know anybody personally who’s had work done, then ask for recommendations from people with body art that you like. It’s as simple as paying attention while out in public.
Once you’ve found work you like and broken the ice for a recommendation, don’t stop there! Make sure you ask the recommender a few basic questions about the cost, the personality of the artist, and the cleanliness of the facility.
5) Watch Live Artists
Whenever possible, watch artists at work in their parlors. You’ll come away with an immediate impression about their work, their lines, their use of colors, and more. You’ll also know whether or not an artist has a steady hand.
While watching an artist live, pay attention to their skills when it comes to shading, blending colors, and creating a sense of perspective and/or depth.
While checking out their portfolios also proves important, watching an artist work in real time will tell you volumes about their abilities. After all, it’s one thing to produce a flawless sketch on a sheet of paper and another to put it permanently on the skin.
6) Scope Out Portfolios
Checking out tattoo artist’s portfolios will tell you much about their skills, talents, and passion. After all, most artists draw in a style that they admire, whether that’s Sailor Jerry, New Skool, or Neo-Traditional tattoos.
When checking out portfolios, look for ones with a watermark or that have been signed. They should contain photos from recent tattoos completed by the artist.
Again, spend some time checking out their work live to make sure they can deliver beyond the page. This also proves that the portfolio pieces you’re eyeing are, indeed, theirs.
7) Understand What You’re Getting
As you check out an artist’s live work and portfolio, you need to keep in mind their abilities and limitations. For example, don’t assume that an artist who specializes in Sailor Jerry-style ink is going to be great at black and gray portraits of celebrities.
Since some artists gain recognition by specializing in certain designs, don’t expect them to have the flexibility to create anything your heart desires. Instead, your best bet is finding an artist that specializes in the kind of work you’d like to have done.
Most states require tattoo parlors and individual artists to have some type of licensing. Find out what the laws in your state say so that you can make sure you opt for a facility and artist that both abide by state regulations.
Ability to properly follow the law represents one of the most basic requirements of running a business. It exudes professionalism, and it lets you know they’re not cutting corners in other areas like basic hygiene and public safety.
9) Don’t Skimp
Good tattoos cost money. Make no doubt about it. So, stop looking for half-off specials and cheap studios.
Instead, pursue and pay for quality. While selecting a parlor, you’ve got to consider a variety of factors including the artist’s expertise and talent. You also need to come prepared to pay extra for big pieces and complicated ones.
The best artists charge more. Period. They also offer the results you want.
The old adage you get what you pay for matters when it comes to tattoos. You’ll be stuck with this artwork for the rest of your life. So, think about a tattoo as an investment in your future happiness.
How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist
How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist
Interested in learning more about tattoo artists in your area? The tips above will show you how to find the right tattoo artist for your unique needs.
Check out our blog to stay on top of the latest news coming out of the tattoo world. Or contact us with your questions and comments. We have tattoo shops in Las Vegas, Henderson and Maui Good luck!