The problem facing tattooists

Tattoo artist and shop owner, Jeremy Smith discusses what it’s like in the tattooing industry with Emily Paget. 

Under the skin the problem with tattoos - image 2 - jeremy tattoo
Artwork by Jeremy.

With the tattoo industry skyrocketing into popularity, with at least 1 in 5 of us sporting some new ink; local artist, Jeremy Smith puts an end to the myth that the industry is as glamorous as it appears on TV.

“They make us all look like rock stars and this is so not a rock star profession,” Jeremy points out. “Most of us, most tattooists, real tattooists are family men. They got kids at home. They work morning till evening.”

Programs such as Tattoo Fixers and Tattoos After Dark have burst onto our screens in recent years, placing the industry firmly on the map, but it has both helped and frustrated tattooists.

“Some of the cover-up shows are good because it’s showing people they don’t have to live with the shit tattoos from 20 years ago,” Jeremy explains. “People are seeing the difference between a bad and a good tattoo.

“But it makes tattooing quite a sheepish fashion thing these days. That’s a part of it that I don’t like.

“I’m a firm believer, everybody isn’t meant to have them. I wouldn’t like a world where everybody had them,” He said. “I don’t think that would make me very happy but it would make my bank account quite happy.”

Although this fashion trend is on the increase, which helps pay Jeremy’s bills, he finds it out of sync in why he chose to become a tattooist.

“When I got into tattooing, to being tattooed, we’re talking early 90s – it was expression; something that will set you aside from everyone else,” He said. “But over the last 20 years, that’s completely role-reversed. ‘You’re meant to have a tattoo, you’re 18.’

“I ink some people who I know if they were born 10 years ago or possibly 10 years ahead of now, they wouldn’t get one. They’re getting it because of where they’re at and who they’re hanging out with.”

Although Jeremy enjoyed the expression of tattoos, his passion started back in America.

“One of my best friends had become a tattooist in our teenage years, and I just pestered him until he decided he would teach me,” Jeremy laughs.

Jeremy’s passion for tattooing stemmed from his love of comic books, and despite not being able to follow his dream into the comic book industry, he pursued his love of art in tattooing.

“I drew. I was always into art,” He explains. “I wanted to pursue art so it seemed perfect and I was into them, I already collected loads of them.”

Over his time as a tattooist, he has found one of the biggest issues that faces the industry to date. This increased popularity in getting inked, also leads to a rise in untrained artists.

“Way too many people who think it’s a rock star lifestyle, go out and buy their eBay kits they’re teaching themselves how to tattoo in their house,” He said. “That’s going to be the quickest destruction of an industry that I love. It’s just too many of us. Everybody wants to be Kat Von D, even the guys!”

It’s not the competition from these artists that Jeremy is worried over, but the health risks to those getting tattooed at home.

“There’s just too many little things that the public doesn’t notice that we do to keep you guys safe when you’re getting a tattoo,” He explains. “A lot of people may have gotten a sleeve from another artist, and they think they know all about it.”

But it’s the cross-contamination that is the most important issue that untrained tattooists do not understand according to Jeremy.

“That’s no different than having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, potentially,” Jeremy warns. “They will cause a hepatitis outbreak and if they cause a hepatitis outbreak in Hinckley, that’s going to affect my business. So that’s the problem.”

It’s not just cross-contamination that’s affecting the industry, with eBay tattoos kits could see the increase of underage tattooing.

“If you’re untrained and you’re inking someone under the age of 18, you’re hurting them,” Jeremy said. “That’s child abuse and you should be done for it.”

In the past, Jeremy has had underage customers come in with nipple piercings that have become infected; he’s had to turn them away because of their age, but has urged them to speak to the police.

“That person’s not 18, you’re not allowed to look at that,” He explains. “and the person who pierced her nipples should be done for statutory rape. It’s a minor, they’ve touched a minor’s nipples.

Under the skin the problem with tattoos - image 1 - jeremy tattoo
Artwork by Jeremy

“My rule here is, if they look under 25 you ask them for their ID, period. I’m quite stringent about that while a lot of shops aren’t; but that’s where I’m from, that’s where I learned how to tattoo.”

In America, Jeremy tells us that parlours have annual inspections from those who inspect operating theatres. Whilst in the UK, an inspection is only held when you open a parlour and is inspected by those who also inspect at tanning salons and takeaway shops.

“I find it really bizarre because you guys are strict on a lot of things in the UK but not that,” He explains. “So here, you have to trust your tattooist. But I get my machines inspected once a year, the way I’m supposed to.”

As a professional artist, Jeremy encourages all those who are thinking of getting a tattoo to ask questions regarding health and safety to their tattooist.

“Don’t be afraid to ask them questions, and if they get offended because of the questions you’re asking then they’ve got something to hide, it’s as simple as that,” He said. “People don’t ask often enough, but I like it. It shows me a raised level of awareness that’s happening and that’s good. But if I’m honest, it doesn’t happen as much as it should.”

Jeremy tattoos alongside his team at Hellcats Tattoo Parlour in Hinckley; for more information on them please visit their Facebook page or contact them on 01455 698 084.


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