Ever wondered about getting a tattoo? Well, we had a chance to speak with Shipwreck Sean at Kent Liberty Tattoo and asked that, plus a few more questions about the skill and artistry involved in tattooing. He had some particularly good advice about selecting the best artist for you, and dealing with anxiety during the process so you don't have any regrets--or as Sean said, "Remember, it's only permanent."
Tattoos are more commercialized and it’s amazing. Look around and you see tattoos on tv, store advertisements, things you would never see 20 years ago. Before then, tattoos were more hidden and discrete. Tattoos have become more accepted today, which is why they have grown in popularity.
Before COVID (do any of us even remember when that was?), there were health standards in the industry regarding bloodborne exposures. What is typically done to protect customers and technicians from exposures? Do you have licensure, same as beauticians, estheticians, therapists, nurses, etc?
The virus ultimately never changed our industry as far as our procedure policies go. Tattooing guidelines are very standard and strict in every tattoo shop I have ever been to or heard of. Something every tattooer is trained for is not only how to create pieces of art, but how to safely tattoo someone during that process. You want to take care of your clients so they are healthy enough to come back again. Hospital grade disinfectants, training in BBP certifications, proper sharps disposal, most importantly is common sense. Most states do require licenses for tattooing, each state has its own way of rules and regulations for you to be able to tattoo.
Speaking of technicians, do you consider yourself an artist or a technician -- or is there an in-between? You mentioned you and your coworkers have different styles. Could you describe them?
Everyone has to be a technician before they become an artist. Established tattooers see this all the time, when you watch someone learn how to tattoo, they need to learn the basics, start slow, become a technician. Once you can learn how to do a solid, clean, simple tattoo, then you should take that knowledge of the procedure and become an artist. Create pieces from your vision and ideas, make your own. Remember to never stop taking on the simple tasks that made you the tattooer you are today. There are endless styles of art out there in tattooing. I can name a few foundations such as American Traditional, Realism, Black and Gray, Japanese, Neo-Traditional, Dot-Work, the list goes on. Each tattooer will be influenced in a style they seem to create themselves. We try to do it all but sometimes we fall back to a style we enjoy most.
What do you like most about your business? And least? BTW way, what's the deal with the Shipwreck Sean thing?
The number one thing I love about my business is watching all of us develop in our profession. It’s such a thrill seeing your artwork grow and progress every single day, the next tattoo is always better. Then, when you look at the people you surround yourself with, they grow just as much or even more than you can reach—that’s what I like the most. One very petty dislike for me is scheduling. I say petty because it’s not too difficult of a task but when you can tattoo and enjoy that side of the job, scheduling’s not as fun. As far as the name goes, I was always fascinated with tattooers who had a nickname. I may not have decided to go by an alias as they did, just wanted to be a part of the industry known as Shipwreck Sean, never had one before so I signed my name once with it and kept it.
For the first-time customer, what advice do you have about tattooing? Is research necessary--for instance, should I ask for referrals, or examples of work and styles? What if I want a tattoo but I'm a little nervous? Asking for a friend, lol…
The best advice I can give is look at portfolios. Make sure you have seen examples of a tattooer’s work before you make your decision. As I stated before, each tattooer has their own style of what they prefer or what they are best at. So, research a tattooer based on what you want, and you will get the best piece of art in the long run. The tattooing process is great, you may be nervous at first and that’s completely normal. As soon as you look at it in the mirror when it's done, it's totally worth it. As long as you did your research! Remember it's only permanent.
Interview by Sherry Perkins