Tales of a tattooed generation

Courtney Starbuck

Part II: The Art of Tattooing

Last week, we ventured through the history of tattoos, as well as some of the reasons why people get them. This is a look at the actual process — the art of tattooing.

Most tattoo artists will tattoo anything a person wants, including his or her own design. In order to get a design perfectly onto the skin, the artist must carefully trace it.

In the past, this was a long and laborious process, but most studios today have what is called a thermal-fax machine. After scanning the design, the machine prints it on special thermal paper, creating a stencil that transfers easily to the skin.

It makes a temporary tattoo as a guide for the artist (but don’t be fooled; once the artist starts poking the skin with ink-filled needles, it will be anything but temporary).

The stencil is applied by moistening the skin with soap, water or even deodorant, and when pulled away, leaves an image of the future tattoo. The stencil is actually the most stressful part of the artist’s job, since he wants to make sure that the transfer is an exact replica of what the patron wants.

After the stencil is made, the tattoo machine is prepared. First, tiny ink caps will be filled with the appropriate pigments, and the needles and tubes will be taken from their sterile packages and set in the machine. A cup of distilled water will be set aside for cleaning the needles during the process and changing from one color to the next. In addition, some sort of ointment, like Vaseline, will be placed on a clean surface to use solely on that particular tattoo.

After the proper preparations are made, the tattoo artist is ready to perform his trade. Ointment will be placed over the transfer design, not only because it prevents the transfer from accidentally rubbing off, but also because it allows the needle to slide more smoothly over the skin.

Once the ointment is applied, the line work is done, which basically means that the artist outlines the tattoos with actual ink.

Great care and skill is involved in dipping the needle into the pigment and inserting it into the deep layers of the skin (the dermis), so the results will be permanent.

However, his true creativity and art come through with the shading and coloring. As with any painter who uses special brushes for detail, there are likewise appropriate sets of needles, called magnums, which are specifically designed for minutiae.

The length of the entire tattoo process depends on how large and how elaborate the tattoo, the amount and choice of colors, as well as the previous experience the tattoo artist has.

Next week will showcase the steps to take when choosing a tattoo, and an artist to perform it.

Here are this week’s featured tattoos:

Name: Paul Moser, 21, Junior nursing major

Number of Tattoos: one; Supernova winged foot on his ankle

Age When He Got It: 18

Significant Meaning: “I got the tattoo because I am a sprinter for Villanova’s track team, and I just wanted it on my ankle.”

Love it or hate it? “I love it, and I am saving money for another.”

Fun Fact about Paul’s Tattoo: “A supernova is an exploding star. During the explosion, the star has 10 times the amount of energy that the sun does for a period of two minutes, which is the same amount of time I run.”

Name: Gianna Verdoni, 20, Sophomore marketing and management major

Number of Tattoos: one; Angel wings with a heart on her lower right hip

Age When She Got It: 18

Significant Meaning: “I believe that everyone should always have an angel on them somewhere — a pin, a necklace, etc. This is my way of carrying an angel with me at all times; it is for protection and luck.”

Love it or hate it? “I love it even more than I did when I got it.”

Fun Fact about Gianna’s Tattoo: “I chose my hip because it is kind of hidden, so only the people who I want to see it can. My mom just found out about it two weeks ago and I’ve had it for two years!”