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Kitchen Ink and the Bootlegger

November 20, 2014

I've worked in many studios over the past 22 years. I've owned my own and do not profess to be perfect in any way. I am a pain in the ass to get along with and have very high expectations for how my clients and I are treated by shop owners and other artists. Hence, why I am no longer working in a street shop. 


Tattooing is incredibly difficult and for me and requires a serene space in which to perform. Over the years I have done some of my best work in the comfort of mine or my client's kitchen. Yes, that's right. I've tattooed in kitchens. I've also tattooed in basements, in bedrooms, livingrooms, in my van and on a tour bus. I've tattooed in hotel rooms and outside under canopies. I've always practice Universal Precautions and to my knowledge, everyone I tattooed was content if not over joyed with the work I did. 


It seems there's an awful lot of tattoo experts out there these days, judging the sterile and technical abilities of the tattoo practitioner. These experts are deciding to take on the “scratcher” and “hackers” of the tattoo world all by themselves with no health degree, no inspection certifications but with the help of websites dedicated to the documentation of what they deem substandard work. Facebook, instagram and twitter have given birth to this tattoo expert who blatantly mocks and  judges peoples tattoos and shames the handy work of many tattooers simply because they don't work in what they consider a professional tattoo shop. They take it upon themselves to decide that tattoos which are performed in peoples homes or outside of a regulated studio are somehow dirty and of substandard work. I guess they should be reminded of the thousands of incredible tattooers who work from plastic wrapped card tables in hotels all over the world at tattoo conventions every year; but wait, those are regulated right? Not always. And how much faith can we really put into those government bureaucracies who force regultions on us from their currupt and many times pointless officies?Please don't misunderstand me; I do not condone the inexperienced tattooer set off on their own to do tattoo parties and set up shop from a van at a campsite, the point I would like to make has more to do with the generalization of the in home tattooer and how the industry itself, not the regulations or professional attributes of the practitioner creates the so called”bootlegger”. Perhaps if some studio owners were more inclined to foster a fair and professional artistic environment, and or offer comprehensive and educational apprenticeship programs, more tattooers, the experienced and beginners alike would be inclined to work in regulated studios giving said owners 50% of their earnings. Speaking from my experience, I can only give 50% of my earnings to an asshole for so long before it's time to share my thoughts and pack up. Some people are better at dealing with the negativity around them, me...not so much. For me, no amount of money can entice me to sell my soul and tolerate people who don't care about me or my clients. Provided a divine intervention, if I was going to let go of my intolerance and learn better coping skills to work in a street shop again, there had better be some benefits to my 50%: like quarterly bonus', job security, health benefits, reliable payday, quality supplies and how about some gratitude for my help in paying the bills? Plus there should be a constant flow of customers thanks to  beautiful, competitive and welcoming studio setting.  


I believe in creating a space and experience for my client that revolves around their needs and comforts. Considering they have given me the honor by picking me for their permanent body  talisman, I feel it's the least I can do to make my working environment about them. To me, this means, letting my client choose music, teas and beverages, bringing a friend, providing privacy and a variety of luxuries to help with their discomfort. It's been my experience that the only time I have complete control over my tattoo environment is when I am in charge of the space. Working for or with inconsiderate and volatile people is a crap shoot in the majority of studios I've worked in. 


Like I've said on my website, I am an Empath and have struggled over the years with others psychic impressions. I simply cannot work in a hostile environment. I cannot work with passive aggressive people who have unfair and ill business practices. I simply cannot work for people who only see how they themselves can benefit and are unwilling to compromise for mine and my clients needs. The lack of compassion in the tattoo industry is intolerable to me now. It's an old timer motto, "sit down, shut up, you'll get what I give you". I once worked in a studio where a young man spent thousands of dollars over the course of months having the owner tattoo him a few days a week. Said owner didn't even know the mans name or seem to care that the young man was suffering after tattooing the same piece for three days. Said owner spent more than 2 decades in the industry without any knowledge of the stratum corneum or how much damage can be inflicted on it before really hurting someone.  I can't work for people like this. 


Considering I have not searched the entire world or applied at every studio on earth, I have found it impossible to work with others in this field. I know there are some awesome shops out there. This essay is not about them. Thanks for not taking me personal. 


Here's my point; you can have the most beautifully decorated and organized studio complete with plaques on the wall with an appointment book filled for months, this does not make you a clean tattooer, an amazing tattooer or an ethical tattooer. This makes you a tattooer in a shop with clients. That's it.


No one might see you cross contaminate your lamp and not disinfect it properly, no one might see your dripping nose leak on them as you hang over the work you're doing, no one will see the tinea spore that you tracked in from your dogs kennel get on the bare foot of your client. No one will know you're hung over with a bag of coke in your pocket. Does any of that make you a nasty home tattooer? Nope, all that happens, all the time in a regulated tattoo shop.  


*Let's not forget that this tattoo story manifested in a regulated tattoo shop. 


If someone is a properly trained professional and  cares about the work they do and the people they're doing it for, they can tattoo from a card board box and do a great job. The stigma that's evolving about home tattooers is as unfair and ignorant as thinking all tattooed people are insane sadists, which many times I have pondered. Like lumping all conservatives in with Sarah Palin or all pitbulls with aggression, it's an unfair assumption to decide that practitioners  -for whatever reason- who tattoo from "home" are unprofessional or substandard. Yes, we should think before we ink, both seeker and inker. And yes, we should strive to comply with state and county regulations, providing the best environment for our clients. We should also strive to be less judgemental and more compassionate human beings, because we never have all the information and in most cases have no business assuming anything about anyone. 


I love you.

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank You.


Blessed Be


Reba's Code of Ethics


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