Last year, Carol Flynn and her 18year-old daughter, Shauna, went to a Calgary tattoo parlor and had the same design etched onto their bodies.
Flynn, a 39-year-old bartender, said that it was a decision she took years to reach. Both women commissioned the design of a snake eating its head, with the snake’s body curled around an eye and three geometric symbols that Carol Flynn’s boyfriend designed. The mother’s tattoo is on her left ankle, which, she said, “signifies my political orientation [socialist].” Her daughter’s is on her right shoulder. Carol Flynn said that each tattoo required about an hour to imprint and cost $100. “It’s a very personal kind of thing,” she said. “It makes me feel a little different.” In what has become part of an increasingly popular fashion statement, more Canadian men and women are having their arms, shoulders and more intimate parts of their bodies decorated with tattoos.
Until recently, tattoos (from the Tahitian tatau) were worn mostly by soldiers, sailors and other men who wanted to project a tough, masculine image. Now, they are becoming popular among young professional men and women. The trend, according to many tattoo artists, is gaining momentum because of the
growing number of movie stars and other celebrities, including Kiefer Sutherland and Cher, sporting tattoos. Steven Sutherland, who runs Halifax’s Black Rose Tattoo Parlor, says that the increase in the number—and nature—of his customers has been striking. He pointed out that only a few years ago, most of his customers were working-class men employed in the local shipyards. Now, he says, “I see lots of professionals—doctors, lawyers and even nurses and nannies.”
Receiving a tattoo, an irritating rather than painful process, takes from 20 minutes to four hours, depending on size and design. In most cases, artists use an electrically vibrating needle to trace the outline of the design. The needle punctures the top four layers of skin and pushes ink into the fifth. Then, the tattooist adds shading to make the design more threedimensional. Afterwards, using a cluster of needles, the artist colors in the design. The area is bandaged and needs about 10 days to heal. Tattoos can be burned off with a laser, removed in plastic surgery or scraped away. But all methods leave a permanent scar.
Because tattoos are essentially permanent, many designers say that they try to determine if a customer has made a clear decision to
undergo the process. “I always talk to people about it,” said Toby Martin, owner of Toronto’s Accents of Skin tattoo parlor. “And more so when they’re getting something like a person’s name or when a woman wants to get a skull on her arm.” Martin, who charges $100 an hour, says that the procedure has become so popular that she is often booked three weeks in advance by clients, who include bankers, teachers, secretaries and students. “They get them because they feel it’s art and it’s for them to look at,” said Martin, who has seven tattoos on her own body. “Or they get them to show people they’re different.”
Tattoo artists say that the range of designs that customers order is much wider than in the past. Rosalie McNeil, an artist at Mum’s Tattoos in North Vancouver, says that although she designs a lot of maple leaves—Canadians are “very patriotic”—custom-designed images are increasingly popular, especially among women. “People are going back to tribal or Celtic designs for a more significant or deeper meaning,” she said.
Some people who have been tattooed say that having them done can become an addiction. Richard McGinnis, 27, a Toronto freelance photographer, said that he considered a tattoo for more than a year before he mustered the courage to get one in November. “There’s something very appealing about a nice design on the skin,” said McGinnis. “There’s nothing weird about it, and it doesn’t look strange or vulgar.” Now, he says, the red-and-green rose that he had tattooed on his right shoulder blade is just the first of many. Eventually, he says, he would like to have his entire shoulder covered with roses. “Once you’re over the first leap, you want to get more,” he said. “You have all these square inches of skin and you start to think, ‘What can I do to the rest?’ ”
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