Bright Color by Dominick McIntosh

Long-time BME readers and IAM members will remember tattoo artist Dominick Allen McIntosh of Dead Gods Tattoo (deadgodstattoo.com) in Oregon from the MASH-themed tattoos back in 2006. An amazing Alex Grey inspired tattoo (the one you see below) of his creation was recently featured on Juxtapoz and wowing the online world.

Because in the tattoo world we see so many bright tattoos that look amazing the day they were done, and then look like faded “meh” when healed, I wanted to ask Dominick for healed pictures before posting. I was both pleased and surprised that this is a healed tattoo, taken two and a half months after the tattoo was first done. To get a better picture, he shaved the client and moisturized the skin — something I’d recommend to anyone who wants to show off their tattoos. You’d be amazed how much even a light covering of hair can obscure a tattoo, and moisturizer makes the upper layers of skin slightly more translucent, allowing the colors glow at their brightest. Anyway, what an amazing tattoo this piece is, and I’ve also included a small collection of other tattoos from a photoshoot at Dominick’s shop earlier this year. Unlike what you see in many magazines and portfolios, all of them are healed, and truly representative of the wonderful tattoos these clients will carry for life.

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A Piercer’s Tattoo

Eric Mezzanotte, owner of Living Canvas in Columbia, MO, has been piercing since 2006, and is also a huge fan of the Steven King opus The Dark Tower. He wanted to get a Dark Tower tattoo, and when Adya Crawford was working on it, she suggested combining his love for piercing with the story of the gunslinger, and thus the tip of the castle became the tip of a needle, creating an iconic tattoo for both piercing fans and Steven King fans — “and those are the reasons why I love artists”, he says!

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Look, ma, no hands!

As I’m talking about microdermals added to tattoos (like the googly eyes by Joeltron) in ways that actually make sense and add to the preexisting tattoo rather than just making it the laughing stock of your body’s ink neighborhood, I wanted to share a piece that jumped out of James Rajewski’s portfolio at me. James works at Infamous Ink (infamousinknc.com) in Charlotte, NC by the way. When I first saw this little project, I wondered what I was looking at because even though it’s just a normal microdermal with a decorative flat bead, the color choice almost makes it look like a tunnel going down into the body (bringing to mind Lukas Zpira’s inset transdermals). Too bad it’s not, you’d only have to make it about twice that size to create a holder for miniature watch components. Either way, this is another one of those nice but deliriously rare examples of a microdermal-tattoo combo that works well, in my opinion.

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Excellent use of color

It’s possible that you’ve already seen this remarkable tattoo by Portland, Maine’s Chris Dingwell (chrisdingwell.com) because it’s been doing the viral rounds, and deservedly so. This is one of the most powerful uses of solid color that I’ve seen in a tattoo, and is graphically as strong as anything one could do. I also think that unlike many tattoos that rely on color as a design element, this piece should stand the test of time, because the colors are strong and solid rather than complex fades that don’t always stand up. This really is a brilliantly unique tattoo, one of those pieces that you have to look twice at to realize that it even is a tattoo, not body paint or a design printed on fabric. The wearer is very lucky.

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Colourful Calligraphic Tree Tattoo

Before I go on with my exciting plans for the rest of the day, which as those who know me are aware, mostly involve cocaine and hookers while Caitlin is off at work, I wanted to share with you this charming trash tattoo by André Cruz (andrecruztattoo.com.br). I’ve had this piece open in a window for a week or two now, and smile every time I look at it. There’s something just really happy about it, and I think it’s the perfect picture to use as my bow before leaving the stage for now.

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Healed Tattoos Are What You Live With

There’s been an incredible amount of debate about tattoo healing after my post two days ago — with a disturbing amount of denialism, and an especially deranged argument on Facebook — but the fact is, when you get a tattoo, you have to live with the healed version, not the fresh version. The tattoo artist on the other hand, thanks to their handy camera, may forever live with the fresh version. Photos don’t need to heal.

A fresh tattoo looks different because it’s not covered by an ink-free layer of surface skin — it is, in fact, covered by a layer of tattooed dead skin that may or may not have the same ink in it as the deeper skin — plus the ink particles haven’t had time to settle into their permanent locations. For starters this means that a healed tattoo will almost always have less intense colors and less deep blacks, and there will be some flattening and blending of tones. The degree of these changes depends on factors including the types and colors of ink and, the nature of the wearer’s skin, and the tattooist’s technique — and of course a client can destroy a tattoo with bad aftercare but that’s not what this entry is about. Also, the order the ink was put in won’t matter as much in a healed tattoo — in a fresh tattoo, the visually dominant color will be the last one put in, temporarily hiding what’s beneath it, but in a healed tattoo it will be more of an “average”. In a flat oldschool tattoo this doesn’t make much difference, but in a tattoo with a lot of shading and color nuance it can make a huge difference. And of course all this is assuming a best case scenario — if the tattoo artist has a light hand or otherwise didn’t put in the ink properly, there can also be fading, sometimes dramatic.

A reputable tattoo artist will always aim for the healed tattoo to look as good as possible, not for the fresh tattoo to look as good as possible. In many cases they may even need to create a fresh tattoo that doesn’t look as good as the healed one, and as a result, some unethical artists who are looking to win a convention tattoo award (and often do) that’s being judged that day, make decisions that don’t do the client any favors as discussed to death previously.

I’m very happy to say that the best thing to come about from this discussion is a number of artists vowing to make sure that their portfolios contain as many healed photos as possible. Healed photos are the only way a client can truly know what they are paying for, and are essential. Any tattoo artist that doesn’t have plenty of healed tattoos in their portfolio is one I’d be very nervous about.

On that note — and sorry for taking so long to get here — I’d like to share with you two tattoos, fresh and healed, from Mike Shultz at Altered Image Tattoo & Piercing in Indianapolis (alteredimagetattooindy.com). Compare the tattoos fresh and healed ones. Look at them closely — see how the colors and levels change — and you’ll get some insight into healing, and the decisions that Mike made to give his clients a tattoo that they should be happy with forever, not just something that will win him a Best of Show. Thank you to all the tattoo artists out there who have pledged to give the world an honest impression of what they’re capable of and including plenty of healed and unedited photos (or better yet, both, spreading an understanding to the public of how tattoos heal) in their portfolio.

Be sure you zoom in to really appreciate both my comments and Mike’s artistry.

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If you’re undead, and you know it, clap your hands

There comes a time in every horror movie fan’s life that some of the details of certain movies blend together.  Unless it’s a really iconic scene, it’s easy to get confused when looking at a photo of a zombie and trying to place what film it’s from (or even if it is from a film).  I want to say this is a Fulchi zombie, but having seen so many over the years, I can’t place this particular member of the walking dead.

Tattoo by Grzegorz Latoch from Street Tattoo in Warsaw, Poland.

Fraud in Tattooing

I’ve been talking to an old friend that’s a tattoo artist who’s pretty straight-shooting and no-bullshit in his attitudes about some of the trends we see among top artists these days. The one that I whole-heartedly agree with is this tendency to fill portfolios with pieces that couldn’t possibly heal well, but look great fresh. Tattoos that look incredible the day they’re done — bright color realism with almost no black-shading is a good example of stuff that often turns into a faded out nothing in time — but looks like garbage when it’s healed. I’ll quote some of what he said, keeping things anonymous because I’m not looking to point fingers here.

There is a very ugly tendancy today in tattoo business of taking pictures of fresh tattoos, doing realism that will look like shit in twenty years — or in four months even — and going from convention to convention, making 100% black money, with no touch-ups, no follow-up of clientele. Those are the most famous artists in the world. I have no problem doing tribal [edit: he is referring to an image I posted of a "less than inspired" tattoo that I spoke ill of] for people who ask. If I can’t change their mind, I’ll do it. It allows me to keep cool pricing for everybody, to keep tattoo art something it SHOULD remain, that is, a POPULAR art form.

You can build up a realistic tattoo that is stable — P*** A*** and J*** G*** can do it, so it’s possible, but when you see older tattoos from D*** or S*** [edit: he's naming top artists here and I don't need another lawsuit], it’s nowhere that impressive. As a matter of fact, the “convention” tattoo artists don’t give a fuck, at least, a solid majority of them don’t. When you work mostly in your shop, you see people again, and therefore you can’t afford to mess up that bad. I would even say that *** *** Inks, as a whole concept, are just done for that — put in a single-pass easy color that will look cool till you’re paid, took your photo, and took part in the “Best of Day” competition… but it’s just the worst shit I’ve ever used. It’s a whole culture that is taking over, and it’s a shame, because everybody feels forced to adapt to it.

I agree whole-heartedly. Although I can’t say whether “convention artists” doing these pieces that fail once they heal are willfully committing fraud when they fill their portfolio with fresh pieces that look nothing like the healed examples, but that is what it amounts to, intended or not. I want to show the example that my friend shared with me. This is a fresh tattoo on the left from a well-respected artist, and on the right, the same tattoo not long afterwards. And to be honest, this example isn’t even that bad. I’ve seen loads of tattoos that fresh look world-class — I mean, the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen — from “name brand” tattoo masters, that look like scratcher garbage when healed.

If a tattoo artist’s portfolio contains nothing but fresh photos, consider it a warning sign — to say nothing of being paranoid about Photoshopping to pump up saturation and levels. And if your tattoo artist can not show you well-healed examples of their work, they are not someone you should be going to. You do not have the luxury of wearing a photograph of the fresh tattoo. You will be spending your life with the healed version, and if it doesn’t stand up to what you were expecting, it is you that will suffer. Insist on seeing healed photos!

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Click to see that picture a little larger of course.

Edit/Update: Because I am sick and tired of people STILL claiming this is deception on my part, here are screencaps from Facebook showing both images in the tattoo artist’s gallery, full unedited versions, including the name of the artist. They may well have pulled the images by now, but these screen caps are accurate. Damn all the haters for dragging the artist’s name into this, because that was never the point of this.

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Alien Anatomy!

This stunning tattoo that makes me think of some sort of alien anatomy, the “musculature of Mars” or something, was done by Graven Image Tattoo (facebook.com/gravenimagetattoo or gravenimagetattoo.com) in Mountain View, California. Paco Dietz has a number of pieces in his portfolio that are intelligent hybrids of colorful biomechanical with Giger-esque (amusing trivia — my spell-checker wants to turn that into “grotesque”) or even dieselpunk influence as well, creating his own unique contribution to the tattoo lexicon, but this has to be one of my favorites both because of its sci-fi appeal and because of how well it must move with the body.

Be sure to zoom in and admire them at full size.

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Mycobacterium chelonae infections in tattoos

After reports of long-term rashes from tattoos, a CDC investigation showed it to be Mycobacterium chelonae, a hardy and fast-growing bacteria that can be found in tap water. It can lead not just to rashes (technically this is a “granulomatous inflammation”), but cellulitis, difficult-to-treat infections, and abscesses are possible as well. It is especially dangerous for immunosuppressed people, for example those with HIV/AIDS. In addition, and this must be noted in the age of eye tattoos, ocular keratitis and related conditions can occur, as the eye has specific weaknesses in regards to this bacteria. The rash-type infections are quite common in tattoos, and can come and go in some people as they flare up in certain conditions with itchiness, sometimes painful, and small raised bumps, often with redness, although this may not always be visible in the case of a solid tattoo, especially blackwork. It typically starts two to three weeks after the tattoo is done, but can also take longer. Assorted studies by health departments, the CDC, the FDA, and scientists and medical researchers internationally seem to show that tattoo contamination from this bacterium is happening on a regular basis all over the world.

As I said, all it takes for a tattoo to become infected with Mycobacterium chelonae (and I suspect there are many other microbes I could say this of as well) is for the tattoo ink or components of the tattoo equipment to come into contact with tap water — this could happen when cleaning the equipment or when diluting the inks. More disturbingly, it may be completely unavoidable by the artist because a number of the infections have been traced back to the manufacturer, who used tap water at some point in their manufacturing process. There’s no way — other than infected clients after it’s already too late — for the tattoo artist to know whether their ink is contaminated, short of using sealed sterile ink. It’s only recently that tattoo ink companies have started offering single-use sterile packages of ink, and only a fraction of artists use these products at present. In addition, a study by the European Journal of Dermatology analyzed about sixty bottles of tattoo ink from different manufacturers, and found that 10% of them were microbially contaminated by a variety of bacterium (and they weren’t even checking for Mycobacterium chelonae — no definitive study has been done to date on what percentage of tattoo ink is contaminated at the manufacturer level).

Treatment of this bacteria is difficult because it is extremely hardy. At a minimum, local wound care for the lesions is required. In some cases antibiotics can help kill the bacteria — and we’re potentially talking about four to six months of treatment that can have serious side effects, although it’s often faster — and in other cases surgical removal (think of skin removal scarification — excising the affected tissue). If the infection is in an eye, surgical debridement is always required — in my opinion, any ink dilution for eye tattoos (and all tattoos) must be with sterile water, and the ink itself should ideally come from single-use sterile packages. It should also be noted that ophthalmic corticosteroids which are sometimes prescribed to deal with the healing of eye tattoos and to deal with the increased intraoccular pressure can cause this type of infection to get worse. All things considered, M. chelonae may turn out to be the largest risk in eye tattooing. Surgical excision of all the affected tissue is usually curative because the bacterium does not seem to spread significantly (which is why you may even notice flare-ups among only certain colours). Multiple surgeries can be required and will almost certainly result in significant scarring (and not the good kind).

The CDC for once gives some advice on the subject of body modification that I agree with, saying that ink manufacturers need to be held to higher product safety standards including production of sterile inks. They recommend that tattoo artists:

  1. avoid using products not intended for use in tattooing
  2. avoid ink dilution before tattooing, and if dilution is needed, use only sterile water
  3. avoid use of nonsterile water to rinse equipment (e.g., needles) during tattoo placement
  4. follow aseptic techniques during tattooing (e.g., hand hygiene and use of disposable gloves).

I would add that I’d like to see tattoo artists using sterile ink whenever possible, seeing as many of these infections traced back to reputable ink manufacturers, and there would not have been anything the tattoo artist could have done to mitigate the problem. They also recommend that customers do the following to reduce their risk of infection:

  1. use tattoo parlors registered by local jurisdictions
  2. request inks that are manufactured specifically for tattoos
  3. ensure that tattoo artists follow appropriate hygienic practices
  4. be aware of the potential for infection following tattooing, and seek medical advice if persistent skin problems occur
  5. notify the tattoo artist and FDA’s MedWatch program (or other appropriate national program in your country) if they experience an adverse event.

I would also add to this that it might be worth printing out this blog post to share with your artist since they may not have the time to keep up with medical news, and being better informed is the most important first step in being safe. Finally, here is a collection of photos of what such an infection can look like. Click the picture to zoom in.

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For more information, there is a good technical introduction with scientific paper references in the CDC’s frighteningly named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6133a3.htm. In addition, because of the volume of cases that are being seen now (this is being characterized by health officials as “not common, but not rare either”), you may see it in the news as well. Here are a few links to get you started, and Googling for “mycobacterium chelonae tattoo” will of course find many more: Study: Tattoo infections traced to tainted ink, Mycobacterial Infections: The Link to Ink, Tattoo ink causes health scare, and Tainted Tattoo Ink Led to Skin Infection Outbreak.