The Diddy Man is in the Hizzouse!

He is the Diddy Man, the poking, cutting Diddy Man, but he doesn’t come from Knotty Ash!

I tried to write an introduction somehow comparing Diddy to Oliver Twist, but unfortunately there are no similarities.

However, if you’d like to read about the life, past, hopes and dreams of an up-and-coming scarification artist from Blighty who’s battling with a lifelong passion for piercing people, don’t let me stop you! (just don’t ask for more, please)


Tell me a little about your personal history (your age, childhood, education, all that jazz)


Well, I’m 23, I live in Bournemouth, England now and have been living here for the last 6 or 7 years.

I was born in Grimsby and lived in the Netherlands until I was about 5 or 6, then I moved to a small town just outside of Oxford where I went to school. It was a bit of a closed community and everybody knew everybody else, so nothing much ever happened there…


I know the feeling! So, know we know a little about when you were little, tell me a little about your professional history (both in modification, and before that if you had a “previous career”)?


I had always pierced as a hobby back in school I was always piercing myself and friends (ridiculously badly with bits and pieces bought from the Internet), looking back on it I realise now how badly I was actually doing things. In the time since I left school though I have worked in a newsagents, been a storesman, worked in a paper-mill binding magazines, various pubs and clubs, and even worked for the MOD for a while on a fueling station, I completed two years of a three year course in vehicular mechanical and electronic systems, but decided it really wasn’t what I expected it to be and moved onto something else.

I think the most memorable of all of them though has to be working for Bournemouth’s prestigious ‘Royal Bath Hotel’ as a bell boy, blue and gold waistcoat, full piercings and 25mm lobes, the works! I think somewhere is a couple of pictures as proof. Needless to say that didn’t last long. It kind of ended when the question was asked ‘What disease is it that makes those holes in your ears?’

They actually fired me when I told them it wasn’t a disease and I had stretched them myself.

I suppose my professional career really started when I was offered the desk/cleaning job at Metal Fatigue in Bournemouth town centre with Sarge, he showed me how to deal with customers correctly, taught me about hygiene and sterility and at the same time introduced me to BME, the rest as they say, is history.


You’re history! Sorry, ignore that.. So, how do people get in touch with you and where do you work right now?


I’ve worked from White Flame since I left Metal Fatigue back in 2003; it was an opportunity to work for myself. Do my own thing and wave my own banner, so to speak. It was something I always dreamed of doing but never EVER thought I’d have the opportunity to do.

I was just lucky that I had worked at Metal Fatigue, being one of the busiest body piercing clinics in the UK, I got to do a lot of piercing and fixing and dealing with issues and problems coming from other studios. I gained a wealth of experience from that place for which I will always be grateful and never forget.

I can be contacted via the shop, or the website or through my IAM page.


To what extent does your sexuality play into your body modification interests? If you don’t mind talking about it, I understand that you didn’t come out until quite late in life?


I like to think that my sexuality has no effect on my professional life, of course it means that ladies are a little more trusting with their genital piercings. And I seem to do a hell of a lot of PA’s and paired nipples on 40-something guys that have seen me out and about on the scene, I suppose I’m an approachable friendly young man more than a ‘gay’ and that’s the way I like it. I would hate to think that anyone would be put off by it, usually most customers don’t even know unless they know someone that I’ve talked to or know me personally.


When did you first become aware of piercing?


I suppose I’ve always been aware of piercing, it’s the era we live in, when people don’t have to be formally introduced to it to know what it’s all about, there is just an awareness of it from a really young age. I don’t know if this is how others are but that’s just the way it’s always been for me.

But you could say that friends and people you look up to having them is one of the biggest contributing factors in deciding whether or not it’s something you like.


My first nostril piercing was mostly due to Slash from Guns and Roses, I loved him but he never called. Tell me about your first piercings and what got you into being a pierced person?


It all started as a bit of a bet, I purposely lost to make an excuse to go and get my nipple pierced. I was meant to ask a someone out on a date or go get my nipple pierced. I was fourteen at the time and it was back when leaving school for lunch meant you were old enough to have this kind of thing done. Needless to say, I got the piercing. I had a few friends there with me, the guy was waffling on about how he knew exactly what he was doing and how he knew better than everybody else in the industry about how things should be done, (looking back on it now I realise he was just a back alley piercer doing a botch job) but at the time he was my hero, his name was Terry, he did my first piercing and I loved it, he had a tattoo on his head, I thought he was ‘Sooo cool!’ (jeez I was a very naive young boy).

I ended up spending most of my lunchtimes in the parlor watching tattoos being done, fetching sandwiches for the piercer and his mates, I loved just being a part of it. I ended up with both nipples, eyebrow, tragus, two in my tongue. Back then I was one of the most heavily pierced guys in our little closed community. So when I turned up at the doors of Metal Fatigue for my first piercings in Bournemouth I was in heaven. I realised that so much more was possible, there was surface work available as well as so many piercings I had never seen before.

A small selection of Diddy’s torso piercings, from over the years. (click-throughs)


What made you want to become a professional piercer? How did you start piercing people?


I had been doing botch piercings for a long time, working on my friends and such back in school through college and a few years before I started at Metal Fatigue. I’ve always been one of those guys that was never very good at anything, yet piercing just felt natural to me. I was pretty good at it and it pleased me to see that I could do something well and that kind of encouraged me into working it into a career.


What do your family think about your job?


My family still come from the same closed community I keep mentioning and all think I’m a little weird, but I’ve surprised them a few times over the years and I think they see it as just another one of my quirks.

My whole family though is very supportive of me and what I do, they can see that I am working hard pushing my career and what I do, and they obviously see that I’m doing a good thing for myself. They usually make comments on the piercings that I wear, whether they do or don’t like them, but at the end of the day my appearance doesn’t really have any effect on my choice of career now so they really take it all in their stride.


Mine have been amazing too. I couldn’t ask for more, really! How did you learn to pierce?


Mainly self-taught through trial and error (it’s not the best way to learn with regards to those that you pierce) but it definitely hones down why you should and shouldn’t do things in a particular way/manner.

But the person I have to thank the most is Sarge for bringing me to the studio environment and introducing me to hygiene, sterility and BME, for showing me how he worked and his particular methods and procedures, which I carry with me to this day!

Sarge and Diddy during his Metal Fatigue days.


How do you improve your skills as a piercer?


I like to think that I’m always learning, if anyone knows me well they will tell you that I am stupidly over-critical of myself and my own work. I think this to be a good thing as I’m never happy with anything (that sounds a little silly), but I’m always on the lookout for better ways of doing everything. I know I’m not the best out there but one day I hope to be and you cannot do that without a little hard work and research.

I do experiment a lot. I am in a position where I live with a considerable amount of modified people, who were always up for trying out something slightly different and new to me.

Also as a part of BME and IAM I’m pretty much always lurking in forums picking up tips and chatting with other piercers on how and why they do the things they do.

I like to think I’m also in good stead with other local artists such as Sarge, Gribbs, Bunty and a whole host of other Bournemouth IAM’ers. We share for the good of all.


Like the Piercing Musketeers, kinda. Are you an APP member? Why or why not?


There are many advantages with regards to being ‘in the know of the industry’, but I can’t stand political hype. Plus you can generally pick up the majority of the APP’s available information from other resources, minus the pecking order. I don’t and won’t cork every piercing. I do use canula/catheter needles and I don’t put elastic bands all over my instruments. I’m sure the APP is a wonderful organization and one day I will get around to applying for membership, but for now I am happy with the learning curve I am on.


A lot of piercers seem to move into scarification and implants in their later careers. Do you have an interest in this as well?


I started getting into implants a while ago, I did a few smaller basic pieces successfully and never really had a problem. But I decided to put that on hold until I had some sort of formal training. I decided that in retrospect I didn’t know what I was doing and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt anybody. So I stopped while everything was good. There is certainly formal training on the cards and I have already made plans to start working under somebody who’s work I really respect, but I won’t say too much about that as it’s still all in the pipeline.

Scarification, specifically cutting is something I am definitely interested in. I have always loved the look and the effect of native and primitive scarification and I have always loved the look of scars in general, I get some weird looks from self-harming customers when I tell them I really like what they have done to themselves, not that I promote or condone self-harm. But I just can’t help being intrigued when I see a big set of self-made scars.

I have been working really hard lately on getting myself together with the techniques involved with cutting and skin peeling. I don’t charge for the work that I do at the moment as I still feel that the outcome of each piece of work is more of a learning curve for me, when someone pays for scarification they are paying for your time, and a healed result, whereas at the moment I am giving my time to anyone who is willing to help me learn in perfecting my techniques and designs (to the point in which I feel I would personally pay to have work done by myself). Only then will I start to charge.

A happy customer, with seven PTFE domes!


What “secondary” education do you have on top of piercing knowledge (i.e. first aid, blood borne pathogen courses, etc.)?


Being a young gun I haven’t had much chance to do any of this yet, I have basic first aid training obviously, but I have signed myself up for GCSE physiology and anatomy to pave the way for college/university courses within the field, it’s difficult finding the time to work six days a week to keep myself afloat and to study at the same time, but determination will prevail there I think!

My knowledge base comes from personal research. I have many friends in the medical field who are always happy to lend me material. My partner is currently training as a nurse and I am keeping an eye on the things that he’s doing to help myself along too. We have customers that are doctors and nurses, and obviously my partners friends are all willing to help and answer any questions I might have.


Do you think piercing is an art form or more of a craft?


I pondered on this question myself for a while never really coming to an appropriate answer. But since reading the article with Anders, and not to be cheeky and coin his comment but, ’I see piercing and modification as a craft you learn and become good at, but when it’s executed properly with well-placed piercings and jewelry, it can be an expression of art’, is exactly right!

Most of the time I feel like I am providing my craft as a service to others, but every now and again I’ll put a mark on a client, not like it, and adjust it almost just a fraction to make it sit better (i.e. with the line of the face) or wherever it is, as I’m doing this I usually sit back and think ’now this is art!’


I’d be interested in hearing some of your best piercing client stories in terms of why people got piercings.


I don’t consider it my job to reason why people do what they do, and I don’t usually ask. Obviously clients like to talk about their reasoning and I must admit I do like to listen. I’ve heard it all, from weight gain, having a piercing to encourage weight loss, also the flip-side, someone who has lost weight wanting to congratulate themselves.

Being close to a university I quite often get graduation and final exam piercings too.

Divorce, marriage, birthdays, anniversaries, looking cool, I also deal with sub/dom stuff too. Basically any and every reason, I think I’ve heard it. From the smiley happy off your own back, to the bets with mates (I recently did a PA on a lad who was getting his tattoo all paid for if he had it done, needless to say he got himself a free tattoo) I think one of the sweetest things I’ve ever done has a bit of a long story to it, wanna hear that one?


Ugh, go on then!


Well a mother and daughter went in to get their navels pierced somewhere up country, the daughter went first and the mother backed out last minute, nothing was said but it was taken that the mother had to eventually get hers done as well.

The daughter fell terminally ill and over the next few years her health deteriorated and sadly she passed away, the mother (a current tattoo customer) came to me with the daughters old navel bars and pointed at the daughters favourite and said I want this here for my daughter and pointed to her navel.

I obviously couldn’t do it with that, but I used some of my own jewellery and about two months later she came in to see me with her daughter’s favourite piece of jewellery poking out of her navel, nicely healed.

She carries her daughters love with her everywhere now and it seems to make her so happy and all I can do is quietly smile inside for making that happen. That rocks my world billions and that’s the kind of thing that makes me glad I do what I do.


You’re such a sweetie. What are your favourite piercings to do, and why?


Every single piercing is different, both anatomically and characteristically. I wouldn’t even say two navels were the same piercing. I get half a feeling that it could be my age showing through there a little. I’m just as keen to do any piercing now as I always have been. I could say that given twenty years in the industry this could all change and I could start to develop a love for one specific piercing more than others, but given the fact that I know what being a jaded piercer can do to clients there is a high possibility that I will always love every single piercing I do, and put as much effort into every single customer as I always have!


That’s a good way of thinking sunshine, but, your least favourite?


The only piercings I don’t like doing are the ’I told you so’ piercings as I call them.

When a customer walks into the shop knowing full well exactly what they want, I tell them either it’s not going to work or that I don’t think it’s going to look great and give them my reasons for thinking so..

Firstly I refuse to do the piercing and then they start talking about getting one of the local botch artists to do it.. this scares me more than a piercing which might not work out so well, to which I usually reply ’well if you’re adamant you want this doing I would rather make sure it was done safely and I will do it for you, but I want you to come back in on a regular basis so, i) I can make sure everything is going OK and, ii) to take it out when you hate it or when it starts looking bad.

In this case it’s not so much the piercing I dislike as the customer, not listening to sound professional advice and I’m sure everybody out there, whatever industry they’re in, knows what it’s like to work with customers like this, it’s not fun.


Again, I know how you feel. What piercing do you find the most challenging?


Challenging piercings, hmmmm? I suppose something like pairing up someone else’s work has to be up there as challenging, it’s easy enough to pair up with a piercing that I’ve done as I generally know what angles I work at, but when I get something that’s done in such a way that I would not normally do it takes a little more thought and marking to get them looking the same. I’m talking about things like venoms/snakebites/double lip piercings, also things like multiple ear piercings.

Some of the less challenging piercings in his portfolio. (click-throughs)


In general would you recommend piercing as a career? What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a piercer?


We all know that piercing isn’t the best paid job in the world! If you’re going to do it, you have to do it because you love it. There is no real way to ’make a quick pound or two’ so if you want to be rich and famous this definitely is the wrong career for you. On the other hand, if you love body piercing and everything that goes along with it, the good and the bad, then find yourself a good piercer and show that you are willing to learn and work hard for what you want to achieve. Do your research. Bad instruction is worse than no instruction at all!! It is unfortunate that the market is saturated with body piercers these days and a good apprenticeship is incredibly hard to find as all the best artists have theirs working already.

You need to think if you can financially support yourself while you are apprenticing, usually a second job is a necessity as usually a piercer won’t pay someone to stand and watch, still living at home has its advantages in that case too, but saying that… I had neither when I started out in my career, so anything is possible!


Have you ever apprenticed anyone? How did you (or would you) choose one?


I do and I don’t. As I said earlier, I am always very critical of myself and my work. I don’t naturally feel as though I’m good enough in my own right to take on an apprentice (although I get told otherwise) and for them to be my prot’g’, for me to teach them every one of my little secrets.. I don’t work that way!!!

But I do have someone who works for me assisting me with piercings, learning cross-contamination and sterilization, who watches a lot, if not all, of the piercings that I do. Picking up techniques and asking me questions on things that she doesn’t understand. If she also wants to pierce then I will be on-hand while she pierces her friends and builds herself up as a piercer in her own right, her name is Lily and she has been with me now for the last six months.

I chose her for the twinkle I can see in her eye, HAHA, there is a certain something there that says to me ’I desperately want to pierce, can you help me?’ she was keen and bright and clean and tidy. Showed willingness and pretty much pestered me until I gave in. I see that as someone who will really love what they do right until the end.

That is what I look for, not just a liking but a passion for piercing. Before Lily I did the same thing for a lad called Martin who got quite far with me… but in the end his passion burnt out and things went downhill. I sadly just couldn’t trust him anymore and had to stop him coming in which was a real shame. I enjoyed working with him and watching him bring himself into the industry quietly smiling to myself as things just twigged in his head, although I will never take credit for training anyone who is self-taught, it’s just nice to know that I helped him along.

Diddy shoots, and leaves.


Do you think you’ll be able — or want — to do this for a living, long term?


Just try and stop me! I’ll be piercing until I can’t pierce any more, I can wholeheartedly say that until my body or the industry drastically fails me then I will keep poking holes in people.


Hehe, poking. If you leave piercing, what do you think you’ll do?


I think if I had to give up piercing for one reason or another, firstly I’d cry quite a bit, then not know what to do with myself for a while. I am not and never have been a guy that enjoys working for other people, I would probably set something up so that I can still work for myself and be who I want to be, maybe like a small caf’ or some sort of supplies company.


It’s been my observation that many piercers seem to “burn out” after five to ten years and leave the industry — what are some of the stresses of being a piercer?


I’d tend to disagree with your statement there, many of the piercers that I know and talk to have usually been in the industry for at least five years if not more and are still going very strong! I think the ones that burn out were probably doing it for the wrong reasons and weren’t so happy taking all the bad that comes with the good.

Finding out all of a sudden that the money doesn’t get any better and pushing on with a career in something else, either that or they just get jaded and fed up with doing the same thing over and over and over and… well you get the picture. It is what you make of it, I don’t think it’s a very stressful job and I look forward to every day at work. If you see it as a job that you ’have’ to go to, you’re going to burn out very quickly!


What are the best things about being a piercer? What keeps you coming back to work?


Hahaha I love this question… Everything!!! I love making my clients smile, I love the job that I do, I love everything about the studio environment. I especially smile inside when I successfully rectify someone else’s fuck-ups. I just love people smiling and I really get a buzz out of giving someone something they’ve always wanted.

I really like the way that customers walk in really nervous and scared but walk out buzzing.


Piercers seem to meet a lot “weirder” clients than tattoo artist… Tell me about some of your stranger encounters?


I’ve encountered so much weird in the last few years that anything I would have normally classed as weird doesn’t seem too bad anymore! For example, when I was first piercing I remember meeting a guy who had no nipples, they were removed by his mistress because she got so bored of the piercings that she made him have a few years previous. He was covered from the neck to the wrist to the ankles in small inch long white lines (scars) where she would mistreat him, that to me at the time was weird, but now that kind of thing just seems like any normal thing for consenting adults to do to each other. I think I find it more difficult to speak to ’normal’ people.

I have much weirder conversations with a lot of the tattoo/piercing virgin customers who are new to all this and just have some sort of naivety as to what actually happens out there in this world.


What makes you a good piercer?


That’s not something that I could personally answer. I don’t think it’s down to me to call myself a good piercer. Everybody, even the hacks, would call themselves good piercers for one reason or another. If anyone wants to know what makes me a good piercer you should talk to someone that I’ve pierced.

Though I do like to think I have an excellent bedside manner, the patience of a saint, and I actually give a damn about the things that I do.


What’s the youngest person you’ve ever pierced, and what’s your personal feeling on age (independent of the law)?


I have pierced lobes on babies, and I have to say I don’t like doing it. It’s actually something I will do if I have to but I will try as hard as I can to persuade a parent to wait until a child is old enough to have it done for themselves, I once met a young girl who had massive keloids on her ears, she’d had them from about two years old, when her parents had taken her to have her ears pierced and they hadn’t healed properly for whatever reason. This poor girl wouldn’t show her ears to anyone she was paranoid about being pierced and she was angry that her parents hadn’t given her the choice and that these things were forced upon her. I really felt for her and she had to have the keloids removed with an operation she had to pay for herself.

I consider it almost along the lines as an abuse of power, a parent taking a baby to have their ears pierced, but at the end of the day it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, if I don’t do it, its going to be a gun or the butcher down the road.

Piercings are usually on sixteen year olds but I will go as low as fourteen with a legal parent or guardian in the room signing for them (with identification), but nothing lower than that for body piercing, it’s not right and I don’t like it.

There is no way that anyone is developed enough under 14 to have any kind of piercing done. Even when a 14 year old comes in with a parent (normally for navel piercing) I advise them against it with the ’high chance of total migration’ theory and that’s usually enough to get them to wait until they’re a little older.

What a poser!


And the oldest?


I think the sweetest thing I ever did was on an old couple I think he was about seventy and she was about sixty-eight. They both came in together after their 50th wedding anniversary to get their ear lobes pierced together (ROO: - Pierced together?! Now that’s commitment!), it was both their first time and we had such a laugh the lady ended up getting her hood done as well.

I’ll always remember that couple and I still have the thank you card they sent me when everything healed perfectly.


What range of tools do you use? Needles? Scalpels? Dermal punches? More? Or anything past a needle, why or why not?


When I’d first started out I was using cannulas only, Sarge introduced me to the blade and to genital piercing so I started using blades and 2.4 cannulas, shortly after getting the hang of that I started using a few custom sized needles and found my preferences of length. I now use 1.2mm and 1.6mm blades and cannulas, as well as 2mm, 2.4mm , 3.2mm and 4mm blades for suspension piercing, and large gauge stuff.

Once I’d done a few and enjoyed doing larger piercings I picked up some 4mm dermal punches, I really enjoyed using those, so I now stock 4mm, 5mm, 6mm and 8mm punches. When I started using those I also started using a scalpel to make larger piercings within the lobes as I really don’t like punching lobes out.

I have tried using a scalpel for piercings but I think it’s a little excessive, you make lots of mess and it’s totally unnecessary and will never catch on with the public, that’s just my own opinion anyway.


What do you think of ear scalpelling?


I really enjoy it, I started off by expanding a friends tunnels, I can’t remember exactly from what size to what size, they were around the 20mm mark and we put them up to 30mm-ish, I believe. That was about two and a half years ago now, I did a couple of those and they all went really well. I do quite a bit of ’insta-tunnelling’ now, as I call it, I experimented about two years ago on a couple of friends doing 6mm and 8mm lobe piercings, they healed extremely well and I was really happy with the results, a few friends of theirs had seen them and wanted them doing, it started there really. I will now happily put anything in from scratch up to about 15mm. also I’m quite happy with expanding peoples existing lobes up by six or seven millimetres at a time.

I would also really like to get into ear re-shaping, repair and lobe reconstruction, but again that’s something that I will have to wait for, more pipeline stuff!


What is your line as to what you won’t do? What’s your policy on doing “extreme” piercings like vertical oral piercings, under-the-collarbone, Achilles piercings, eyelids, banana hammocks, uvulas, and so on? If you don’t do these, why not?


I don’t like to draw lines in the sand, I’m usually willing to have a go at most things that come in and that I feel are safe. I will never do anything without the appropriate research (and technique practice if necessary). I really want to do a uvula piercing (I have even been practicing piercing on the end of a pair of hemostats) to be ready for if I’m asked, though I would only do the first couple on people I knew. If I’m ever unsure of anything I will not even attempt it, I will only touch someone if I know that everything I am doing is safe and will work out, it also depends on the customer and the situation. Depending on how much experience with piercing/modification they have and whether or not it’s a piercing I think, after research, is dangerous or not for me to perform. All customers are always fully aware of my abilities and experience in every single experimental procedure I perform.

It’s as much as a learning curve for them as it is for me to do things like that.


How has the public attitude toward piercing changed in the time you’ve been working?


The only thing that I’ve really started to notice is parental acceptance, kids being brought in by their parents, even as young as twelve, parents are allowing their kids to get piercings done, not that I do them at that age of course but they seem to have more of a willingness to let their children do whatever they like. I have also noticed an increase in the amount of facial piercings on younger people, such as sixteen and seventeen year olds having facial surface work, septums, and mid-brows. I think it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable to have piercings, along with that comes professional acceptance. I remember when I was fifteen or sixteen and looking for part time work, nobody would employ you with your eyebrow or nose pierced and now it seems to be kind of the norm in most places.

It’s great for the trade and I really like to see things picking up like it has.

Bizzy Diddy! (click-throughs)


How do you feel about doing piercings that you’ve never had? Can you do them as well; give advice on them as well?


I’ve pretty much had and healed piercings all over my body, even if I didn’t like them and took them out pretty soon after, I know what it feels like to be pierced in most places. So I can relate to most customers, there are the odd one or two that I have never had and really don’t know how they feel, but knowing this I really try to get lots of feedback from my clients on how it felt, whether or not it met their expectations, how it healed and whether or not they had any kind of complication. I take a telephone number from each of my customers and regularly call up people who have had piercing work like this done to find out whether they had any issues, I then add all this information to the aftercare of the next one and so on. I’m pretty pleased to say this works and you can really get yourself a good feel for what kind of problems you can encounter even though not having had the piercing myself.

Nasallang on the left and split-lobe piercing, 5mm conch punch and an 8mm outer flat punch on the right (GC). (click-throughs)


Are you still getting piercings yourself? I know a lot of people get a ton of piercings when they’re young, and then sort of “settle down”.


I’ve kind of turned into a bit of a jess. I’m not really piercing myself anymore I have what I want and I’m not going to get modified for the sake of it, if I need to check out a new technique or test out a new piece of jewellery I will of course try so on myself and see how things get on. But other than that I am happy with the piercings that I have, I’m working now on getting myself pretty heavily tattooed, when our tattooists have free time, which in general isn’t an awful lot.

I agree with that statement though, I really have noticed that youngsters get pierced mainly, when they hit twenty/twenty-one they either carry on being pierced and get more and more heavily modified, either that or they stop around that age and either continue on with the piercings they have or just take them out altogether. There are exceptions to all rules but that’s definitely something that I have noticed.


Do you think piercing’s a trend? Is it getting more popular, is it starting to decline, or is it stable?


Due to the social and professional acceptance I think it’s just going to get more and more popular! I think parents are becoming aware that it’s not so much of a risky business anymore, and that obviously we are bound by local and government regulations so much that parents aren’t really as bothered now as they used to be.

Obviously all it takes to change that is some really bad press with regards to someone doing something really silly and it could all come crashing down around our ears.

I have certainly noticed a big increase in the amount of piercing work coming through the doors, but I suppose I will never really know how much of that is to do with reputation, or whether it’s just the trend building.


How do you feel piercing has changed over time?


Since I’ve been piercing I have noticed things like the quality of the jewellery just getting better and better, the techniques and methods being used have become a lot more refined and safer. Piercers themselves have become better informed and more educated. Also customers have become more aware of their rights to a clean and efficient piercer, customers are actually starting to do research into what they should expect from a piercer/piercing, which is always nice to see.

I am really keen to see the next scientific step in body piercing. Hopefully one day someone will invent a machine to instantly heal piercings and trauma, that’ll be a day of great joy if that ever happens!

I also hope I’m around long enough to see the piercing gun finally banned for good!!!


How did you get into doing scarification?


As I said earlier I’ve always loved the look of scars, when I started using scalpels at work, I also started thinking about making scarification pieces too. A couple of friends convinced me to start some small, light pieces on them. They turned out OK, but mostly they disappeared because I was afraid of working too deep. Over the course of the last year or so I have been working just slightly heavier every time until I get to the point where I am really happy with the depth that I work at, then I did a piece which looked like it needed to be peeled, as I was really just getting into proper scar work I had already done about as much research on the topic of peeling as I could possibly muster and went for it! The piece turned out OK, not brilliant, but practice was definitely needed there. The next piece I turned out was really nice and it all kind of went from there really.

Cutting and flesh removal. (click-throughs)


How did you learn and refine your scarification work?


Being stuck in the south of the UK I never really got to see any serious work being done. So watching an artist work was out of the question, I offered free work to my friends as practice (which I still do) on the basis that they knew not only what work was available to them i.e. galleries on BME alongside my current portfolio of work (both good and bad). I am forever checking out work and lurking in IAM’s forums for ideas and new methods but I’m afraid to say, and I’m sure it will spark some controversy, when I say its mainly trial and error, to which all clients are fully informed of before I go anywhere near them. I like doing pieces which push me to try new things, always very lightly at first and then as my confidence builds in that specific technique I try to involve it in as much of my work as I possibly can. Although I’m not even a scratch on some of the top scarification artists out there, I’m still proud of what I have managed to achieve and all I can hope is that my work continues to improve to the point where I might one day feel comfortable actually charging for it (which I still don’t).


You’d make a rubbish bull. What types of scarification do you do?


Cutting and skin peeling only. I have a cautery/branding machine but I have never fired it up, that’s something I might try to incorporate when my cutting improves, for a different effect.


What is your artistic background? How do you do the designs?


I’m not the most fantastic of artist so coming up with complex designs is a little more difficult for me, but that’s OK, I don’t mind that so much as I really like basic bold designs. I’m very good at using Photoshop and working with the curvature of the body so I can bypass a lot of the difficulty in coming up with designs, I’m also trying really hard working on my freehand, I can usually be found sat drawing on people with no reason behind it at all other than getting used to free-handing and working with the correct lines of the body.

Freshly sliced, then nicely healed cutting by Diddy (from left to right, obviously).


Which types of scarification, and which types of images, do you most like doing, and why?


I really like to see a balance in work, it sounds a bit odd, but seeing something like a delicate flower or a smooth curve, with the contrast of the fact that it has been ’cut in’ in an almost aggressive fashion, it’s kind of ironic to me.

I’m really not keen on heavy keloiding and try to keep my scars just that little bit lighter than that, and I love, just love, to see big bold scars, big bold patterns and designs, though I can understand that not everybody likes it that way and am also totally happy to work on more intricate designs, even if they take me some time to get ready in the first place.


Why do you think that most scarification artists come from a base of piercing, rather than tattooing?


Scalpels and heavier bleeding! Kinda seems more natural to come from a piercer than from a tattooist, though one of the tattooists here in our studio is watching a few of my pieces with the thought of working into it herself. I’m sure that it’s not all piercers working with scarification, but how many tattooists do you know that spend time working with scalpels. It’s almost like a natural progression for most piercers into their mods these days. Though I can certainly see why it could be better coming from a tattooist working with depth and consistency, those are some of the things that I was getting a lot of trouble with, now that I am doing more work it seems to be getting much easier to get a consistent depth and width from cutting than ever I used to.

More from his “experimental” portfolio. (click-throughs)


How is your scarification client’le different from your piercing client’le?


Put simply, it’s not!

Everyone I have ever cut, I have pierced. Mainly because I have friends heavily into their piercings, wanting something just that little bit different to a tattoo, either that or I am talking to someone who is a tattoo only man about doing some scarification over his tattoos. This would be the first person I will have cut without having a piercing by me too.


Do you do scarification commercially, or just on people you know? Why?


Ummm, that’s a toughy, I’m at the point now where I am happy that I am not going to hurt someone, so I am more than happy (within reason) to cut pretty much anybody that has seen my work and compared it to ’what they could be getting for money’, but, as I said earlier I’m not happy enough with the final results of my work to guarantee anything specific, so I will not charge for my time, in fact I don’t even charge for materials! I cover that all myself as a thank you for anyone who allows me to use their skin for refining my skills, I’m not in any kind of rush to start earning money from cutting, first and foremost I am and always will be a body piercer, so that pays the bills (most of the time). I will start commercially cutting people when I have decided that I would be happy enough to get and pay for a professional cutting done by myself.

But tips for good work will never go amiss!


What do you think the future holds for scarification? Would you like to do it exclusively?


No, I will never stop piercing, it’s the passion of my life.

It would be nice to think that someday I could swan around from place to place guest-spotting in different studios having work booked up for me, seeing the world and meeting lots of new people, but I think I would miss my little studio and my customers too much.


What are the laws in your area about scarification? What do you think they should be?


Bournemouth council doesn’t like it, they never have and I don’t think they ever will (though ’technically’ they just don’t have a stand on it).

It’s not against the law, but our local council really likes to have control over what our piercers and tattooists are doing, scarification is something they just have no real knowledge or understanding of so it’s classed as a grey area.

I think they should investigate and educate themselves a little more on the topic to allow us to work in this fashion without worrying about whether or not our registration is going to be revoked. Not that it’s likely to happen, it would be more of a polite finger waggle.


Have you had to deal with the media on piercing, scarification, suspension or other art forms?


I don’t like media, I don’t do interviews, I don’t like hype or fame. I’m sat here doing this interview because this is a community of my friends, and you asked me ever so politely. I know a lot of people here and most of them have no idea why I am doing what I do, or how I got into doing it.

I’m not the best with words as you may have guessed by now and I have quite a lot of difficulty expressing myself this way, I also say things that I don’t mean to say when I’m trying to get a point across and that can cause upset if I am misinterpreted.

I’m forever being asked to do interviews by university students for their course work and I politely refuse most of the time. Not really into bigging myself up because yes, at the end of the day I have a really cool job and yes, I understand certain people may look up to that but realistically I am a guy with a job just like everybody else.

Being a piercer/artist makes you no different from a policeman walking a dangerous beat, I am nothing special, I just give a damn.

Oh no, wait! I was once in the back of the local paper, ‘The Daily Echo’, in a small section I was asked if I like fish, to which my reply was ‘only fresh fish’ with a little photograph of me. I was so proud of that!

Not this photo!


Haha, bless. Well, on that rather fishy note I’ll leave you be Diddy Man, take care of yourself and good luck with everything! Lastly, big thanks to Rachel Anderson for allowing me to use her photographs in this article.

Click here to comment on this article (or use the comments forum below)

This article is copyright © 2008, and for bibliographical purposes was first published April 29, 2008.

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

Keep Austin Weird

Pineapple recently pierced Bear’s nipples at 8ga at Shaman Modifications in Austin, TX, so I had to share this great picture of the two of them after the procedure. Both of them have some of my favorite facial tattoos, and of course Bear has amazing stretched lobes, some of the biggest on the planet.

PS. As a point of trivia, did you know that BMEshop once produced some prototypes of a Bear action figure (which never went into full production unfortunately)?

The week in the news (04/06 – 04/12. 2008)

My apologies to Ania for not getting her post up more quickly; I didn’t see it had been submitted. Sorry everyone, — Shannon

IAM-ers recently featured in MI and TX online newspapers.

A small coverage of the Arizona Tattoo Expo in Mesa, AZ, from last weekend.

Tattoos as a way to reflect people’s hobbies and beliefs, and two articles shedding some light on the local “scene” in IL and CO.

IAM members, as always, can submit links to body modification-related articles here.

* * *

The past week most online newspapers seemed to be very preoccupied with the TSA affair but here’s the only one article for you to read: Nipple rings and national security;

One of IAM-ers got interviewed to answer a very important question how the body is the medium;

In the celebs department a new “record” was achieved thanks to Tommy Lee who boasts new body art and, just for balance’s sake, tattoos were proclaimed as trashy by Katie Holmes.

Trashy or not, tattoos are still something you must pay for, so here is an answer for both a crucial and annoying question we are asking ourselves quite often, i.e., how much does it cost: Tattoo prices unique to design location Too bad it is something only people from NE might find useful.

No Nipple Piercings On Flights?

So about a zillion people have written me about how the TSA has banned — at least in one ill-advised case — people wearing nipple rings from flying in America. Because, what, terrorists are planning on using exploding nipple rings? (Photo c/o Enrikay). Obviously this is a screener over-stepping their authority and abusing their power, rather than an official TSA mandate, but I think it illustrates both that the prejudice against even basic piercings is still strong, and that one of the strong arguments not to give any unwarranted powers to the government is that individuals always will abuse that power, even if the government itself is in theory “good”.


It also reminds me that the BME newsfeed has been sorely neglected over the last while — entirely my fault — despite the continued efforts of Ania and others. I’m pleased to say that Ania will be taking over managing the newsfeed, so over the next couple weeks, watch for regular updates (perhaps “this week in Mod News” or something) on what’s going on. IAM members, as always, can submit news here.

Update: The TSA has refused to apologize and stated that the above was in accordance with official policy, although they say they’ll be updating the policy to allow people to simply show their piercings rather than being forced to remove them.

John Joyce (Scarab Body Arts) Interview – BME/News [Publisher's Ring]


After being turned on to quality piercing by a dedicated body artist after a series of body piercing and tattoo misadventures as a teen, John Joyce decided to set himself on a career as a piercer. With much hard work — and very long hours — he’s now the owner of Scarab Body Arts in Syracuse, NY, where he’s the head piercer as well as an experienced scarification artist. He’s run his shop and his life with the code his parents raised him with — “anything worth doing is worth doing well” — and he works with a focus on quality materials, quality service, and safety.

BME: Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m thirty years old and grew up just outside of Syracuse, New York. I’m the oldest of three, and had a very normal childhood. We grew up in the country, so most of my childhood was spent making forts in the woods, riding ATVs, or playing hide and seek in the corn fields surrounding our house. My father worked hard, and my mother stayed home to take care of myself, my younger brother, and my younger sister. I did very well in school, was on the wrestling team, and like all kids that grow up in the country I worked hard and partied just as hard. After high school, I went to college briefly for Architecture, and joined the Carpenters Union.

BME: What did you do before you got professionally involved in body modification?

I’ve been working for as long as I can remember. My father is a workaholic. He believes if you want something you should work for it, and you should never have your hand out unless you really need it and have done everything you can for it first, and he instilled that in both myself and my younger brother. When I was a kid, I used to spend summers working on farm in Canada. I learned all about hard work there. They had hundreds of acres in Dacre, Ontario. They milked their cows by hand, and did everything the old fashioned way. When I first started going up there they didn’t even have electricity. I would get up every morning and get on a 3-wheeler and go find the cows with a couple herding dogs, we would bring them back to the barn and that was the start of my day, then it was on to working in the hay, or the pigs, or the chickens, or whatever. They were some very long days, but I loved it. Any free time was spent playing on the lake, sitting around a fire, and just enjoying the outdoors.

When I was about fifteen I started working for a commercial flooring company on weekends or whenever there was a break from school. I started as a laborer, and by the time I was seventeen I was installing floors by myself and sometimes had guys working underneath me. This is when I joined the Carpenters Union. I worked at three different flooring companies by the time I was nineteen and did some warehouse work at one of them. I put a lot of hours in and even though I haven’t been doing it for eleven years, my knees are still a mess from it. I would look at the older guys that had been crawling around on concrete for twenty years, and they could barely stand. I knew I needed to figure something else out.

Since I had been reading blueprints for the last few years while doing floors, and I liked to draw and design things, Architecture seemed like a good thing to go to college for. I did very well in school and liked it quite a bit. There was a lot of creative freedom at first and even though it was a lot of work, it was fun. Then, they took that creative freedom away, and it just became tedious, and soooo much work. My hats off to anyone in an Architecture program at any University.

I had a bunch of other little jobs as well. I worked retail at a store that was a lot like Hot Topic, only before Hot Topic was around, as well as a Halloween store. I also served ice cream at a Friendly’s, and when I was very young I mowed lawns at a cemetery with one of my uncles.

BME: But these days you’re the owner of a tattoo and body modification studio.

Yes, I currently own Scarab Body Arts in Syracuse, NY. I do full body piercings, henna design, scarification, and I am also a NY State Licensed Massage Therapist. People can get in touch with me through the studio email, [email protected], the studio phone number is 315-473-9383, the studio myspace page is, and my IAM page is j_scarab.

Scarab’s reception area and piercing room.

BME: When did you first become aware of body piercing?

I’m not sure when I first became aware of piercings. I was always around people with tattoos — my dad had two, my mom had two or three, and their friends had a couple. Other than ear piercings I never really saw anyone with piercings, and this was before you saw people with piercings every time you turn on the TV. I guess my first exposure to piercing in a broad sense was National Geographic Magazine. I grew up next door to my grandfather Ray — he was a man full of knowledge and stories.

Since this was before every house had at least one computer and was hooked up to the Internet, I did all my research for school papers at his house. He had not one, but three computers, can you believe that, haha? He also had two or three full sets of encyclopedias, and in chronological order he had every issue of National Geographic Magazine. Whenever I was doing research on outer space, or underwater sea life, or whatever, I would run across these pictures of people in Africa with stretched lip piercings, and stretched earlobes. I though it was amazing! I started going to see him every time he got a new issue to see the photos in these magazines. I was intrigued and the first time I saw a septum piercing in one of the photos, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was done, and how I could get one. It still to this day is one of my favorite piercings.

BME: Was that your first piercing?

No, my first piercing was my earlobe. I was probably thirteen or fourteen and had been bugging my mother about getting it done. She finally agreed, but only if I let my uncle do it for me. Since I was the oldest in my family, my uncle was basically my older brother, and I thought he was the coolest dude around. I mean, he introduced me to Pink Floyd The Wall, Led Zeppelin, KISS, Motley Crue, and Mountain Dew — all the good stuff, hahaha! Anyway, how could I turn that offer down? So, to my mother’s surprise, I said yes. My uncle took one of his piercing studs, soaked it in rubbing alcohol, and stuck it through my ear. The whole time my mom was telling me I could back out at anytime. I know it wasn’t the cleanest, safest way to to do it, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My favorite person in the world was giving me my first piercing, while listening to Led Zeppelin! It was my very own coming of age ritual, and I loved every second of it.

I still hadn’t met anyone with any professional piercings done, and hadn’t seen any, until my parents made the mistake of taking me to get my first tattoo. I started asking for a tattoo on my sixteenth birthday. I didn’t know what I wanted. I just wanted a tattoo — I needed a tattoo. My father had one, my mother had one, and all the adults I looked up to had one, so I thought I should have one too. When I turned seventeen, I got my first tattoo. My parents took me, and my mom got one with me. I had no idea what I wanted, and it was basically a flash shop, so I started looking at the walls. I figured since I was a scorpio, I would get a scorpion. Super original huh? Haha…

Well, I found a flash page that had some scorpions on it and I picked one out. The one I wanted had a rose in its claw, so I told the guy I wanted that scorpion without the rose. He told me “NO.” He said, “that scorpion comes with a rose — if you want one without a rose, pick a different scorpion.”

I was seventeen, maybe 115 pounds, and he was in his forties and probably 250 pounds. I didn’t know any better and man was that guy intimidating. So guess what, I got a scorpion with a rose. Fan-fuckin-tastic!!!! For about six months anyways. Then I hated it. But while I was there, for the first time, I saw a jewelry case full of body jewelry, and I saw a portfolio full of things that I had no idea you could pierce. This got my wheels turning and I couldn’t stop thinking about getting something — anything — pierced. Two weeks later I went back and got my tongue pierced. I asked him about piercing my septum, but he told me I wouldn’t be able to hide it until it was healed so I settled on a tongue. He didn’t ask for ID, he didn’t ask anything actually, just sit down, pierce and done. On the way home, the ball fell off the barbell and I almost lost the piercing. On top of that, it was not pierced straight at all. That was my first professional piercing, and the first of many not so great experiences.

BME: When did you decide you actually wanted to become a piercer?

Once I got my first piercing, I was hooked. I started looking into getting other piercings done. Unfortunately, even though my parents were fine with me getting tattooed, they didn’t understand my desire to get pierced. Out of respect for them, and maybe a little out of fear, I stuck to piercings that were easy to hide. And thus began my journey of bad piercing experience after bad piercing experience. I got my nipple pierced, which turned out to be placed far too deep. I got my tragus pierced, with jewelry that was far too large. On top of that, after the needle was in, the guy left the room to take a phone call before putting the jewelry in. After this I got my nipples repierced, and while one came out perfect, the other side was horribly crooked. I had a Prince Albert piercing done that was far too deep and done with jewelry that was too thin. It ended up tearing and bleeding like crazy. I even had problems when I went to get me lobes pierced at 10 gauge. The guy pierced over the one hole I had and it went well, but the other ear he lost transfer on. He reinserted the 10 gauge needle and lost transfer again! This happened four times before he got the jewelry in. He turned my earlobe into hamburger. There wasn’t a lot of information back then and I went through every studio around. I could go on, but I think you get the point by now. I was always taught that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Obviously the majority of piercers then didn’t grow up with that mentality. It wasn’t like today when you could walk into any number of $20 piercing studios to get that kind of service. I was paying just as much, if not more, than I charge today for piercings, and that is with much lower quality jewelry. I would say I was paying an average of $60 a piercing, sometimes more.

Eventually I was recommended to a new piercer that had just set up a small studio in Syracuse. It took me a while to find, since it was hidden in the very back of a salon with no sign outside. Once I found it, I decided to get my tongue repierced. I was completely amazed at the professionalism of this piercer. his knowledge, his demeanor, and his bedside manner — everything was top notch. I started having him redo all the piercings that I had done from other studios. He showed me a septum retainer and explained that I could start with that to hide it. Finally, I could get my septum pierced — the one piercing I had wanted for sooo long. I became a very loyal client and we became friends. I watched his studio grow into a new location, I watched him bring in a tattoo artist, and I spent as much time as possible in his studio.

One day he mentioned to me that he was thinking about apprenticing someone. I jumped at the chance. He told me that it was very important to him that whoever he brought in knew about the history of modern piercing, and that the person proved themselves. He gave me all kinds of articles and interviews to read. He gave me a copy of Modern Primitives, which I read cover to cover and was completely in awe of the people and the stories in it. He showed me PFIQ, and Body Play magazines. I loved all of it. He introduced me to BME, where I found even more information — I couldn’t get enough. I read about Fakir, Jim Ward and Gauntlet, Keith Alexander, Jon Cobb, Sailor Sid, Doug Malloy, and more… I figured a good way to prove I was serious was to sign up for either the Fakir Intensives in California, or the Gauntlet courses in NYC. I filled out the information for the Gauntlet courses, I booked a room at the Gramercy Park Hotel and I spent a lot of money getting the trip together. I received my Gauntlet handbook, read it cover to cover and couldn’t wait for start date. I took a bus to NYC, found my hotel and decided to walk around and find where the classes were scheduled to take place so I could get there on time first thing in the morning. I was only about a block and a half away, but when I got there the doors were chained shut and it looked abandoned. Being a Sunday I convinced myself that they were just closed on Sundays and all would be fine in the morning. First thing Monday morning, I show up at the address, and it’s still chained up. I waited around for a while and no one else showed up. This was my first time in NYC and I had no idea what the hell I should do. I went back to the hotel, made calls to every number I could find on the paperwork I had. Most of the numbers had been disconnected, but I eventually got a hold of someone. They told me that they were very sorry, and that I must of somehow fallen through the cracks because everyone was supposed to be notified that Gauntlet was no longer in business and the classes were canceled. I asked about getting my money back, and was told that everything was tied up in legal matters and it was just gone.

So here I was, in New York City for the first time, nothing to do, and stressing about all the money I was out. I found as many piercing and tattoo studios as I could and checked them all out. I went to Venus, I went to NY Adorned, I went to some place called East Side Ink (I’m not completely positive that’s right), but at this place I talked to guy named Brian who said he had just left a position at Gauntlet and was very sorry to hear that I got stuck in the middle. I called Shawn, the guy I was hoping would train me and he was also surprised at what had happened but said as soon as I was home, my apprenticeship would start. I guess I proved I was serious about getting into the industry.

I loved every second of my apprenticeship. I was there six, sometimes seven days a week, and on top of that I was working thirty to forty hours a week to pay my bills. I soaked up everything I could, and couldn’t of been happier.

Two of very, very many happy customers.

BME: What did your family think about your decision?

Starting off, my family was apprehensive. My father especially just didn’t understand piercings. That being said, even though he voiced his concern constantly, he was still very supportive. His main concern was stability. He’s a family man and he worries a lot. Not getting a steady paycheck, not having health benefits, and the lack of job security really made him nervous.

Those concerns really bothered him when I started my own studio. Like I said, he worries a lot, and he knows how hard it can be to start a new business. Not having the stability of a paycheck every week, and probably never having health benefits, really made him nervous. But he supported me through all of it. He helped me with build-out of the new studio, he bought me lunch when I couldn’t afford it, and stood by my side through all the tough spots. I really can’t thank him enough. Now that my studio has been open for a while, he’s very proud. I took a chance, I worked my ass off, and I pulled it off.

BME: Now that you’re on your own, how do you continue improving your skills?

I’m always improving my skills as a piercer. I’ve been doing this for almost eleven years now and I still change how I do things. There is always someone better out there and you can always strive to be better. New techniques, new tools, new products, there is always something new to learn. I remember the first time I talked to Tom Brazda online. I had already been piercing for years at this point, but in one conversation he opened up so much too me. It made me realize how much more there was to piercing. That guy is a piercing nerd — he is so knowledgeable, so open, and so willing to share. There are so many people out there like that. They know so much and are so willing to help other piercers. I think that is why so many of us “old timers” are looked down upon for our view of the new breed of piercers. When I first started peircing I talked to everyone I could to gain information, and there are so many people now who are completely willing to share that info — Tom Brazda, Ron Garza, Brian Decker, Dave Gilstrap, Pat Tidwell, Brain Skelle, myself… The list is endless, but the newer breed of piercer doesn’t seem to care. They don’t look for that information before they try something new — they just jump in. The information is so much easier to get now, and they just don’t seem to care as much. The learning forum on IAM is a great example.

BME: Are you an APP member?

Oh the APP… where to begin…

I am not a member but I love the APP. That being said, I think whether you are an APP member or not, if you are a piercer you should make every effort possible to attend the APP conference. I spent years piercing in an area where I was the only one using implant grade internally threaded jewelry, and practicing proper aseptic technique. It was amazing going to the conference and being surrounded by piercers with the same ethics. I learned a lot, not just in the classes, but in the discussions that happened throughout the week, over food or over a beer. I made some great contacts, and great friends.

Relaxing at the APP convention.

BME: What secondary education do you have on top of your apprenticeship?

I keep my CPR, first aid, and bloodborne pathogens certificates up to date. On top of that, in 2006 I enrolled at the Onondaga School of Therapeutic Massage. I took Anatomy & Physiology, Pathology, Myology, and so on… We talked a lot about how the body heals, and it really went hand in hand with my piercing back ground. I graduated in December 2006 with the Salutatorian award. I would have had valedictorian but they dropped a couple points off my grade point average for missing time to go to the APP conference and for Scar Wars in LA. Going through massage school really got me excited again about learning new things. I also take classes yearly at the Association of Professional Piercers conference.

BME: Do you see piercing as an artform or as a craft?

I think piercing is more of a craft, at least on the technical side of it. But to be a good piercer you need to be able to put an artistic spin on it. You need to be able to look at someone’s face and be able to see if that Monroe piercing is going to look good where you have your mark, or maybe a millimeter or two to the side. Anybody can learn the skills to run a needle through someone and put jewelry in, but a good piercer takes placement and angles, and everything else into consideration to make it look as good as it possibly can.

BME: Do you think they’ll ever make a reality TV show about piercing? You could star on “Syracuse Steel” or something?

Oh man, I hope not. Who knows though — I never would of guessed that there would be shows like Miami Ink, or LA Ink, or London Ink, or Wherever else Ink. I don’t know about a show just on piercing, but I think sooner or later instead of just tattoo studios, there will be studios that offer both tattoos and piercing on these shows. Piercers meet some interesting people so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. In fact, one of the artists that work with me, Mike Haines, has been saying for years now that they need to do a show on a whole studio environment. He started saying that back when American Chopper first started and the bike shows were just coming out — this was before Miami Ink and all those.

I’ve had so many great clients over the past decade. I had a woman who had been in the studio with her partner a few times and eventually asked me to pierce her as well. It was a very emotional piercing not only for her, but for me as well. She had been abused as a child, and since then had never had a male touch her or look at her without clothes on. Even her doctors were female. Watching me work with her partner eventually made her comfortable enough to ask me to work on her. We did a Christina piercing — there were many tears shed, but there were also many smiles and hugs when it was all over. It was great to be a part of her self discovery, her growth, and her reclaiming of a part of her.

I once had a 68 year old man come in for a Prince Albert after his wife died. He had always wanted one but his wife just didn’t understand. Out of respect for her, he never got it done. Once she passed away, he decided it was time. First and only piercing he had ever had, and he did fantastic. Smiled through the whole thing.

I also had a woman that was in her seventies. She had never had a piercing before and had always worn clip on earrings. Every year for Christmas and other holidays people would buy her all kinds of nice earrings, because they had no idea her ears weren’t really pierced. She decided it was time to wear some of those, so she came in. Even though it was just a set of 18 gauge earlobes, she was so happy and excited. She came in a couple times after that showing me some of the jewelry she had never been able to wear in the past, now in her ears.

I just recently had a couple come in for their 25th wedding anniversary. For their first piercings ever, she got a vertical hood and he got a scrotum piercing. It was great — they were a lot of fun, happy, and everyone left with smiles.

One of my absolute favorite clients is a guy named Aaron. He originally came to me about his ears. He had two stretched lobe piercings in both ears, and the skin between them was dieing due to poor circulation. I scalpelled the holes into one larger hole. He had a bunch of piercings done at other studios in the past and had problems with most of them. He was surprised at how easily everything healed up after I worked on him and he became a very loyal client. I have since done a number of procedures on him, including a bunch of piercings, dermal punches, and a lip scalpelling. He now wears a 9/16” labret plug in his lip. He was amazed at the difference the higher quality jewelry made and has had no problems with any of his piercings since having them done at my studio.

I really like being apart of people’s lives like that. So many people get piercings to mark an occasion, whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a new job, whatever, but it’s always a positive thing and it’s great to share that with people.

Star surface piercing projects.

BME: Do you have a favorite piercing to do?

I’ve been doing this a long time now, and at this point I don’t really have a favorite piercing to do. It’s more about the person now. I like working on people and making people happy. If the client was fun and we had a good time doing the piercing then that is what it’s all about now. It amazes me how many people come in to get a piercing or a tattoo for that matter, and are a complete asshole. I just don’t get it.

That being said, I still love septum piercings. I also really like philtrum piercings [central upper lip piercings], and my new favorite has to be high nostrils. I absolutely love the look of high nostrils.

BME: Do you have a least favorite?

If the person is an ass, then I’m not going to enjoy working on them very much. I really don’t mind doing any piercing but for me the least favorite piercings in general are tongue web piercings and upper lip frenulums — I just don’t like them.

BME: Which do you find the most technically challenging?

It’s hard to say. Everyone is built so differently; a piercing that is very easy on one person can be a complete pain on the next. Every piercing is going to be different, and as soon as you think you’ve seen every possible shape of a navel, a hood, an ear, or whatever, someone will come in with something completely new. I mean, try lining up a pair of nostrils on someone who broke their nose three or four times, or finding the perfect spot for a surface piercing where there is limited movement — it’s great! I like the challenge, it keeps me sharp, and keeps me growing as a piercer.

BME: Is this a career that you’d recommend to others?

I absolutely would recommend piercing as a career. But, you got to love piercing, and I mean really love it. The cool factor wears off, there isn’t a lot of money in it, the hours are usually long, and it’s not always a glamorous job. A lot of piercers work another job, especially during the slow season. I’ve been working at least six and usually seven days a week for most of the last ten years. I remember a year or two after I opened up, I took what I made, figured out the hours that I worked, and it worked out to $2.68 an hour. It’s really just the last two years that I’ve made even a decent amount of money, and it’s not a lot by any means, especially once you factor in the hours. So yeah, you have got to love it, because you’re not going to get rich being a piercer.

BME: Having gone through an apprenticeship yourself, have you apprenticed anyone?

I get people asking for apprenticeships a couple times a week. For the longest time I had no desire to apprentice anyone. I just didn’t see the work ethic, or the determination in the people asking that I had. I finally decided that I needed to bring someone in. He was someone I had pierced a few times, seemed really interested, and very eager. He reminded me a lot of myself when I first got into the industry. I explained he wouldn’t be making any money at all for about a year, and he wouldn’t be piercing anyone for at least six months. I explained the long hours he would be putting in between being at the studio plus working outside of the studio to pay his bills. Everything went really well, he was right on schedule with everything I had planned out, and we got along very well. He really seemed to fit in with the studio. I brought him to Vegas with me for the APP conference, introduced him to people that I had looked up to for years, we took classes together, it was great .Then about eight months in, he started slacking. After about a week of that, he just didn’t show up. People don’t realize that this isn’t an over night process, and it seems cool at first, but it’s a long road, and it’s not always fun, it’s not always exciting, and people just get impatient. I was very surprised when he stopped coming in — it caught me completely off guard. I guess somewhere in there he decided he wanted to be a tattoo artist instead, and piercing just wasn’t in him. I wish he had just talked to me about it, but he decided to just bail.

I waited a little over a year before I even thought about bringing in another apprentice. I had all kinds of offers, but I was really let down, and just didn’t want to deal with it. I recently brought in a new girl, Shelly. I’ve wanted a female piercer here for a long time. She was someone I had done a bunch of work on, proved that she was serious about piercing, took care of her piercings, and was always respectful and nice when she was in the studio. It always amazes me when people that don’t take care of their piercings, or who come in with an attitude ask me to apprentice them. Shelly just started her training in November, so she has a long ways to go still, but so far things are working out very well.

BME: I assume you’re in this for the long haul?

Man, I hope so! I just recently turned thirty and just had my ten year anniversary in this industry. That means a third of my life has been devoted to being the best piercer I can be. I still love piercing, and have no intention of quitting. I do however want to change my focus a little. I can’t keep working seven days a week — it’s just not healthy. Once Shelly is done with her apprenticeship, I’m hoping I can take some more time and devote it to doing massage therapy. I have a separate space for that now, but most of my time is still taken up by piercing. There are so many different modalities and techniques that it’s opening up a whole new area of research and training that I want to do. So, I’ll probably still be working seven days a week, hahaha…

John getting tattooed.

BME: It seems like a lot of piercers seem to “burn out” after a decade and leave the industry… Why do you think that is?

I’ve noticed the same thing, and it’s something I worried about as I approached the ten year mark. Shawn, who I apprenticed under lasted about ten years in this industry and then basically walked away. For him, I think most of the stresses that pushed him out of piercing were from owning a business, not so much from piercing itself. That is something that I can definitely relate to now that I own my own studio. I love piercing, no matter how stressed I am, or what I’m stressed about — piercing actually calms me. The stresses from owning a business on the other hand just pile up. It’s a very up and down road, and you have to be able to look at the big picture and not focus on things on a daily or even weekly basis. If you can’t, you’ll drive yourself crazy. I think the biggest thing that most piercers end up walking away from is the seeming lack of responsibility from clients and from other piercers. It’s frustrating when you are doing everything you can to ensure the highest quality, safest, experience possible and all the client cares about is saving $5 somewhere else. The majority of piercers out there are clueless — they don’t know what type of metal they are using, or why they should be using something else, and they aren’t up to date with aftercare methods, and they have no idea what aseptic technique is. $20 or $30 piercing shops are popping up all over the place. There is no way you can offer a piercing at that price with high quality jewelry and be doing everything properly. It just isn’t possible. It gets very frustrating at times when you are doing everything you can to do things the right way and to educate the public, working longs hours for little pay, and it goes unappreciated. There have definitely been times when I’ve been at the point where I’ve been ready to just throw in the towel and go back to installing floors, or doing anything. But then I get one of my regulars walking into the studio and I remember why I love doing what I do.

BME: So that’s what keeps you coming back :)

I make people happy. People leave smiling and excited, and wanting to give me a hug because I pierced them. It’s a great feeling. Sure there are the asses that just want to save $5 and are rude, and don’t care about their safety, but fortunately, I have some of the most loyal clients around and they make it all worth while.

BME: Do you get many “weird” clients?

You know, I don’t meet nearly as many “weird clients” now as I did when I first got into this industry. But, I’m just going to change that from “weird”, to “interesting” — that sounds much better. When I first started piercing, there was still a huge percentage of slave-and-master and leather daddy clientèle coming into the studio. I still get some now, but not nearly as much. It opened my eyes very early on to how diverse people were and I loved it. I met so many different types of people. I’m not gonna lie — I kind of miss those days. It made the job a lot more interesting when I was doing a couple scrotum ladders a week, or large gauge PAs, or whatever, compared to now, when it’s just nostril after nostril.

One story comes to mind right away though, and I don’t know how many people can ever say they experienced this, so I feel pretty special, hahaha…

This was years ago, but we had a regular that was full of stories. He had been castrated, had a urethral reroute, had male breast implants, two inch earlobes (which were very very uncommon at the time), and so on… He still had a fully functional penis, and right below that where his scrotum used to be, he had an opening for a urethral reroute, and just below that he had a vagina made. He had a conversation with the owner of the shop about his procedures and offered to show him. They called me into the room, where I watched this man jerk off with one hand, insert a metal sound into his vagina with the other hand, and ejaculate out of his urethra relocation. Now that is Amazing Stuff!

BME: Oh — yes — he’s great! I know exactly who you mean (this individual is also featured in the ModCon book). We’ve already talked about this a little, but what do you think is it that makes you — or anyone — a good piercer?

I think a good piercer is someone who knows their limits. Knows when they need to do more research and knows when to say no. So often I see piercings done on people whose anatomy just doesn’t allow for that particular piercing. A good piercer needs to know more than just how to push a needle through the skin — anyone can do that. They need to practice and understand aseptic technique. I’ve seen piercers change gloves at the weirdest points during a procedure. The don’t understand when or why they should be changing gloves — they just know they are supposed to change their gloves at some point. A good piercer needs to know what they are putting in people. So many piercers have no idea what type of steel they are using. They don’t know the difference between “316L”, “316LVM”, or why they should be using “316LVM F-138”. A good piercer understands how the body heals and understands the aftercare they recommend, and knows how to troubleshoot if there is a problem. A good piercer is confident, but not arrogant. Most importantly, a good piercer is always learning.

BME: We talked about some of your oldest clients, but what have your youngest been? What’s your policy and feeling on age requirements?

The youngest person I have pierced was five — it was a set of earlobes. My insurance company has since changed their policy and I am now no longer allowed to pierce anyone under the age of fifteen.

It’s really hard to say, “at such and such an age, you are responsible enough to care for a body piercing.”

Everyone is so different that it just doesn’t work that way. I’ve had thirty year olds come in and act like complete asses. They don’t listen to me when I go over after care, they act very immature, and I can’t get them to stop text messaging long enough for me to go over anything with them. All they want to know is, is it gonna hurt, is it , is it, is it?? A couple weeks later they call back or stop in complaining that it’s not healing, and when I ask them a few questions, I find out they are doing everything the exact opposite of what I told them. Then I’ve had fourteen year olds come in, ask what the jewelry options were, ask me about sea salt soaks before I even mention it, ask about retainer options, and other jewelry once it’s healed, and a bunch of other good questions. Questions that show that they have done some research and are completely ready for the piercing and they heal with no problem at all.

Large scale skin removal: grasshoppers mating, done in two sessions.

BME: On a technical level, what range of tools do you use to penetrate the skin?

I use needles, scalpels, and dermal punches — it really depends on the situation. In my opinion, it’s a matter of the right tool for the job. A 5mm dermal punched cartilage piercing is going to heal a lot easier than a 4 gauge needled piercing. I know this from experience because my conches were pierced with 4 gauge needles and immediately stretched to 2 gauge about eight years ago. Not only did this completely suck balls, but the healing took forever and was very problematic. I also have been using punches for all my surface work for a couple years now. I have found the punch and taper method to work far better for me. I know a few piercers who have great results with a needle, but for me the punch and taper technique has drastically improved the success rate of surface piercings that I have done. Anatometal’s new flat surface bars don’t hurt either [hey, Barry, maybe I can get some free ones for the plug, hahaha?].

I’m not a fan of using dermal punches on soft tissue like earlobes. I think in that instance, you want to leave as much tissue as possible for future stretching, so a scalpel is better off. Like I said, it’s the all about the right tool for the job, and a proper understanding of how to use that tool.

BME: What do you think of ear scalpelling?

I do quite a bit of ear scalpelling. Most of the time it’s to redirect the piercing. An example that comes to mind is on one the tattoo artists that work with me, Rick. He had his ears stretched to 1/2” from regular gunned piercings. They were drastically uneven — one was very far forward and one was very far back. I scalpelled them up to 3/4”, cutting one side only in the front and one side only in the back. It evened them out very nicely and he is now at 1 3/8”.

BME: How do you draw the line of what you will and won’t do?

If I think it has a good chance of healing, and not cause any problems, I’ll do it. I’m not into shock value and doing piercings just to get the photo, knowing they’ll probably be taking the piercing out in a couple days or weeks. Under the collar bone piercings completely freak me out. They go so deep into the body cavity and in some people there is a chance of hitting lung tissue. Most people don’t realize how far up your lungs actually go! Eyelid piercings just seem like a bad idea — I mean, come on!

It’s not that I don’t think people should be able to get these things done. I absolutely think they should be able to, but I’m not comfortable doing it. There is too much liability involved and if something goes wrong, even if it’s months later, that person could very easily come back after me. I love seeing people push the boundaries when it’s done safely, and the research has been done first, and the parties involved take full responsibility for their actions. I’m not just talking about whoever does the work, but also the person who gets the work. I’m reminded of two recent ModBlog posts. One was the 1/2” or whatever it was Achilles piercing, and the other is the implant gone wrong on the girls leg. That Achilles piercing was very impressive, and I absolutely loved it. I know a lot of piercers gave you a lot of shit for posting it, but I’m very happy you posted it. I love seeing what the human body can pull off, what can be done to it, and how far it can be pushed. That being said, I’m not going to pierce anybody’s Achilles, I can promise you that! The girl with leg implant is a great example of the client taking responsibility for her actions. Things can and do go wrong, and everybody was ready to jump on the practitioner and wanted him called out. She wanted an implant in her leg, she took the time to seek out a practitioner, she knew the risks, and unfortunately it didn’t work. She understood all of that before hand, and when it didn’t work, she didn’t get all pissed off and want this practitioner’s head on a stick. Even though it got pretty bad for her, she took responsibility for her choices. If the practitioner did something wrong, and was negligent in any way, and she could prove it, then sure, go after him. What people need to understand is sometimes things just go wrong, it’s not anybody’s fault — they just do. When that happens, you need to do exactly what this girl did, and just call it a loss, deal with the consequences, and move on.

Sometimes shit happens, and it doesn’t mean you get to sue somebody or are entitled to anything. We’re pushing limits here, and there are risks with those limits, know them beforehand and be willing to take them, for better or for worse.

Fresh and well-healed scarification by John Joyce.

BME: Over the ten years you’ve been in this industry, how has the public attitude toward piercing changed?

Piercings are definitely becoming more common and more acceptable. Sure it can still be a hard to get a job with a lot of facial piercings or 1 inch earlobes, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than it was ten or even five years ago. I’m getting a lot more people in their thirties and forties who work in office settings getting nostril piercings. I still hear people complain all the time about how they don’t get treated with respect because of their piercings. While I’m sure there are times when that is true, I think a lot of it is also in how you carry yourself and how you present yourself. Ten years ago I had a lot of visible piercings, far more than I do now. This was definitely not the norm back then, and I never felt like I was being treated poorly. I treated people with respect, and they gave it back to me. If you act like a punk kid, then you’ll be treated like one, whether you have piercings or not.

BME: Are you still getting piercings yourself?

I have settled down a lot with my piercings. Many have been retired, but I still have quite a few. There are a few things I still want to do, my high nostrils being one of them. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of faith in the majority of piercers around here. This means I either travel the four and a half hours to a piercer I trust, like did for my 4 gauge nostrils, or I wait until I’m done training Shelly. What could be a better test for an apprentice than to pierce the one who trained her?

BME: Finally, is piercing a trend?

Well, when I started my apprentice just under eleven years ago, my grandmother told me that piercing was just a trend, a fad, and then what was I going to do? When I opened my studio, just over six years ago, she told me the same thing — she still loaned me money to get started though. So, is piercing a trend? Sure, just like tattoos is a trend — a couple thousand year old trend!

John cutting at the ScarWars convention.

BME: A lot of piercers seem to move into scarification and implants in their later careers, yourself included.

I’ve been performing scarification, both cutting and branding for about six and a half years. It’s just within the last three years that I’ve really become comfortable with my cutting skills, especially removal. I really love doing scarification pieces, and while I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, I’ve been fortunate enough to do some great pieces on some great people. Shawn, the guy that apprenticed me for piercing had taken the Branding Intensives offered by Fakir. He actually did quite a few brandings and I learned a lot from him. Implants are something that I was very interested in for a while. I got into them a little, got a lot of info, and performed a couple on close friends. The few that I did healed up very well, and are still in to this day, but doing them stressed me out tremendously. I still perform genital beading, but for now I’m not really interested in doing transdermal or subdermal implants.

BME: Tell me about how you became proficient in doing scarification?

Shawn taught me quite a bit and I eventually started doing some brandings under his supervision. He eventually started doing cuttings on some of his clients. This, he didn’t master quite as well as branding, and even though he wasn’t what I would call a good cutting practitioner, I still learned a lot from watching him. Eventually, one of the girls he had worked on asked me to redo a piece he had done on her.

I ended up doing a few pieces on her, simple line work and geometric stuff. For a long time that was all I did. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to try new techniques on. She was very open and took the process like a champ. I tried different blades on her, found what worked best, and slowly started doing more intricate pieces. For the first couple years, all I did was single line work — no removal, and mostly geometric shapes. I constantly checked portfolios of artists I respected, and I still do. People like Ron Garza, Blair, Steve Haworth, and Lukas Zpira. Later I learned about Ryan Ouellete, Brian Decker, Wayde Dunn, Jessie Villemaire, Dave Gillstrap, and so on. These guys were doing amazing work, and some of us were learning around the same time so we were all growing together. I asked questions about blade types, about aftercare; I asked anything I could think of. Shawn Porter started the Scarification Forum and I asked if I could participate. This was a great place to get info and share photos, and get critiqued. I was invited to work at Scar Wars I [] in Philly, and unfortunately I had to back out because I had just started massage school, but I didn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Scar Wars II in LA. I did a few pieces there, including a collaboration with Brian Decker. It was great watching everyone work, and I learned a lot. I did quite a few pieces at this years Scar Wars III in Philly, including another collaboration with Brian, and I got to work alongside Wayde.

Collaborating with Brian Decker on a cutting.

Something I was really surprised about at this past Scar Wars III in Philly was the lack of learning artists in attendance. There are so many people in the Scarification Learning forum, and there are even more people offering scarification that have a long way to go. I can’t stress enough how much knowledge there is to be gained at an event like that. It’s an opportunity to watch the best of the best of the best work, and pick their brains. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, and I think it is really foolish to miss it. It goes back to what I was saying about some of the new piercers. It seems like the easier the information is get get, the less people want to take advantage of it!

BME: What types of scarification do you do?

I do strike and cautery branding, as well as single line cutting, removal, and just started with some of the cross hatch shading technique. That is something I’m still experimenting with. I do far more scarification by cutting than I do by branding though.

BME: I know you have Architecture experience, but what’s your artistic background and what is your design process?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. In high school I spent a lot of time in the art room, even though I wasn’t enrolled in art classes. One of the instructors was even convinced I was one of his students. I started taking design classes my junior year in high school, and then enrolled in Architecture courses in college, so most of my formal training has been more in design than art. I’ve always been surrounded by artists though. Growing up, my uncle who was an amazing artist. He did a lot of pen and ink, and some three dimentional sculptures. I spent a lot of time with him and tried to emulate his work. Once in high school, most of my friends were art majors, which is why I spent so much time in the art room. And of course for the last ten years, I’ve been working side by side with different tattoo artists.

My process for coming up with design for scarification is very similar to a tattoo artist. I do a consultation with the client, take some notes, and talk size and placement. Then I use all sorts of reference material and do some sketches. I always try to keep placement and body movement in mind, so I can place the piece so that it works and flows with the body. Sometimes, I’ll have one of the tattoo artists give me a hand with a design, and we all kind of work together.

Cutting with skin removal, fresh and healed.

BME: Is your scarification clientèle at all different from your piercing clientèle? Is it something you offer commercially?

The clientèle really isn’t any different. Most of the people I have done scarification on were originally my piercing clients. I do far more scarification on woman than I do on men, but that’s true of piercing as well. For a long time I just offered it to people I knew, but now I offer it commercially. It’s not a huge percentage of my income, and in fact, If I stopped doing scarification all together it wouldn’t really affect my yearly income. More and more people are asking about it, so hopefully that will change.

BME: What does the future hold for scarification in your opinion?

I don’t think it’ll ever be common enough for me to do it exclusively, at least not during my career, but I do think it’ll become more common. In the past it was mainly just people who worked in the industry, or who were pretty close to someone in the industry that got scarification done. At this point I’ve worked on a very wide range of clients. I did a branding on a guy’s shoulder who was in his mid thirties and who drove from Connecticut to get it done. He was very conservative looking guy, and his only real concern was if it would affect his golf swing. I’ve worked on a girl who had some existing scars she wasn’t happy with, and wanted to make it a more positive thing. I’ve worked on people who weren’t comfortable getting tattoos because the thought of a foreign substance being put in their skin made them uncomfortable. Scarification has come a long way since I started doing it. The work being done now has so much more detail in it than it did back then. Especially now with the new shading technique pioneered by Dave Gilstrap, which Wayde Dunn has really ran with as well. It’s making scarification more appealing to a wider range of people.

BME: Thanks for taking to us about all this!

Shannon Larratt

Cheese Cutter Theory Disproved

(At least this once)

Julias says that despite the thin wires he wears through them (there’s a closeup after the break of his dubious choice of jewelry), his nipple piercings haven’t rejected after a remarkable forty years. He did these piercings back in the mid/late 1960s on a dare (a friend did them for him at his home in the UK), and has worn them ever since!


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Some healthier nipple piercings to make up for the mangled one in the entry below? Pam had Le Satyr do a BME promo body painting (which pretty much guarantees her a post, and not just because I don’t have to go to the effort of tagging the images myself) while showing off her nipple piercings by Alex at Cracheur D’Encre in Montreal. A second photo follows after the break.


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