GOT YOUR NOSE! in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


Twice I’ve been told by practitioners that they’ve been asked to do a nose amputation, and twice they’ve told me that they refused. Third time’s the charm, as I finally met “Witz Sinariz”, who managed to find a practitioner to go through with it. While he wears an artificial nose in his day to day life, he agreed to “out” himself here. Seeing it, it doesn’t even look real, and is quite difficult for my brain to even parse, but Witz swears that to him it looks completely natural.

* * *

BME: Why did you want your nose removed?

WITZ: I don’t know, ever since I was a kid I imagined it. I don’t know if they have anything to do with it, because it’s the chicken and the egg, you know, but two things stand out. First, I remember watching Sesame Street episodes when I was very young, where Bert and Ernie would take their noses off, and it just really stuck with me, and I wished I could play that game… That, and my uncle always played “got your nose” with me and it was something I really remember fondly.

BME: What made you actually want to amputate it for real?

WITZ: There was never any question of wanting it for real. I just didn’t know if it was possible, and if it might wreck my life because of others’ reactions… But I read a lot of the interviews with digit and limb amputees on BME and other places, and the thing that struck me was that no one ever questioned them, because no one ever assumed it was on purpose. I realized that if I did this, I’d “get away with it”.

BME: What was the process of finding a practitioner willing to do it?

WITZ: I tried doctors and plastic surgeons — no luck. I thought about doing it myself with some sort of “accident”, but I thought I’d be left a terrible scar, or worse, doctors would try and rebuild it, leaving me with a deformed nose rather than a flat face. I contacted practitioner after practitioner, and eventually found one willing to do the procedure after asking him for it for almost two years.

BME: What was the procedure?

WITZ: After freezing the area, “H” made an incision down the middle of my nose, and peeled it open to each side. The cartilage was almost completely removed, and he chiseled away the bone in the bridge of my nose to reduce the bump. A hyfrecator was used to cauterize the bleeders, and the tissue was pulled back over the wound, excess was removed, and sutured.

[Note: I have a DVD from Witz coming tomorrow, so full photos of the procedure and more photos are in the next BME/extreme update in the “miscellaneous amputations” section, and the video of the procedure should be posted shortly on BMEvideo. – Shannon/Roo]

BME: How was healing?

WITZ: No problem at all. I’m very healthy. It took about two weeks for the initial healing, and a month more before it was totally healed.

BME: What did you tell your friends and family? Your doctor?

WITZ: I don’t have a doctor, and my immediate family is deceased. I am very work focussed, and most of the people I know are co-workers. I just told them I didn’t want to talk about it and left it at that. They didn’t push me. I suppose now that the cat’s out of the bag, they could find out. Maybe I’ll try and figure out how to tell them before you put this online, but more likely I’ll just deny it… Really, who’d believe it?

BME: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but did you seek counselling or therapy in advance to make sure that you weren’t “crazy”?

WITZ: Why would I do that? I understand that this might seem strange to others, but it doesn’t to me, and it feels very natural and normal. I don’t feel like I have to explain myself to anyone else. I’m happy and successful — so what if I’m different than you. Why would I want to put myself through having to explain myself to some therapist that’s not going to understand me anyway?


BME: What made you decide to close your nose completely? Is it a problem not having nostrils?

WITZ: I didn’t want it to look like I had a messed up nose — I wanted to have no nose. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d have been left with a hole. It’s not a problem — sort of like having a plugged up nose all the time. If I get a cold, I just spit it out and sort of “hork it up” instead of blowing my nose.

BME: Are you happy with how it turned out?

WITZ: I wish the scar was less visible — I really want to have a perfectly flat face that makes it look like I was born that way — but other than that I’m ecstatic. With time I expect the redness in the scar to go away.

BME: Do you have any other body modifications?

WITZ: I have a few tattoos, and stretched ear piercings, but nothing major other than this. But I don’t really see this as a “body modification” in the same way… I just felt like this was right.

BME: Do you mind me asking what you do for a living, and how this has affected your day to day life?

WITZ: I work as a graphic designer and make a good living from it. To be honest, this doesn’t affect me at all. I wear an artificial nose when I need to, and I love being able to take it on and off, and it lets me decide who I want to reveal it to. But even people who notice that I have no nose would never believe I chose to do it — like I said, in terms of how others treat me, it hasn’t changed anything.

BME: Thanks for talking to us. Any advice for others who want to make radical changes to their bodies?

WITZ: Don’t take life too seriously.

Shannon Larratt

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

Jacki Randall – Post Apocalypse Interview – BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


Jacki Randall is a self-taught artist and tattooist working at her shop Charm City Tattoo in Baltimore. She’s had shows at the Harrisburg Museum of Art, Pendragon & Fontanne Galleries, the Nat’l Cathedral College of Preachers, and other venues, and her publications have been widely seen including in International Tattoo Art, On Our Backs, and Independent Biker, and she’s been publishing lesbian-themed cartoons professionally for twenty-seven years now. You can see a porfolio of her tattoos on BME, as well as visiting her at Charm City In this age of slickly presented superstar artists like Kat Von D (with all due respect to Kat’s
obvious talent), Jacki Randall remains one of the few tattoo artists still deeply immersed in the original outlaw outsider spirit of tattooing

BME: Have you always been an artist?

My mother had saved a drawing of our Amazon Parrot I made at eighteen months… I don’t recall doing it, but I don’t ever remember not drawing.

BME: What did your mother think of tattooing and how did you get into it?

My parents had a very biased, narrow view of tattoos and tattooing. They didn’t understand it at all.

Over the years I’ve become personally acquainted with their stereotypes, but I don’t identify with them.

As a kid I’d see tattoos sporadically. Like most parents, my folks tried to protect me from interesting things. In elementary school, I was the one handed the marker and begged to draw the skull and dagger on your arm. My attention wasn’t focused on tattooing till one day as a teenager I realized I had to have one.

BME: Tell me about your first tattoo?

I was working on a surrealistic painting, having been dazzled for the first time by Max Ernst & Man Ray, and needed a planet to balance the continuity. I loved the asteroid belts of Saturn, but not the planetary association with hardship, restriction, limitation, status quo. What I embraced were the qualities represented by Uranus; genius, revolution, invention, electricity. So I put Uranus in my painting, giving this planet asteroid belts. Two weeks later UPI radio news broadcasted that an asteroid belt had, in fact, been discovered around Uranus. So there’s tattoo #1…

BME: What made you decide to start tattooing people?

Initially the idea of being so intimate and personal with strangers put me off, but as I got older and became adequately spooky, saw past it and connected with the sacred underlining. Money is no reason to devote your life to anything. Greed ruins every and anything.

Before actively engaging in tattooing, I studied whatever I could get my hands on regarding disease control. I’d known AIDS casualties, and the ugly probabilities scared the hell out of me. I was living in Frisco at the time. I found tattoos by artists and now-obscure books particularly inspiring.

I nearly burned my place down building and sterilizing needles. Some company put out this cheap slab jig, and I used that and upholstery thread (with my teeth) to build needles. I destroyed three perfectly good soldering guns. My partner had to leave the apartment for hours at a time. That was OK…we were on the same block as the Bathhouse.

My cartoon ‘Urban Hell’ (above) is patterned very closely after my apartment building. Those people were real.

The spooky thing about cartoons is who and what they conjure up. SoMa’s where the speaking canvasses started approaching me. Painting and drawing can be lonely, so it was a refreshing change.

This provided a good place to be underground, the cover was so flamboyant.

BME: Who are your influences?

An incomplete list of influences include Maxfield Parrish, Ub Iwerks, Greg Irons, Spain, Rick Griffin, Romaine Brooks, Imogene Cunningham, Claude Monet, Lalique, Tiffany, Mucha, Warhol, Solanis, Holzer, Thompson, Cayce, Vivien, Barney, Cookie Mueller, Robin Morgan; of course, music & film, etc…. Especially music – must have good music for tattooing.

In tattooing the finest illumination happens when you’re in the zone where the work speaks to you, as in any art.

BME: What sorts of tattooing do you most enjoy?

I enjoy anything I can use as a vehicle. Bizarre and intelligent clients are the most fun.

Beautiful subject matter is always desireable. Most of my fun pieces were drafted on the spot; Winnie the Shit, DeathChef, Bongstoner, Notre Dyke, PMS Skull/RudeGirl for example.

Most bizarre? The Holy Royal Cheeseburger, Prune Juice Dominatrix, Goddess Kali disemboweling a hermarphrodite…won’t see that everyday, even now!

From time to time, I have just picked up the machine and worked ‘cold’, but that’s on the very few who know me well. There seems to be a consensus of tattooists who don’t understand the term ‘freehand’. My understanding from the old farts who worked thirty and forty years or more, was that anything drawn on the skin, then tattooed, is Freehand.

BME: Tell me about some of your experiences as a tattoo artist?

I can’t say which stories are more absurd; accounts of tattooists, patrons, hangers-on or spectators.

People setting themselves on fire, dancing in the work area with swords, bullets through the floor, junkies, nude drunks, perverts, obscene calls from slumber parties and shut-ins, street people en route to the drunk tank, bored troublemakers looking for places to be ejected from, winos, smelly lawyers, cops wanting to be gangsters, convicts, psuedointellectuals obsessed by ‘coolness’, clients automatically regressing to previous lifetimes, lewd geriatric exhibitionists, sufferers of psychopathia loquatia, ‘performance artists’, gamey tweakers, ghosts of dead artists, etc…ad nauseum…

I must’ve called this up with the ‘Telling Them What They Want to Hear’ ’toon…

It is because of these abysmal work conditions I am only now getting around to doing what I am capable of.

There was this nasty, arrogant gal who looked down her nose while informing me that I
would have the rare privilege of painting her as a nude goddess on a pegasus. Snowballs in Hell.

I recall a hanger-on who told one tall tale after another. Couldn’t help himself. He finally embarrassed himself gone as soon as he realized no one was buying his shit about being contracted by the gov’t to design a special tattoo machine. Like his ’48 Knucklehead wasn’t embarrassing enough.

BME: What do you think of the tattoo “reality” shows?

I consider the tattoo shows to be unwatchable crap. Every time you hear ‘reality’, get ready for scripted soap operas. If I had a buck for every time in the 90’s I said; “ of these days they’ll make a show out of this…” But a shoot where I worked could only safely be nestled between Taxicab Confessions and OZ.

I watched the occult, motorcycles, feminism, culture, lesbianism, and more get co-opted, assimilated, pasteurized, sterilized, homogenized, sanitized, neutralized, bastardized and misrepresented, made palatable, and packaged for mass-consumption; why would tattooing be any different?

All part of the New World Odor pushing us ever nearer to ‘Armageddon’ (courtesy; The ‘faith’ industry) and the peasant/aristocracy model endorsed by Caligula on the Potomac. Marketing/programming is sponsored by financiers who support the three guys who own the media and approved by the lords of the mcprisons, insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical behemoths.

If you can get it at the mall is it still desirable?

BME: Do you turn people away?

Of course I turn people away; No business is better than bad business. But who am I to judge? I’m the person who refuses the act of holding humanity back by propagating ignorance and hatred.

In regard to hands, faces, etc., it’s only responsible to let them know what their limitations will be.
Why make life harder?

BME: What is Art?

What is Art?
“Shit-in-a-frame” is NOT art.

People proudly flaunt hideous tattoos as though they were Michaelangelos.

“What is Art” is subjective, and political.

Some of what I love are; creating, museums, guitars, birds, archeology, locomotives, stained glass, anthropology, forensics, astrology, thunderstorms, occult sciences, paranormal phenomenon, culture, history, and my partner of nearly twenty years, Robin.

Shannon Larratt

Tattooing in Nepal: Mohan Gurung – Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


If you find yourself in Kathmandu, Nepal (a small nation just north of India) with at least a thousand rupees (about $20) to spend on a tattoo, the best known artist of the fifty or so working in the city is Mohan Gurung at Mohan’s Tattoo Inn (, a modern studio with all the sterility control you’d expect from a Western studio. His clients are both locals and tourists, and he leads the wave of popularizing tattoos at his studio where he tattoos — often in twelve hour shifts — teaches tattooing, and sells equipment. Mohan and I recently chatting by email about his art and the experience of running a studio in the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal.

* * *

Mohan (left) at work along with a guest artist at his studio

BME: How were you first introduced to art?

When I was a child, I used to draw portraits of my family members, and I still have a stone carving that I did at the age of seven. I drew only for my personal satisfaction, not for any sort of fame or to have others appreciate my art.

BME: You grew up in Nepal?

Yes, I grew up in Nepal and have traveled to a few other countries.

BME: Were you exposed to tattooing as a child?

As a child I saw traditional tattoos like names, moons, suns, and Hindu gods, which were of low quality and had limited color. As a teenager I began to see saw modern tattoos of astonishing quality on tourists visiting Nepal — we used to observe them with fascination. Also, I was into rock music, where I saw rock stars with tattoos that fascinated me. However, in the beginning I never thought this could be my mainstream job. I decided to start doing tattoos because I loved doing art, and I feel so disconnected from the materialistic world… Tattooing totally freed me from it.

BME: Was there a tattoo scene in Nepal that influenced you?

We do have a traditional tattoo scene in Nepal, and I was also influenced by European and American artists.


BME: What did your family think of you becoming a tattoo artist?

In the early days none of my family members were supportive, except one of my sisters, but at present all or most of them are happy with what I’m doing.

BME: How did you actually learn to tattoo?

I was visiting Korea, and went in to get a tattoo. I became captivated by it, and learned from the very same person that I got tattooed by. The deeper I got into the intensity of this art, the more polished my craft of tattooing got. In addition to this, I met so many other artists from whom I got more knowledge that helped me refine my art.

BME: Who are your influences as a tattoo artist?

Guy Aitchison, Horiyoshi family, Leu family, Sailor Jerry, Paul Booth, to name a few, and Boris from Hungary as well as Aaron Bell.

BME: What kind of equipment do you use?

I started with Mickey Sharpz brands (machine, colors, needles, and so on), which was recommended by my mentor, and then I tried a lot different brands. However I found Mickey Sharpz to be the best and at present I am still using it. In addition to all this i am using colors from Dyanamic, Japanese Sumi, Starbrite, Intenz, and Premium, and needles from Jetfrance. To control sterility I use an autoclave.

BME: Is it hard getting equipment in Nepal?

Back when I started it was very hard to get all the equipment necessary for tattooing. Now it’s easily obtainable due to the Internet.

BME: What are your favorite tattoos to do?

I do all sorts of tattoos with realistic touches, but my favorite is to do portrait art.

BME: To what extent is your tattoo art influenced by local art, culture, and religion?

Nepal is rich in local art and culture and has multiple religions, cultures, and arts — as I grew up in that, it got me inspired to some extent.

BME: I’ve seen quite a few religious tattoos that you’ve done — why do most of your customers get tattoos?

It really depends on the customer… Much of the time people do it for memories, and for some of them it’s fashion and passion. I love tattooing on customers who understood what the tattoo means.

BME: Do you tattoo mostly local people, or tourists?

Probably about 80% are local and the rest are tourists. To some extent their choices are similar, but most of the time it’s pretty different.

BME: Tell me about an interesting tattoos you’ve done recently…

It may surprise you that one of the most touching tattoos I did was that of a portrait of Osama Bin Laden.

After hearing about my interest in portrait tattoos, a high school buddy came to my shop with the notion of having incomparable people’s portraits on his back. We were pretty much confused as to whose face we should start with. Despite the controversies, he wanted to start with Bin Laden’s portrait — we had no political views regarding the concept and did not intend to offend any ethnic group. It was never a big controversy here, however it is something provocative to many Westerners. Anyway, the back piece is still in the process of becoming a masterpiece. We’ve been tattooing important figures from different walks of life that have made an impact on the world, and leave it to the public to decide who among them is “good” and who’s not. Overall the concept is “Humanity’s Different Faces”.

BME: With Nepal being a Hindu state, are there any Hindu religious “laws” or traditions about tattooing?

There are no specific laws, but there are beliefs that Hindu mantras or God-related things shouldn’t be tattooed below the chest.

BME: Is the general public friendly toward tattoos?

Tattooing is no longer taboo. These days the general public are accepting it with ease, and slowly it is going towards becoming mainstream industry. There are a few tattoo studios in Nepal at present.

BME: How do you feel about tattooing hands, faces, and other “public” skin?

I feel fine tattooing on faces, hands, or on public skin as long as a client understands the whole situation. I only turn people away — sadly — if they are intoxicated, or have skin-related problems or health complications.

BME: Besides your tattoo school, have you ever apprenticed anyone?

I’ve apprenticed people a couple of times. On the whole I choose them on the basis of interest and enthusiasm, the learning attitude, hard work, and the patience they have.

BME: What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a tattoo artist?

Absolutely no idea! I can’t imagine life without tattooing. I suppose I will retire when I am old, but I will be always be in touch with this world no matter how old and physically weak I become. I have never regretted this.

BME: I heard one of your customers suggest that Nepal should use you to attract more tourists, offering people “tattoo vacations”… What advice would you have to people who want to travel to Nepal, and maybe get tattooed while they’re there?

Nepal is a beautiful country with good-hearted people, and modern tattoos are becoming a fast trend here. Just be sure you go through the artist’s work and the environment of the shop you are going to have the tattoo at.

BME: Thanks for talking to us! Return flights to Nepal seem to start at around $800 return… hmmm… time for a vacation?

Shannon Larratt

Allen Falkner: Punished and Forgiven – Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]

Photo: Ronnie Spencer

Allen Falkner (and TSD) is probably best known as, along with Fakir Musafar, the singularly most influential suspension artist in the modern world (see his site, — a vast majority of similarly influential artists credit him as their inspiration and how they were introduced to suspension. In addition, he’s an accomplished piercer and body modification artist, and until recently, the owner of the decade-and-a-half old and consistently successful Dallas piercing studio “Obscurities“. He’s now retired from performance suspension (although he still works behind the scenes and facilitates suspension for others) and in addition to his work as a photographer, he’s opened a new business, “Fade Fast“, which offers tattoo removal with the intention of helping people improve their artwork through cover-ups and touch-ups rather than eliminating tattooing from their lives. In this interview he reflects on his suspension career, studio ownership, and talks about his feelings about tattoo removal.

Note: If you haven’t already heard it, you may also want to download this older MP3 audio interview with Allen Falkner from May 2000, the tenth broadcast of BMEradio.


Allen Falkner in 1986 and Allen Falkner in 2008: Less hair, more axe.

suspension and performace

BME: How and when did you get started in suspension?

Strangely enough, the performances came before suspension. I was involved in performance art as far back as the mid to late eighties. My initial interest and involvement in suspension, which was far more ritualistic, didn’t actually happen until ’92. Even then, hanging didn’t become a part of my performances until ’95. For me, the first three years of suspension were purely experimental and soul searching. It wasn’t until I met several other like-minded people and formed TSD that suspension started playing such a crucial role in my public/performance life.

BME: How were you involved with performance art in the mid 80s?

Strangely enough my first experience with performance art was also my first business venture. Back 1987, my friend Damon Law and I started a graphic design company called Baffle Logic. I think the original idea was to promote Damon’s artistic ability and to generate business designing print ads. You see, this was before inexpensive desktop publishing programs were available and not many people were on the Internet. So, the flyers were simple photocopies of designs that were all drawn up and laid out by hand and our contact info was a PO Box.

At the time we were eighteen, couldn’t get into any bars, and I was straight edge anyway. So, passing out the flyers in the nightclub area was our entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. At first Damon designed flyers that were purely artistic, but soon they changed to pseudo propaganda leaflets that were riddled with bizarre disinformation. Our nights of distributing flyers turned from a simple PR plan to a strange sort of street performance where we started saying a number of different odd things to people so they would take the flyers. In the end, nothing ever became of Baffle Logic — Damon went on to become a musician and a graphic designer ( and and my experience not only peaked my interest in performance art, but it was the beginning of my career as an entrepreneur.

“Hurt” (photos: Christine Kessler)

BME: How many shows have you done — and how many people do you think you’ve brought into suspension? Nearly everyone in the intial suspension “boom” in the late nineties cites you as an influence.

I’ve actually lost track of how many suspensions I’ve done; private, public and performance. These days I like to look at it in terms of places. Without creating a list of states and countries, I can say I’ve hung on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. It is still my hope to hang in Africa, and crazy as it sounds, hanging at the South Pole is one of my goals to do before I die. There’s no good rhyme or reason, and there won’t be many people to see it, but as silly as sounds it’s just something I feel compelled to do one day.

As for bringing other people into the suspension, wow, no clue. It has always been my stance that suspension information should be available to everyone. Over the past fifteen years I’ve tried to help anyone that has asked for it. Not only does this make it difficult to give any kind of number, but I know for a fact that many people I have influenced have gone on and done the same thing. Directly or indirectly I know I’ve brought in more people than I can count.

BME: What made you decide to leave performance suspension? Is this just as a performer (ie. will you still be doing “production”), or are you completely leaving?

The decision to quit performing was very difficult, but it was time. Back in the day it was amazing just to see someone hang from hooks. Nowadays, you need to do something really impressive and unfortunately I made a niche for myself by doing cutaways and falling onto hooks. It’s a pretty impressive stunt, and it’s murder on my body, but it’s more than that. My final decision to quit actually came while performing in Greece last year. During my show, I pulled a muscle in my lower back. I was in pain for a week straight, sleeping on a friend’s couch in London and trying to recuperate for the show I had booked the following weekend. During that time I had plenty of time to think. The conclusion… my body just doesn’t heal like it used to and it’s better to just quit now while I’m at the top of my game.

As for my future, I’m sure I will stay involved in performance suspension on some level. I still have some ideas I would love to see happen. So, yes I may very well keep working on the production side. Another reason why I want to quit is that there are just too many jobs for one person to do. When I’m on tour, I have no crew. So, teaching local people to throw strange hooks and handle rigging can be a bit disconcerting. I think doing more behind the scenes work would be much less stressful and then I could truly be involved in the safety side suspension performance, an area that is always hard to manage when you’re the one hanging.

The six-man pyramid and the nine-man mobile.

BME: Looking back on your performance career, what shows are you most proud of?

That’s tough to answer because for the time, each performance was very cutting edge. For instance, the nine-man mobile — theatrically not a very interesting piece, but the engineering behind it was incredible, especially for a bunch of kids from Texas. I think my favorite performance is still the “Hurt” show, named for Johnny Cash’s rendition of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” that I use. I have done several different versions of the piece but the song always plays an integral part and sets the stage for a cutaway drop onto another set of hooks. The reason I’m so proud of the piece is that it’s unique and still rarely duplicated.

BME: As a performer and artist, who have been your favorite people to work with? Who do you think is doing the most interesting suspension shows these days and why?

As life experience goes, the people I’ve met and worked with while suspending have been inspirational. I hate to make a list of people because I know I will leave out so many but the top of my list are definitely Ron Athey, Lucifire and even Fakir, even if we don’t see eye to eye on many levels. In suspension performance there are too many to name but I will definitely mention Samar. She has been my performance partner off and on for a couple of years now and hanging with her is always so much fun

As for suspension shows, I’m still a big fan of CoRE, but in all honesty, I rarely see other performance suspensions. I know the crew from Ascension performs regularly and I’m good friends with them, but I’ve never actually seen them on stage. For instance, I’ve seen Havve from Pain Solution perform a couple times, but I’ve yet to see a show that involves suspension, well, no live show. And I’ve seen Aesthetic Meat Foundation perform as well, but never any hanging. I have seen Operafication perform several times, but suspension is in my opinion a minor part of the act. The true focus is the singing not the hooks.

I think the future of suspension will be more aerial work. I believe the Flying Tigers Circus were the first to incorporate suspension and trapeze work, but unfortunately the have retired the hooks as well.

BME: Will you still do private suspensions for others?

Oh yes, my focus on suspension has turned to the community, especially in the arena of education. I want to help others that are interested in suspension. That’s always been my primary goal and in many ways I feel that I got a bit lost in the performance side. For me, the act of hanging others has always been an amazing experience. To see some else hang is just as, if not more gratifying than doing it myself. I doubt very seriously that I will ever stop suspending other people.

BME: Will you still do private suspensions yourself? Why or why not?

Yes, of course. I still love private suspensions. In fact, all these performances have actually diluted my experience. I need to get back to me roots and just hang. When you are on stage, you need to worry about timing and music cues. When you hang just for you, you can just relax and immerse yourself in the sensation.

BME: As one of the “fathers of the modern suspension movement”, and someone with a long history in both public and private suspension, what is suspension’s value?

Heh, what value does any act have? For me, suspension is one of the most important finds in my life. For others, who knows? I have never been a big fan of pushing my ideals or beliefs on others, and in the case of suspension, this is most definitely true. So, rather than answering your question directly, I will answer it indirectly with another comparison. Smoking tobacco is socially acceptable. Annoying to some, a vice to others, but for most it’s just viewed as an activity that has little to no value. However to certain Native American cultures, the smoking of tobacco is part of an important ritual that has been passed down for generations. So, what is the tobacco’s value?

BME: How is suspension different from self-harm?

This question is difficult to answer in that everyone’s view of self-harm is different. Do the hooks hurt going in? Sure. Is hanging from hooks painful? A bit. So why do people do it? Simple, the sensation is amazing. Plus, many people have an experience that is life changing. Is it just a biochemical response to pain mixed with a euphoric sensation of getting close to shock while hanging feeling almost weightless? Do people have out of body or religious experiences? Is it just the fact that someone has just overcome their fears and done something that seems impossible? I really can’t answer these questions. Everyone gets something different.

My personal view is that when we modify are bodies on any level we are putting ourselves back in touch with our tactile sensations. In western society we communicate with our outside world mostly through sight and sound. For some people, smell and taste play an important role as well, but what about touch? We, as a species, rarely use this sense. Other than sex, when is the last time you remember the sensation of what something actually feels like?

Yes, suspension could be viewed as self-harm, but so could that ringing in your ears from all those loud concerts you attended.

BME: You mentioned that it’s getting harder and harder to make an impact on a crowd with suspension. As a form of performance art, is suspension “done”?

Not buy a long shot. In fact, I think quite the opposite. Suspension is actually an accepted art form now. With all the media hype and exposure, hanging from hooks has come out of the closet and entered mainstream conversation. It’s actually difficult to find anyone that’s never heard of suspension. Some of the old timers disagree, but I think this is a very positive thing. People may not be as shocked as they used to, but now hanging from hooks can be seen as entertainment. What role will suspension play in performance art in the future? Who knows.

BME: I don’t suppose you could have imagined that suspension would be where it is now when you first started, and things have changed a lot in the last fifteen years. That said, do you think it will change much from where it is now, or has suspension hit a stable point socioculturally?

I think everyone is pretty surprised at how far suspension has come. Just like piercing, when I first got involved I never really thought it would be much more than an underground activity. However, unlike piercing that has hit its peak and is now either stable or on the slight decline, suspension will never really gain much acceptance. I realize that it might seem pretty mainstream, but I doubt hanging from hooks will ever become the new navel. You never know though. There might be a future of “suspension spas” just on the horizon, but I definitely wont be behind that venture — but I will happily take a paid position doing guest lectures.

obscurities and studio ownership

BME: Can you give me a really quick history of Obscurities?

I opened Obscurities as a piercing studio back in 1992, as hobby more than anything. In fact, the name came from only fifteen seconds of thought, and in some ways I regretted the decision because it’s difficult to spell and doesn’t really roll of the tongue. I was setting up the business, and didn’t even have a location yet, but I need a sales tax permit to be able to buy jewelry. I went to the county tax office to apply for it and realized I needed a company name for the document. I’ve always liked the word “obscure” because of its multiple meanings and how it can easily represent almost anything. So the word Obscur…ities just came out of my mouth when they asked for my business name. I planned to change it at some point, but a few months later I opened a piercing studio in a vintage clothing store. A year or so later the owners of that shop and I partnered to open the tattoo side, Trilogy Tattoo — there were three of us. A year later I sold my part to them. Then by 2000, the clothes were gone, it was one big tattoo and piercing shop, and I bought back Trilogy and combined it into one shop.

BME: Was it difficult choosing to sell your shop after having it for so long?

Difficult wasn’t even the right word. Gut wrenching is more like it. In all honesty I don’t think I would have ever sold it if the right person hadn’t come along and offered the right price — yes, money did play an important role. However, the sale was also based on the new owner’s character. If I thought for a minute he was going to tarnish the shop name or not take care of the employees it never would have happened.

BME: It must be hard seeing “your baby” under someone else’s control?

LOL, you don’t even know. Technically I only work as a consultant for Obscurities now, but I’m still in the shop every week. I know I haven’t really let go, and I’m not sure if I ever will. I am still emotional vested in that shop. I guess in a way it’s a good thing. What better than to have a former owner still supporting a shop that really gives him nothing? In a way it’s a huge compliment to everyone that works there. I still give praise to them all and consider it one of the best shops in the industry.

BME: How have your feelings about the industry changed in any way, now that you’re not longer doing it for a day job?

I’m not sure my feelings have changed, other than to say that I miss piercing a bit. I think the biggest difference now is that I can speak my mind, where before I was always afraid to bite the hand that feeds me. In all honesty, I think the biggest change is that no one is my competition anymore. When you work in any industry, especially if you own a business, there is a certain amount of “us against them” mentality. Now, I can walk into any tattoo or piercing shop and I feel welcome. Actually, even more than that, people now greet me differently. Now that I’m working in tattoo removal, artists are beginning to see me as an ally.

BME: Having now gone through the full cycle in this industry, would you do it over again if you could rewind to being, say, sixteen?

Would I do it again? Of course! The last two decades have really shaped who I am. I can’t imagine what I would be like if I had finished my engineering degree. Yes, there are numerous things I would change if I knew then what I know now, but my general direction would have been the same.

BME: You went to school for engineering?

Prior to piercing I was a full time student and in my spare time I worked on several projects. I started a company doing a specialized form of tax filing. Yes, I come from a family of accountants. I worked in a movie theater, an art gallery, and even partnered with a guy to open an all ages club called the Discowtech one night a week at the gallery. It was actually my involvement in the club/gallery that led me to my first meeting with Fakir Musafar. He came to speak one day, took a shining to me, and I guess the rest is history.

My education has always been a bit spotty. I was an exceptional student when I wanted to be, but more often than not I didn’t. In elementary and junior high I was an honor student, but high school was boring. So, I dropped out and got a GED. I became interested in computers so I went to college to get a degree in computer science engineering, but I discovered body piercing and chose to drop out. My father almost killed me. He put me through school and I quit to put holes in people. In the end, he was actually impressed by my accomplishments. He never liked my mods or the suspensions, but he was my accountant and did my taxes. He saw that I was a successful businessman and for that he was proud.

BME: Did you ever consider going and finishing that degree?

I think about it a lot, but it’s not the degree per say I want — it’s the learning and gaining of knowledge I crave. At this point in my life, a degree has little to no value to me. It’s simply a piece of paper. If I really wanted to get a degree I think an MBA would do me the most good, but I don’t really care enough to pursue it. Although I’m an entrepreneur at heart, the business classes I’ve taken just weren’t interesting enough and never seemed to apply to my businesses. I would rather sit in on lectures about quantum mechanics or human physiology. Oddly enough, I think most piercers, especially the old school ones, have a similar mentality. We just can’t conform enough to deal with the politics of the educational system, but on the other hand we are obsessed with self-improvement and learning.

BME: Looking back, what moments do you most treasure in your experiences as a shop owner and piercer/body modification artist?

I think I could write a novel answering this question. Off the top of my head, one my oldest memories is sitting in my shop, after closing. I was alone and it was dark except for the neon in the windows and the lights from the clubs outside. I remember sitting there thinking, “This is mine… I built this and I am proud.” As for experiences with clients, there are just too many to name. I constantly think I’m done, I’m retired, I’m through, but I have so many positive memories of piercings that I think about taking it up again. I really don’t think the answer to this question would be complete without a suspension experience. Again, there are so many things I could name, first tandem, first knee, first suspension, Night of 1000 Scars, but the nine man mobile really takes the cake. Besides pulling off an amazing engineering feat, the whole trip with I think 20 or 22 people, the largest membership of TSD ever, was an experience I will never forget.

BME: Is there any advice you’d offer to a piercer or tattoo artist that wants to also become a studio owner? What are some things you did right, and some things you did wrong?

I could write a book about the dos and don’ts of being a studio owner, so I will try to pick a few highlights. As with any business it’s location, location, location. You can have the greatest shop in the world but you will never succeed if you are in the wrong area. If the studio is difficult to find, there’s no parking, or in an area that won’t attract your clientele, you will never make it. Stability is key as well. If your artists switch every few months you’ll never be able to keep a decent client base. People like a certain amount of change, but they want reliability too. Also, customer service seems to be a big problem for many studios. It doesn’t matter how good you are, people want to be treated with respect. Why some shops think it’s ok to grunt at and ignore customers I will never know. Last but not least, quality. If you offer shitty jewelry, your shop is dirty and your tattoo artists suck, you won’t be very successful. Strangely enough, the average customer cares more about everything I have listed above, over price, but people still feel the need to offer discounts and slash prices. This might be a good way to get people in the door, but if you offer a cut-rate price, people perceive you to be a low quality service.

This last point leads to a good story. I know this tattoo artist that is such a good salesman. People would ask about a tattoo and he’d say something like, “You know the tattoo you want would look best with this ink.” Pulling out a random bottle he would say, “This ink comes from Tahiti and the color will really pop in your skin tone.” All along it was just regular bottle of ink. It didn’t really matter what kind of ink it was or where it came from, but he made his clients feel like he was giving them special attention. Even if this practice might not be the most ethical, people came back and loved him.

Now, all that said, honestly, opening a new shop, with all the competition and the sluggish US economy, may not be the best decision. At the very least, a new shop needs to have some serious funding behind it… But good luck to anyone that tries. If you are looking for a consultant I am definitely available.

fade fast and tattoo removal

BME: How do you approach tattoo removal differently than someone who’s coming into this starting as a tattoo removal person, rather than someone who started with decades of pro-tattoo experience?

I always encourage people to lighten tattoos and recover them. Many tattoo removal clinics push total removal with the angle that getting a tattoo is a mistake. I feel very differently. It’s not that people hate tattoos — they are just unhappy with they have. As I try to explain to people, doing a few treatments and covering the old tattoo is usually the best option. Yes, total removal is sometimes necessary for certain career moves, but total removal is a big commitment. Using a laser to lighten existing work is cheaper, faster, and is better for the tattoo industry. I see it as a win-win situation for everyone.

BME: What is your goal with Fade Fast?

As I mentioned, using a laser to lighten tattoos is the perfect pretreatment to getting better artwork. Yes, I founded the business to help my clients, but it’s more than that. I am working directly with tattoo artists to fix, rework, and completely change their client’s tattoos. I know that some removal clinics are becoming more and more tattoo friendly. However, other than Fade Fast, I only know of one other company that works directly with artist to laser edit tattoos, Rethink Your Ink in Marion Illinois.

BME: Realistically, what percentage of people eventually regret their tattoos?

Regret? Well I don’t think anyone should regret any decision, but that’s not how most people see things. I think that people’s decisions to alter or remove tattoos have more to do with how their lives or ideas have changed. What was once a good idea may not be a good idea now. I would say that most people with multiple tattoos want to change them, whether it’s to remove, cover, or even add to them. As for true regret, it’s hard to say. Most people I work on say they regret their tattoo, but once I get them talking, more often than not, they don’t regret getting it, they just aren’t happy with what they have now. To me, this is more about perception. So with that said, 90? 95? 99? percent of people with multiple tattoos want something about their designs altered. True regret? Well, maybe tattoos that hinder their lives or remind them of an ex… but then again, aren’t those the things that have actually shaped their lives and made them who they are?

Left: in progress, Right: before, and after two sessions.

BME: As someone doing removal, what advice would you give to someone thinking about getting their first tattoo?

Now that’s a loaded question. Should my answer be, go crazy and pay me to remove them in the future? As funny as that it is, it’s really not the answer. Yes, the technology is getting there, but removal is not a quick, simple process. Lasers are great tools for providing more options, but you can’t expect miracles. My real answer, “Think before you ink. How will this tattoo affect your future? Will it interfere with any future decisions? Make a plan. At eighteen you might not be thinking body suit, but at thirty will that tiny piece affect the flow of a half sleeve?”

If there are any life lessons best learned early on, it’s that we all change. The more you plan and the better you prepare, the happier you will be. From a very early age I wanted hand and neck tattoos, but I got 3/4 sleeves and tried to be patient. At thirty-six, I had created a life and a career that allowed for my mods, so now my hands and neck are tattooed. Did I make mistakes? Sure, my back piece is a huge mess. I rushed into it, and now I’m a stuck with it. Will I remove it? Maybe… Who knows?

BME: What kinds of tattoos are easiest and hardest to remove? Are different parts of the body different to do removal on?

The technology of laser tattoo removal is based on light absorption. The darker the color, the more energy it will absorb and the easier it is to remove. Simple answer, but the problem is bit more complex. Different inks react to different wavelengths. Skin types and skin color also play an important role in laser removal. Plus, the quality of the tattoo is a key component as well as your immune system. The body’s lymphatic system does most of the work so each person varies dramatically. Generally poor quality, dark tattoos on high blood flow areas on light skinned people with strong immune systems are easiest to remove. Conversely, well-done, light-colored tattoos on people of darker skin in low blood flow areas of the body that might have slower healing are much more difficult.

BME: How have your friends in the industry responded to your new business?

For the most part I have been greeted very positively by most of my peers. However, I have had some very close friends react very negatively. I chalk it up to a misunderstanding and after a small discussion most people come around when they realize I’m in it to help the field of tattooing not hurt it. There are of course a few exceptions. I think laser tattoo removal and tattooing are complementary services and work great in the same location. However, one tattooer that is an old friend of mine still thinks the two do not belong in the same location. I guess we will just agree to disagree.

BME: What would you say to people who believe that tattoo removal is fundamentally wrong or a betrayal to the tattoo industry? Not that I can imagine anyone with any sense or objectivity actually believes this?

You would be surprised. I have found it to be a first reaction by some tattoo artists — not many, but it has happened. Usually I just explain who I am, my work in the industry, and how I see the laser as the perfect pretreatment for cover-ups. Nine times out of ten I get a very positive response, but there is always someone that thinks I’m Judas. In the beginning I was got very defensive, but now I just smile, shake their hand, and give them some promotional materials.

BME: What do you think about the “easy to remove” tattoo ink that’s been in the media lately? Good idea or bad idea? How do you think that “easy” removal would change the tattoo industry and culture?

I used to have mixed emotions about the Freedom-2 ink, but now I’m starting to think it’s a good idea and here’s why. No matter what ink you use, tattooing is still a long and painful process. I can see the modified culture not liking the fact that people can get a tiny tattoo and remove it a year later, but think about it this way. You sat under the needle to get it done. As far as I’m concerned you still “earned” the piece. So, yes, perception about small tattoos might change, but what about big work? What if you could spend ten, twenty, thirty plus hours on a piece and then remove all or part of it a few years later and start over? The impact on tattooing would be incredible. More work for artists, more modified people walking the earth, more social acceptance. “Oh that, I will get it removed later if I have to.” In the beginning there might be some disgruntled heavily modified people, but once the ink starts being used on a large scale, no one will complain. There will still be people that love tattoos and people that hate them.

BME: Do you think tattoo artists should tattoo with removal in mind?

Well, I don’t think my opinion matters, but I have never thought people should get tattoos done with the idea of removing them. Even if the ink is easier to remove, there is a permanence that is inherent with tattooing. I’ve always tried to consider the future in every decision, so in a sense, yes I’m sure some will tattoo with removal in mind. My guess though is it will be a small percentage. Tattoo artists are proud of their work and I can’t imagine many of them want their clients to remove their artwork.

I do think there is one huge application that people are overlooking. Tattoo apprentices have to work on people. If they could work on clients with less worry of mistakes, wouldn’t inks like Freedom-2 be a huge asset? Plus, wouldn’t artists feel a bit less guilty about tattooing a piece of flash or name if they knew it could be removed later?

BME: What sorts of changes have you observed in people via removal? That is, what sort of things do people usually get removed, and why?

My business is different than most in that I work with heavily tattooed people. Many of many clients are clearing way for new work, so I spend a good portion of my time simply lightening dark areas. When it comes to the realm of total removal, you guessed it — the number one request is to remove names. Other removals have to do with placement. For instance I am removing a wrist tattoo on a woman that needs to hide it for work. Technically my job is tattoo removal, but I always try to encourage people to lighten and recover. In the grand scheme of things it means less treatments, faster results, and it helps people keep a positive attitude about their tattoos and the modified community at large.

BME: Do you think this will in time become the norm?

I can’t say if it will become the norm, but I do believe it’s the wave of the future. Complete removal is great and for some people it’s the best alternative, but for the modified community, laser removal will no doubt become a companion service to tattooing. So far most of my clients want entire pieces faded for complete cover-ups. However, I have been working with people to target specific areas just for the sake of editing the piece.

BME: What equipment do you use, and what training was involved?

I use two pieces of equipment. First is the Palomar Q-switched YAG laser. There are lots of lasers available and they all have their pros and cons. I decided to purchase this unit because it’s designed to work best on blacks and reds. Being that I focus heavily on lightening dark tattoos for re-cover, this laser is perfectly suited for my needs. Plus, it has a unique wave-blending feature that gives it enormous flexibility that no other system offers.

Second, I use a Zimmer Cryo unit, which blows negative 22 degree air to keep the area cooled during the procedure. Blowing cold air on the skin isn’t necessary, but after polling multiple people that have experienced constant cooling during a removal treatment, I determined it was a good investment. Plus, when it’s used in conjunction with pre-icing the area, many people say the pain is comparable or even less than getting the initial tattoo.

As for training, my initial education came from the National Laser Institute in Arizona. The school is definitely geared toward estheticians, but they also offered a course on laser tattoo removal. Then upon purchasing the laser, Palomar provided further training on the use of the unit. In all actuality, my biggest learning curve came from doing treatments on myself. I not only worked within the standard parameters of the laser, but I have and still continue to do tests to determine better methods to speed removal and to reduce the number of treatments.

Allen gets tattooed for the purpose of removal.

BME: What “test” have you done and why?

The main thing I have done is to tattoo nine black rectangles on the inside of my right arm, specifically to remove them. The first was not treated, the second treated once, the third twice and so on. I wanted a physical example of how the process works. Plus I wanted to show my commitment to the trade. How better to earn a client’s trust than to perform laser removal on myself first? I actually liked the image so much — I use it as my company logo.

I now have four other tests in the works that I plan to start in the near future. Once I get each of them rolling, I plan to blog each of them step by step.

BME: Are there any people you turn away?

Actually, there are far more to turn away in this field than in a tattoo or piercing studio. As with any modification, I will not perform any laser treatment on clients that are on drugs or intoxicated. Plus, certain people either are not good candidates or simply cannot safely have laser treatments done. For instance, if the person has taken Accutane in the last year or are on any photo reactive medications there can be serious complications associated with the procedure. Also, there are numerous other factors to take into account. Were you aware that laser treatments can cause herpes flare-ups? The treatment area would have to be where the viral outbreak appears, but still, removing lip liner is a request I do get… bet you were thinking about different area, weren’t you?

BME: How do you promote or market Fade Fast? I know that a lot of tattooing marketing involves word of mouth and handing out business cards, but I don’t imagine you walk up to people and are, like, “hey, your tattoo sucks — I can help you with that!”

Funny that you say that, I see bad tattoos all the time, and yes I want to walk up and hand them a card, but how do you that? I think I’m pretty creative, and I’ve tried to think of a funny and non-insulting approach, but I have yet to figure it out. I do several things to market the business; print advertising, keeping a laser removal blog, bugging an old friend to do an article for BME, but my main marketing has been through local tattoo shops.

I’ve been in the business so long that I know a good chunk of the artists that work in Dallas. So, my first plan of action was to go door-to-door, hand out promotional packs and simply tell everyone more about what I doing and why. It has actually been a very cool and educational experience. Back when I owned my studio I’d only been by a handful of local shops. Now I’ve seen the insides, artist stations, and even bio areas of eighty shops. Well, truth be told, only a handful of shops gave me the full tour, but still it was great seeing all those places.

Although I do get business from all my PR work, my main referrals still come from tattoo shops.

Shannon Larratt

De-Fingered: Finger Amputation Interviews in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]

De-Fingered: Finger Amputation Interviews

Yesterday we talked to a few individuals who “needed” amputations for primarily physical reasons, so today I’d like to chat to two people who chose amputation for purely psychological reasons, each choosing to self-amputate one of their fingers at home, disguised as an “accident”. Both of them did this privately and secretly, for themselves, so the pictures in the article are not actually of them.

BME: Tell me about yourselves?

Douglas: I am a thirty year old male from northern Europe, and I live in a small community with me wife and son.

Beth: I’m completely sane, and to all intents and purposes ‘normal’. I just happen to be driven to do things in a way that most people can’t understand, and I’m capable of doing things to myself that a lot of people are not. I believe I’m somewhat unusual as I’m female and I did this entirely alone and without any assistance or help from anyone. I have five digits on one hand, four and a small nub on the other, having removed most of my ring finger.

BME: Why did you choose to amputate your finger?

Beth: Because I wanted to, I could, and it made me happy.

Douglas: A few reasons — one of the reasons is actually your fault Shannon! If it wasn’t for BME and the ModCon book, I probably wouldn’t have been thinking about it the years before I did it. BME has opened my eyes to various body modifications, and I have always been fascinated by people doing extreme things to their bodies. Amputation is as far as you can go if you ask me, and I wanted to see if I was able to do it myself.

BME: Was it rewarding or worth it in terms of that way of thinking about it?

Douglas: Yes, it was. I haven’t gotten pierced since the amputation, and I have some tattoos left to be done, but otherwise I feel complete in my body transformation. I used to be somebody else, but today I am me.

BME: Do you feel that BME should do more to discourage people from cutting off fingers, or would this just make it even more appealing on that level?

Douglas: If people want to cut off their limbs, they will do so even if BME discourages them from doing do so. What I think is more important is that BME should provide “safe” guides on how to DIY and that someone (not neccecary BME) should the person them to slow down and think about the consequences it will have for the rest of their lives. That goes for all modifications.

BME: You said you have other reasons as well?

Douglas: We have a friend of our family that is missing fingers from different accidents and wars. I can’t swear that it formed my interest, but from a psychological point of view, it probably did.

The first time I came across DIY amputation was when I was twelve years old. My mom and I went to the movies and saw a film named “Black Rain”. It’s a film about an American cop going to Japan to deliver a prisoner, but something goes wrong and the prisoner escapes and blah blah blah. It’s not a very good movie, but the Japanese prisoner is a member of the Yakuza, and in the movie he cuts off his own finger in a traditional way. That had a huge impact on me. I remember thinking “WOW!! That is some heavy shit! Are people really capable of doing that!?” Yes, they are.

BME: That’s funny — I remember that scene making a big impact on me as a kid as well. How did you do your amputation?

Douglas: I got intoxicated with alcohol, put a rubber band on my pinky and injected some lidocain with adrenaline in it. Then I waited about thirty minutes or so, and then I took out a huge kitchen knife and ‘popped’ the joint in the finger with some heavy pressure.

Beth: I had no desire to go through the knuckle joint — disarticulation. I wanted to go through in between knuckles. My need was very specific. I obtained injectable xylocaine, a syringe, a rubber band, a scalpel, butchers poultry shears, a paring knife, a belt, and a towel. I found out how to perform a digit nerve block from a nursing guide. After administering the xylocaine in the appropriate places I tied off tightly with a rubber band and placed my hand on a chopping board. Originally I intended to excise the tissue away from the bone first, leaving a longer flap on the underside. I figured this would make patching it up easier, having studied closure procedures on medical websites. Of course it didn’t occur to me how suspect that would have looked in the emergency room but that idea went out the window anyway once I began to cut.

I started on the top side by pressing down with the scalpel as hard as I could. It cut easily, but I was surprised by the sudden bleeding — that may sound stupid, but I guess I panicked. I sat on the floor and placed the blade of the poultry shears into the cut I had started and squeezed as hard as I could. The nerve block was perfectly administered and I felt no pain whatsoever as I closed the blades. It didn’t require too much pressure to go through the bone — it just kind of went ‘clunk’. It took a couple of goes to cut through the flesh. My finger was still partially attached, so I returned to the chopping board and quickly sawed through the remaining piece of tendon. It was very tough. I had a brief look at my new hand, removed the rubber band, used the belt as a tourniquet and wrapped it in a towel before presenting myself at the emergency room.

Finger after a year packed in salt.

BME: What story do you tell people about how it happened?

Douglas: I used to tell people some bullshit lies, but it always ended with me not being able to follow up the questions. My friends knew beforehand that it was about to happen, and most people that know me “know” what really happened, but they can’t prove it. Nowadays I tell people that I was drunk in my kitchen, and that I really don’t feel comfortable speaking about it. I don’t lie, do I…?

Beth: I say I had an accident boning out a joint of meat. I played the female hysteria card. That helped me avoid too much close questioning, and gave me an excuse for failing to bring the digit with me for re-attachment — far too icky and gross! Ha-ha! Plus of course the unhygienic manner in which I became detached from it made it less attractive an option.

Only one doctor made an issue of re-attachment, and I made it quite clear to him that it wasn’t going to happen. The happiest moment was when the nurse took me to have an x-ray and as I laid my hand on the cold plate I was very aware that that finger was not making contact and was no longer there. It suddenly hit me — it was gone and I felt elated. I had surgery under general anaesthesia to repair the stump.

BME: How was your aftercare and healing? One of you went through the bone, and the other went through the joint, so I assume it was different.

Beth: Very, very painful. For the first few days it felt like I had hit it with a hammer but the pain didn’t dull — it was persistent. And very slow indeed. I took antibiotics and pain killers. After ten days I had the sutures removed and began massage and exercise. It took a long time for the swelling to go down.

Douglas: Mine was very easy. I went to the hospital and the surgeon did an amazing job. They fixed all nerves and tendons, so I don’t have any phantom pain at all! The first few days I was on some heavy medication, and I got out of my job for a month or so. That made able to rest up properly.

BME: Was there an aspect of guilt? I know in previous interviews readers have raised the concern that it’s “taking advantage” of the system to make the healthcare system pay for voluntary mods?

Douglas: I have allways paid my taxes, and I would be happy to pay more, so no, I didn’t feel guilt at all. I see your point, but I don’t see it as stealing from other people by using a system I pay for.

BME: What does it feel like now that it’s healed?

Beth: I’m very aware of it; it feels different. I guess it’s slightly tight feeling when I make a fist, and it’s much more susceptible to cold than my complete fingers. I love how it looks, and how differently my other fingers move and behave in order to adapt to the loss. It’s very sensitive. I enjoy having it sucked and nibbled very much indeed. It’s one of the best choices I ever made.

Douglas: It is very hard to describe, but the easy way out would be me saying that it feels normal. I don’t remember how it felt with the finger still attached to my body. My body reacts like if it had been like this since day one. I use what’s still left of the finger as I used my old finger.

BME: That’s interesting — so there’s no “phantom fingertip”? It just ends mentally where it ends physically now?

Douglas: That’s right. At first, my mind was set on still having the finger, so when I tried to “tab” the computer or itch my nose, or even biting my nails, I found out my body didn’t comply with my brain. Also, I dropped things all the time. It took about a year or so for the mind to be ok with it.

Amputation with artificial finger.

BME: Is there anything you’d do differently if you could do it over again?

Douglas: There are four things I would have done differently:

  1. I would have seen a psychiatrist before I did the amputation so they could tell me that I am normal. I went to one after the amputation, and they couldn’t find anything that was wrong with me.
  2. I would inform my family before the amputation.
  3. I wouldn’t be drunk.
  4. I would’ve used a better lie for people that are asking.

Beth: Not that I can think of. I’m very satisfied.

BME: Will you do more amputations?

Douglas: I will never say never, but at the moment I don’t have any plans on it.

Beth: I don’t think I could pull off another ‘accident’.

BME: Finally, how did you choose the specific digit to remove?

Douglas: I don’t know actually. I have always known it would be a finger or a toe, but finger seemed easier to do by yourself.

Beth: It’s strange. I don’t remember what made me focus on that particular finger, or for how long I had wanted to do it. There are reasons which I not prepared to divulge which may have triggered me to begin with. Then I simply became obsessed, driven to remove it. I fantasised about it constantly. I would bend it down and pretend it had gone. I wouldn’t say I had a dislike for it, it just wasn’t ‘right’ and I wanted it gone.

In my mind it was gone long before the actual act of removing it.

Shannon Larratt

Semi-Voluntary Amputations in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]

Semi-Voluntary Amputations

Between all-out voluntary amputation, like Jason’s hand amputation story, and medically-dicated amputation from injury or disease, is a grey area of semi-voluntary amputation where amputation is chosen — often pushed for — to solve a medical problem that would not normally require amputation. Doctors often resist it, but the amputees persistence at a “quality of life” argument eventually lead to surgical intervention. In this set of interviews (all of which I started with the incorrect assumption that they were purely voluntary amputations) we talk to three such individuals, one who removed a toe, and another who removed his leg, and a third who removed a finger.

– Shannon

BME: Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a person who enjoys “foot art”. That is, bunions, overlapped toes, feet that look different, and toe amputations.

BME: So not an interest in amputation per se, but just different sorts of feet?

Yes… My foot fetish started, I think, when I was a kid, probably seven or eight years old. Since then I always looked, searched, and observed different shapes of feet and toes — the more “odd” a woman’s foot, the more curious I became.

BME: Tell me about your foot.

In my case, the second toe always overlapped my big toe, but over time it overlapped more and more. I went to a foot doctor and asked him to remove the toe. It wasn’t a medical neccessity, and I liked the way it looked [with the overlapped toe], but I had to stand at work all day for years and the pain overcame the desire… The next step was to have it removed.

BME: Was it hard to convince the doctor?

The doctor wanted to straighten the toe, but the result would be a stiff toe and the procedure would be eight to twelve weeks. I didn’t want a stiff toe and didn’t want to lose the time… So, we agreed on the toe amp.

BME: To what extent was it something you had to do, and to what extent was it something you wanted to do?

It’s like the chicken and the egg… I’d say both… The desire was always there to do it but this made it possible. I liked the look of my overlapped toe but it was time to move on to a toe amp… I guess it would be “wanted to do”. My wife also had it done and she didn’t mind, so, “What the Hell”…

BME: Your wife also has toe amputations?

Yes, she had it done twenty years ago, and she adjusted to her toe amps. She had similar, overlapping toes, and it was easier to remove them than deal with the pain and time to rebuild them… We’re very busy people.

BME: Does she know you have a foot fetish of this type?

Yes, she knows and we share my foot fetish. Her feet have bunions — at one time overlapped toes — and now toe amps plus extras…

BME: How do people respond?

Not many people know about my toe amp, but some people stare at it when I go barefoot or wear sandals, more so than they did when my toe was overlapped… Their curiosity excites me.

BME: What was the aftercare and healing from the procedure?

The doctor told me to keep it covered until the next visit, but I just had to look and take pictures. The healing process was fast, and there was no pain from the “get-go”. In about ten days it was all over.

BME: What does it feel like now?

It feels like something is touching where the scar tissue is. I like it a lot. My bunion also got bigger, because my big toe took the place of my second toe. I’d have preferred it if the doctor removed all the excess tissue where the toe was, because one gets a pressure sensation where the tissue was left, so I returned to the doctor a year later and he did that. It now feels and looks much better.

I always loved feet and what I have seen with foot modifications, bunions and odd deformities all my life, amputation is my favorite “fetish”.

BME: Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a 51 year old bi-sexual man with some ink and other body mods. I’m Ex-US Navy Sub Forces — “Deeper Longer Faster” — and happily married to a RN.

BME: Tell me about your amputation?

The procedure was done by a doctor and was a trans-femoral (above the knee) amputation of my left leg. It was a very difficult procedure actually as there was titanium hardware in the bone from prior surgery. They had to make a step cut of the tissues, avoiding previous scar tissue as much as possible. The step cut, if you took the leg and looked at it from the side was cut to look like a step. This allows a thick flap of meat and fat to form a cushion and also a good closure of the remnant limb. All the major arteries needed to be tied off as well as the nerves being cut. Also, tendons need to be reattached in a fashion that will help you walk with a prosthetic. Trust me, a leg amputation is not for an amateur to do! Slip up and, well, you can easily bleed out very quickly and not have any real mobility even with a prosthetic.

BME: What story do you tell about how your amputation?

Well, it depends on the person (LOL)!!!

Mostly I tell the straight out truth short version. The long version is what leads up to me deciding to do this.

Roughly six years ago I was hit head on and my left leg was shattered along with numerous other injuries. I almost died. I had lots of pain and the left leg never really healed. Trust me, after being in a wheelchair or on crutches for almost five years it gets tired real fast, especially if you are an active person like me. I went round and round with various doctors and got the song and dance “it’s a viable limb,” meaning, “yeah, it’s alive, so what if it’s useless.”

Total bullshit — typical of the attitude in medicine today. Seriously, it’s a double standard in medicine. We can keep a limb alive even though it will never be useful again, so we will and let the patient go through hell. It even comes down to a double standard in other areas as well. Women can get lipo, boob jobs, or reductions hysterectomies… mastectomies, hey no problem, no letters from a psych… just “can you pay?” Yet if a man wants an Orchi, well, he must be nuts — better get two Psych’s to say hey it’s okay… bullshit. Medicine has ignored the most important thing — your quality of life and only you can say what is best for that, not some white robed geek. I was fortunate that my personal MD knew of a vascular surgeon who takes that into account, so no psych board. I know many other amputees who went through hell before they got the surgery they needed to get on with life.

BME: What was your aftercare and healing process like?

Very painful and drawn out. The burning sensation was enough to drive me up a wall. Healing took about eight weeks for the initial period, and total healing almost a year. Getting comfortable was the hard part, especially in bed. You need to relearn sleep posture. Aftercare was like any other major surgery but with an exception — daily checking the stub with a mirror, looking for wound openings and tissue break downs. The process also was getting used to showering sitting down. The first time after staple removal I tried standing up — it felt like the leg was still there and down I went. That’s the hard part. You still feel the limb even though it’s gone.

Aftercare involved eight weeks of PT to re-strengthen the limb and my back for normal posture, and then another twelve weeks learning to walk again with the prosthetic and also to straighten my back out from years in a chair.

BME: What does it feel like now and how do you like it?

It’s painful many days… I have what are called neuromas. These are nerves that were cut but have regrown into ball-like structures that are very sensitive to heat, humidity, cold, and touch. But truth is, I feel great. I can walk again and enjoy walking along the beach like I used to. I feel whole again.

Most days I am happy with my decision — remember I elected to do this — but there are other days I wish the hell I had my leg back.

BME: Anything you would do differently if you did it again?

Yes, I would have done it much sooner then I did

BME: Are you at all interested in other amputations? You mentioned an orchi (castration)?

For me where I am in life an Orchi is a viable thing from several aspects. First off, I am prone to epididymitis due to a series of injuries to my testes. Seriously I have had two bouts in the last year and the pain is very exquisite — not the nice kind any way. Second, my partner has a very low sex drive and, well, masturbation just staves off the itch only so long. Even though I am bi I am monogamist so relief outside of the relationship is both not in my character or realistic. There have also been six cases of testicular cancer on my fathers side of the family developing around the age I am now. So from one view it would be health insurance so to speak. I also have no need to reproduce with my son grown and moved away as well as my daughter being a parent as well. No need to be a dad again for this kid, LOL. From an erotic point I also find it appealing to have a large degree of control of my sex drive and also find the whole thing a big arousal. Body image comes in as well I really never have felt totally comfortable with my testes, or for that matter, my birth gender as well. Latent Transsexual I guess. Seriously, when growing up Westerns were the big thing on the tube and while my male friends always wanted to play the cowboy or gunslinger, secretly inside I wanted to be the one rescued.

Remember the era I grew up in SRS was a new thing with only one in the States at the time as far as we know Christine Jorgensen and Stonewall was a recent event.

BME: How did you decide to go through with amputation?

Almost five years getting my mind set right and it still was a hard thing to do. I mean, sure, mine was sort of driven by a health need, albeit I could have gone on without having it done, but it is not a thing to take lightly. I have seen some of the photos of folks taking chisel to a joint or toe or more, but I bet most of them did not think it through long term. An amputation is not like ink in that you can laser it off or remove the implant or jewelry. Once that part is gone, that’s it, game over, for that part of the body.

There are also many things to research before doing this things like “Phantom Pain” — for example your left toe hurts like you stubbed it but it’s not there. “Phantom limb” — your leg is folded under you sitting on couch but it’s really not there. Then there are neuromas — nerves that have regrown into a ball… very very painful! Then there are the looks you get. People staring, but when you catch them, they avert their eyes — they are sackless assholes staring like that.

BME: Would you call what you did a “voluntary” amputation, or something that was medically required?

It was a completely voluntary amputation. I wanted to try to have some form of normalcy again. I was hoping to end the pain I was in 24/7 and get off the pain killers that were fogging my mind. Plus the messed up leg was to me an eyesore on my body. I also couldn’t really do anything prior to the amp. It was pure hell sitting and not being able to take part. Well, I did get some normalcy back. I like my body again, but I still have pain… oh, well, trade offs… LOL.

I had to more or less kick and scream and brow beat people to have it done. The Doctors were not willing to do the surgery as it was not a life threatening issue and the soft tissues were healthy. The Femur itself had never healed completely. As far as they were concerned it was healthy for me to spend my life in a wheelchair or get around on crutches. It really took a lot of effort to get the amputation. With the exception of one doctor they had “ethics” issues cutting off what they perceived as a healthy (LMAO) limb.

BME: I definitely understand what you mean though on the pain issues — I had a surgery (bone tumor removal) that messed up the nerves in my leg, and while I’m physically fine, I’m in constant pain from it and have thought for a long time about whether it would be better to amputate it (not that a doctor would for me, and realistically, the phantom pain could easily stay after an amputation).

You could do the route that I took and keep telling your primary care MD that the pain is intolerable, pain med’s are not an option, and that it is affecting your overall quality of life. I was fortunate that when I relocated to this area and my new primary care MD is an extreme advocate of quality of life for the patient. Many MDs are still of the mindset that as long as the limb is viable they won’t do it even though the patient’s life is miserable. There are patient advocates around — a web search can help.

Phantom pain is a weird thing — it is totally different then what I even thought. Best thing I can describe is it feels like you stubbed your left toe yet the toe is gone on up to cramps and stuff in the limb like it is still there it is not in the remnant area but below that. Now what I have is different — that is the neuroma where the nerves have regrown into a ball. Phantom pain can be controlled and eliminated by several means from using a mirror to trick the mind to scratching or rubbing the non existent limb. Yeah it sounds odd, but it works and it can also be controlled with acupuncture. Besides, in 99% of the cases it is not a constant thing, and for most people well it stops after a while once and for all.

BME: How old are you?

I’m 25 years old and currently enrolled in welding school in Manhattan.

BME: What lead up to your amputation?

In june of 2005 I was working for Steinway and Sons, at their piano factory in Queens. My hand slipped into one of the cutting machines and cut across the tops of my knuckles on my middle and ring fingers, severing the tendons. I had surgery on them and regained most of the use of my ring finger but the joint on my middle finger fused due to the bone being damaged as well. About eight months later I had surgery on the middle finger again to cut out the fused part and try to get my finger to bend. After months of physical therapy, my finger wouldn’t bend. It was permanently crooked, swollen, purple, and painful. I was always getting it caught and banging it on stuff. There had been too much damage and it had sat too long without bending to do anything else. I went to see a different doctor, as the first doctor refused to amputate, and he immediately approved the surgery. It had been over a year since the accident. On September 19th of 2006 I had the finger amputated.

BME: How was your finger removed?

I had it amputated by a doctor in Massachusetts. They knocked me out and cut through the PIP joint (proximal interphalangeal joint). the doctor left a flap of skin on the bottom of my finger at the joint that he then pulled up and over the joint and sewed it to the top of my finger to seal it off.

BME: How was aftercare and healing?

Aftercare was easy. My entire right hand was bandaged for about six weeks. I wasn’t allowed to remove the bandage until I went back to the doctor’s. The healing was pretty intense — pain like I had never felt before and an incredible itching deep inside the bone. The first few nights were particularly rough. I had been prescribed vicodin, but it didn’t do anything and I pretty much laid there in bed cradling my hand until I eventually fell asleep — passed out. After the first couple of weeks it hurt less and less, but it was still painful, itchy, and very tender. Once the bandage came off, the stump was swollen about twice the size and I had to wear a little silicone sleeve over it to make sure I never accidentally bumped it on anything… which still happens a surprising amount considering it’s tucked away between two full fingers!

I also had ghost sensations. Pain was actually not all too common. The biggest ghost sensation I had was an itching in the tip of my finger. I’d always reach out to scratch it and then realize what it was, and there was nothing I could do to stop that. I did occasionally have ghost pain sensations and they are really easy to deal with. I couldn’t do anything to alleviate the pain so it didn’t matter that it was happening on a body part I no longer had. I also occasionally had the sensation of my fingertip touching something when the rest of fingers did. The first time it happened was when I went to pick up a glass. I distinctly felt my middle finger tip touch the glass as I wrapped my real fingers around it. It was a weird mental trip for sure. I had been expecting the other ghost sensations, but not that.

BME: What does it feel like now that it’s well healed?

Now it’s hardly noticeable. But to be fair, it was hardly noticeably as soon as the initial pain went away. My middle finger had been immobile for over a year before it was cut off. I was used to not being able to use it for anything, so once it was amputated I never had a period of adjustment. It was a relief once it was gone. I’m much happier now that it’s been removed. I see it as a positive thing and have fun with my stump. I have a tattoo on my side that is a portrait of my hand missing the finger, “MINUS ONE” is tattooed across my knuckles, and I wear the mummified finger around my neck.

BME: Anything you’d do differently?

I’d try to get it done a lot sooner — that year with it still attached was hell.

BME: Do you have any interest in further amputations?

Probably not completely voluntarily, but I do definitely have a much larger interest in amputations now. I’ve thought about cutting off the other middle finger to be symmetrical, but I doubt I’d ever go through with it. It’s kind of funny it happened. When i was in high school, an anatomy teacher I had spoke of a guy he knew from when the teacher worked in a hospital. The guy was a mechanic and had damaged his ring finger several times. It got to the point where his ring finger was useless and he had very little control over it. He ended up having his ring finger amputated all the way into his palm and had a four fingered hand, with no spaces or stumps. i always loved that story and thought it would be awesome to have a four fingered hand. That, and all the exposure through BME and people I’ve met with amputations — my landlord is missing the same finger as me, as well as part of his index finger. That all made it really easy to have my finger cut off.

Shannon Larratt

Vincent Hocquet Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


When Vincent Hocquet was a child, he had an artist uncle who had a disability which prevented him from turning the palms of his hands up, forcing him to develop a unique way of painting and drawing. This uncle passed on his passion by starting little sketches for young Vincent to finish. Vincent also had an older cousin who was covered with tattoos which he emulated in marker all over his arms and legs. Then at fifteen he was inspired by the book Papillon by Henry Charriere to get his first tattoo.

Finally, in 1996, he met David Kotker of No Hope, No Fear in Chicago who pushed him to invest in proper equipment and showed him how to build a machine. At the time, he was working at an antiques and art auction house, surrounded by a large variety of inspiring artwork, and a few months later he left to open his own studio. Soon he was tattooing four days a work both at Wildcat in Antwerp — where he worked with his girlfriend Peggy — and weekends at their own studio in St. Idesbald. They currently co-own and can be found at Beautiful Freak Tattoo (


The Polynesian Legend
of the creation of tattooing

During the Po’ (the dark ages), tattooing was created by the two sons of the god Ta’aroa and his wife. Mata Mata Arahu (he who makes marks with charcoal) and Tu Rai’i Po’ (he who lives in the dark sky).
The two gods belonged to the same group of craftsmen as Hina Ere Manua (Hina of the quick temper),the eldest daughter of the first man and the first woman (Hina). As she was growing up she was closely guarded by her mother and her aunt to preserve her virginity, but the two brothers were determened to seduce her. They invented the new art and tattooed themselves on the face and on the hands so they were able to lure Hina Ere Manua from the place she was guarded. She too wanted the new decoration so she eluded her mother and aunt’s supervision and was finally able to get herself tattooed. Then they taught the art of tattooing to the human race, who found this extremely attractive. Mata Mata Arahu and Tu Rai’i Po’ became the patron spirits of tattooing.



BME: How did you meet David Kotker?

I met David at the first tattoo convention I visited. He caught my attention because he was the only one not to have a bunch of flash books on the table and had nice photographs of his work instead. He also had a different attitude, and seemed more low profile. We started talking and his vision on tattooing was completely how I felt about tattoos. I decided to get tattooed by him and he asked me if I could help him out at some conventions. He recognized my interest in tattooing and that is why he motivated me to start tattooing.

BME: You opened a studio fairly quickly — tell me about your early work?

My first tattoos weren’t very good — it takes a while to get used to the techniques and to working on skin. My father offered to be my first customer. I made him a small tattoo on the arm, and he paid me one symbolic Belgian frank, which I still have as a lucky coin. We enlarged it to be a quarter sleeve a couple of years ago. My family is very supportive of what I do.

Tattoos on Jean Michel, Kelly, and Benjamin

BME: Were you always doing this type of geometric dot work, or did you try other styles?

I started trying out many styles to figure out what I was feeling most comfortable with.

The Polynesian style always attracted me and I spent a lot of time on researching the origin and the symbolism of the old tribal arts. I tried to draw my own interpretation of it and started to put little stories in the designs, and hide many little elements in the design that are only seen when pointed out. I try to entangle the different elements into each other so they have unity. My daughter plays with them, using them as mazes.

I started combining this Polynesian-inspired style with touches of dotwork, and it was a small step from there to making larger dotwork designs and patterns.

BME: Did you apprentice? How did you learn?

Like most tattooists, I did my first tattoos on my own legs. I never apprenticed but was lucky to get good advice from many good tattoo artists.

These days, my thirteen year old daughter Naomi is a tough critic, and I get a lot of stimulus from doing other creative things. I do a lot of designing for projects that are not tattoo related.

I’m also making music, drawing, cooking, painting, and I play with my two year old son. I think all of these indirectly help me in making better tattoos.

I find that limiting myself to one category is limiting my general creativity. I also collect books and imagery from many forms of art, which help me feed my imagination.

Vincent designed this beer label for his friend Carlo from “De Struise Brouwers” (which translates as “The Sturdy Brewers”) for the Belgian Royal Stout “Black Albert”. They gave the beer the slogan, “get tattooed from the inside”, and it was recently voted as best beer of 2008!

BME: Who are your artistic influences?

The artist I most look up to is M.C.Escher. I also like the prints of Masereel, and Bridget Riley’s work. David Kotker taught me not to work from flash, but to create my own designs. I like the works of Daniel, Xed, Tomas, and Pink.

Tattoos on Marije, Jef, and Nico

BME: Who did your tattoos?

I had work done by David Kotker from No Hope No Fear, Daniel from Calypso, Lutz from Artcore Ink, Tattoo Pink, Horitatsu from Dragon Tattoostudio, Robert from Clean Solid Tattoo, Marco Zopetti from Zoptattoo. Some of my tattoos I designed together with the artists, and for some I gave full liberty to the artist.

BME: What are your favorite sorts of tattoos to do personally?

I like the look of big and bold tattoos, but the process of a smaller, well thought out tattoo can be just as enjoyable.

BME: When you’re putting on a large tattoo, how do you lay the stencil? Or do you freehand it?

The bigger complex pattern work is done with different pieces of stencil in combination with freehanding. A lot of my other work I do is done freehand, as this is often easier to make the tattoo fit the body shape.

BME: Do you tend to design by hand, or on a computer?

The computer is a tool like a pencil or a compass — I only recently started working with the computer and this is a big time saver when it comes to making complex pattern work. I draw almost every tattoo by hand and made a habit of drawing every tattoo together with the customer, thus giving every customer a unique design. They love the process of starting off with a blank sheet of paper and seeing it evolve into a unique tattoo design in front of them.

When Bart came to Vincent for his leg piece, he gave him only the following keywords to work with: “Hermes”, “Stars”, and “Art Deco”.

BME: What do you think of the current popularity of tattoos?

In the past, all you heard was that tattooing had to get more socially accepted and that people had to stop judging people with tattoos. Now that this is finally happening, the same people are complaining that tattooing isn’t “underground” anymore! I feel, the better tattooing is accepted in our society, the more blank canvasses are available to express our creativity.

BME: Definitely, and a broader range of people come in for tattoos.

Yes — a couple of years ago a sixty-five year old nun came in my shop and asked me for a tattoo. At first I thought it was a prank, but she was the real thing. I put an interpretation of the “agnus dei” on her shoulder blade. The tattoo took about two hours but afterwards we spent a whole evening discussing religion, music, the differences between our generations, and much more.

She still visits me every year.

These days you see more people getting big tattoos as a first tattoo, and people are more conscious about the different styles and possibilities. A lot of people are traveling to get tattooed by their favorite artists.

Davy started his sleeve about seven years ago, with only one stripe on the back of his arm. Every year since he has added an element, and it’s now become a full sleeve.

BME: Is tattooing something you’ll do forever?

I probably will be tattooing as long as I can, but maybe I won’t do it forever to make a living. I still have other skills and ambitions I would like to develop and who knows where these will take me?

BME: Do you just tattoo in Belgium, or do you travel as well?

I have one guest spot I go to every year — the Dragon tattoo studio of Horitatsu in Kanuma, Japan. The cultural differences between our countries are very big. In Belgium I’ve never had a customer offering me dried squid as a first-meeting gift! I very much enjoy the subtle unspoken way of interacting socially and in business, and the good sense of humor.

Vincent’s good friend Sam was the first person to let Vincent do a piece of this size on him. Their bodysuit project is now finished to the thighs, and they’re starting his arms this year.

BME: Do you ever make mistakes in your geometric work? You must have to pay intense attention!

I don’t make mistakes because I do indeed pay intense attention — I hardly make any conversation while doing these, and after a while the repetition of the work in combination with relaxing music in the background makes me feel like I’m doing mantras.

Doing these tattoos brings me to a state of complete concentration and peace.

BME: That’s definitely reflected in the pieces. Thank you for talking to us!

Shannon Larratt

Anders, The Piercing Guy – Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]

At the age of thirty, Anders, a furniture maker and Swedish immigrant to Australia, saw an ad for navel piercing and decided it would be the perfect way to celebrate his birthday. A friendship was struck up with the piercer, and not long afterward he had left his previous career and started a piercing apprenticeship. He’s never looked back, and is now known as “Anders, The Piercing Guy”. Now, nearly 46, you can find him in Marsden, Australia at Dragon Lair Tattoo, and online at and as iam:Alienboy.

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BME: How and when did you get into piercing?

If I count the gun piercing I had when I was ten years old, it’s thirty-five years ago. Growing up in the late seventies, when the punk era brought us the Sex Pistols, we did a lot of self-piercing. There was nothing else back then, not in Sweden anyway, and being fifteen or sixteen years old at the time that was all we could do. After I moved to Australia, I rediscovered piercing in the early nineties. I was turning thirty, and I saw an ad for “The Piercing Urge” in Melbourne — they were having a special, so I headed right down and got my navel pierced. It was short-lived, but soon replaced with a 10ga nipple piercing and a 14ga helix, I never looked back!

BME: How old are you now? What’s it like being an older guy in a “youth industry” — is it a good thing or a bad thing?

I’m turning forty-six this year — “forty is the new twenty” as they say, hahaha! It depends on the person I guess whether it’s a good thing or not — I feel pretty content with being older in this “youth industry”. I have done my “young” things — traveling, partying, and all that — and have nothing to prove to someone else. Young or old, I think people should just strive to be the best they can be.

BME: Are you still getting piercings yourself?

I’m still getting some piercings done — over the years I have had a fair few different modifications. I feel happy with what I have at the moment, and I’m mainly stretching my lobes up to 40mm right now, as well as currently having my legs tattooed… I guess I have settled down. Right now I have a 6g septum, 1 1/4” lobes, my labret is cut and stretched up to 7/16”, and my conch is stretched from 14ga to 0ga, and I have a 2ga PA, a split tongue, and 5/16” genital beads.

BME: How did you end up piercing professionally?

I’m sure we all have our reasons to be what we are. After getting pierced and tattooed (which followed very shortly after getting pierced), I started to collect magazines and books about modification and became fascinated with stretched lobes and the “modern primitive”. I had just moved to Maroochydore in 1996 and started to stretch one of my lobes. I went into “Puncture Body Piercing” to get some jewelry, where I met Karl Schmidt, the owner of the shop, and we got along really well. I started my apprenticeship there and slowly started to pierce under the supervision of Karl. For me it was “the right place at the right time” scenario and I knew then that this was what I was supposed to do.

Since then I’ve improved through lots of study, anatomy books, research online, and talking to other practitioners in the industry. I also modify some of my tools to suit me better. And of course just doing piercings constantly — about two thousand a year — gives me an opportunity to keep my skills up-to-date. I also have first aid certification and two sterilization certificates through TAFE (“Technical and Further Education”) — both courses include bloodborne pathogens.

Microdermals and piercings by Anders

BME: What did you do before you started piercing?

I’m a furniture maker by trade — I was making fine furniture in Sweden before I moved to Australia. When I first arrived in the land of Oz I was doing some factory work due to language barriers. I moved on to become a production manager for a kitchen manufacturing company and I also owned and operated an award winning backpackers’ lodge before I became a piercer.

BME: What do your family think about your job?

I actually met my wife (iam:giftefeu) on BME in 2005 — we now have a beautiful daughter called Magdalena, born in April 2007. Our combined Swedish and Austrian families are both very supportive of my choice of work. I sent my mum a photo of me, pretty heavily modded, and she said, “you look great I think!” Haha, I love them!

Anders and his family

BME: Is there an Australian equivalent to the APP?

There has been talk of an Australian professional organization — the APA. A website has been set up (, and the site has some information, but there have been some snags along the way. As far as I know no more steps have been taken to continue with setting APA up.

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

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.

BME: Is piercing “interesting”? I mean, do you think they could make a reality TV show about it, haha?

I think piercing is interesting. Interesting enough for a TV show though? I’m not so sure, and there are so many legislative limitations that I think a lot of the more interesting stuff wouldn’t be shown on TV.

To give you an example of a story I’d put on the show, I had a lady in her mid-fifties come in wanting a vertical hood piercing — it was from recommendations from her GP to help her menopause! She was a very happy lady afterwards. She came in and thanked me after a few weeks and said it had done wonders for her sex life.

There have been so many women that have come in to have their navel or nipples pierced because their husband left them and they were never allowed to have it before. I had another lady who lost a staggering three hundred pounds… She still had a hundred pounds to go but she wanted a navel piercing to mark her three hundred. I explained that the way her navel and excess skin around the area was would make it uncomfortable, but after talking through it, we did the piercing and she was very happy. She lost the rest of the weight, but sadly she also lost her piercing — but she explained that it helped her to push on, which is awesome!

There are so many people that have piercings to mark an end or a beginning of an era, like myself, turning thirty and having my navel done.

Happy piercings (and a pocketing) by Anders

BME: What are your favorite piercings to do?

That’s a hard question. I really like doing all piercings and modifications, but to mention some, I like doing ear projects like industrial/scaffolds and more intricate ear work like the daith and the rook. They are fiddly piercings to do and it’s a great feeling when they are placed correctly in the ear — I think they look really beautiful. I also like doing surface piercings with surface bars — a nape or a sternum as an example. It gives me great satisfaction to see a well done surface piercing. Really, I get a lot of enjoyment from all the different modifications I do.

BME: Still, you must have a least favorite?

Hmm, maybe the navel, but only because I have done thousands upon thousands of navel piercings and it has become somewhat boring and old-hat. I still do them with full attention, and every person is different and so is every navel, so I still enjoy it.

BME: Which piercings do you find the most challenging?

All piercings have their own challenges, but paired piercings like venoms, snakebites, fangs, and so on could have a higher level of challenge to make sure they are even and level. “Extreme” modifications like tongue splits, transscrotals, and beading are always a challenge.

Tongue splitting by Anders

BME: Which procedure do you use for transscrotals?

After all preparations are done and placement has been chosen and marked, I would use two large artery clamps to hold the testicles in place. Then the scrotum is clamped and the incision is made. I will separate the muscle and membrane from the skin and then suture the skin front to back. After the stitching is done I will insert the custom-made jewelry, every person is different so it may vary from person to person.

BME: Would you recommend piercing as a career?

Definitely, the world needs good piercers! It’s an excellent and rewarding career if you have the right attitude towards it.

My advice to would-be piercers would be to do your research so you know what the industry is all about, be the best you can and aim high. It might take some time to reach your goal, but don’t give up — there is always an end of the tunnel. There are no shortcuts, and while there are courses which could help you with an introduction into the industry, they are just an introduction. Seek out the best shop in your area and ask if they are willing to put you on as an apprentice. Don’t get upset if you get rejected the first couple of times — it will most likely happen. Be persistent and show that you are serious and keen: if you do, you will be piercing in no time.

BME: Have you ever apprenticed anyone?

I retrained a girl — she already had a year of experience put needed a push in the right direction. I’m not sure if I could call it an apprenticeship, if and when the time is right I will apprentice someone. I will look for dedication and commitment in a person — willingness to learn is important, and some basic knowledge would be a bonus but not a necessity as the knowledge will come as we go along. Depending on the person an apprenticeship would be around two years.

BME: You say it’s a good career — do you think this is something you can do for a living, long term? I get the impression that some piercers seem to “burn out” after a decade.

I’m definitely in it for the long run. It’s been more than a decade now, I’m still excited about piercing and modification, and I am making a living from it, but of course as any occupation, it can have it’s ups and downs.

It can be a stressful job if you don’t look after yourself. A lot of people work during the day and then going out partying all night and then back again the next day — that would burn you out pretty fast. To make it worse, in many cases piercing is a low paying job and some piercers have two jobs to be able to support themselves to do what they love.

BME: What keeps you coming back to work?

Knowing that I will make someone’s day by giving them the modification they always wanted makes me want to come back day after day.

BME: If you leave piercing, what do you think you’ll do?

A little motel at the seaside would be awesome! As I said, I used to be involved in tourism a lot before I got into this industry, so yeah, a motel on the coast… I would have mod-themed rooms so you can fulfill your fantasies, hahaha…

BME: Piercers seem to meet a lot “weirder” clients than tattoo artists… have you got any?

I did have this guy come in and ask for some “piercings”… he was kind of bending forward slightly, and had a strange look on his face. He was constantly looking over his shoulder to see if someone was following him. When we got in to the room he said he wanted a PA, and then mentioned that he wasn’t circumcised. I said that would be ok as long as the foreskin was “loose” enough, and he said he wasn’t sure so he took his pants of and jumped up on the chair. I was all gloved up, so I had a look — I pulled back the skin and it was very tight and his cock head was covered in white cheese! Did I mention he got an erection as soon as I pulled the skin back? Then he asked me if I could shave him, haha! I said, “sure, that will be 200 dollars,” and he ran out of the shop. I never saw him again.

Would I have done it if he’d said ok? Hell no!!!

BME: What’s the youngest person you’ve ever pierced, and what’s your personal feeling on age issues?

I always judge a piercing on younger people on their body development and make sure the area that’s going to be pierced is developed enough to hold the piercing. The youngest person I’ve done a navel on was twelve years old. She came in with her parents and we discussed the options and risks — I had already turned her down twice due to an under-developed navel a year earlier. It’s always going to be an argument — I know shops that pierce navels and other basic piercings on seven year olds. Personally, I think that’s wrong — kids need to be kids and not focus on the trauma of healing body piercings. In the shop were I work at the moment, we have a policy of eighteen and older for genital piercing as well as nipples, scarification, implants, and tattoos. You can have the most basic piercings if you are over 16 and have ID. If you are under sixteen you need parental consent and it will be based on your body development.

The competition?

BME: That’s crazy that there’s a shop that’ll pierce seven year old navels!!! Is there any legal regulation of piercing in your area?

It’s totally insane! It makes me sad that some piercers and shops have no morals or ethics. Here in Brisbane and in the state of Queensland, you have to be at least eighteen to have nipple piercings and genital piercings (the same goes for tattoos). There is no law against other types of body piercing, and if you are under 18 you must be “capable of forming a sound and reasoned decision to agree to being pierced.”

BME: Conversely, what’s the oldest person you’ve ever pierced?

I had a couple that wanted some piercings done — as far as I can remember, he was 65 and a she was 68. He had a PA and some frenums done and his wife had her vertical hood pierced. I have a fair bit of clients around the sixty mark.

BME: How has piercing changed in the time you’ve been working?

There is more awareness about piercing, and many retailers now expect that their workers will have modifications. Looking around on the train ride home there are more people pierced — many who would have never dreamed about having any piercings five years ago. It’s certainly more accepted these days.

BME: Do you have a line as to things you won’t do? So-called “extreme” stuff like vertical oral piercings, under-the-collarbone, achilles piercings, eyelids, uvulas, and so on?

I will always sit down with clients that want these and discuss the risks that may be involved with the procedure. It may sound like discrimination but I’m not going to do a piercing just because someone saw a picture and thought it looked cool.

BME: I know you’ve had a lot of piercings, but how do you feel about doing piercings that you’ve never had — or done?

I have been doing this for some time now and I feel that I have a sound knowledge about piercing and modifications. I will do my research before I do a new mod to find out about the pros and cons so I can advise the person about aftercare and what to expect from the piercing. I always tell the client that I haven’t done this particular mod before, and ask them to come back once a week — more if needed — for check-ups. Of course if I feel that I’m not up to it I will decline and send them to someone that can do the modification for them.

BME: Do you do other modifications as well as piercing?

I also do genital beading and have done some subdermal implant work. There are a lot of inquires about it, so I expect to do more in the future. I have also been doing scarification since 2003 and my portfolio is growing slowly but steady. The focus for me at the moment is to increase my scarification work.

Scarification, fresh and healed, by Anders

BME: How did you get into doing scarification?

In 2002, I started to look at photos of it and I was extremely fascinated with cutting and the process involved. I was looking at artists like Blair, Lukas, and others in that era. I did my first piece in 2003 — a pentagram on a friend’s stomach and it’s been a fairly steady progression since then.

BME: Were you apprenticed?

I am pretty much self-taught. Plenty of practice on good friends laid the groundwork for how I cut today, along with seeing other artists’ portfolios and the way they do their work. Forums like Shawn Porter‘s “Scarification Learning” forum have been an excellent source of information. It is also important to keep cutting on regular basis to stay up to speed with your technique and that can sometimes be difficult with customers wanting scarification being few and far between.

BME: Do you only do cutting?

I do single line cutting and skin removal, either as separate pieces or a mix of both.

BME: Which do you prefer?

I like both. In saying that, I seem to do more skin removal pieces lately. I like simplicity in scarification — symbols and simple tribal work — but I also like intricate art pieces. I pretty much like all scarification work, as every piece is a different work of art to me.

BME: Did your art experience as a furniture maker help?

In that career I drew furniture and cut veneers in different perspectives. I can’t say I’m the best freehand artist, so I do a lot of my design work by computer. With more intricate pieces I will trace the picture onto tracing paper and make changes manually from there. Lots of people bring their own artwork in which I modify slightly to suit, and some friends of mine are tattoo artists and they also customize some pieces for me.

Another happy and pierced descendent of convicts!

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

Piercing is a more obvious process of breaking the skin, unlike tattooing. Lots of piercers also scalpel procedures, particularly on larger gauges, so the use of a scalpel to make incisions in the skin is natural for piercers.

BME: Is it the same clientele for scarification as piercers?

Most of my scarification clientele are customers that I’ve previously pierced or otherwise modified in some way. Scarification seems to be more popular amongst women as opposed to men, but there is no distinct difference. More people are becoming aware of scarification, so there are a lot more inquiries about it now, compared to a couple of years ago. I do have some clientele with no other visible modifications, but wanted a scar due to the subtleness of it, rather than a tattoo. I think there is a great future for scarification as many people are looking for an alternative to tattooing, or even want to combine a tattoo with a scarification piece.

BME: What are the laws in your area about scarification?

There is no current law that specifically mentions scarification by itself, but in Queensland we have “the personal appearance act” which covers body piercing, implants, scars, tattoos, and other “skin penetrating” services “in which the release of blood or other bodily fluid is an expected result”. The law restricts it to eighteen and older which personally I think is fine, due to the permanent nature of the modification.

BME: What are your feelings about laws regarding body modification?

I think that everyone should have the right to do whatever they want to their body, but unfortunately we live in a time with legislations and lawsuits, so to protect ourselves we have to follow the laws in place.

BME: With that, thank you for talking to us!

Shannon Larratt

Johnny Thief Tattoo Interview in BME/News [Publisher’s Ring]


Johnny “Thief” Di Donna (IAM/BME, MySpace, InkedNation) is one of the most skilled and true artists inking people in America right now, and has achieved huge success in a broad range of very mainstream fields without compromising himself to that mainstream. Whether it’s designing artwork for Guitar Hero 3 or tattooing customers at his shop SEPPUKU TATTOO in Savannah, Georgia, fronted by Downing Greek Gallery, his raw talent shines through, and he recently sat down and talked to us at length about his experiences as a tattoo artist.

* * *

BME: How did you get into art? Were you an artist as a child, or did it come later?

I have a belief that all artists are born artists. Oh, I know people can be trained and educated and then work in the arts, but there is more to art than wiggling a mouse or working a Spiralgraph™. That vision to see into other places, that insane burning desire to work through the night, that notion that if you don’t work, you could lose your sanity… these aren’t things that can be taught. They separate Artists with a capital “A” from the rich kids going to art school and thinking they’ll be gallery sensations by the age of twenty.

Art was always there, a God-given talent, and sometimes it’s strange talking about it in such analytical terms. It’s not unlike talking about, ‘How long have you been breathing, and who influenced you breathing from early on?’, y’know?

BME: How did you first get introduced to tattoos, and how did you decide it was something you wanted to do for a living?

I worked for fifteen years in various fields of art before ever tattooing. I spent years designing sets, screen printing, designing, art directing, offset printing, prepessing, and building art departments for gigantic corporations. My client list had been huge, working on everything from the 1996 Olympics programs for Reebok to sets for Saturday Night Live and everything imaginable in between.

I always loved tattoos, but I had moved from New York to Florida in the late eighties just before the tattoo renaissance would really reshape the fabric of the scene. Florida tattoos were horrible and I was poor, so no tattoos for me anyway. I had many opportunities to scratch, and I blew them off. People would stop me in the middle of the night, out in Ybor City in Tampa, wheat pasting flyers for concerts, and they would be like, “Man! You’re that guy! You do that fanzine! You’re the THIEF! Man, you need to do my tattoos!” And people would start taking off their clothes and explaining in detail what they wanted… which is alluring when it’s some killer babe. But, I’m checking out area shops, and this was back when Florida was in lock down, arresting 2 Live Crew for obscenity lyrics, arresting Michael Diana for drawing and things like that. I’m thinking, man, it must be really hard to own a tattoo shop, with all these religious freaks trying to close you down, and all the ostracization heaped on them, so without knowing how much that I was doing the right thing by them, I always turned down those kinds of offers.

Fast forward to 1999, when I’m putting my ex through school, and working fourteen hours a day to do it, while all my other friends are creating posters for bands and blowing up in the underground. Knowing that I was dying inside, my ex bought me a starter kit for my thirtieth birthday. One of my good friends was also an employee, Mike Martin, now of Engine House 13, a screen print shop in Columbus. Formerly a trained tattooist from Ohio, he was tattooing outlaw style in Myrtle Beach during the tattoo prohibition. He threw a party featuring nine bands, a custom hot rod show, and me tattooing illegally on anyone stupid enough to sacrifice some skin. (Incidentally, I still tattoo these people for free to this day as a thank you). We called it the Lo Down Ho Down, and there’s a poster we designed for the show published in the Art of Modern Rock (by Paul Grushkin and Dennis King, Chronicle Books), my tattoo baptism enshrined for posterity.

After playing around with it enough to get the fever, under Mike’s watchful eyes, of course, I realized that tattooing is no hobby. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle commitment. I started doing crazy amounts of research, and testing the waters. Did I want, at age thirty and with fifteen years of experience, to leave a $60K a year job with full bennies in NYC to go scrub someone’s toilets to maybe become a tattoo guy?

I interviewed Paul Booth, Shotsie Gorman, and Brian Everett for our online fanzine, the Black Market Manifesto. They’re great interviews, but I was really picking their brains about their career choices. I attended lectures at the Museum of Natural History on Body Arts through history, given by Hanky Panky, Don Ed Hardy, Chuck Eldrich, Lyle Tuttle, and a number of masters. I went to as many conventions as I could and started taking seminars. I collected more and more tattoos, and started trading work with some of the artists at their invite, one of which was IAM member Johann Florendo of Queens, which was really flattering.

I finally applied for a job with one of the top studios in the tri-state area and was hired. It was a devastating amount of work. But the cool part was, once I started getting my chops, the old corporate job was bought out and sold, and the new owners liquidated 90% of the spots. Tattooing provided me with job security, ha!

BME: What did your family think of you becoming a tattoo artist?

My family has no idea I’m a tattoo artist, I have not spoken to them since 1992.

My formative years were terribly abusive, growing up in NYC in the 70’s at the height of its crime wave, to underage parents who had no concern for me at all. Art and NYC go hand in hand; unlike other parts of the country, NYC loves an artist, the schools loved me because I wasn’t some thug or gang kid, and the only ones around me who hated me being an artist was my family. As a teen, I’d be kicked out of the house for painting, and forget it, when I started painting sets at a theatre, everyone was sure I was some sort of mezzafanuch… in fact, there was a point I had to sneak in to the city, as my drug addict step father forbade me from going, based on his illiterate fear that I would catch AIDS just by walking around the city streets and then infect and kill the entire family.

My parents would beat me for wanting to be an artist. I had to fight tooth and nail for it. It’s one of the reasons why I get so passionate about art and so nauseated at bad artists, or people who think being an artist is an easy ride for rock stars, doodling all day, banging painting models, and going to art parties all night long. Bullshit, my stint as an artist hasn’t just been a few resumes worth of work, there’s times it’s been an out and out war. I’ve also tattooed in places where it was illegal, add that to the mix, fighting the government for your right to create art, and you get an idea of why I have no problem tearing someone up for sucking.

BME: How did you learn and refine the craft of tattooing?

Oh, that is still actively going on, my friend. Tattooing is seriously difficult, more so than any other medium, it’s a consistent challenge every day. Obviously, you’re working on a living medium that differs from person to person. As an artist, sometimes you really need to turn off the creative and concentrate on the application. It’s a ton of technique, some real hard and fast science. The art part of it is almost an afterthought.

I made sure that once I was committed to the tattoo lifestyle, that I served a complete apprenticeship under a reputable master, (Mario Barth, back when he had only one Starlight Tattoo, in my case). Practice of course helps. Getting tattooed by masters and sitting at their feet and learning from them, of course, one of best ways to open your eyes and take things to the next level. I’ve been slack in that area: I was too busy making a lot of money for people who didn’t care about art or me. But now I work for myself, and this year I’ll be out of debt, and am starting to look to Europe and Japan to get work from my heroes.

BME: Who are your influences as an artist and as a tattoo artist?

My influences, jeez, there’s a book. I’ve had so many, it’s rough to condense it all, I’ve got interests as diverse as classical renaissance art to graffiti, and everything in between. Although I love inkwork, so I’m a huge fanboy of the Romitas, Miller, the Hernandez Brothers, Shawn Kerri, Rick Griffin, and anyone who can work only in black, and create a universe out of it. I love comics (Marvel, DC, horror, Japanese manga, punk, underground, independents) movies (sci fi, horror, foreign, film noir, animae, kung fu, samurai, monster, and really weird cult shit) art (nuovo, impressionism, surrealism, cubism, chiascurro, abstract, dada, low brow, pinstriping) posters (Mucha, Griffin, Kelley, Mouse, Kozik, Coop, Kuhn, Pushaed, Mad Marc Rude, and all my friends and peers) tattoos (Americana, Japanese, new school, grey, color bomb, whatever, it’s all killer)… and the tons of subcultures I’ve been involved with, like motorcycles, punk, ska, hardcore, zine publishers, literature, writing, sex and erotica… it all contributes.

And damn, there are more and more talented bastards coming out of nowhere every day. Who doesn’t love Filip Leu? He’s a genius and easily the best tattooist alive today. I love Jack Rudy’s ethics. Same with Norman Keith Collins (Sailor Jerry) and Paul Rogers… ethics are constantly being eroded in this field and we could still use some of those old school values to preserve the craft for future generations. Bugs was a huge influence on me for a lot of reasons, I also feel he’s really underappreciated in the scene. Mike Rubendall’s commitment. Niko’s realism. Grime’s next level shit. Adrian Lee’s vision. Chris O’Donnell’s structures. It’d be easy to go on all night…

BME: What are some tips that you would offer to new tattoo artists to become the best they can be?

For starters, never think this is going to be easy. No one ever became great because things were easy. You think Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man because it was easy? This is not a profession for the faint of heart, for slacker laziness, or for piss poor gimme gimme “I DESERVE IT” attitudes. My marriage ended and I will never work in any other field because of my decisions; I made sacrifices that this business demands. Turn off the My Chemical Romance and start acting like a fucking man. (Girls, you know what I mean!)

Second, forget about shortcuts. Scratching out of your house will teach you nothing. It will simply put money into the pockets of sleazy companies that will ship ‘tattoo supplies’ to your home. These companies are not run by tattoo artists, and their equipment is a joke; lousy ink, meat slicing machines, needles jigged by blind monkeys. The best companies will only ship to health department regulated legal places of business and will require you to prove it.

In NYC from 1961 to 1997, it was illegal in all five boroughs to tattoo. This was from one single trumped up case of hepatitis that came out of a prison. When you scratch, you are breaking zoning laws, health department laws, and biohazard waste disposal laws. In Chatham county, (Georgia) these fines can rack up to six digits and jail time. If you get caught scratching, you could reverse the laws and have an entire county or state go back to being outlawed. You could unemploy every tattoo artist in the state.

In the old days, which were not so long ago, apprenticeships were fucking hard. They were meant to be, they were supposed to weed out the fanboys and act like boot camp, college, and shock treatment all at once. In days not too long past, if you went to a shop asking to buy equipment, you’d leave with broken hands.

In Japan — (*cue the ‘Kung Fu’ TV show music*) — the old rules were as severe as everything else in their culture. You didn’t get a bunch of small tattoos that had nothing to do with each other, you would have one single master design you an entire horimono body suit. This suit may take years to complete, and the relationship and respect between artist and client was critical.

When seeking an apprenticeship, it was like that scene from ‘Fight Club’, which Chuck stole from the practices of Shaolin monks. A prospect would stand outside the temple, with no food, shelter from elements, or encouragement for days, being berated, screamed at, maybe attacked. If the prospect endured, he was allowed in to begin his training. Japanese apprentices shave their heads, like a monk… what they are doing is sacred to them. They move in and live with their sensei, their apprenticeship is 24/7. They will not tattoo for two, maybe three years at all. They will do everything from cook, clean, to anything asked of them. If they screw up, they are beaten.

They study the history, culture, and sacrifices of all who came before them. They will draw until their hands fall off, become master calligraphers, and water color painters. They will study ukeio-e woodblock techniques, and understand the full range of mythology and religion descending from Shinto, Buddhism, and Bushido. When they tattoo, they will be using instruments made and handed down for generations. When they graduate, they lose their old name. They are adopted into the family, and given a two part name: Hori, which means literally to engrave, and also a new family name… like Horiyoshi 3… Now a family member, they will work with that master for at least five years, as a tribute back to his generosity. He may work with that master for the rest of his life, or he may find his own path.

The artist doing the apprenticing is a world class master with decades of experience, who commands the respect of both an international clientele as well as artists worldwide. He has contributed to the industry in many ways, elevating the art form, improving technique and materials, and upholding the ethics, self policing the industry. This level of respect allows him to easily tattoo everyone from working class laborers to the highest level of Yakuza officers. When a hitman bows to you in respect, you are doing something right.

An apprenticeship will teach you far more than how to tattoo. It will teach you VALUE for what you have, and have been given, value for your clients sacrifice of blood and skin, and value for how hard it was to get to this place in history and to not squander it lightly.

BME: What are your favorite sorts of tattoos to do?

I just love to tattoo. I love the look on people’s faces when they are just blown away. Challenging pieces, photorealistic pieces, things that are just a bit over my head are great, they teach me to stretch and grow. I love tattooing complex designs that my old boss would say were impossible, like wood cut effects, or a color portrait, mostly just to spite him. But sometimes, tattooing is as much about the ritual and bloodshed as it is about the subject matter. You know, like when people need a tattoo as opposed to just want a tattoo.

I still love the basics of tattooing… I haven’t lost that first love of the gig. I get excited ordering supplies. I love unpacking a new machine or pouring out a bag of new ink caps. I love doing a first tattoo, a swallow, a sacred heart, a rose and a spider web… there’s still a rush from meeting someone you may never have met anywhere else, and having the chance, with a small clean tattoo, of changing them forever.

I’ll tell you something funny: I don’t think I’ve tattooed any of my other art on people, like my posters. Yet, I see it tattooed by other tattoo artists all the time. Someone a state over did a beautiful rendition of the winged girl holding a baby skeleton from my Godsmack/Deftones poster… I was jealous!

BME: What are your favorite sorts of clients to work on?

The kindred spirits, naturally… people who know who they are and why they are here. Strong individuals who come in, sit, get a fucking tattoo, a tattoo that is 100% who they are inside, now tattooed on the outside, and go out to kick ass. It makes you feel like an armorer, or an arms dealer.

BME: Least favorite?

Ugh. It’s getting worse. The dumbing down of America certainly has wrought some damage, huh? I hate tattoos of inclusion. When someone doesn’t know who he is and is getting something to belong. Not belong to something he created or revolutionized. Belong to some vapid institution or brainwashing that the arts have railed against for centuries. Someone who doesn’t know what it is he’s getting or why. Like all these nautical stars on emo kids, never knowing why the word nautical is there, on a kid who’s never even seen the ocean. A tattoo that brands you as a group and a follower, and not as the unique individual you are. I call them an anti-tattoo.

Or crosses. Ugh… I hate a cross tattoo. Nothing can be safer than a cross tattoo. Who’s going to get pissed at that? Praying hands. Doves. That Icthus fish. All Christian bumper stickers ripped off a pastor’s bumper. Do not get me wrong, I am not anti-Christian, quite the opposite. Remember that Jesus was crucified with thieves, it was a thief on a cross who was first promised the kingdom of heaven. But, you get someone who has to have the praying hands with the rosary beads and a dangling cross, with another big cross behind it, and a dove, and a banner with the word “FAITH” in it, you know, just in case we didn’t catch all that with the five other symbols in one tattoo… so, you’re tattooing this Bible bookstore nightmare, and he’s on his cell phone, talking to his wife. Then he hangs up and calls his girlfriend. WTF? Or brags about how he’s dodging child support. Or calls his dealer for a bump after the tattoo. These are all fakers who have no idea what they’re getting or why. But, they can go to Thanksgiving dinner, and instead of getting hell from grandma about their tattoo, she will most likely kiss it. I call bullshit.

The Bible is 3500 years old, 66 books long. It inspired people like Mozart and Michaelangelo, inspiring some of the greatest works of art in mankind’s history… In fact, there are portions of the Bible that indicate that the arts are gifts from God, supernaturally given to us by Him to glorify Him, like the artisans who constructed the temple of Solomon or the Ark of the Covenant, or King David who invented a number of musical instruments… the BEST you can come up with, endowed with all your faith and supreme being power, is bringing in your friend, rolling up his sleeve to show me his John 3:16 tattoo, and say, “I like this. Gimme one of these?” UGH! I’ve had guys ask for a cross tattoo, and when I ask where they’d like it, they roll up their sleeve and all they have is cross tattoos. They look like fucking Arlington National Cemetery!

An example, a kid came in, and he’s asking me about a tattoo. He’s like, “You know that verse, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’? That’s what I want, My Brother’s Keeper.” I’m like, “Sure I know that verse. Who doesn’t, it’s in the first three chapters of the Bible. It has nothing to do with being your brother’s keeper, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Cain said it to God after he killed his brother Abel, asking ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’. Now, if you plan on killing your brother, then by all means… ”

See what I mean? Here’s a kid who not only missed the point utterly, he has the whole lesson completely ass backwards. A country that is SO obsessed with God this and God that, but has no fucking clue what their own book really says at all.

So, no. I didn’t spent twenty-five years of my life creating art to help perpetrate ignorance. Sorry!

BME: If you could choose any three tattoo artist to be tattooed by yourself, who would you choose and why?

Horiyoshi 3, Filip Leu, and Robert Hernandez. Because they are the best in the world, and I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge I’d gain just by sitting in supplication at their feet. Then Paul Booth, Grime, Marcus Pacheco. Tin Tin. Boris from Hungary. I’d always get more Bugs work. These are cats operating on planes that grunts like me can only aspire to.

BME: What do you think about shows like “Miami Ink” and the mainstreaming and extreme popularity of tattoos? What’s good about it and what’s bad about it? If you were offered the opportunity, would you appear on such a show?

I hate these shows. I do not watch TV and I do not currently get any channels, but the premise of the shows is flawed at the base. It’s corporate assholes who own and dictate the show, then package it and sell it like it was cologne or motor oil. They have no idea of the legacy of our history, or how hard it was to bring tattooing to where it is today, and certainly weren’t there when we fought for legalization. When money is the focus, art dies. From what I hear about the shows, they are long on drama, short on education. And I can’t stand the idea of tattoo faux pas being broadcast nationally; like when they’re doing set ups without any gloves on, wiping fresh tattoos bare handed, or Kat Von D is brushing back her hair with bloody gloves and just keeps on tattooing.

And I know how cool it is to have Steve-O tattoo you, trust me, I’ve done stupider things with tattooing myself. We all have and still do. But why on earth present that to the public? That’s a right that tattoo artists have earned, to do retarded things like go to a convention and then tattoo each other in a dark room under the influence of various substances. Instead, here you have an unlicensed, untrained person tattooing on national television, showing how the tattoo community likes to break health department laws for ratings. STELLAR.

Here’s a killer idea on how to make tattoo TV work: Pick an artist every week, someone up and coming, but not like some megastar. Let’s say like an Aaron Bell, a respected cat in the community who throws down like a motherfucker, but isn’t the owner of several clothing lines or a chain of McTattooshops. Send this person somewhere they’ve never been to explore both the territory and then to seek out the indigenous tattooing. Like some tebori hand tattooing in Japan, get some work in Paris from Tin Tin, or on a beach in the Fiji islands. You would be exposed to a different culture every week, plus see tattooing permeating cultures globally, and have the benefit of a sharp tattooist to illustrate things to the layman. It’s win-win-win, and would be really interesting TV, without all the fake drama or star fucking.

Tattooing is thousands of years older than TV, movies and marketing. Please, corporate whores, stop dragging it down to the lowest common denominator.

BME: What direction do you think tattooing is going in and what does the future of tattooing look like to you?

Haha! I have an issue of ITA that is from 1998, with an interview of Aaron Cain by Dave Waugh, done while they’re on a golf course. It’s amazing. In the article, Dave asks Aaron the same question, and it’s comic how off he is on his answer. He had figured tattooing had hit it’s saturation point, and couldn’t possibly be more exposed. This was before any of the bike build off shows, tattoo TV, the glossy Madison Avenue magazines like Inked, or online banner ads for home mortgages being drawn by animated tattoo machines.

So you want me to go on record like poor Aaron? 😉

I say, I think it’s a scary time: two illegal wars, prison camps, sanctioned torture, trillions in debt, fixed elections, suspension of Constitutional rights, illegal wiretapping, unemployment, falling markets, devalued dollars, the class gaps widening… this country is more apathetic than its been in ages. How many laws do these polesmokers have to break before they’re dragged off to the Hague? Seriously, Dick Cheney could rape someone’s mother on TV, and there will be some fascist pundit justifying it and saying what a whore the mother was and she was asking for it. I have no idea what is going to snap these spoiled, fattened, apathetic losers out of their funk, but I fear it. It’s going to be a second great depression, war with China, or a nationwide Katrina. It’s going to get really bad before it gets better. Tattooing will of course survive. It’s watched things like the pyramids being built and fall into ruin, it will definitely have a shelf life rivaling radioactive waste. And tattoo artists will continue to thrive; during the last depression, the entertainment industries thrived, even with money so short. I just can’t wait until the mall mentality shatters so we can get back to caring more about people than we do about stuff.

BME: How do you feel about tattooing hands, faces, and other “public” skin? Do you do any screening of clients?

Sure. The first and only time I called the cops was on a nineteen year old who started trashing the shop when I refused to tattoo a skull and crossbones on his face. He was just out of prison on a drug charge, was a father already, was beating the mother, (also a client, who covered up his name on her neck after having it for all of two months) and had only one other tattoo. Instead of seeing where I was coming from, that it wasn’t worth the $50 I’d charge him for the tattoo to unemploy him from 98% of the jobs in this country… he felt I was ‘disrespecting’ his manhood and started throwing our portfolios around, screaming he’d burn the place to the ground, and that I didn’t know “who I was messing with”. I was pretty sure I was ‘messing’ with a 140 pound teenage ex-con, so I called the cops rather than snap his femur with my steel toes.

If the kid had some serious work gong on, some sleeves or a big back piece, and had a secure form of income, a trust fund, or a recording contract, then it may have been a different story. I take each client on an individual basis, regardless of the tattoo. I tattoo hands, fingers, feet, necks, and ears all the time. But the same ethics that makes us a quality shop doing clean work also makes us stop and exercise some small amount of social responsibility.

BME: How often do you turn people away, and why?

More and more as time goes on. We get a lot of people in and out who treat our shop like the food court. They want it fast and cheap and they want it now. When informed that the wait might be as long as thirty whole minutes, they stomp their feet and ask where the next nearest shop is. So, after showing them an entire portfolio of before and after shots, I send them on their way, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. We also get a rash of people who come in with a grocery list of things they need in a tattoo, several different subjects, a cover up, must go from hip to hip… no problem, until they tell us that they’re working with a $40 budget for several hours of work. Haha! Right now it’s just me and my amazing partner, Matt Lukesh, so walk-ins can only be done during the slow times. A LOT of people leave, thinking all tattoo shops are the same.

The only real subject matter I turn away are blatant racism or white power tattoos. I have zero tolerance for that shit. But luckily, our clients for the most part keep us interested. We get to do some tasty things and they’re usually somewhat open to exploring outside their boundaries.

I’m also sort of against all white tattoos, because I know how our own melanin will obscure even my best efforts and do not think I can deliver a quality product. And not a fan of black light tattoos. I don’t trust the company producing the ‘FDA approved’ inks, when you examine the release forms and find out the ink was developed for use on fish. Besides, how often are you in black light? Even the owner of a chain of strip clubs isn’t in black light enough to go through the pain and expense… more often than not, it’s a gimmick used by people who don’t know how to put in regular tattoo ink.

Although, to my chagrin, I use three colors from the Skin Candy line of pigment that are also completely black light reactionary, as well as looking great under daylight, and not one single case of dermatitis or reactions. D’oh!

BME: With galleries starting to exhibit tattoo and tattoo related art, do you think this is a good thing, and do you feel that tattoos are “fine art”, or are they “folk art” or “craft” or something else? How do they fit into the larger art world, if at all?

This is funny, because our entire front lobby is the Drowning Creek Rock Art Gallery, with a full display of screen printed concert posters done by Jeff Wood and his impressive roster of artists, from Coop, Frank Kozik, Alan Forbes, Jermaine Rogers, Mark Arminski, Stainboy, Jeral Tidwell, Jason Goad, and myself. We’ve had a number of signings out of the shop, a few art shows, and display some of our original art as well.

As a professional artist, you realize that the gallery scene is kind of a bogus creation. Gallery owners are quite often viewed as scum: many sell art for a 50% commission. 50%! Who else gets 50%? Loan sharks in Brooklyn are jealous of 50%! A lot of what makes a successful artist in terms of pay scales and exposure is a lot of whoring, ass kissing, and nothing to do with Art, capital “A”.

The lines are getting blurred in as much as you have so many more fine artists taking up the tattoo profession, but are not stopping their former careers either. So you have tattoo art that is without any debate fine art. And it’s the kind of thing that will never provide a proper answer. Throughout the ages, the greatest artists in history were rarely the most lauded in their times. Some were shunned by critics but had commercial success, some so far ahead of their time that they failed to hit in any way at all until far after their prime.

BME: Have you ever apprenticed someone? How did you choose them and what was the experience like (and if you haven’t — would you apprentice someone, and how would you choose them)?

I have not, I’ve only been tattooing eight years. I figure I have another decade before I’d be ready to take an apprentice. Most likely my apprentice will be the hottest barely legal Japanese girl ever born, a demon possessed nymphomaniac sado-masochist and exhibitionist, with a hardcore fetish for larger, older, ugly Italian men. Luckily, I do not show a bias in my selection process.

BME: If you weren’t a tattoo artist, what do you think you’d be?

I was born an artist, I was doing art for fifteen years before I was ever tattooed. This last year alone I also did a number of concert posters, DVD covers, one real painting, and our work was featured throughout Guitar Hero 3, on top of running a tattoo shop 90 hours a week for 52 weeks. I would love to have the luxury of painting more often, and be one of those guys who can bitch about the gallery owners taking 50% of a $25,000 painting.

BME: Do you plan on tattooing your whole life? Are you planning for retirement?

Yes, I will retire. When they nail me inside a pine box. Or how about we get all Charlton Heston on it? “I’ll stop tattooing when they take my tattoo irons from my cold dead hands!

That was pretty tough guy; right?

I have the words UGLY FUCK tattooed on my knuckles. I’m so in this for life. Sleep when you’re dead!

BME: Have you experienced physical problems from tattooing (back, hands, etc.)?

My partner does. The funny part is he is the skinny good looking one. He smokes like a fiend, eats only cheeseburgers, and gets winded opening a sterile pack of needles… he has all kinds of back pain, and is at his doctor weekly. Me, I’m almost three hundred pounds, the largest I’ve ever been… but my doctor declared that I’m “very healthy”, I have great blood pressure, clean lungs, and 20/20 vision. Thick rubber grips on my tubes and the occasional massage help keep carpal tunnel at bay. If I can get back in shape and drop this small child’s worth of extra weight I’m lugging around, I’ll be doing pretty well.

BME: Do you find being a tattooist helps or hinders finding “that special person”? Does it interfere or help at all with your social/personal life?

Being an artist is weird. I’m bitterly divorced… I’ll skip the play by play. When my clients tell me what a great catch I’d be, I tell them that artists aren’t stable people, artists cut off their ears.

I’ll be forty in December, I have a hell of a lot of notches on my belt, and yet I don’t know one goddamned thing more about women than I did when I hit puberty. I have a suspicion that they all work for Satan.

Although I haven’t really dated anyone in the scene who was a professional. I’ve hooked up with plenty of artists, but oddly enough they never wanted to hear about any of the things I’ve been working on, they just wanted a booty call. I guess as far as inspiration is concerned, my tongue has better uses than all this talking.

BME: What are your feelings about the rising popularity of scarification and other forms of body modification as opposed to tattooing, which has a much larger modern history?

I’m glad to see it. Apply everything I’ve said about commercialization and the superficiality of our plastic disposable mall culture to this question. Anything that gets us away from being drones and back to being actual humans again is just fine by me.

BME: How do you feel about scratchers and lower-end tattoo shops, and their role in tattoo culture?

I despise scratch shops. We just had two shops close here in Savannah, neither made it more than a year. One, the owner was a wannabe 1%er, a biker with no patch, who never tattooed, never drew or painted. Two of his artists left within days, the remaining artist had been fired from three separate apprenticeships from the worst shops in town. I’ll give you an example of the kind of shop this was. A cat walks in, knowing the owner deals heroin. He hates tattoos, has no tattoos, doesn’t want to see any tattoos, will never get tattoos. He scores, and asks if he can crash in the back and fix up, which he does. While out on the nod, the owner grabs a machine, and with no training whatsoever, just starts tattooing this guy, the same way you may draw with marker on a friend passed out drunk at a party. The guy comes to covered in scratch that looks like Helen Keller attacked him with a weed whacker… he can’t really go to the cops, how do you explain being tattooed against your will out on a nod? The shop is now closed, because the owner is in prison for drug dealing, weapons running, and murder one.

This is a story I have to tell in 2008?

Now, when I walk into the zoning department or city hall, and introduce myself proudly as a tattoo artist, is this what they think of me? Fuck that! Not to mention, that I’m sure there were days that we were sitting on our hands while they were rocking and rolling. They had plenty of clients all too happy to show up and get stoned… they would pimp that shop as the greatest tattoo shop that ever was. Except now it’s closed and the tattoos look like an experiment in flesh eating bacteria colonies. We live in a time when the Guy Aitchinson’s and Anil Gupta’s have raised the bar to staggering heights, yet these inbred assholes have helped keep people in the dark ages. It’s disrespectful… to all who came before them, to the craft itself, and to all the people they’ve scarred up. This, of course, is just one of the real reasons why we named our shop SEPPUKU. Death before dishonor, gaigin!

When the health department comes in for inspections, I yell at them for being too easy. All that yellow paper tells anyone is that I know how to mop and wear gloves. What I propose, is the TATTOO LICENSE ROAD TEST! Get some prisoners, or kids who want a $5 tattoo, like you get a $5 hair cut at a barber school. The instructor comes out in a bad polyester shirt and a clipboard. He is going to test you on cross contamination practices, skin prep, stencil application, client comfort, lining, shading, coloring, bandaging, aftercare, sterilization and biowaste disposal… you get three hours to put on a nice clean tattoo, some well done lettering, bright colors, smooth blends, maybe extra credit for real toothpaste whites or special effects. If you fail, you go back to apprenticing and try again in six months. A photo is taken of your first tattoo and is laminated on your license as a testament to your skill. Testing is done once every three to five years. Your license is copied on the client’s release form with a check box to prove they have seen it before you begin work on them.

Why not? The shit is medically invasive. It’s the 21st century. Tattoos are expensive. Imagine a body shop that painted cars like some shops tattoo. Not everyone needs to be Corey Kruger or Mike Rubendall… but if you can’t at least put in a clean rose and a dagger, find another career, please? If you want to suck at your job, go work for the DMV, people expect you to suck there.

BME: Are there any times you’ve regretted your career path?

That’s a tough one. I wrestle with it every day, as I’ve spread myself pretty thin. As I mentioned earlier I’ve been a set designer, a mural painter, an airbrush artist, an illustrator, a fanzine publisher, an art director, a screen printer, an offset printer, a digital artist, a concert poster guy, a wheat paster, a pinstriper, and a tattoo artist. All my peers my age are masters in their singular professions. For example, I have a passing friendship in Coop. He’s the same exact age as me, but whereas I’m only known in select circles and bust ass to make bills each week, Coop is world renowned and lives large in a Hollywood villa with his dominatrix wife and a garage full of hot rods. So it goes with most full time poster artists I know, and especially people who were tattooing for as long as I’ve been working. I started working in ’86, I still rent, I have only the slimmest of savings… if I had been tattooing for that long, geez, I’d love to think how far I’d have come.

Sometimes I wonder exactly how much tattooing played in my wife’s decision to bail. It’s been seven years, and I’m still just a mess. A MESS!

But on the flipside, I’ve had multiple careers, each one by itself is someone’s unattained dream. My resume is as long as your arm. I’ve gotten my hands dirty in such a wide variety of mediums and done some of them really well, a bit of a post punk Renaissance guy. Which is great, too. I’m a tattoo artist who can design everything I need from camera ready magazine articles to signs to business carsd to web sites, and is also in magazines, books, galleries and Hard Rock Cafes globally. This is no bad thing either. I never would be that one hit wonder guy, you know, like that shitty guy you hate so much but gets up so much for his specializing in fetish art, or some such shit. I’m glad not to be the ‘old school guy’, the ‘scary monster guy’, or the ‘hot rod guy’, or even conversely the ‘neo-classical guy’. I have some jazz in all kinds of fields of interest and can move in and out of them as a true professional.

I imagine at the end of the day, I’d like to be well off enough to have no limits as to what I want to do with my life; for example, except for Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, I haven’t been off the continent at all. I have a lot of traveling to do, both geographically and spiritually. I don’t like stuff, you can’t take it with you, it’s just dust, after all, but man, if I had the freedom to create art with a capital A, that would be amazing.

Give me some of that time I wasted on suicide, drugs and marriage, let me drop fifty pounds, and come back in five years and see what I can do. 😉


Shannon Larratt