Article by Michelle Delio. Thomas Brazda was interviewed in the spring of 1996 by Michelle Delio and Shannon Larratt. This interview was originally published in abridged form in Savage Tattoo #13.
That was about 6 years ago. "The only person I knew of who was doing piercings in Toronto back then was a nurse. I checked it out, didn't feel comfortable with the aesthetics, and ended up doing the piercing improperly on myself (taking stupid advice from friends who had it done with ear piercing guns, safety pins, etc.). I learned very quickly that what I did was wrong -- It just didn't feel right. I took the piercings out and tried to find a better way to do it."
Over the next two years he began learning to pierce by educating himself and piercing himself and his friends. "I am fully self educated and learned through careful thought, research and action, not random experimentation. In a perfect world, as well as the real world, apprenticeship is the best way, but at that point in time, it simply was not an option for me. It's better to take your time and learn something with guidance and have somebody there to correct you along the way and make sure you don't develop bad habits. The hardest thing to learn is crisis management -- What do you do if somebody starts having a seizure on you and you have never experienced this before?"
After two years of learning he felt comfortable enough with his abilities to open a studio named "Rite of Passage" with a friend. Two years later they relocated and changed their name to "Stainless Studios Body Art" since they felt that the term "Rite of Passage" had become far too trendy. "When you start hearing things like 'Bungee jumping for the first time was a real rite of passage' you know the term is being over-used."
Stainless is located in a great section of Toronto -- Queen St. West. The studio has a professional appearance, without looking too much like either a hospital or a jungle "since both of these looks scare off some people". Basically it looks like a really nice apartment. The person that owned the space before Stainless moved in was an architect, so they inherited his nice spiral staircase, skylights, and other perks. The comment they get most about the studio is, "I'd love to live here".
Tom is the "senior piercer" (for lack of a better term -- he says), and the full crew is comprised of one other piercer and two apprentices. They also have two tattoo artists and a small jewelry manufacturing department, which allows them to make the range of custom jewelry required for the many specialized piercings that Tom does. Tom's favorite piercings to do are the ones where people leave with a smile. "It is fun doing extreme piercing, but not for the sake of the piercing itself. Piercing isn't just about the technical aspects... You could be an evil troll and figure that out. Piercing is first and foremost a service industry -- We are one part counselor, one part doctor, and one part technician."
Tom has perfected techniques for doing some very unusual piercings. When I asked him about these signature pierces he said "First of all, it's important to note that no piercing is really a "signature" -- It's a safe bet that someone, somewhere has done it before, but when it comes down to it, who does it first isn't the important thing. What's important is giving a client the piercing they want (both extreme and standard ones) in the safest and most well thought out way possible. And that includes not doing the piercing if it's not safe, and making sure they understand the implications and risks."
"What's important about this piercing is not technique or placement, but
jewelry design. The problem with most surface-to-surface piercings is
rejection, where the jewelry is slowly pushed out of the body. In the
subcutaneous layers of skin, blood vessels run parallel to the skin, and
above that they sprout up like grass to "feed" the skin above. When a
piece of jewelry intersects these blood vessels it reduces the blood supply
to the skin above it, which slowly dies and the piercing grows out. So with
the spinal and forehead piercings (and many other surface piercings) what
we do is make jewelry that goes straight down into the skin, then
straight across, and then straight out, causing the least possible stress.
Using this technique we've had excellent long term results, far better
than other surface piercing techniques such as nylon and curved bars, which
are not generally viable in the long term."
The knuckle piercing was done as an alternative piercing to the handweb. "A handweb piercing is high maintenance and high stress, and therefore most people are unable to keep them in for long, so we looked for piercings that wouldn't reject in this way. On some people's hands this knuckle piercing passes through nearly parallel surfaces, and since the blood circulation is quite good there, a skin tube forms very quickly. This knuckle piercing is lower stress, and allows for full freedom of movement without pulling on the piercing. The difficulty with this piercing is that it is exposed to a very large amount of foreign bacteria, which makes cleaning of exceptional importance."
When I asked Tom if he worried about people without adequate training doing these types of piercings he responded "I worry about people WITH training doing these piercings. It's not the training that's important -- it's their ability to think clearly and be able to plan what they are doing and understand the potential problems."
"Over-training can be a problem. Some people make the mistake of taking what they are taught as gospel truth and never really understand it... It's the understanding that's important -- Where the information came from (teaching, apprenticeship, self-discovery, whatever) isn't really important -- but it MUST be understood."
Since extreme piercing has gotten so much exposure recently in the media, the process is snowballing and more and more people are trying to do and get more and more extreme piercings. Most of these piercings themselves are not dangerous if done properly and an intelligent piercer should be able to tell what is dangerous with a little planning. "Look at some of the photos of extreme piercings that have appeared in magazines lately -- Take a close look and you'll realize that these are fresh piercings -- It's quite rare to actually see them healed. And this is because they aren't being thought about... If a piercing isn't viable, unless the client knows that and wants that, the piercing shouldn't be done. It's not worth it."
Tom feels that the real risk isn't people trying to do these piercings, it's people trying to do them without thinking about the consequences. He also notes that "many of these piercings require very specialized jewelry, made to size for the client in very unusual shapes. Most studios simply do not have easy enough access to these jewelry types and resort to using inadequate jewelry."
"If the jewelry is in the wrong place, it can pull on the skin causing irritation or tearing, leading to either migration, keloiding, or at best greatly lengthened healing. Many piercers make the mistake of trying to learn proper placement from a magazine. Everyone's body is slightly different and without an understanding of the underlying anatomy and healing processes, it's all for naught. Gauge is important in that it must be large enough to allow for proper drainage, but small enough to avoid excessive weight on the fresh piercing. Although in some cases taping the jewelry down during the healing process can eliminate the weight, as can alternative materials such as nylon and titanium. And as far as diameter, it is primarily important in that too large a diameter can cause irritation from getting caught on things and leverage from twisting. Too small can pinch the tissue (restricting necessary blood flow, or causing tearing, or trapping secretions resulting in abscess) or even sink in if the piercing swells."
Usually bad jewelry choice simply results in harmless migration and scarring, but as Tom points out "even that is unacceptable when there is a better way to do things." Getting the piercing is only part of the procedure -- aftercare has equal importance. The most common problems are irritations resulting from everyday cleansers like soap and laundry detergents (which your piercing will come into contact with unless you're always naked or don't wash your clothes). " Ever seen the detergent commercials where they show the engineered enzymes breaking down blood and food proteins? Imagine what these can do to the proteins required for healing inside your piercing. People tend to underestimate the importance of hypoallergenic products during the healing time."
Tom also points out that "many piercing problems stem from the fact that people often think that once the initial healing period is over, that they can stop the aftercare, and let other people play with their piercings. While your body has little difficulty dealing with it's own local bacteria, which it has been existing with on a symbiotic level since birth, it does not have this "familiarity" with foreign bacteria from other people's bodies."
So how does one choose a piercer, especially if you're considering getting an extreme or odd piece? "That's a very difficult question. Even for a client who knows piercing well, it's hard to tell. Since there have been some excellent interviews with artists and thinkers such as Jon Cobb recently, every scratcher out there knows exactly the right things to say. All they have to do is repeat the interview -- It's very easy for people to get fooled. "
"Probably the best thing to do is to look through their portfolios. Do you see many versions of the same piercing, consistently well placed? Do they also show healed piercings? Especially with extreme or surface piercings, it's easy to do the initial placement -- it's getting it to heal that's the trick."
"Another way to tell is their aftercare sheet (although they could have just copied it from another piercer). Does it give good advice? Are the healing times realistic? I'd be worried if I was told my navel would be healed in two weeks, but also if I was told in two years. In the first case you know that either they are either lying or stupid, and in the second they are either doing something wrong or trying to cover themselves in the case of bad healing."
Tom's own piercings "and I have less than you'd think" include moderately stretched ears, labret, frenum, nostril, and tragus. He has no favorites -- "I like them all... They make me feel more like who I am."
Future plans for more work? " I am very particular about getting piercings and who does them, so I haven't been in any kind of a mad rush to get them all. I do have plans for more, but I have a lifetime to get them. But I'll soon be getting a trans-scrotal piercing, courtesy of Jon Cobb, which I've been looking forward to for some time."
And what does Tom do for fun when he's not poking holes in people? "Nothing. I walk my dog, Lobo, but it's pretty hard to drag me away from my work."