September 20, 2020

BY WHITNEY SOUTH

With yet another new tattoo shop opening its doors in downtown Kitchener, the average Conestoga College student now has dozens of places to choose from to sit down and get that special piece of ink. The problem is that most of them don’t know what to look for.

Statistics Canada estimated that the majority of eligible Canadian voters in the 2012 census would have a tattoo. This means that views are changing regarding the tattoo industry, which continues to grow and become more socially acceptable.

Gone are the days when only sailors and bikers would darken the doorways of local tattoo parlors, creating a diverse marketplace for a young person looking for some artwork to call his or her very own.

Regardless of the continuing popularity of tattooing and piercing, Ontario is still behind the times when it comes to regulations. Decisions made before even entering a shop can help protect clients from not only getting a bad tattoo, but from serious health issues.

Health Canada states some problems can arise from tattooing, including allergies to tattoo pigments and scar tissue formation, not to mention hepatitis C. Malignant melanoma, a type of cancer, has also been linked to tattooing.

Colin Higgins has been a tattoo artist for five years and currently works out of Berlin Tattoos in downtown Kitchener.

According to him, clients need to think long and hard about where they want to spend their money in order to get the best results. Deciding on the right design is just one step in what should be a very thorough process.

“If you walk in and you think the shop’s dirty, then it’s definitely dirty,” he said. “Cleanliness should always be the first thing you’re looking for.”

If the shop employees give you attitude, just leave.

“It’s not necessarily that the customer’s always right, it’s just the fact that (the artists) should be appreciative. There are enough jackass tattoo artists out there who will treat their clients like dirt because they feel like they’re in a position of authority. They should be nice, they should be cordial and they should listen to what you want.”

Unfortunately, not every tattoo artist is looking out for the best interests of their clients. Some tattoo and piercing businesses are operated in homes and have never been inspected by Public Health.

“I’ve seen all kinds of horrible stuff,” said Higgins. “KW-Cambridge has no shortage of kitchen magicians and basement wizards who will churn out some haggard, choppy-looking stuff. There’s always horror stories.”

Donna Webb has been the receptionist at Thrive Studios in Cambridge for seven years. Being on the front line of a tattoo shop has taught her a lot about the importance of research as well as the financial commitment of getting a great tattoo.

“This is something that’s going to be with you for the rest of your life,” she said. “There’s no rush on it. There’s no price that you shouldn’t be willing to pay to have something that’s beautiful, that means something to you, that you’re going to love for the rest of your life.”

Webb said a lot of people try to add meaning to their tattoos, something she feels isn’t necessary.

“Celebrating a milestone, celebrating someone who you love, celebrating yourself is probably the best reason for getting a tattoo.”

Jesse Villemaire, owner of Thrive Studios, encourages prospective clients to visit several shops and talk to different artists in order to find out what’s right for them.

“Find somebody who will talk to you about it first instead of just rushing and jumping into something,” he said. “I always tell people to make a life decision by doing research on it.”

Villemaire said a lot of people have the misconception that they can recognize good art or they know what a tattoo is supposed to look like. This is why looking at artists’ portfolios is so important.

Researching an artist’s work is easier than most people think. With pictures, resumes and customer testimonials readily available online, there’s no excuse to not educate yourself.

“There’s a lot of shops out there in the industry now so there’s a lot of people who are starving for money,” said Villemaire. “It’s a big market. Everybody is trying to undercut everybody right now.”

The first question artists are usually asked is about cost, something that can vary greatly from place to place.

“Never shop by price, shop by quality,” said Villemaire. “It’s not like buying a pair of jeans, you’re not just looking for the cheapest pair and walking out.”

Overall, it’s important to ask questions. Owners should be proud to show off their sterilization rooms, equipment and the talent of their artists.

Villemaire wants people to understand that there are no stupid questions when it comes to personal safety. Asking for the shops’ latest autoclave results, watching that only fresh ink is used and sterile needles are opened in front of the client are just some of the ways to make sure it’s a safe environment.

“This industry is not regulated whatsoever, not one piercer or tattoo artist in Ontario has to do any schooling to pierce you or tattoo you,” he warned. “No one is looking out for you except yourself.”