October 18, 2021

With restrictions lifted once more in Ontario, tattoo shops have reopened – booked and busier than ever. College and university students have been flooding towards the shops, eager to poke their skin with the most popular tattoo trends, from minimalist flowers to the bold colours of American traditional.

Part of the reason tattoo shops have been so busy lately, is because of backed up appointments; clients whose appointments have been cancelled throughout lockdowns, needing to reschedule. But the other reason for a surge in business, is because many people who have never gotten tattooed before are stepping out of their homes – and comfort zones – to get one.

Jake Sexton, a tattoo artist at Perfect Image in Waterloo for six years, feels as though people being cooped up indoors has contributed to them considering trying new things, such as tattoos.

“We definitely have more new clients [since the pandemic] …whenever we open, it’s a lot busier for us,” he said. “It definitely attracts new clients. I don’t think tattoo shops have ever seen business like this. Tattoo shops that didn’t have many bookings before, are now booked three months ahead.”

Sexton said a majority of their clientele at Perfect Image are students – mostly female – because of the shop’s proximity to the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College.

“A lot of the time when people come in and they want something, they don’t know whether or not they want classic shading,” Sexton said. “…It’s really easy to do dot work, either really dark or really light. I find a lot of the time with our clientele they want something that’s a little lighter.”

Dot work shading (left) by Sidney Cox, compared to classic shading (right) by Sexton. Photo submitted by the artists.

Out of Sexton’s nearly eight years of professional tattooing, the one trend he’s seen disappear over the years has been tribal tattoos – those “big, dark” ones.

“I love them, but you don’t really see it that often anymore, that people want stuff like that,” he said.

Sidney Cox, a recent Conestoga Design Foundations graduate working as an apprentice at Deathly Hollows Ink  for two months, agrees with many of Sexton’s sentiments about the trends.

“The first trend I’ve been noticing lately are small, simple linework designs such as script, infinity symbols, and crosses,” Cox said. “The second trend is very nature inspired work, such as flowers, leaves, and animals.”

Cox, who prefers to design tattoos in American and neo-traditional style, has also noticed a comeback in those two styles at her studio.

“It’s no longer seen as just a style for bikers and other tattoo artists. I’d say the revival is from younger artists revamping the style with new imagery,” she said.

From Cox’s tattoo design portfolio: a moth (left) and a portrait of Anne Boleyn (right) part of Cox’s six part portrait series of Henry the Eight’s wives. Photos submitted by Cox.

Eighteen college and university students from Waterloo Region were interviewed, claiming they had all got at least one tattoo since COVID-19 started. Many of their tattoos fell into the popular categories Sexton and Cox named. The reasons for their tattoos were split between just being “for fun,” and having meaning.

Julia McFarland’s recent sleeve pieces (far left); Hannah Mayer’s tiger tattoo (top left); Hailey Schmidt’s dogs tattoo (bottom left); Shelby Randal’s wolf tattoo (middle right); Noah Hilker’s scorpion tattoo (top right); Mykayla Skinner’s Po tattoo from Kung Fu Panda (bottom right). All photos submitted by students.

Tadros’ lotus tattoo (left), and Ross’ fairy tattoo (right). Photos submitted by students.

Madison Tadros, an International Business Management student at Conestoga, got a lotus flower tattooed as a mental health reminder. Another Conestoga student, Helen Ross in nursing, most recently got a butterfly inspired fairy tattoo.

Regardless of what tattoo style or image you’re thinking of, though, Sexton offers one piece of advice towards young tattoo chasers.

Just think about it. Really just like, give it thought,” he said. “Doing a sporadic tattoo is always fun, but having them removed sucks a lot more.”

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