Bonnie: The art of tattooing

I’ve never been a fan of tattoos. I have nothing against other people getting them—you do you—but, they’ve never been for me. Part of it is because my mother would kill me, and I have a major fear of needles. Although, most of it is because I can’t think of anything that I would ever have permanently displayed on my body.

Over the past couple of decades, tattoos have increased in popularity. 14 percent of all Americans have at least one tattoo. However, that percentage increases in adults ages 18-25 to 36 percent. Most of these Americans get tattoos for sentimental reasons, something I wholeheartedly support.

Earlier this year, my roommate, who is strongly against tattoos, introduced me to a show called Ink Master. It is a competition show where each week competitors are eliminated based on how well they can tattoo a specific style, from black and white to portraits. At the end of the episode, the judges review each tattoo and critique it, which is my favorite part of the show.

I enjoy that part of the show for a couple of reasons. One is because the judges are brutal and it’s a refreshing, much-needed change from the sugar-coating most judges do on most other competition shows. Another reason is because the finished tattoos always amaze me, I appreciate the artwork that goes into them.

Because tattoos are so artistically complex, there is a question of whether tattoos should be considered artwork or not. Judging from what I have seen on Ink Master, these tattoo artists are extremely artistic. In order to become a tattoo artist, someone must first be an artist.

Ryan Bollinger is a tattoo artist at High Priestess near the University of Oregon campus. He’s been there for around four years, but he’s been tattooing for 11. He is covered in tattoos, including his favorite: one on his wrist that is a monkey eating a piece of pizza. Bollinger started seriously drawing when he was 14 or 15. His favorite tattoo to draw is anything cartoonish, including pin-up girls. This style is what he calls “Illustrative Realism,” but it is also known as new school.

As tattoos grow more and more popular and less stigmatized in the workplace, I hope they will become accepted as a form of art.

“Sometimes I draw for fun, and people end up getting those tattoos,” said Bollinger.

He tattoos in a room that seems to be the attic of High Priestess. It is covered with drawings depicting anything from a dog with antlers, that he drew specifically for a client who wanted a tattoo of her own dog, to brightly colored portraits of women. Plastered on one of the walls are posters of various comics, including Deadpool.

Today, Bollinger is tattooing a woman who wants a tattoo of an elephant with bubbles coming out of the trunk. Underneath the tattoo is her daughter’s name. Previously, she had gotten her dog’s paw prints tattooed by Bollinger on her ribs. They did this by dipping her dog’s paws in ink and then placing it on paper. Bollinger then sketched out the paw prints on the paper he uses for the outline.

His other clients get a variety of tattoos, something that makes Bollinger enjoy his job.

“That’s what I like about tattooing. That everyone is so different with their interests and their passions,” said Bollinger.

Bollinger’s drawings are intricate, nothing that someone with little artistic experience can replicate, so clearly tattoos should be regarded as a form of art.

In fact, tattoos have recently entered the world of art, though as a new form that isn’t generally accepted yet. In November of last year, Guersney’s auction house held an auction of images created by tattoo artists that sold from $50 to $50,000. Still, even though these tattoos are regarded as art in the auction house, the world of fine art ostracizes tattoo artists.

“I think a lot of the general public considers us artists, but I don’t think the fine art world knows what to do with us,” said Takahiro Kitamura, a famous Japanese American artist in an article by The Atlantic.

As tattoos grow more and more popular and less stigmatized in the workplace, I hope they will become accepted as a form of art. What I saw in Bollinger’s tattoo studio, he is a real artist, except his artwork is permanently drawn on human skin.


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Hannah Bonnie

Hannah Bonnie