JAY BOOGY, 31, got his first tattoo when he was 14. Now his whole body is covered with designs by more than 40 artists.
Boogey, who comes from New Zealand, is currently working at Green Lotus Tattoo in Brunswick. And travelling is often part of the job for a tattooist.
Tattoo conventions and guest spots at different studios around the world create opportunities for tattoo artists to build partnerships and share ideas.
Mikela Egoinks, a recent arrival in Melbourne, is an Italian tattooist now working at Alchemy Tattoo, Hawthorn. She has worked in studios across Europe and received her first tattoo at age 18.
That’s the same age as when Maxime Dalix Fröberg, now 30, acquired her first tattoo, which was a birthday gift from her dad. These days she is the shop manager of Sang Bleu Tattoo studio in London.
After years of working in the industry, each is now heavily tattooed, something that seems to come with the job.
“When you’re in this industry you meet up with other artists that you look up to and want to have something done by, but after a while you realise you don’t have any space left,” Boogy says.
He says it is a natural instinct for humans to decorate themselves: “We’ve been drawing on ourselves and on walls since the dawn of time.” Given that fact, he considers it strange that tattoos are still frowned upon in society.
Fröberg says she is often judged by her looks. “People have been spitting at me, pulling my arms, screaming at me and telling me off,” she says.
From her perspective, if someone is curious or has questions they should just ask her instead of being rude, saying: “It’s my body and my choice.”
And the choices are many. Traditional, tribal, realistic, minimalistic, the different styles and tattoo trends come and go.
Egoinks says small tattoos are currently popular “but I tell customers it’s better to make them larger, otherwise they will appear smudgy after a couple of years. Hopefully you get a tattoo because you want it to look good for a while.”
The number of tattoo studios in Australia increased 5.5 per cent annually between 2007 and 2012, notching up revenue of $96 million in the latter year, according to industry research firm IBISWorld.
The country now boasts more than 300 tattoo studios, employing more than 2000 people.
But the tattoo trend has triggered the growth of another business – laser removal.
One-third of Australians who have tattoos say they regret getting a tattoo, and one in seven have looked into having a tattoo removed. These findings emerged from a study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Mitchell Jolley, 27, is another person who was 18 when he decided to start getting tattoos. He is often judged by his appearance: “I have been spoken to in a different manner when I have my tattoos covered up by clothing compared to when I have them exposed. Within seconds someone’s opinion of you can change.”
He is currently getting a back piece done, a project that has taken more than a year. He is not among the ranks of the regretful: “Sure, my taste has [changed] and will continue to change over the years, but even my less impressive tattoos still hold strong sentiment.
“I have a large piece on my stomach that has remained only line-work for six years. I hated it initially and wanted to get it lasered off, but have since fallen in love with it because of how jagged and sketchy it is.”
Thinking twice before getting that first tattoo may still be worth it. Laser removal is a long-drawn-out process, often even more painful and pricey than the tattoo itself. At Disappear Ink Australia, prices start at $200 a session, and eliminating one tattoo may require up to 10 sessions.
An alternative, or an addition to lasering, is the cover-up. It’s a common corrective for old or poorly executed work – and most often deployed to remove the name of an old boyfriend or girlfriend.
Egoinks advises customers to do research before booking an appointment. “It’s important to choose a hygienic and certified studio and that you are ready to pay for it,” she says, adding that while it may be costly the customer will have the reassurance of knowing they’re going to be treated professionally.
Half of all tattooed Australians have only got one tattoo, with 8 per cent of the tattooed population having obtained five or more, according to research firm IBISWorld.
Fewer have most of their body covered or possess permanently visible tattoos on their hands, neck or face.
Practitioners keep in mind the relative unpopularity of heavy coverage or patterns that are always on show. Fröberg: “When it comes to hands, neck or face tattoos, we won’t do them on clients unless they already have a lot of tattoos.”
This is because, no matter how common tattoos are nowadays, those ones can become problematic when someone who has them goes searching for a job.
Jolley agrees: “Even though we live in the 21st century, people outside of the tattoo culture will continue to oppose the idea of permanently marking our bodies, and judge us, thinking we are criminals.”
This view doesn’t cut through with Boogy, who says: “I don’t want to wear a suit, work in a bank or in an office. And the generation … who is against tattoos are on their way out anyway.
“It’s strange, but society evolves and hopefully people can just learn to get along.”