Tony Corzo has been a tattoo artist for the past 15 years and has seen the industry change with the times. The greatest change in the tattoo industry has been in the variety of clientele seeking his services. When he was an apprentice, Tony’s customers were mostly bikers and musicians and few of them were women. Today there is no stereotypical customer visiting The Lion’s Den in New Hope, Pennsylvania where Tony is the manager. On any given day, Tony is just as likely to adorn the body of a man or a woman, a truck driver or a doctor, someone in his twenties or someone in his sixties. According to Tony, he enjoys the hugely diverse clientele. A more heterogeneous group of customers also means a more heterogeneous type of “tattoo”.
Years ago, when Tony entered the business, if you wanted a tattoo you went to a tattoo parlor and searched through traditional pictures to find an image that best represented you. Now there is a greater variety in the types of tattoos people are seeking. Instead of choosing an image off the wall, people are far more likely to search the web or art books and commission a tattoo artist to reproduce an image of their choice. Tattoo artists are also being chosen based on the uniqueness of their designs.
“The trends in imagery people seek tend to ebb and flow. A couple of years ago Polynesian tribal tattoos, geometric shapes in solid black, were huge. Lately people seem to be seeking a more artistic look, like oil paintings on skin,” says Tony. Better ink quality and more sophisticated machinery have also resulted in better quality tattoos over the years. Artists can create finer lines, more detail, and better depth of shade, which means just about anything within reason can be reproduced on the body.
One of the things Tony has noticed over the years is that people have become so video and computer screen oriented that they can’t easily grasp the concept of size and scale. “Somebody will come into the shop with a download of an oil painting he wants reproduced on his arm. I have to say, ‘Dude, that’s a 10 foot by 20 foot fresco – it’ll never fit on your bicep!”
The areas of the body people choose to tattoo have changed over time as well. It used to be mostly arm work. Now for women it seems tattoos on the feet or lower back are popular while men choose between the shoulder blades as well as on the arms. According to Tony, feet and hand tattoos are a bad idea. “Those areas are high maintenance areas. The skin takes a lot of abuse and rubbing. It’s a difficult area to heal and the tattoo eventually wears away. The skin is constantly trying to get rid of it and the image is basically sloughed off.”
Tony says people have also become savvier about where they are willing to get their tattoos. They know what questions to ask when they come in – How are you sterilizing your equipment? Do you use disposable parts? They’re less likely to turn to scratchers, people who are tattooing out of their basements or garages. People want a clean, sophisticated-looking, professional, establishment and there are way more of them to turn to than there were fifteen or twenty years ago.
“The last thing you want to do is get your tattoo at a tattoo party in someone’s living room, with the equipment boiling on the stove. Unless you use autoclave sterilization you aren’t killing off everything, like hepatitis. Chances are good you’re going to get a lousy tattoo out of it as well. If somebody can’t get work in a reputable place, then most likely he can’t give a quality tattoo. He may be an amazing artist on paper, but that doesn’t mean he can tattoo.”