Day in and day out the debate wages on: Is it masochism or is it art? Tattoos and piercings, which were once ritualistic traditions in many cultures has become a way for people to try to differentiate themselves from the public. But nowadays, it seems that the only true way to be different is to be ink and hole free. The growing trend of body art and piercing is budding with increasing momentum and shows no signs of stopping.

Ken Srdjak
Ann Arbor tattoo artist Greg Phipps in his State Street tattoo studio. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)
Ken Srdjak
Phipps clamps the eyebrow of LSA senior Erin Bloodworth with forceps before piercing her eyebrow. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)
Ken Srdjak
Phipps begins outlining a tattoo on the forearm of regular customer Chris Bernick.(TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

Ann Arbor tattoo artist Greg Phipps of Tattoo Paradise has been getting inked since his teenage years and doesn’t plan to stop until he’s six feet under. After designing tattoos for friends — and not getting paid — Phipps finally decided to step behind the needle, rather than in front of it. Five years later, he now he owns two successful studios and has 39 tattoos, totaling around 270 hours worth of work.

Society is quick to judge the abstract with only a brief catch of the eye, evoking certain stereotypes with every glimpse of a tattoo-covered arm or facial piercing. “I don’t care,” Phipps said. “My opinion is mind over matter. I don’t mind, because to me, it doesn’t matter.”

Phipps is not alone in his passion for body art. LSA senior Erin Bloodworth has 16 piercings, one of which was done by Phipps. “I’ve been rejected from a few jobs very obviously because of my piercings,” Bloodworth said. “I don’t regret getting any of my piercings, but I do regret taking one out. I sometimes miss it.”

Before deciding, those ready to go under the needle need to learn the basics. Being sure to avoid the infamous customer blunder of asking, “Does it hurt?” clients should also educate themselves on the procedures. And according to Phipps, there is no accurate way to predict an individual’s pain tolerance.

“You’ve got to realize a piercing doesn’t hurt that bad. Don’t come in acting like a three year-old,” he said.

Because a skilled and trained artist is performing this strictly do-not-do-it-yourself process, potential customers should be ready to pay a handsome sum. Most studios, including Tattoo Paradise, have a minimum fee for any tattoo.

Even those no bigger than a quarter are going to have around a $50 price tag attached because of the cost of supplies and the need to ensure the customer’s safety. Needles are never re-used and must be steam cleaned using a process called autoclaving to heat the metal to a temperature at which bacteria cannot survive. Add in gloves, cleaning materials, ink or jewelry, and the artist is left with minimal profit. Piercings can cost anywhere from $30 up to 100 based on the body part, while the price of tattoos can reach up to several hundred dollars depending on size, number of colors, time involved, number of different needles and location.

“Ignorance is more expensive than education,” Phipps said. Every word that comes out of the artist’s mouth should be followed exactly. Half of the responsibility is yours. The vast majority of the infections or immediate fading of tattoos is caused by the customer, not the artist.

“Customers always blame the artist, when just about every time, it’s their fault,” Phipps said.

A tattoo must be constantly hydrated with ointment to keep the scab from removing color when it heals. Many customers return with an infection when they failed to follow the precise procedures directed by the artist.

“I get my equipment tested once a month by an outside source to make sure it’s all sterilizing properly, so I know my equipment is not at fault,” Phipps said.

Misconceptions about piercings and tattoos are constantly being passed on from friend to friend, and, depending on how false the information is, some of these can be detrimental to the artwork and your health.

Piercing guns are not an acceptable method for piercing, even for your earlobes. A piercing stud is a blunt, pointed earring that is brutally forced through the lobe and causes excessive trauma to the area. Because part of the jewelry is constantly in your ear during the healing process, there is no way to clean it, which can cause further problems and may lead to infection. A body-piercing needle, which is hollow and razor sharp will cause drastically less scar tissue because of the clean incision.

Another very common mistake is failing to wait six to eight weeks before changing your jewelry. The skin cells forming on the inside of the hole are very sensitive during the healing process and dragging a threaded piece of jewelry through the hole is much like taking a cheese grater to your forearm.

Phipps had more advice to those ready to make a pseudo-permanent change: Be cautious when going to an artist with who you are unfamiliar and make sure they show you that everything has been sterilized. Any artist that doesn’t talk to you about the procedure, and doesn’t explain how the equipment was cleaned isn’t worth your time.

Whether it’s the hours of being punctured by the incessant reciprocation of small groups of tattoo needles or the quick rush of being sliced into by a hollow piercing needle, everyone has their art. Paint cracks, pencil smears, but real ink lasts forever.


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