By JENNIFER AMATO
A woman who had a mastectomy had such terrible scarring that she was unable to have reconstructive surgery afterward.
She decided to instead get a tattoo of flowers, a butterfly and a ladybug to make herself less self-conscious about her initial surgery.
“It gave her renewed vigor to be proud of herself,” said Janie Carroll, who owns Rabbits Den Tattoo Parlor in Milltown with her husband, Tom. “It was such a cool experience to be the one to be able to be part of it for her and to be able to help someone.”
Beyond depicting just sailor girls or tribal arm bands, the industry is becoming known more for artistic expression and a way to emotionally cope, and tattoo artists are expanding their craft and moving toward more custom-made tattoos.
“It’s completely yours,” Carroll said of a tattoo. “No one can take it from you. You’re not going to lose it. It’s not going to fall off … It’s personal. It’s a very cool expression, artistically.
“It’s a walking canvas. It’s an honor … It’s such a cool thing to give that art to someone who’s going to carry it around the rest of their life,” she said.
Richard Perrone, owner of Studio 9 Tattoos in Howell and Freehold, said he was so moved by doing a portrait, that he never forgot the story — nor did he ever do a portrait tattoo again.
“She stood in the mirror and just started crying,” Perrone said of a woman who sat very quietly during the tattooing of a baby on her chest. “She didn’t tell me that her baby had died. … She said, ‘Every day I have to look at this.'”
Because of the longevity of a tattoo, Carroll cautioned that a person research a particular artist or their style of artwork, citing a person who tattooed his Chinese food order on his arm and a woman who put a black widow spider in a private area after a divorce.
She said different artists can specialize in photorealism, horror, grayscale, delicate, portraits or military styles – especially if the tattoo is going to be a customized design. She said artists can take a few hours to a few weeks to create the perfect design before permanently inking a person.
She also said that animals, Disney prints and comic book tattoos are very popular.
The popularity of bodywork has always been high, Carroll said, though as workplaces and society, in general, become more accepting of it, there has been an uptick in a different clientele.
“It’s always been a really cool industry that’s been busy, but it’s evolving and changing because for the normal, everyday person, it’s OK to be tattooed,” she said.
That popularity has extended internationally, as well. Jersey Jay Wymbs, owner of Red Bank’s Pogue Mahone Tattoo Company – Gaelic slang for a response to those who doubt you – has traveled to Europe and Australia to do tattoos.
He said that traditional Americana is popular around the world, while the U.S. is adopting more European styles.
“It’s really nice to have inspiration from tattooers from around the world,” he said. “It’s almost like trading baseball cards.”
Wymbs is a member of the Inkfusion Empire created by Marc Draven. The group holds endorsements with Stan Lee of Marvel Comics and is licensed by LucasFilms to do “Star Wars” tattoos. Wymbs regularly tattoos at Star Wars Celebration, Walker Stalker Cons and other Comic Cons with the group.
“It’s brought a new feeling to me as an artist. It gave me a piece of my childhood back,” he said.
His favorite piece is one from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” mostly because his children enjoy the movie.
“It’s no longer the seedy underbelly that people thought tattooing was about. It’s personal expression,” Wymbs said of the industry. “Some of the taboos of society have been lifted, and now it’s a beautiful art form.”
Evolving, also, is the acceptance of women in the industry. There is less of a stigma nowadays about the tattoo industry being a man’s world.
Carroll said, “I like playing with the boys,” so she was always happy to be one of the few female artists doing tattooing. Now, she said there is more of a demand for female tattooers, “which I think is awesome.”
Lauren Smith, the main tattoo artist at Studio 9’s Howell location, said a lot has changed since she went through her apprenticeship in 2005.
After completing 2,000 hours over a period of two years that is required by state law – including tattooing oranges and pumpkins for practice – she moved periodically between shops but has been at Studio 9 for the past five years.
“I had always liked tattoos,” she said of her first Gargoyle tattoo that adorned her shoulder blades at age 17, as well as her pursuit of an advanced art career, “but at that time, I wasn’t sure a young female artist would be acceptable yet.
“I actually faced where people said, ‘I don’t want a female to tattoo me … because females draw girly.'”
After more than a decade, she revels in the fact that clients — both male and female — appreciate the fact that she will be creating their masterpiece.
“Nowadays, it’s more acceptable,” she said.
She is also mentoring another female apprentice, sharing advice of what she has learned over the years.
“Stay strong and push through it, and in the end it’s going to be one of the greatest experiences of your life,” she said.
Smith also uses tattooing — or “mommy drawing on people” — to inspire her 3-year-old daughter to view the world differently.
“It takes away that degree of looking at people in different ways. I think it teaches children how to love everyone for who they are,” she said.
In the same vein, Smith called getting a tattoo “therapeutic,” as the artist and client connect while they are together. She said patrons share the stories behind their tattoos and for some reason, the pain they are experiencing in their lives.
“Oh my God, the things I know,” Carroll laughed. “It all unveils from there.”
One person proud to unveil herself – or her tattoos, at least – is Melissa Franke of Jackson, who loves showing off her rib cage during the summer.
She has the quote, “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities” from “The Fault in Our Stars,” along with an infinity symbol with hearts that her boss, Dr. Kavita Beri, had actually designed as a possible company logo.
“It’s such a nice message,” Franke said. “I always liked the message about not taking things for granted.”
However, Franke is not as jovial about her first tattoo: a little yellow rose on her lower back that she got when she was 18.
“I don’t like roses and I don’t like the color yellow, so I don’t know what provoked me to get it other than defiance,” she laughed. “It looked like a smushed sugar cookie.”
About three years later she decided to have it covered with a purple lotus flower she saw on the wall of a different tattoo shop.
Her next tattoo will be the all-seeing eye in a hand “to keep away evil,” though she would really love a half-arm sleeve.
“People don’t peg me for someone who has any [tattoos],” she said.
For those who are not relaxed after seeing the final product – or who have lived with a regrettable one for a number of years, such as Franke – they can cover up a small tattoo with a larger one, or proceed with laser removal treatments.
Dr. Kavita Beri of Beri Esthetique Skin and Laser MedSpa in Ocean Township offers the Alma Laser, which penetrates the pigment of the ink and then causes inflammation so that the body’s white blood cells can absorb it.
She said that black, blue and green ink usually get better results, while red is harder to remove. If a tattoo has already been covered up with another tattoo, that makes the process more difficult as well.
However, for a single-ink tattoo that has only been done once, “it gets removed pretty [well],” she said.
For the handful of clients who have visited her skin spa for tattoo removal, Beri said the process is “fairly quick,” only taking about 10 minutes per session. A person usually needs two to four sessions which can be no sooner than six weeks apart because of wound healing, she said, and larger tattoos are done section by section.
“If you can sit through a tattoo, you can sit through the laser tattoo removal,” she said of the possible pain.
On the other hand, for people who want their tattoos preserved literally forever, Smith said a trend out of Asia is to preserve the skin of a deceased person in such a way that the tattoo can be removed before burial or cremation and mounted in a display case.
Shannon Walters, the funeral director for the John Vincent Scalia Home for Funerals in Old Bridge and Staten Island, New York, said that there is a way to remove and preserve tattoos. Though the funeral home receives frequent requests for photos of tattoos, she said she has not personally had a request yet to use the outside service.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Inked Out NJ 2016: Tri-State Area’s Premier Tattoo Convention will be held from 4-10 p.m. Sept. 9, from noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 10 and from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Meadowlands Expo Center, 455 Plaza Drive, Secaucus.
Inked Out NJ 2016 is the largest tattoo convention on the East Coast with more than 20,000 attendees expected annually. The general public has an opportunity to get tattooed by industry icons from around the world.
Presented by industry icon Mario Barth, founder and owner of Starlight Tattoo and King Ink, the three-day event combines a unique mix of art, entertainment and live music. In addition to live tattooing, there will be contests, a full carnival-themed play area for kids with games, temporary tattoos and face painting, karate demonstrations and performances.
Tickets are $20 for a single day or $50 for a weekend pass. Admission is free for military, fire, EMS and police on Friday night. Admission is free for children 12 and under every day.
For more information, a list of participating artists, tickets and directions, visit www.inkedoutnj.com.