Overview of Tribal Tattoos

Tribal tattoos have been used for as long as people have needed to identify themselves and they are the “in” thing at the moment. This trend began in the nineties and has only increased as time has passed. The tribal tattoo has had many purposes in human history but they originated mainly to identify a clan or group. Some groups would use the tattoos to identify distant relatives from far away tribes or to find each other after they passed away and were wandering the heavens looking for their tribe members. The tribal tattoo was also used to depict important events that occurred in a tribe or clan, almost like keeping a recorded history of events. (Syrkiewicz, 2008) Naturally a tribal tattoo has a different use today but in the end the modern tribal tattoo is still a form of identification.
Today in many instances the person getting a tribal tattoo wants the tattoo to illustrate something about them, almost like a tattoo of self identification. They are a way for a person to make a statement about themselves for other people to see and interpret. However, the tribal tattoo today is used not to group people into the same tribe but to express personality and individuality. (Hemingson, 1999-2009)
Oftentimes gangs, clubs, and military members will use a tattoo to identify themselves to others. This type of usage for a tattoo is similar to the use of tattoos five thousand years ago when the tribal tattoo art form is believed to have originated. (Syrkiewicz, 2008) Members of different gangs or military groups can identify each other by using a specific tattoo. They often form a bond around a particular symbol almost like a brotherhood. For gang members, the tattoo is used to define their members and lets them know who is friendly or not. All cultures have used tattoos as some form of identification and the trend is back in fashion today.
A tattoo magazine titled Tattoo Times, founded in 1982 by Don Ed Hardy and Leo Zulueta, started a new fascination with the tribal tattoo. (Tebi, 2004-2008) They called their first article “New Tribalism” and it featured tribal designs from the South Pacific, tattoos that had lost favor many years before. (Tebi, 2004-2008) Tattoo artistry itself had been going through problems with negative feelings from society at the time so an article illustrating these wonderful tribal designs helped alleviate some of the negative feelings people had about these tattoos. It actually had the effect of re-popularizing the ancient art form.
The tribal designs seen most commonly today are similar to designs used by the Polynesians for thousands of years. They often have a geometric silhouette pattern that may be considered too easy to do by many tattoo artists. Since these are not considered challenging, some artists do not like to do them. (Tebi, 2004-2008)
Celtic tribal patterns are also popular today. They were distributed by sailors hundreds of years ago as they traveled from Europe. Actually, sailors can be thanked for causing the original popularity of tattoo artistry in the modern western world. The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word, ‘ta-taw’, which was thought to be the sound a person would hear when the tattooing instruments were used. When the sailors returned to Europe with tattoos that illustrated their adventures, people were fascinated and many wanted to have their own. (Tebi, 2004-2008)
The type and location of a tribal tattoo is a limitless as the unique personality of the person who wants it. Some examples are tribal armband, Celtic tattoo, tribal wolf tattoo, tribal shoulder tattoo, tribal scorpion, butterfly dragon, dog, bird, bull, tiger and many, many more. There are also tribal sleeve tattoos, lower back tribal tattoos, and tribal star tattoos. (Hemingson, 1999-2009) As with all artistic mediums and cultural developments, the art form of tribal tattoos is continually changing. But, the art form is always going to reflect the depth and potential of the person who wants the tattoo as well as the artist’s interpretation of the tribal design.

Temporary Tattoos

Tattoos have been an important part of human culture all throughout history. The purposes of tattoos have changed over the years, as has society in general. In modern culture, there are many mixed feelings about tattoos and their meanings. Some societies still use tattoos as tribal identification or for other tribal matters, but for the most part, it is more of luxury than a necessity. We do not have to use a tattoo to display what tribe we are from or to scare others during battle – as they were used in times past. We can use them to display our feelings about things or to let others know what is important to us as an individual. Temporary tattoos are the solution for many people who do not want to have a permanent design on their body or do not want to feel the pain of a needle. There are many types of temporary tattoos available today such as Decalcomania, Mehndi, Sun Stencils, and Airbrush tattoos.
Tattoos are usually permanent decorative images applied to the skin. In the case of the temporary tattoo, the image lasts for a short time only. Many temporary tattoos are for fun, like the type that kids get to put their favorite cartoon character on their arm for a little while. Adults have begun using these temporary tattoos and they are becoming more intricate as the market moves more toward adults. Decalcomania is a favorite way of making a temporary tattoo where a decal is applied to the skin. With these types of tattoos, screen printing is used to create a tattoo image on paper coated with a transfer film. When wet, this film will move off of the backing paper and onto the skin. After drying, the screen printed image will stay on the skin for several days. (Schueller, 1999) The beauty of temporary tattoos is exactly that, they are temporary. There will be no regretting the image as a person grows older or their habits and tastes change.
All types of temporary tattoos need to be made from ink because they are applied directly to the skin and may stay on the skin for quite a while. It is best if the dyes have FDA approval, but most are not approved – the same for permanent ink. There are other chemicals added to the dyes such as drying agents and extenders that need to be approved before using them. (Henley, 2009)
Another type of temporary tattoo is Mehndi. It is thought that the practice originated in India and Pakistan, although there is some debate about the origins of this ancient practice. It is often considered a type of body painting. The ink used in this process is a copper based ink made from the leaves of the henna plant. The Mehndi designs are usually scroll-like decorations, but as the practice becomes more popular around the world, the designs are beginning to change. The inks used in Mehndi tattoos can last for several weeks. (Jain, 2002)
Another emerging trend is Sun Stencils. The tattoo in this case is the pigmentation of your own skin. The use of stencils stickers lets UV radiation reach part of the skin but not all parts during tanning. This produces an image that can take the form of many different images as well as allow you to make simple letters and numbers. There is also swim wear available that lets you create a tattoo as you hang out at the beach with simple images of hearts and circles. (Hardy, 2009)
Airbrush tattoos are becoming a popular type of temporary tattoo and airbrush tattoo stencils come pre-packaged in many different varieties. These stencils are reusable and can also be individualized. There are many colors of airbrush ink available and a lot of companies use FDA approved materials. (Kirk, 2009) These air brush tattoos are becoming popular at festivals and carnivals like face painting has always been.
Tattoos are very popular in today’s society, especially for people under 35. (Kirk, 2009) Temporary tattoos are becoming more and more popular because permanent tattoos can be expensive and painful. Temporary tattoos offer people a way to express their personality and let the world know about their interests without having to worry about the fact that it will never come off. It looks like temporary tattoos are going to be a permanent part of the tattoo world with their quick application, lack of pain, and affordability.

How Much Does a Tattoo Cost?

As you can imagine, most tattoos aren’t free. Sure, if a close friend of yours is a tattoo artist you might get him or her to give you a freebie or even a discount, but for the most part you’ll have to pay like everyone else. Also, remember the saying “you get what you pay for.”

Statistics show that most single tattoos cost somewhere in the $75 - $200 price range. Many different factors affect the final cost of a tattoo:

the size of the tattoo
the complexity of the design
whether you’ve selected tattoo flash from the tattoo studio or request a custom design
the reputation or fame of the tattoo artist
the location of the tattoo shop
The cheapest tattoos are English lettered names or small hearts. The more expensive tattoos are custom designs that cover a large part of the body and take many hours and many sessions to complete. If a world famous tattoo artist provides your tattoo you could end up paying well over $500 for a single small tattoo. Imagine what a famous tattoo artist like Mario Barth of Starlight Tattoos in Vegas charges. He’s the guy that performed the first ever tattoo in the air (he tattooed Tommy Lee on a flight from Burbank, CA to Miami, FL). He’s tattoed people like Lenny Kravitz, Nikki Six, and Ja Rule.

Of course there are lots of talented local tattoo artists in your state.

Tattoo Prices

On average you’ll pay $80 - $200 dollars an hour depending on the factors listed above. Most tattoo shops have a minimum charge for a tattoo, regardless of the size and the time it takes to complete the tattoo. Additionally, in some shops the amount charged per hours depends on the experience of the tattoo artist. For example, apprentice artists will have a lower price range than more experienced or senior artists. This is not to say that you shouldn’t get a tattoo from someone just starting out. Quite the contrary, they have to start someplace. Just be sure to take a look at the portfolio of the artist, regardless of their experience.

Also, the cost of a tattoo will vary depending on the location, i.e., urban vs. rural. In large urban cities you may be able to get a small tatto for $80 - $100 while the same tattoo may cost several dollars less in more rural areas where the cost of living is lower.

If you provide the artwork for the tattoo or use a flash design provided by the tattoo shop you may simply pay a lump sum price for the tattoo. If you’re looking for custom work or a design that’s large or complex, the tattoo artist will probably charge by the hour. Here’s what you SHOULD NOT do: don’t haggle with the tattoo artist over the price, especially if they quote you a flat rate (which should be posted in the shop). In some shops you may see the sign “the price depends on your attitude.” That’s sometimes true. Also, think about this might affect the quality of the work they do. Don’t ever try to cheat the artist out of what he/she deserves or try to talk them down from their normal prices. This is a business for them; treat it with the respect it deserves.

Shop Around for Tattoo Prices

As with most things it’s important to do some comparison shopping. Not only should you visit more than one tattoo shop to get a feel for tattoo pricing in your local area and to look through portfolios, you should also visit shops to get a feel for their procedures, cleanliness of the tattoo shop, and their customer service attitude. If you find one shop whose prices are considerably lower than others in the area, beware. The shop may be cutting costs by skimping on safety and health issues, like reusing items that should be thrown away after being used, or hiring artists that, for whatever reason, are willing to work at reduced rates. You want to proceed with caution if you come upon a shop like this.

Also, when you’ve selected the shop you’ll use, be sure to get a price estimate UP FRONT. Don’t leave it up in the air. You should come to your appointment with a set cost in mind based on your conversation with either the tattoo artist himself or the person working behind the desk at the shop.

Should You Tip a Tattoo Artist?

In a word YES. Tattoo shops and artists provide a service, just like a hair stylist. If you get a haircut or a hair coloring done you usually tip the stylist. They take pride in their work and want to do a good job. They also want to make sure the customer is happy and that they leave the shop with good looking hair. Tattoo shops and artists are no different. If customers aren’t happy they don’t come back. They also tell their friends about the experience (both good and bad). Equally important is the fact that the tattoo wearer (if the tattoo is located in a visible place) is actually a walking advertisement for the artist. The artist wants others to look at their work and think “Wow, that’s a great looking tattoo. Where’d you get it from?” Therefore, if you’re pleased with the work that the artist does and you feel they treated you well as a customer, you should tip them. Don’t base your tip on whether you experience any pain during the application process. You’ll experience some discomfort during the process. Instead, base your tip on whether the design is well done, whether you actually got the design you asked for, and if you were treated well as a customer.

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