PHOTO BY NICOLE GOODHUE BOYD
Meagan Allison of New Hampshire stays still as Owen Loughran works on a tattoo on her back at 7 Deadly Sins.
By BETHANY DOANE
LYNN — Local tattoo artists might have conflicting views on what trends and issues are most relevant, but one thing they can agree on is that tattoos are far from a fad.
“It’s a lifestyle,” said Jared Breault, a tattoo artist for more than 10 years who works at 7 Deadly Sins in Lynn. “To last in this industry, you have to have a passion for it and want to do it for the rest of your life.”
Owned by Jared’s father, Rich Breault, 7 Deadly Sins opened in June 2015. Despite owning the shop, Rich said he doesn’t have any tattoos, and disliked them when Jared got his first at 17.
Rich said his opinion changed after his son experienced prejudice for having tattoos. He now accepts them as part of today’s culture.
“People discriminate against Jared because of his tattoos,” Rich said. “They assume he’s a drug addict, gang member or jailbird because of an old-school mentality that tattoos are related to crime.
“But don’t judge a book by its cover,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Beyond the prejudice, Jared said house artists are the industry’s biggest problem. House artists are people who tattoo from inside their homes without a license from the local board of health, or without sanitary and safety certifications required by law.
Jared said house artistry is unsafe, unsanitary and gives the industry a bad name.
“There are at least 50 house artists in Lynn,” Jared said. “Some (house artists) tattoo people who are underage; some take drugs for payment, and they’re all risking people to infection by not having the same sterile environment as a licensed shop.”
However, there isn’t a local school or cooperative education program to study becoming a professional tattoo artist, meaning even some licensed artists begin as house artists.
Currently, the only way to train professionally is through an apprenticeship, but opportunities aren’t easy to come by.
“Most of us start as house artists because you have to get lucky to get into a shop, know someone and have a level of skill,” said artist Brian Chukwuanu of Boston Street Tattoo.
Despite the difficulty getting a foot in the door, Chukwuanu said everything is better working in a shop, from access to cutting-edge technology, to friendly competition with co-workers.
“Working in a shop has changed me as an artist; collaborating with colleagues alone changes everything,” he said.
Unlike Jared Breault, Chukwuanu said he doesn’t think house artists are problematic to the industry. In fact, he said 40 percent of Boston Street Tattoo’s business comes from covering up house artists’ work.
But Jared Breault and Brian Chukwuanu agree the industry’s tools are too accessible to the public.
Both said it should be harder to purchase equipment, such as ink or tattoo machines (commonly called tattoo guns) without being a licensed tattoo artist, and that the internet makes it easy for equipment to fall into unskilled hands.
But the internet’s role isn’t entirely bad, especially when it comes to social media, said Joey Uribe, another artist at Boston Street Tattoo. He said social media allows the industry to evolve.
“It helps the quality of art improve because you find artists on social media who are the best in the world right now, and you strive to meet that level of talent,” he said.
Further, Uribe said social media helps shops and artists gain a following.
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The presence of women is another area where the industry is evolving. Though the industry can seem dominated by male artists, Chukwuanu said it’s a misconception that there aren’t a lot of female artists.
At 7 Deadly Sins, artist Sofia Davila is on staff three days a week. Women also own local shops, including Juli Moon of Juli Moon Studio in Lynn, Mulysa Mayhem of Good Mojo Tattoos in Beverly, and Kristin Welch and Kelly Doty of the Helheim Gallery in Salem.
Doty was a recent finalist on the Spike TV show “Ink Masters.”
Technology is another evolving aspect. For decades, the only type of tattoo machine was a loud, heavy device attached to a coil. Now, artists can buy equipment such as a rotary machine, which is cordless, lighter and quieter.
Rotary machines are quicker to use, and cause less scarring, meaning they’re less painful and allow tattoos to heal faster, Jared Breault said. “Some people are ‘loyal to the coil’ and won’t use the newer equipment, but if you don’t keep up with the times, how will you keep improving?”
But other artists think choosing a traditional coil machine over a modern rotary is a matter of preference, not skill. Chukwuanu, who uses traditional and modern machines, said that time and natural talent creates the best artists, not state-of-the-art tools.
At the end of the day though, artists appreciate the freedom to do what they’re most passionate about. “I couldn’t ask for a better job; I love coming into work,” Jared Breault said.
Both Uribe and Chukwuanu said that tattooing is an honor, and they’ll only stop when they physically can’t do it anymore.
Small Valentine’s Day tattoos will be $35 at 7 Deadly Sins from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Artists from Boston Street Tattoo will be at the Boston Tattoo Convention from Friday, March 24 to Sunday, March 26 at the Hynes Convention Center.