Conscious Tattooing #1: The Art of Positive Personal Transformation

There are a couple of disclaimers here – first off, this is by no means where I believe I'm at, but rather the direction I feel I'm going in, and a loose, fluid set of beliefs that grow by the day. My viewpoint is also by no means necessary to produce a good tattoo. This is my dialogue with myself, and perhaps with the world around me, in an attempt to better align myself with these beliefs, and to try understand the nature of my path.

Secondly, the definition of 'conscious':

- from Latin conscius 'knowing with others or in oneself' (from conscire 'be privy to') + -ous.
- Fully aware of, or sensitive to something.
- Deliberate, or intentional.
- Awake.

There are more dictionary definitions, although I always tend toward etymology for meaning in language. A lot of people interpret this word differently, and oftentimes it is linked to thought or reason, understandably, but not necessarily correctly. In a life where the incessant babble of our internal dialogue is equated with our thoughts, perhaps 'clear thought' is a better term to use, but I prefer the concept 'beyond thought'.

Whether you are an artist or not, you've undoubtably experienced a cessation of time, a cessation of thought, a space between logic and intuition that some call Flow. When we meditate, we consciously do nothing. What we really do is sit still and listen to our brains rattle the most inane nonsense, but we attempt to do nothing. If we're really lucky, and we manage to navigate that mindspace, we go beyond that noise, into a timeless and somewhat indescribable space. And then we remember that thing that we have to do, and like a house of cards our mind collapses back into this world.

Likewise when being creative, there is often a space devoid of thought where our entire being moves fluidly and effortlessly, almost to a rhythm, and we may even feel like a conduit for some purer, more lucid form of energy. If you had trance-hippie blood in you, you might say you were tapping into a higher consciousness. This is for me the ultimate creative space, but one that takes discipline and effort to attain, and more importantly, one that is quite easily shattered.

So back to tattooing. About 2 years ago I awoke to find myself – bitter, angry, and wrapped deeply in ego. I was convinced I was a good tattooer (I was passable), and pretty pissed off at the world for not being happier more often. I was angry at people, situations, clients, colleagues, whatever. Dry as fuck, so to speak. And while that fire was what propelled me forwards, so perhaps necessary, it completed blinded me to a lot of things. At that time I decided to open my own studio, and I had perhaps my first pure intention, at least in some time – I wanted a space where everyone could be happy at work. Money and success became secondary (perhaps why I'm still not rich) to building something positive. Somewhere where tattooing was never taken for granted, a place where the people who worked wanted to spend their time. So when life was falling apart, you always had somewhere to go. And I wanted to fill that space with passionate people. With resonance. I wasn't looking to take over the city, or market myself into the hearts of the happening, I wanted clients who came because it called to them, and stayed because it felt right. Felt right, and because their tattoo dreams were being realised.

Just after we opened I delved into some deep personal work, starting a journey that would fundamentally change the way I viewed life and my place in it. In a spiritual, yet non-religious sense. Borderline flaky. The line between worlds started to blur, and suddenly I found what I do inextricable from who I am, and the way I viewed tattooing slowly shifting in accordance with the way I was looking at myself. A lot of long-term negativity in my self and in my life started to dissolve, and in turn I started to consciously shift those things that were within my power to change. Slowly we excised negativity from our workplace – not in a absolutist, dictatorship way of being, everyone in the studio is still, after all human, but by raising your awareness toward something it helps curb that which no longer aligns with your ideals. Funnily enough, the space that I had already set up was a perfect fit for the philosophy. There were some obvious kinks to be ironed out, but everything is a process after all.

Getting tattooed is pretty special, and while not everyone will agree or resonate with this thesis, we can agree on one common ground – and that is why people get tattooed. It sounds like a big thing to encompass, but it's really not. Some come for meaning, some come for aesthetics, some come for the kicks, some for the cool, some just to get a sweet gentleman penis on their leg to laugh about. But there's one common thread (at least 99% of the time, given the weird exceptions), and that is that they wish to transform themselves in a positive sense. No one (intelligent) gets tattooed because they want an ugly, piece of shit tattoo, or to degrade themselves, or in some way mar their being. Everyone has a payoff that is for them positive. If your reasoning for getting tattoos is a negative one, I strongly suggest therapy, yesterday. So in that, it quite literally is – the art of positive personal transformation. I'm not saying that that's always the result, but most definitely the intent. And perhaps that is what a big part of life is about for me – transformation. A great work to embark upon no doubt, and one that is never finished, but a truly rewarding journey in its undertaking.

In getting tattooed, I believe that you open yourself up – physically, mentally, and emotionally, and thus also on an energetic level. You walk a road paved with money, trust and pain to get these things in you. Shortly put, I believe there's a lot of magic in tattooing, and that's why I feel like we need to take it a little more seriously that we do. Not seriously as in a dour or solemn way, but in a conscious way. What is in our environment? In my past it was often Slayer, Ministry, or generally manic music, maybe a load of people in and out of the room, a lot of noise and distraction. What was our vibe like with our client or artist? Were there control dramas, a battle of wills, rudeness or discomfort? Was there a personality clash? Who is responsible for equilibrium, especially in the current trend of shopper-is-right scenarios? We're not selling jeans, so there is equal responsibility to the client for disrespecting the space as there is the artist disrespecting the client. How do we avoid this, from both sides? How do we clean up the space, and make it a conducive environment to engage with each other in? Shortly put, there is no space for negativity in tattooing.

And then there's the tattoo itself. You've arrived ready to irrevocably change yourself. But how? Among tattooers technical skills are god – no one wants an amazing tattoo that heals like crap, or worse. Just down from there (but not too far down), is design – not just a great drawing, but something crafted by someone who understands what works on an organic, three dimensional canvas, and within the bounds of ink trapped in flesh. We have technical ability tempered with creativity. So there's balance, and art is the law – art under skill.

First we pick an artist, proficient in the style that we want, that we can hopefully trust. We don't do this by following the herd, or posting a 'who is the best tattooer in town' status. If you're smart, you'll do it consciously, researching and scrutinising portfolios. You'll be pedantic, and once you've gotten to consult / meeting status, try this: stay calm, stay present. So often I've seen clients ruin their own experience with either anxiety, control dramas, aggression, over assertiveness, stubbornness, the list goes on. If you elevate yourself to a position of conscious and deliberate movement through the process, you'll be amazed at how effortless it can sometimes be. And if it's not effortless, if it doesn't flow, why force it? Not all combinations are meant to work. Maybe it's the wrong artist, maybe it's the wrong idea, maybe it's you. It's hard in the moment to discern which, but if you start to receive the same message again and again, maybe it's time to see the common denominator, whichever of those it might be. There's never any need to rush a tattoo, so step back and try to work it out.

Next, what is it you've chosen to put on your body? What is this thing you'd like to carry with you to the grave? How are you choosing to express yourself? Recently I've turned away from tattooing negative iconography on people – I mean, I've always drawn the line at Fascism, I've even covered a few nazi tattoos, but that scope is growing. That's simply a responsibility I hold with myself, not to ruin people's lives, not to mark people with anything overtly negative. Even within that I always allow clients to justify decisions I feel are bad, but with the extreme stuff usually people are at a loss for a good explanation, and most times I'll refer them on to someone else. The more widespread tattooing becomes, the more I believe the people who are custodians of this art need to assume a position of responsibility. Whether it's bad placement, bad ideas, tattooing exceptionally visible areas on youngsters – if you're doing it for the money or for ego, maybe it's time for a rethink. Without an ethical standpoint, tattooing becomes empty, reckless, and the sense of honour that it has erodes.

So in a perfect world - we choose wisely, we don't copy other people's tattoos, we try and stay away from generic internet images, we take every opportunity to step up to the plate and craft something unique and personal, even when the brief is pretty stock-standard. We lead our clients away from the herd towards the realm of possibility. We refuse to drift into the unconscious repetition of a daily grind, and we maintain an awareness of the gravity of what we do, in a space that reflects that ideal.