Do Artists Need Ink in the Tattoo Industry?

Close your eyes and imagine a tattoo artist. What comes to mind? Well, whether the mental image you conjured was of someone male or female, young or old, traditional or modern, there's probably one thing everyone has in common. That is, when we think of an artist we picture them covered with tattoos.

Now let's flip the switch. Imagine you're scrolling through Instagram and you come across an artist whose work speaks to you. Then you go through the process of booking an appointment and on that day, you meet the tattooist behind the artwork. But instead of being covered in tattoos, he or she doesn't have a visible line in sight. What would you think? How would you feel? And most importantly, would you trust them to give you a tattoo?

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As it turns out, tattooless tattooers do in fact exist and if you're an Ink Master fan, you're probably familiar with at least one of them. Back in season two, a contestant named Jamie Davies sparked debate among both fellow artists and the judges for being a tattoo virgin. Despite having 17 years of experience, he was criticized by veteran artists like Oliver Peck and Chris Nuñez for lacking ink of his own. Their feeling was that an artist should have ink on his own body to understand every aspect of creating tattoos.

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In order to better understand why a tattoo artist would abstain from ornamenting their body with ink, we contacted New York tattooer Mark Wade. Wade specializes in realism but in almost his entire career, he only had a single tattoo: a small piece on his hand that has since been almost entirely removed by laser. He now has a forearm piece done by a mentor.

Like many tattooers early on in their careers, Wade was initially pressured to get tattooed by his peers. However, instead of rushing to get covered in ink or practice his skills on himself, Wade had another goal in mind. "Initially I started my apprenticeship without any real knowledge of how great a tattoo could really be. So I started looking through magazines and saw realism tattoos. Everyone at the time was saying that artwork like that would never stay or last in the skin, but I was obsessed regardless. After this, I was convinced that I needed to get a small collection from artists where it seemed impossible to pull off what they were achieving."

In order to get work from the best of the best, Wade waited and along the way, faced criticism as an inkless artist in the tattoo industry. "There's still a stigma to this day for artists who have absolutely no tattoos," he says. "I've also noticed and heard through the grapevine that artists who don't have any tattoos typically are a lot less forgiving in pain than artists who do have tattoos. Clearly, this isn't a proven fact but it's easy for us to assume that it's the case without them ever having a true experience of it."

But it's not only Wade's fellow tattooers who have expressed concern with his lack of tattoos; clients and non-industry folk have also passed judgment over the years. "For a while," he says, "I had people who questioned that I worked in the shop, especially if I opened early or was the only one there for a while. Even when I introduced myself, I could still feel that they didn't believe who I was."

Beyond shocking unsuspecting clients with his appearance, Wade has even lost jobs after appointments saw that he lacked ink.

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However, a few months ago, Wade went through a physical transformation after traveling to Ukraine. He traveled halfway around the world to procure his forearm tatt: a blue jay by Dmitriy Samohin, one of the top realism artists in the world. And while he may no longer be a tattooless artist, his experience taught him that good things come to those who wait. Wade could have easily covered his body in readily accessible tattoos by this point, however, he preferred to acquire them at his own pace.

What do you think about this story? Do you think an artist needs tattoos? Would you trust a tattooer without ink? Let us know your thoughts, opinions, and questions on this story in the comments section on Facebook.