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Adulting 101: Tattoos & Piercings

Posted about 9 months ago by Nico D'Archangel

Welcome to a new limited series! For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing tips and advice from local professionals on topics that might not have been covered in your schooling. Whether you’re a teen getting ready to strike out on your own or an adult who hasn’t had someone whom to ask these questions, the library is here for you! These events are happening in person at the West End Branch on a set of Mondays at 4pm for teens. The blog posts are for any teens that can’t attend or any adults who’d like the information as well.

Teresa Sharpe & Faith Broache: Unkindness Art

Shop: Founded in 2015 and located in Richmond, Virginia, Unkindness Art is a purveyor of high quality, custom tattoos and fine art, apparel & merchandise. Owned by world-renowned artist Teresa Sharpe, Unkindness Art is currently home to seven resident artists, all of whom specialize in their own unique art style and subject matter, ranging from illustrative blackwork, romantic art nouveau, pop culture-inspired new school, and everything in between! We strive to provide a safe, positive, and fun tattooing experience for our clients, and firmly believe that tattooing is for ALL bodies.

Teresa Sharpe: Born and raised in Indiana, Teresa tattooed for 8 years at Studio 13 in Ft Wayne before moving to Richmond, Virginia and opening her own studio. Winner of tattoo competition show Best Ink in 2013, Teresa has gone on to worldwide acclaim, tattooing at conventions both domestic and overseas, and presenting at conferences for her fellow tattooers. She specializes in large-scale custom color illustrative work. 

Faith Broache: Faithanne Broache, also known as vitriol, may or may not have been raised by feral opossums in an abandoned barn. While details of her background are murky at best, most sources seem to agree that she has been drawing and illustrating since she could hold a pencil, and has been a licensed tattooer since 2014. She specializes in southern gothic naturalism.

Say someone is looking to get their first tattoo. Which would you suggest deciding first: what tattoo they want to get, where the tattoo goes on themself, or which shop/artist to get it done ?

Deciding what tattoo you want and where you want to get it is a great first step. Once you’ve decided on what tattoo you want, then your next step is to do your research to find the best artist for that piece. Look at shops in your area; check out artists’ portfolios, read shop reviews, ask your friends with tattoos where they’ve had a good experience. You want to look for an artist whose style is similar to the tattoo you want. Chances are, if you like all their other work, you’ll like what they do for you. Many artists have some wait time for appointments, so you may not be able to get a tattoo from them right away – the best artists are worth waiting for. 

Keep in mind that many artists specialize in specific styles of artwork–if you’re looking for a color piece and you find an artist whose work you like but their portfolio is 100% black and gray work, or if you’re looking for text/script but the artist you like doesn’t have any examples of pieces which include script, they may not be the right choice for that particular project. 

Same questions as above but about piercings?

For piercings, you want to look for shops that offer high-quality jewelry. Implant-grade internally-threaded titanium and gold are the best materials for body jewelry, and a good piercing shop will have a piercer on staff who’s happy to discuss the best placement and jewelry options for what you’d like to get. Beware of shops offering inexpensive piercings and “surgical steel” only. Shops with piercers who are members of the APP (Association of Professional Piercers) are usually a great place to start, but if there isn’t one near you, you can always reach out to an APP member piercer to ask for recommendations in your area. The APP website has a full listing of their members available online.

What are some red flags to watch out for when researching shops? 

Red flags can be tricky sometimes – trust your instincts first and foremost! While you’re researching shops, take a look at the work they have posted on social media: Are the lines clean and the color saturated? Do they have any photos or videos posted with artists not wearing gloves? Do they have all their machines and equipment wrapped with a nonpermeable barrier such as plastic? Take Google reviews with a grain of salt, but these can be important opportunities to see how other clients have felt in a particular shop or with a particular artist. 

When you walk into a shop, if you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in the shop environment, walk back out! Keep an eye out for signs of poor cleanliness and hygiene – is there trash piled up in trash cans? Excessive dirt in the corners? Does it look messy or disorganized? 

If you are already in a shop to get tattooed and an artist or staff member says or does anything that makes you uncomfortable, you can leave. You are not obligated to do anything you don’t want to do! Sometimes getting tattooed requires you to move or even fully remove some clothing in order for the artist to access the area, but an artist should never ask you to remove more than you’re comfortable with or make any unnecessary comments about your body. That is always unacceptable behavior and you should leave immediately. A good artist should always explain what they’re doing as they’re doing it, and make sure you’re okay with everything before they continue. 

What about some green flags?

A reputable shop will be clean, well-lit, and have both the studio license and the artists’ individual licenses posted clearly. Good shops will have a welcoming and inclusive environment, and all machines and tattoo equipment will be fully covered during procedures. Having healed work posted online is another green flag that shows you that the shop or artist stands by their work. Reputable shops will be happy to answer any questions you may have about their artists, their studio, and their process without making you feel uncomfortable for asking. 

Are there times in one’s life during which you wouldn’t suggest getting a tattoo/piercing?

Everyone’s life experience is different, but as a general guideline, try to steer clear of making permanent body modifications such as tattoos and piercings if you’re in any kind of heightened emotional state. After a rough breakup or a loss, it might be very tempting to get a tattoo or piercing as a way to deal with those feelings, but it’s always smarter to give it some time and sit with the decision for a while before acting on it. 

We are also not able to tattoo anyone who is pregnant or nursing! 

And, it should go without saying, but if you’re actively ill or recovering from an injury, we don’t recommend introducing more trauma to your body by getting tattooed/pierced! It can be rough on your immune system. If you’re currently on any medications such as antibiotics, steroids like prednisone, or acne medication, you should wait until you’re no longer taking them to get a tattoo. 

What does standard aftercare look like with tattoos/piercings?

Standard aftercare will vary depending on the artist who does the tattoo, but at our studio, we use a “second skin” adhesive bandage product that our artists apply after the tattoo. Our clients keep that on for 2-3 days, then remove it at home. Once the bandage has been removed, we recommend keeping the tattoo clean by washing 2-3 times a day with a plain unscented soap, and keeping it lightly moisturized with a plain unscented lotion. Once the bandage is off, tattoos will usually get dry, itchy, and a little flakey – the best aftercare is to leave it alone! Less is more. 

Another thing to keep in mind about tattoo aftercare is that you’ll need to stay out of the sun for at least 2 weeks while it heals, and then make sure you keep sunscreen on it when you’re out in the sun afterwards. The sun can damage a tattoo more than anything else, and make it fade much faster than it would otherwise. You’ll also need to stay out of swimming pools, hot tubs, the ocean, and any other bodies of water for at least 2 weeks – so if you’re thinking of getting tattooed in the summer, remember that you’ll have to skip the beach for a while!

What kind of time frame would you suggest having between getting tattoos/piercings? Are there any exceptions to this time frame?

For larger tattoos that take multiple sessions to complete, we recommend waiting at least 2-3 weeks between sessions. This allows the tattoo time to heal fully – a tattoo is introducing physical trauma to your body, and it’s important to allow yourself time to rest and recover from that trauma. If you don’t, it can cause problems while healing, or make it take much longer to heal. 

What advice would you give for someone nervous about their first tattoo/piercing?

Being nervous is super normal! Even after getting dozens of tattoos, many people are *still* nervous about it. The best thing to do for nerves is to be good to yourself and take care of your body. Get a good nights’ sleep, make sure you eat a good breakfast before your appointment, and drink plenty of water. Make sure you’re dressed comfortably and have headphones or a book with you just in case you have some downtime. Bring a sugary snack in case it’s a long session and you get hungry – low blood sugar can sometimes make you feel light-headed or even pass out, and it’s important to avoid that during a tattoo. 

Above all, talk to your artist. We’ve all been there, and a good artist will be happy to answer any questions you may have throughout the process! 

Notes from extra questions during event:

Can colors be tattooed onto melanated skin? Absolutely! Any good artist has had practice on multiple skin shades during their apprenticeship and will be happy to work on something for you that you will enjoy. It does not have to be a specialty, like working on those whose skin has connective tissue disorders would be a specialty. One artist in attendance likened it to stained glass windows. Yes, black ink stands out the most but no matter the background (skin color, in this analogy) there’s always a way to have color shine through and look great.

What are some ways to find artists? Majority of tattoo artists will post their most recent art on Instagram. However, there’s also magazines like “Tattoo Style” and “Skin Art” and tattoo conventions around the county. Richmond has one of its own, Richmond Tattoo & Arts Festival, it happens in October and is celebrating 35 years this year!

Do you think that machines could take over your job? The consensus between the artists is that it would be extremely difficult for an AI type of machine to take over tattooing completely. There are so many hands-on judgement calls that need humans to be able to adjust on the fly as they’re working on the piece, things like keeping the tension of the skin just right and how much pressure to put onto the needle currently in use. For these and similar reasons it’s likely going to keep being a human-centered job force for a good while.

Below is a handful of books that can give you even more information! Most are nonfiction but there’s a couple fiction ones as well. 🙂 Happy Reading!


Nico D'Archangel

Nico is a voracious eclectic reader. He can often be found with stacks of varied books, from romance and history to science fiction and children's stories. He is one of several Bookologists as well! Always up for conversations about books, feel free to stop by to say hi or drop an email!

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