Johnny Mac Howell: The (Color and the) Shape of Water

Johnny Mac Howell
True Grit Tattoo – Albuquerque, NM

Specialty? Watercolor, Trash Polka and Japanese. Currently, I am trying to combine Watercolor and Japanese.

You’ve developed an incredibly original style. How did that come about? 

By accident. A client of mine brought in a watercolor painting and asked me If I could do it. I did. I posted it online and began receiving more requests for the same style. I really had to sit down and study water color techniques on painting and then try to duplicate that through my tattooing.

How did your peers respond to your style at the beginning as compared to now? 

Before, there was a lot of questioning of what I was doing—almost to the point of embarrassment. I was coloring outside of the lines. Not a lot of people understood that, including myself, really. But now I think I have evolved and have my own little niche in tattooing . . . and my peers have now become really inquisitive about it. You see more and more watercolor tattoos today than ever before.

Very true. But not all are created equal. What are some of the ways artists fall short in this style? How can they improve?

I think the reason why some of the artists are falling short is because they are not going back and doing the homework and studying what watercolor does on paper. No watercolor tattoo is the same. Even if you try to duplicate the same tattoo you can’t. Transferring watercolor’s effect on paper to the skin should be done more freeform, spur of the moment.

Are there any particular brands of ink that serve the style especially well?

I really like Fusion. It does what I need it to do. I also love Starbrite blues and white.

Rotary or coil and why?

Both! I’m definitely a coil guy 100% but I love rotary for one purpose and one purpose only: stippling. I don’t use them for anything else . . . I think a coil is a lot more soulful, that the machine itself is the essence of tattooing. I think you should try other things, but I’m an old fashioned tattooer and that’s what I like using.

Any parting words? 

Tattooers: Be open to different styles. Explore. Progress. That’s what we’re trying to do in this world; become better people and better artists. Remember that what we do is a sacred thing. I feel like that’s getting lost as the generations go by.
IG: @truegrittattoo
1 505-312-8162

Pimp Your Presence

How do I get into Pain Magazine? It’s the question we hear more than any other.

Each month, we receive thousands of submissions from the tattoo and piercing community. Our staff spends hours pouring over these submissions, and we’re always amazed at the quality of the work —- its kind of a dream job, don’t you think? Ultimately, we go for amazing images, unique artwork and techniques, and an air of professionalism and commitment to the craft.

The magazine you received in your mailbox today took a great deal of planning and preparation — that’s one of the reasons that we’re typically working two months ahead. In each issue you’ll find a variety of regular features such as Shop of the Month, tattoo show coverage, and up-to-date information on regulations, health and safety issues, new product showcases and articles to help you operate a more successful business and market yourself to the ever expanding tattoo and piercing community.

Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to, we can’t include everything we receive — there are only so many pages in the magazine. Our art department has so many individual submissions on file that there can be as much as a two-year wait before you see your work in the magazine.

Because we receive such a high volume of submissions, we’ve decided to offer an opportunity to artists and shops who can’t wait to get into the magazine. Pain’s Favorite’s is a new section where you can showcase your work —- yes, at price: $300 for a full page which includes up to 12 images, a bio, and of course your contact information. Our art department will even work their magic to create a killer layout.

Pain magazine has established itself as a must-read for professional tattoo artists, piercers and other body modification professionals. The print magazine has a monthly circulation of approximately 10,000. That might not sound like a lot until you considerer that each month the magazine is mailed to more than 9,000 tattoo and piercing studios across the United States, and another thousand delivered throughout Canada. You can’t just pick up Pain at the corner newsstand —- our readership of over 36,000, and those are professional artists and business owners like you. People who are dedicated to furthering their craft and advancing the industry.

So for three meager Benjamins — about the cost of one tattoo — your work is reaching the entire tattoo and piercing community. Think of it as your big chance to brag. We’ll send you some extra copies of the magazine so you can display it in your waiting area or frame up your feature and hang it in your work station. You can even send one to Mom! Being seen by other artists and shops outside your local area is also an excellent opportunity to promote your availability for guest spots.

But wait there’s more! For the low, low price of $50, you can jump on the Pain Magazine online presence. The new digital media package includes five social media posts, and an Artist Showcase on the main website with a bio, up to 10 images and a live links to direct people to your shop page and social media accounts.

The Pain website ( features a virtual version of the current month’s magazine, as well as an archive of past issues and expanded content that’s only viewable on the web. Unlike the print magazine, which has a dedicated readership, Pain online reaches everyone — okay, so we might not be seen by every single one of the estimated 7.6 billion people who are online every day, but we get our fair share. More than 60 THOUSAND tattoo and piercing artists and enthusiasts visit the Pain website each month. Add to that Pain’s Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages, which are updated daily with news, photos and contests, and have combined more than 15,000 followers.

As you know — without traffic, your own website is little more than an old-school phonebook ad. Being featured on Pain’s website and social media feeds will amplify your reach and drive targeted visitors your way. You never know where online promotion can lead — new clients, invitations to participate in shows or expos, even commissions that utilize your other artistic talents.

Pain Magazine is the go-to resource for the tattoo and piercing community. Let us help you pimp your presence and grow it with passion. The connections are exponential, the possibilities endless.

For more information, contact Jennifer Orellana, Account Executive.
(505) 332-3003.
[email protected]

Capture and Release: Pro Tattoo Photos on an Amateur Budget

Imagine this: To cut costs, your favorite band has decided to forgo the studio time and instead, record their new album with an old tape recorder on the floor of their practice space (or, just consider Metallica’s St. Anger.) They probably wouldn’t be your favorite band anymore, to say the least.

Agree? Of course, you do. So then, why would you promote your artwork with subpar photography? Word of mouth is great—essential, even—but your portfolio is still your best salesman, and your portfolio isn’t selling shit if it’s full of low-res, half-assed, cell phone snaps. It’s time to step up your game. Here’s how . . .

Going Pro: Using a Real Camera.

In a perfect world, every shop would have a solid DSLR camera and a dedicated photography space. Yes, cameras aren’t cheap, but why settle? You’re photographing art. Your art. As in, the visual creations that fund your livelihood. There’s really no reason not to cough up the scratch for a halfway decent machine to do so. Don’t worry; it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, at least not by tattoo standards. You’re looking at less than an arm’s worth of work. For an idea of what’s available, just Google “Best camera for under $1,000.” There are plenty of options out there.

The Camera

There’s a learning curve when using a DSLR, but it’s worth the time. Whatever camera you buy, there’ll be more buttons, switches and dials than you can shake your needle at. Don’t worry about all of that. Just set it to Manual and adjust as necessary. There are three settings you need to worry about, known as the “Exposure Triangle”:

Aperture. Put very simply, if the lens were your eyeball, the aperture setting would be the degree to which your eyelids are open. Aperture affects light sensitivity, but more importantly, depth of field, meaning how much of your shot is in focus. A wide aperture means only your subject is in focus, while a narrow aperture increases the depth of field and brings the background into focus as well. For your purposes, wide is better. You want 100% focus on your subjects, not what’s behind them.

Shutter speed. The higher the shutter speed, the better the camera can capture movement, but the less light it can take in. A high shutter speed works best in outdoor scenarios. If you’re shooting at high speed inside, you’re going to be using flash, which means a gnarly glare on your work, which means a crappy photo. The other side of it, though, is at a low speed, even the slightest flick of your wrist will cause a blur. But you’re a tattoo artist, so you have steady hands. Otherwise, spring for a tripod.

ISO. ISO measures light sensitivity. The higher the ISO setting, the brighter your picture. Again, though, there’s a rub. Set your ISO too high and you end up with a grainy photo, AKA ‘noise.’ That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid here.

The key here is to learn to walk the tightrope, so to speak, to balance perfectly atop the tip of the figurative triangle these three setting create. The balance is tricky because these settings are simultaneously complimentary and detractory. Set one too high or two low and you must readjust the other, and so forth. Find the sweet spot. Every scenario is different and requires a different configuration, but you can minimize the toggling and fumbling by creating a controlled environment. Hence, our suggestion for a dedicated photography space.

The Space

Before proceeding, let’s address one obvious fact: The best photos are taken using sunlight. If you can’t spare the square footage for a dedicated space in your studio, this is your best option. Just make sure the sun is never behind your subject, use a bit of shade for better light diffusion, and try to find a solid, consistent backdrop. However, there’s very little control of an outdoor environment. You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. An indoor space with consistent lighting is far more efficient. With that in mind, there are two main considerations:

Lighting. For a quick refresher on the best lighting for tattoos, grab your copy of our previous issue. That should get you up to speed. Basically, just like when you’re putting needle to flesh, you want to illuminate the work while minimizing shadows. Diffuse. Diffuse. Diffuse. There are multiple ways to achieve this. Be creative. Here’s one idea: Get two white sheets and hang them perpendicular to the wall, leaving just enough space between them to comfortably fit your subject. Point high-output lamps on the outside of both sheets to create consistent, diffused light to illuminate your subject. Basically, create a human-sized lightbox. If you can rig up something to get diffused light from the top as well, even better. A simple Googling of the concept will get the creative juices flowing. You’ll just have to figure out how to make it work in your space (hint: make it as collapsible as possible—maybe curtain rods so you can slide the sheets back?).

Backdrop. Whatever you do to achieve that perfectly diffused lighting, you’ll need a consistent backdrop for every shot. Solid colors are ideal, although, a brick wall can create a pretty cool vibe too. Planning to do some work in Photoshop? Consider the classic “green screen” background. Ultimately, a backdrop is as simple as hanging a sheet on the wall. Just make sure it goes down to the floor, so you can grab those foot tattoos as easily as a chest piece.

The iPhone: Everyone’s Favorite Shortcut.

As great as all these ideas are, most of you will probably stick with the lens affixed to the back of your iPhone. It’s understandable. For one, you’re already managing an Instagram account. Why not kill two birds? Besides, your phone’s always in your pocket, it’s easy to use, and every year, the folks at Apple use their black magic wizardry to get a little closer to making the standalone camera obsolete. The same basically goes for the Samsung Galaxy.

“But I have a Blackberry.” OK. Don’t you have some new tribal work you need to post on Myspace? Please go.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten rid of that guy, here are a few pointers.

Activate HDR. The HDR setting on the iPhone is basically how you switch the camera app from Bruce Wayne to Batman. Far more color, Far more detail, and far fewer crappy shots to delete later. It’s almost cheating.

Remember: Light is still important. Even with the magic of the iPhone, you still want properly diffused light to achieve clarity and avoid glares and shadows. Refer to the paragraphs above.

Use the ‘White Paper Method.’ The iPhone software works referentially, meaning, the color you capture is relative to the truest white in the shot. A stark, white background can really make the colors pop. When shooting a smaller piece, especially on the arm, it’s as easy as sliding a sheet of printer paper into the background.

Tweak. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting a photo in post to get it closer to what your eye perceives, and the iPhone has plenty of options here. When you’re looking at a photo, just hit the ‘Dial’ button at the bottom of the screen and tweak away. The three most useful tools are contrast, saturation and brightness. You’re welcome.

Maintain original resolution. Don’t let the Mail app shrink your pic. Always select original size to ensure the highest resolutions possible.

A Few Other Odds and Ends.

Whatever your setup, there are a handful basic rules you should always keep in mind.

Don’t photograph a tattoo the same day you finish it. No one wants to look at puffy, red, bloody skin. For the best result, get your customer to come back in a day or two. You still want it to look fresh, though, so don’t wait longer than that.

Shoot with print resolution in mind. Anyone can post their photos online. Getting them in a magazine is a different thing altogether. But print has an entirely different set of requirements than digital. The minimum resolution for print is 150dpi; ideal, 300dpi. If you can make sure your shots are in CMYK, even better.

Take as many photos as you can. Always take multiple shots and increase your odds of achieving perfection.
Learn Photoshop and Lightroom. There’s really no substitute. For visual artists of any kind, the two programs are practically a necessity. Subscribe to the programs and learn the basics at the very least.

Words by David Pogge, Staff Writer, PAIN Magazine
Co-authored by Brett Herman of Hidden Tattoo Los Angeles

September 2018

Pain Favorite: Brooks – Pa’u Tattoo

I was a specialist in the army when I started the path of tattooing in 2002 on Oahu.

I had no desire to be a tattoo artist until a guy over-charged me for a tattoo that I had drawn for myself. I knew he was trying to get one over on me so while he tattooed me I watched him, like it was my first lesson. After that I bought the garbage tattoo kit that we all hate and got to work on my leg. When it was all done everyone in my unit wanted a tattoo. The rest is history.

My favorite type of tattoos: Freehand tribal, fine line tattoos, and color.

What I find fascinating about tattooing is the freedom to do whatever I want artistically… So the only person who controls my success is me. I’m my own boss.

Parting words: You’ll never be shit waiting on the approval of others! So don’t worry bout them. Jus do what you supposed to do. Cuz haters be everywhere bruh.

Pa’u Tattoo
66-160 Kamehameha Hwy. Haleiwa HI
Instagram – paubrooks
Facebook- Colored by Brooks

What’s in a Name?

Elayne Angel,
I read your articles and I always learn a lot from you. Now I’m so aggravated that I need to ask for help. I honestly don’t know how to deal with clients that think they know everything—especially the names for piercings.
It was hard enough to bite my tongue when customers asked how much our gauges cost. I can’t believe that I have almost gotten used to that! But this is even crazier.
People are asking for dragon bites, rhino bites (nostril piercings?) spider bites, angel bites and kisses, dolphin kisses, panda kisses, etc. And don’t get me started on the girls who ask for click piercings! Or an Eskimo, or a suicide piercing, and any other possible stupid piercing name out there. When I ask them where that is, I’ve had people call ME stupid and walk out saying I’m not really a professional piercer if I don’t know where it goes! They are mixing up daith, rook, and tragus piercings—and asking for the ones that cure migraines or help with weight loss, and calling a conch with a ring an orbital. ARRRR! They are driving me crazy!!!
What is the best way to deal with this? Thank you, W.

Dear W.,

I understand your pain; this can be a very frustrating situation. As a “words person” and the author of a book and a monthly magazine column about piercing, I feel such semantic transgressions profoundly.

Piercing terminology has undergone numerous changes throughout the course of my career. I must even take credit—or blame—for several of the piercing names in general use: lorum and fourchette, among them. Whether we like it or not, some terms stick around, and others come and go.

It may be helpful to be aware that change is a defining characteristic of a living language. According to the Linguistics Society: “Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users.”(i) They also point out that many of the transformations in lexicon begin with young adults. That group constitutes a significant percentage of the clientele in most piercing businesses. The linguists caution our harsh judgement: “The fact that language is always changing doesn’t mean it’s getting worse; it’s just becoming different.” (Yeah, I’m not sure I believe that either.)

Try to bear in mind that these irksome shoppers are simply requesting piercings they admired on someone, or saw on social media/online. They’re innocently asking for them using the vocabulary that was provided. Simply put: it isn’t their fault. Unless they personally made up the name, we shouldn’t blame or berate them, even if it makes us cringe.

We all experienced the painful defeat of our valiant battle to correct everyone misusing the word “gauges.” Somehow, the term managed to gain widespread usage for plugs and eyelets, however erroneous and distasteful this seems to us. Despite our best efforts, all we did was unintentionally alienate the very people who pay our bills. Still, we lived through the Gauges Fiasco; surely we can persevere in the face of some ridiculous bites and kisses.

I’ve got bad news: we won’t win this fight either, take my…word. And, ultimately, (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it doesn’t really matter. What’s most important is that we end up with satisfied customers who are wearing jewelry in the spots they want pierced. It is fine to say, “Ah, we call that placement a ‘such-and-such piercing’ around here. No problem; I’d be happy to do that for you!”

One of the ways I handle the situation when faced with a request for an ambiguously named piercing is to (quietly take a slow, deep breath and) kindly say, “Since I began working in this industry in the 1980s, I’ve found that piercing terms vary over time and by geographic location. So, to make sure we’re on the same page, could you please show me a photo, or point to the exact spot on your body?” That way, I already made it evident that I am an experienced piercer, and I listed some external factors that affect the nomenclature.

A complaint I frequently hear from clients is that they’ve been subjected to condescending attitudes from other piercers. I’ve noticed that piercing names are among the areas that bring out the worst of this behavior—including outright hostility. Many of us are heavily ornamented or modified, and this alone can be intimidating to newbies and the unpierced, even when we’re super nice! Therefore, I believe we need to work extra hard to be welcoming, inclusive, non-judgmental, and patient. They have absolutely no idea why we’d be annoyed with them for coming in and…asking to get pierced!

Many aspects of our job require stamina and fortitude, and this is an area for which we need to exhibit the patience of a saint. I know it is a lot to ask. But dig deep, because I genuinely believe this is part of what it means to be a “good piercer.” Modern behavioral science indicates that the way we react is determined largely by our view of the events, not the events themselves. Books(ii) and articles(iii), (iv) on adjusting our attitudes offer insights and techniques that might be helpful. If you can’t manage to be civil, then it is time to take a break.

There is a more critical area in which usage of non-standard terms could really matter: on our paperwork. To avoid misunderstandings—and litigation—it has been my policy to always write in the name or description of a readily identifiable body part on the release form. I also include enough detail so that I can tell specifically what was pierced. If slang or jargon is used exclusively, (however common among piercing professionals) there is potential for confusion.

This applies even when we refer to a piercing by its correct anatomical designation, for example, fourchette, tragus, and lingual frenulum. If a term is not universally known, don’t use it as the only identifier. Have sufficient space so you can write in as much detail as necessary for optimal clarification.


  • Ear cartilage (“daith”) Or “helix” or “conch,” etc.
  • Upper lip center (“philtrum”)
  • Genitals (“vertical clitoral hood: VCH”) Or “perineum: guiche,” etc.


Requirements and legalities for release forms vary by region. It is definitely worth the expense to have a local attorney review yours. Many lawyers will decline to bring a suit if there is a well-written, properly executed release, so they have the potential to avert legal action.

In the unhappy event that you do end up in court, the release form will be a strong defense—unless there are issues with it. You need to be certain that the document accurately reflects the location of the piercing in a clear and straightforward manner.

Language evolves whether we like it or not. We don’t have to adopt the alternate labels our customers use; unfortunately, we can’t prevent them from being uttered either. You may have noticed that clients are often unreceptive to being corrected, and (unsurprisingly) take offense at being scolded. So, instead of expending time and energy bickering, let’s focus on the job, which is to provide a safe and effective service. Therefore, though challenging, please resist the temptation to make them feel as foolish as they sound to you. Instead, I’m urging an approach of understanding, tolerance, and kindness.



Piercing Euphoria

“No cursing! It’s SUNDAY.”

There’s a heavy tinge of sarcasm, augmented by a faux-melodious tone that frames the first sentence and morphs into that of a motorsports announcer with the second. “SUNDAYYYYYY.” The word revs like an engine, a staccato accent on “sun” followed by a lingering of the vowel sounds in “day.” A maniacal smile splits Shy’s face. She’s in full performance mode.

Meanwhile, her daughter, freshly pierced, sits on the bench, wiping tears from her eyes, along with a dab of blood from her nose.

Shy breaks into a celebration dance.

“You did good!” she says playfully. “That’s the first time you ain’t turned out like a pussy n—a!”

The moment described took place this past February. It was captured and immortalized via the Piercing Euphoria YouTube channel. The episode is entitled “Giving my daughter her 90th piercing,” and it’s garnered 1.6 million views to date.

It’s not hard to figure out why Shy has become such an internet powerhouse of a piercer (30,000 followers on Youtube; 120,000 on Instagram), or why her shop, Piercing Euphoria, has garnered so much acclaim, despite her ‘off the path’ location. She’s in the far southwest corner of Atlanta, right on the edge of the ‘perimeter’ as the locals call it, in a neighborhood most of her potential clients wouldn’t know existed, were it not for her. But they know she exists, and they make the trek to see her, often willing to wait hours on end for the opportunity to have their flesh punctured by the budding internet celebrity.

The secret is in the sauce. She has that ‘it’ factor, the natural magnetic star quality that leaves one pondering how she hasn’t yet scored her own reality TV show. But it’s also about understanding her audience; knowing how to engage them.

“People like to talk,” she offers. “People always want to be a part of something . . . They’re always clicking, trying to find out more. If you don’t give them something to go off of, they’ll become uninterested. People don’t hold their focus on things very long.”

In the studio, it’s about her animated and entertaining demeanor, yes, but it’s also about comfort, as well as technique—and perhaps a magic touch.

“I’m very personable. I’m fun. I’m informative. Fast, efficient . . . a lot of people say my piercings don’t hurt. I think I have a gift . . . I like to think it’s an ancestral thing, something that’s in my bloodline.”

As an African American woman, the knowledge of that bloodline has played a crucial role in the development of her career. She is on the fulcrum of a strange dichotomy, a member of the culture that pioneered the concept of body modification, yet largely shuns it as taboo today.

“When I was younger, my mother had these books in our house with all these tribal people” she recalls warmly. “I just used to look at their artwork . . . the cultural stuff they did for rituals. They had certain piercings . . . I started looking into why they were gauging their ears and why they had certain scars . . . that’s really what connected with me and drew me to it, especially as I got older . . . I would like to try to break people out of the taboo of it in our culture. African Americans need to be reminded that this is something their ancestors did.”

Always the entrepreneur, Shy is taking full advantage of the current upward trajectory of her career by launching her own line of custom body jewelry. The line is a refreshing break from the typical barbells, hoops and plugs of the piercing world, one that expands the scope of what body jewelry can be and might go so far as to bring in a new clientele with the wide appeal of its pleasantly feminine vibe. And if there’s nothing in the catalog that grabs you, that’s OK; she can do custom pieces upon request.

But the real payoff isn’t the merchandising or the hype. It’s the joy in liberating others. Shy says it best.

“It’s all about freedom. I love being able to give the person the freedom they were looking for. They’re always so happy to get out of the chair with a new piercing . . . I’m happy I can give them something to help them feel alive.”

Extras: Fun Facts about Piercing Euphoria
  • Shy has pierced as many as 356 people in one day.
  • For anyone interested, Shy offers classes. They are three days a week and include a training kit, classroom instruction, and ‘look and learn’ sessions wherein the students get to spend the day watching Shy work. Check for more info.
  • Shy made her first attempt at piercing at her high school at the age of 16 when she tried to use a sewing needle to pierce her friend’s tongue and ended up getting suspended for it. It didn’t work out so well.
  • Shy has the most followers of any piercer on Instagram.

“It’s just a cool, fun way to interact with potential customers. I can even talk to other tattooers and bring them on my livestream. It’s pretty awesome just how far you can go with it.”

[email protected]
IG: @piercingeuphoria

Pain Favorite: Robbie Carson – Prison Break Tattoos

I started my tattoo career when I was 15, drawing tattoo designs for the artists in a local studio. I then began tattooing professionally 8 years ago, working part-time in a studio overseas while I was in the U.S. Marine Corps. I received my Bachelors in Fine Arts with an emphasis in Oil Painting in 2011, and have since followed my passion for art as a tattoo artist, specializing in photorealism and intricately detailed work.

What I love about tattooing and what I find so fascinating is how every person’s skin is very different, making every tattoo a new challenge. With painting, you have the same flat canvas every time. The variety in tattooing keeps me on my toes, and pushes me to keep growing as an artist.

I have two passions in life: helping others and art. I am very fortunate to be able to follow both of my passions as a full-time Houston Firefighter and tattoo artist/oil painter. I love helping and tattooing my community.

Instagram: robbie_carson
Facebook: Robbie Carson, Tattooer
[email protected]

Joe Ankave

Where did you get your start in tattooing and how long have you been studying the craft?

I started on my own, at home and im tattooing for almost 7 years… it’s was pretty tough way but I believe when you learn by your own your hunger is much bigger when you have a master…

Rotary or coil and why?

One of the biggest question that tattooers ask those days… I absolutely would say rotary! It is much easier with shading and color packing, lines issue is a bit challenging at the beginning but after that its make all easier… For tattooers who doing old school tattoos I would say coil since its better for bigger lines and whip shading.

What is your area of specialty?

My main style is neo-traditional Japanese but I like also to do realism and neo-traditonal style. I like to do colorful work, with nice contrast, textures and movement in my tattoos and in Japanese there is great potential to do that. Japanese style has a lot of to offer, with beautiful concept and history and that’s why I like it so much.

What do you find fascinating about the tattoo/piercing industry?

I think that Tattooing is the purest medium ever, you leave a mark for the rest of someone’s life! Also there is magical thing that we try to do is like Horiyoshi the third said: Tattooing is like halfway world, we try to show things not existing as if they were existing….

Do you have any parting words for our readers? – What is your mission statement?

Besides developing my self into tattooing, I’m working on a tattoo app that will solve 4 big issues in tattooing – my goal is to make this world of tattooing a small globalization so stay tuned! In the next few months something good gonna happen!

Joe Ankave – [email protected]

Shedding a Little Light on the Subject: a Conversation About Studio Lighting

Light. According to the Judeao-Christian tradition, it was the first step in the creative process of the Divine. According to science, it’s the primary requisite for the existence of life. But let’s scale this discussion down to something useful. Light is literally the medium by which we both produce and consume visual art, and the type of light we use has a direct effect on how we perceive that art. In any other genre, this is universally acknowledged and regularly discussed. However, aside from a few amateur YouTube productions, the topic is hardly addressed in the realm of tattoos.

From these thoughts, we can reach two conclusions with relative certainty. First and foremost, this subject needs a hell of a lot more coverage. Second, prior to creation, the Christian God apparently wasn’t much of a reader. But let’s not digress. The point of this article is to start a conversation on proper studio lighting, not spark a debate on the accuracy of religious texts.

First, a word about natural sunlight: You want as much of it as possible. As far as lighting goes, it’s the healthiest, most inviting, and obviously, the most economical, at least until they manage to privatize the Sun. If you have big storefront windows, consider pulling up those blinds. However, your business doesn’t close at dusk, so continue reading.

Let’s get into overhead lighting. If you get nothing else from this article, remember this: fluorescent lights are evil. Seriously. Granted, they have their advantages. They’re cheap. They’re easy to install. Hell, they even last 13 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. But in the art world, they are the literal, glowing excrement of the entrails of Beelezebub. The light they emit is cold and unflattering. Plus, they pulsate to create an agitating strobe effect. It might be too fast for the naked eye, but the subconscious absorbs it and the nerves subsequently unravel. Plus, a million other reasons. Google it. Leave the mercury-filled tubes to the vast, corporate caverns and their soul-sucking cubicles. Go LED. It costs a bit more up front, but the long-term benefits are more than worth it. If you go with standard bulbs, make sure they’re at least full-spectrum.

Next, let’s talk about individual station lighting. There are multiple options here, but the most common are lamps that are easily movable. Again, don’t settle for crappy fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. Go LED. They’re energy efficient, well-diffused and don’t overheat. To easily illuminate any area of the body and eliminate shadows, you want to go for a lamp with a flexible neck.

One of the most widely trusted brands in the tattoo world is Ottlite, the long-standing king of craft lamps. However, proceed with caution. There have been recent complaints that the latest models have suffered a dip in the quality that made them famous. There’s the issue of the stability of the lamps’ bases, but more disturbing was a complaint of cheaply constructed wiring that quickly frayed and once even caused a fuse blowout in a shop. These complaints could be the exception rather than the rule though, so don’t rule them out; just be cautious. A promising, albeit more expensive alternative is Glamcor. They have an impressive array of LED lamps that seem to be made almost specifically for tattooing with touch-dimming technology and a guarantee of photographic perfection. Check out the unit with the dual adjustable heads; it all but eliminates pesky shadows.

If your stations have mirrors, consider framing them with linear, mountable LED lamps on either side. The result is a beautifully illuminated, shadow-free workplace. If you really want to go all out on the concept, you could spring for Glamcor’s vanity mirrors with built-in LEDs, but plan on eating ramen for a while if you do; one of them will probably cost your more than your mortgage payment.

As great as the above suggestions are, though, sometimes you still need a little more precision. Or, maybe sometimes you just don’t have the extra scratch to spring for yet another lamp, especially at Glamcor’s rates. In those cases, there’s always the LED headlamp. Given, they may look a little goofy and will probably ruin your precious ‘do, these headlamps are affordable, practical and always point exactly where you look. A solid choice is the Coast HL4. Pumping out a solid 144 lumens, the HL4 is plenty bright for any situation and nicely balanced with a top strap and a separate battery pack mounted in the back, which practically eliminates the risk of having the lamp slide off your dome mid-session.

Got more ideas for quality lighting? This conversation is only the beginning. Hit us on Twitter, Instagram or the FaceSpace and toss us your bright idea (bad pun intended.)

Thanks to the following for their input:

Josh ‘Bacon’ Erickson
Divine Moments Tattoo
Portland, Oregon

Brett Herman
Hidden Los Angeles Tattoo
Los Angeles, California

Beth Swilling,
Mom’s Custom Tattoo
Spokane, Washington