Tattoo artists haven’t held a needle in their hands since the closure of nonessential businesses on Mar. 18. But being unable to tattoo hasn’t stopped them from creating art.
Tattoo artists have started to put their skills into creating custom artwork for their customers in a search for outlets that will support them during the coronavirus pandemic. While government relief may be slow, these outlets have become the livelihood for the modern tattoo artist.
Artists have turned to commissioned artwork and are selling drawings and prints, as well as discounted gift certificates toward future tattoos.
“I wouldn’t call it … enough to support living in Colorado or anything like that, but it’s a good supplement to be able to pay for groceries and bills,” said Boulder tattoo artist Frank Simanton.
“People aren’t working right now and are trying to figure out how they’re gonna pay rent and stuff. So we’re all kind of in the same boat right now,” said Sam Perry of Denver’s Copperhead Tattoo Parlor.
In a more organized attempt, All Sacred Tattoo Studio in Wheat Ridge, Colorado has printed merchandise with designs by their artists and are splitting the fundraised amount equally. Studio artist Forrest Henderson sold out of his custom face masks and even included a chance to win a free future tattoo.
Nate Stephens of Marion Street Tattoo in Denver is selling t-shirts that partially benefit healthcare workers. Inspired by the historic tattoo design “The Rose of No Man’s Land,” Stephens focused on the healthcare professionals in his design. By April 16, he had raised $2,196 to be donated to Denver Health Foundation’s COVID-19 Urgent Relief Fund. According to Stephens, the support for his project has also extended beyond the tattoo community.
“Most of the people have no interest in tattoos whatsoever, but they have some kind of connection to somebody working on the front lines,” Stephens said. “They’re buying them as gifts as well. I’m finding out a lot of people are buying shirts to give to people that are on the front lines.”
Encouragingly, Stephens is not the only one stepping up to support essential workers. Joining a global movement of large-scale endeavors, the Colorado tattoo scene has been working hard to give back to the community. Led by Black Sage Studio, four tattoo shops have joined forces in donating personal protective equipment like medical grade gloves and masks to medical professionals and senior citizens.
“Any sort of threatening moments in history, not just in the tattoo industry, I think all artists kind of band together and start trying to make some sort of positive social change,” said All Sacred artist Landon Morgan.
The pandemic also poses an ethical dilemma.
People are still reaching out to tattoo artists over social media to get tattoos at home, despite Colorado’s stay-at-home order, and some artists are apparently answering the call.
“Those people are going to end up being kind of blacklisted in the tattoo community after this is over,” Simanton said. “Some of them even posted on Instagram and Facebook, like they are being some kind of rebels. You’re not being a bad ass by going into work and spreading the disease.”
Still, many are abiding by government and health officials’ guidelines and said they look forward to the day they can safely return to work. Many clients have reached out to ask for future appointments, which will lead to a backlog and a busy schedule.
“Luckily most of my clientele base, they’re either still getting paid for their time off, or they’re working from home,” Simanton said. “This is true especially for clients that I’m doing sleeves and back pieces and large projects on.”
But others are worried about the long-term financial impact on their client base, even once the lockdown is lifted.
“Most of my clients are more industry workers, people who wait tables, who bartend and do industry type work,” Perry, the Copperhead Tattoo Parlor artist, said. “Those are definitely in the businesses that are being affected the most during all this.”
A common sentiment from artists was gratitude towards their clients and the community. In unprecedented circumstances, they are thankful for the understanding of their clients in rescheduling and providing flexibility, as well as their financial support. Despite their own struggles, Denver and Boulder’s tattoo artists are still giving back, showing a strong sense of community and solidarity.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Altug Karakurt at email@example.com.