Tattoos mean different things to different people. For some, they are a reflection of individuality. Others get tattoos to commemorate a lost loved one, as a symbol of rebellion against authority, or simply for decoration. Whatever the reason, tattoos are popping up on everyone from auto mechanics to middle class teenage girls, rock stars to Wall Street insiders.
Tattoo styles stretch as far as the imagination can reach. The most popular tattoos usually fall into one of these categories: traditional American (anchors, hula girls, etc.), tribal (black designs and symbols), cultural (Celtic, Native American, Oriental), decorative, fantasy (wizards, fairies) photo-realistic, religious and spiritual, and black and grey (any design done in blacks characterized by soft washes and fine detail).
“With any industry there are always trends – not that I like to see trends in tattooing, because trends come and go,” says tattoo artist Paul Booth, who has worked with celebrities such as Fred Durst and members of the band Slayer. The most popular trends in tattooing today are probably “a new school twist on Asian art” and traditional American, according to Booth.
Tattoo wearers and artists alike express parts of their personalities through their body art. Booth, whose studio is in New York, describes his own style of tattooing as “dark” and “creepy.” “I like to touch a nerve with people, but I also cater to people that are on the same plane as me as far as wanting to bring their nightmares to the surface,” he says. “It’s kind of like a venting process – like bringing your nightmares to the flesh is, in a weird way, like an exorcism for some people. For others it’s just cool, shock-value imagery.”
Tattoos can be either flash designs, which means you can go into a parlor and choose one displayed on the wall, or they can be custom-designed by the artist. Karen Hudson, tattoo and body piercing columnist for www.About.com, suggests that custom-designed tattoos are the only way to go for those who want a tattoo as an expression of individuality. “If the pictures don't show exactly what you want, just take them to your artist to use them as guidelines and tell them what changes you want made to the original pictures,” she writes in her “Frequently Asked Questions” section. “A real artist will welcome the challenge of a custom piece.”
“It’s kind of as artistic as you want it to be,” says Booth, who did flash tattooing during the first three years of his career. “I think there’s a level of art there, but it’s not as much as the fine art at a shop where everybody works custom.”