The Lumberjack

At home tattoo counterculture

Photo by Deven Chavannes | Amateur tattoo artist Emi tattoos one of her drawings on Madison's arm Sept. 3 in her home.

At home tattooing is often cheaper and more accessible for artists and customers

Emi bought a tattoo gun a couple of months ago and did her first one on herself.

Since then the Humboldt State alumna and artist has been tattooing friends for a much smaller fee than a professional parlor.

“People have been asking me for tattoos for years,” Emi said. “I didn’t want to give people shitty tattoos.”

While studying art at HSU, Emi lived with another tattoo artist who taught her most of what she knows. Though she has only been tattooing for a short time, you wouldn’t be able to tell from her work.

Though it is easy to get a cheap tattoo gun online, Emi knows that getting a tattoo is a big commitment and doesn’t want to use cheap supplies. Just one basic component of her machine cost her $250. She also takes very careful steps to ensure everything is clean and sanitized to prevent infections.

Tattoos used to be reserved for sideshows, sailors and punks, but now it seems like everybody has one. Modern tattoo shops have been around since the 1960s.

In recent years, it has become much easier for an unlicensed person to buy a tattoo gun. You can buy a kit on Amazon for as low as $20. Because of this, there are many people buying kits and setting up impromptu tattooing stations in their home.

Photo by Deven Chavannes | Madison shows off her tattoo immediately after amateur tattoo artist Emi finished it Sept. 3 in Emi’s home.

Madison has around 13 tattoos and has no issue with getting them from her friends because she knows that even though they are unlicensed, she is familiar with their work and is confident knowing what they are doing. In fact, she prefers getting them from her friends because it strengthens their friendship.

“Pretty much every single one of them was done by a friend except for the ones done by me,” Madison said.

The biggest concern with tattoos done in the home is safety and precision. Professional tattoo artists need to have a license in California to legally tattoo someone. This is because of the health risks that come with repeatedly puncturing somebody’s skin with a needle.

Some of these risks include infection, allergic reaction to the ink, or the spread of blood borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. That is why it is important for everything to be cleaned and sanitized.

Brian Kaneko is the owner of True Nature Tattoo in Arcata and has been a professional tattoo artist for 20 years. All of the tattoos he has he got in a shop, and he has never tattooed anyone outside of one. However, Kaneko does understand the appeal. Tattoos are rooted in counterculture, and getting them done in the home by a friend feeds into that idea.

“In general, young people are less concerned with repercussions” Kaneko said.

Kaneko also compared getting a tattoo in someone’s house to unprotected sex. It’s more fun and often times you’ll be fine, but the possible repercussions if something goes wrong are not worth it.

“You don’t have to be a carpenter to build furniture in your garage,” Kaneko said “but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really mess someone up.”

Update 9/13: The last name of Madison has been removed upon request. Contact us for more information.