Evolution of Ink

 In Feature, Style

How to get a tattoo even your mom can be proud of.


A couple of decades ago, tattoos were the mark of a pretty rough crowd—the sole domain of military folk, rock’n’roll stars, punks and jailbirds. When Trevor Collis of Iron Age Studios first got into the biz 17 years ago, his mother told relatives for years that he was working in a coffee shop.

Those two decades have seen a lot of change in the industry, though, and society has learned to view tattoos as art rather than the brand of an alternative culture. “Every walk of life comes through, from the hustlers on the street all the way up to lawyers, doctors, bankers, fashionistas. Everyone has a story when they get in my chair,” Collis says.

The early ’90s saw an onslaught of new tattoo shops, and artists felt compelled to push the medium and start breaking rules and conventions. At the same time, the industry was becoming cleaner and more respectable. Reality TV shows like “Inked” and “Miami Ink” came along and showed the world the inside of a more sterile, creative industry.

There are two types of tattoo establishments: the street shop, where you walk in, choose an image out of a flip book and walk out a few hours later with a tattoo; and the studio, like Iron Age, where the tattoo is treated more like a custom painting. As an artist, what Collis loves most about using the body as a canvas is that it creates such an intimate connection between the client and the art. “The art doesn’t get resold; it doesn’t get passed around and tarnished. It’s a temporary art exhibit that lasts only as long as the person,” he says.


Collis offers these top pointers to help navigate the process.

Shop Around. As with most big purchases, it’s good to shop around for the right tattoo artist. Make sure you’re getting what you really want rather than what you can afford right now. You want to choose an artist who is talented, technically sound and has a style that you like—so ask for portfolios, not price sheets.

Get Technical. When browsing portfolios, look for nice, clean lines and solid, bright colors. You also should ask to see healed tattoo photos, not just fresh ones—this helps let you know how technically sound the artist is. Telltale signs of a badly healed tattoo include little white spots, scratchy-looking ink, jagged lines or “blowouts.”

Communicate With Your Artist. Before you go under the needle, sit down with the artist for a consultation to talk about what you want. Print images to show what you have in mind, but don’t feel like you need to have an exact rendition—
having too solid of an idea can actually work against you. A good artist will work with you to develop the concept in a way that will look best as a tattoo.

Go with the flow. A tattoo that follows the lines of the body will look more natural and will move dynamically with you.

Fill the canvas. Where the tattoo is located determines how big it should be. A tiny tattoo can get lost on a muscular arm or back. Look at the muscles on that part of the body, and proportion the design accordingly.

Use the iceberg effect. Allow a little piece of the tattoo to peek out of a sleeve or collar to draw interest. Or, get a back tattoo that wraps around your ribs so just a small part is visible from the front.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to fit too many ideas into one tattoo, or it will end up looking busy and confusing. Instead, split the ideas into different tattoos in different areas.

Do it right the first time. It’s much harder and more expensive to fix a bad tattoo than it is to get it right the first time, so don’t cut corners to save cash. And, don’t forget to tip! Standard service industry tips of 10 to 20 percent are appropriate, but if your artist goes above and beyond, thank him or her with a nice, fat tip.



Trevor Collis, Iron Age Studios

Trevor Collis, Iron Age Studios


Photo credit: Photo by Lily Liu

Recent Posts