Dan Henk: Parasites of the Industry

By Dan Henk
I want to start out by being very clear that it is not all of them… not all, but there are way too many, and they are like a parasite in the business. What am I talking about? These people who don’t tattoo, yet have their sticky fingers in the business…

These people are often un-tattooed (not even in the scene) businessmen and women that just want to make money. I’ve been at conventions hosted by them, and they are jackass affairs. No one knows their head from their asshole, much less where the thermafax or copier is! I’ve even been to a couple of these conventions, headed straight to the booth of the people putting on the convention, and even they don’t know.

Often, they don’t even know when the convention closes, who is responsible for changing the trash bags, where the extra chairs can be found… I could keep going on, but I think you get where I’m going with this. They are parasites on the industry. I carefully inquire into every new show I consider, in part, just for this reason.

I’ve had the lights turned off in the middle of a tattoo because apparently no one knew when the venue shut down, and the security people are only paid to be there during regular convention center hours. There are endless examples of horrible, kitchen scratcher-level “artists” who get a booth at these shows, set up right next to some phenomenal tattooers and then under-price them (usually while talking shit) at every opportunity.

To make matters worse, these horrible tattoos they crank out at these shows (are little above the level of a living room tattoo party) gut the industry and give the good shops more negativity, which they have to fight through. And we won’t even get into the, “Well, the original was $25 dollars. Why do you want $100 dollars to fix it?” Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of good artists avoiding most shows because of this very reason.

So, the answer seems to be, don’t attend these conventions, right? I wish it was that simple. Often, they will pay a good artist to attend. As in, pay for the booth, pay for the plane flight and pay for the hotel room. Sometimes, they will even give the tattooer a stipend on top of that. Then, with a good artist headlining the bill, local tattooers clamber to attend. I don’t have all the answers, but I think a good step would be to more heavily scrutinize a show before attending.

The industry needs to self-regulate. We’re all a community of individualists, who distrust any sort of formal government intervention. I hear endless complaints about “crap-artists flooding the industry,” and I think the first positive step would be to watch where you make an appearance. A bad tattoo can often throw out more negative publicity than a good one will fix, and the same is true of conventions.

My next major pet-peeve, is these non-tattoo shop owners. Again, not all are bad, I know a few personally who have their minds and hearts in the right places, but they are the exception. If you don’t tattoo, the only way that you are going to successfully run a shop, is to listen to the advice of veteran tattooers.

I have personally seen shop owners, who again let me state DO NOT TATTOO, behaving like they know more about the industry than the artists who work for them. As in, they give time limits on how long a tattooer has to draw up a design, they demand to see the stencil, approve placement on the body, critique the artist while he is doing the tattoo and then require the client to show them the piece before it leaves the shop. They demand their employees do whatever the client wants as a tattoo, even if it involves giving an 18-year-old his first tattoo on his neck, or doing that fairy two sizes too small just so the victim doesn’t walk out the door.

Wait, did I mention THEY DON”T TATTOO? They aren’t even artists! That’s like the guy from American Idol coming into a mechanic’s shop and telling them what they are doing wrong with his car repair! Or entering an operating room and telling the surgeon how they should really go about that brain surgery.

I’ve had (non-tattoo artist) shop owners tell me they make everyone dress up in a suit and tie. Maybe the next step will be they all have to dance a little jig out front when it gets slow.

It could be I’m getting grumpy after 11 years in this business, but I for one got into this as a misfit, who finally found something cool I could do for a living. If I had to wear a monkey suit and have a guy stupider than that actor from The Office boss me around, I might just find a high-powered rifle and a bell tower in the center of town. Maybe that’s just me?

-Dan Dan Henk

Dan Henk is an award winning tattoo artist, illustrator, painter and author. In his spare time he’s also a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. He can be found at DanHenk.com and look for him on Facebook  and Instagram – Find and FOLLOW him.

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11 thoughts on “Dan Henk: Parasites of the Industry

  1. It’s easy to blame smb, why don’t you start from yourself? Organise convention, create your tattoo shop (or maybe you already have it?) and do what you think is right to do.
    “They demand their employees do whatever the client wants as a tattoo, even if it involves giving an 18-year-old his first tattoo on his neck…” – you never, NEVER can teach people what’s best for them, if they want shitty tattoo – just let em do it.
    “I have personally seen shop owners, who again let me state DO NOT TATTOO, behaving like they know more about the industry than the artists who work for them.” – why do you even work there? If you work for money – just shut up and do it, if you don’t agree with these people – leave and find normal place to work. It’s easy.

  2. Another considerate blog, Mr. Henk.
    I think many of us know exactly what you’re talking about and, as hard as it is to come to grips with sometimes, I can also appreciate the perspective that there indeed ARE exceptions to what we all generally consider a steadfast ‘rule’.

    I like that you mention using “discernment” as your guide. It’s a fine example and practice for other, perhaps younger tattooers to think about and adopt.

    And I have met some great people who truly ARE such exceptions and they have challenged my preconceived notions on many occasions…
    which is a good thing, I think.

    Psychologically speaking, I think it’s when we’re able to, (or capable of), re-examine previously drawn conclusions that we finally grow our psyche/ego beyond its usually static condition. And that’s always good! It also strengthens our position by considering multiple perspectives.

    (Sorry for the pseudo-psychological reply:)
    In short- the post is great!

  3. There’s plenty-o things to find to focus in on and whine about in any profession. Not to classify all rock star tattooists as whiners, but it seems as though most of the complaining comes from there. The truely amazing artists, the legends all seem to also be the most positive tattooists and all provide examples for us new to the industry to follow. They rarely complain, unless it comes with a positive solution. We are all fortunate to have these folk in our midst, attending conventions and motivating us all to be better artists and people.

  4. Rock star tattoo artists acting out of control, unfortunately, is probably here to stay. There tend to be people with similar attitudes in every profession, actors, musicians, directors, CEOs, and the list could go on all night. But, like the need for attention that usually stems from, the less mind you pay to them, the less influence they will have.
    That said, there are serious issues in the industry, and things like the TAM blog are a good place to discuss that. A place were the professionals can have constructive conversations that don’t look like flare ups or meltdowns to the general public.I will say, I have me a great many well known tattoo artists, and over time they often become bitter or nihilistic. They just don’t announce it publicly. There isn’t one giant band-aid that fixes everything, but conversations about the more serious issues in tattooing is a start.

  5. It is difficult to live and view things having a critical eye. Many times it is viewed as complaining, when in fact it is not. It is often that very discerning eye that makes a great and humble tattooer. I appreciate your perspective!

  6. As a non tattooer, who has been getting tattooed for close to 25 years, I own a tattoo studio, and thoroughly enjoy every moment I spend in the place. My wife Gigi McQueen is our only artist, and I deal with the client consultations, look after the hygiene, cleaning and paperwork ( and now our new baby). It seems a large part of my time is spent educating clients who are relatively new to the world of tattooing, and I guess having lived in many different countries, having worked in a few tattoo studios, and having been getting tattooed for so long, I have a fair understanding of the world of tattoos…. I am never prouder than when someone comes in for something like a small tribal dragon or a butterfly, leave, not having made a booking, but with a greater understanding of the endless possibilities that are open to those seeking a tattoo… Usually they come back, days, weeks or months later and thank me for not letting them get their original idea, booking in to get something that in my opinion, is much cooler. We may not make a fortune, but what we do make is deserved, and thats all we want.

    Address: 9 Dundrum Road, Newcastle, County Down, BT33 0BG
    Telephone: 02843722198

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