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What it’s like to be a Philly tattoo artist: Lots of docs and lawyers get inked these days

Who’s getting ink in Philly these days?

Tattooing in Philadelphia is very competitive, and the health restrictions artists face don’t make it easier. Billy Penn was able to talk to a few tattoo artists from some of the top tattoo shops in the city according to Yelp:

“Philadelphia has a lot of great tattooers so it can be hard to build a reputation and a client base,” Kyle Fitzpatrick, a tattoo artist at Northern Liberty Tattoo at Second and Poplar, told Billy Penn.

 

What it’s like to tattoo people

“Tattooing as a whole is a lot of fun!” Ryan Szadyr of Art Machine Productions in Fishtown said. “I like working with people and trying my best to get in their minds in order to design and potentially give them what they want. To sum it up for me, tattooing is really all about what you as an artist [put] into it. If you work very hard and give it your all plus more, the chances are you’ll be successful.”

 

Scott Musick - Tattoo Artist

Scott Musick - Tattoo Artist

Scott Musick of Body Graphics Tattoo in Old City called tattooing “a lot of work and long hours.”

“It takes a long time to learn the trade,” he said. “That being said, it’s also a really gratifying career where I get to create art and have a lot of freedom to express myself. It’s complex but very rewarding.”

Yeah, drunk people and underagers are a problem

“I had a lady once who was soo trashed,” Szadyr said. “I think she was drinking and taking pills; she couldn’t even fill out the paperwork. It was hard for me to not immediately pass judgment and treat her with less respect, but in the end to uphold that professionalism I had to approach her how I would have liked to be approached. Obviously we didn’t tattoo her… she tried to play it off like her blood sugar was low, but we saw right through that.”

“We usually won’t tattoo any people that are intoxicated,” Musick said. “I don’t mind if somebody has a drink just to kind of take the edge off. There is ethics that go along with it… where I’m not going to tattoo somebody just to make a buck.”

Musick also said he refuses kids because he’s worried about them getting jobs in the future. “We’re not going to tattoo… anything that can be seen because you still have to start a career somewhere.”

Do the city’s health restrictions make tattooing more difficult?

“The health regulations are a really good thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “Philadelphia in particular has some pretty strict laws and it keeps the number of tattooers and tattoo shops fairly low.”

The city requires every individual providing tattoo services to have a valid tattoo operator or apprentice certification, and the certificates must be visibly posted.

Szadyr looked at it from two different angles. “Yes and no,” he said of the restrictions making thing more difficult. “I think higher regulations is a good thing but I also come from a very small city in Michigan where there weren’t any. You could tell it hurt the business a lot. Tons of people just getting tattooed at home or worse in shops that were filthy.” Underground shops are a problem in Pennsylvania, too.

“I think the health regulations are great because we run an upscale shop,” Musick said. “The Health Department is here all the time. They’ve actually done training videos in our shops.” Musick’s shop has hosted the department to review the videos that help artists stay in compliance with health laws.

Are more or fewer people getting inked these days?

Szadyr said he believes there’s a particular group of people on the rise: “I’d say more but I also believe it’s tapering off some now. I see less 18 year olds and more 25-35 [year-olds]. And it seems more people are educating themselves or at least the media and television is lifting some of the taboo.”

“I think it’s pretty evident that the tattoo ‘reality’ shows, professional athletes, or pop stars in general, have really brought tattoos to everyone’s home through television and that tattoos and incredibly less taboo,” Fitzpatrick said.

In fact, Art Machine Productions has been featured in one of these shows — TLC’s “America’s Worst Tattoos.” Artist Tim Pangburn works to cover up people’s regrettable ink.

Musick also spoke of a particular group of people on the rise in tattoo shops: “You’re getting more upscale people that are getting tattooed nowadays. When I first started getting tattooed, which was years and years ago, it was just pretty much blue collar workers and motorcycle guys. Now you got doctors coming in here and lawyers coming in here… and all kinds of people from the health profession.”

Do you get a lot of tourists?

Fitzpatrick and Musick said they see a lot of tourists, especially because of where their shops are located. “Northern Liberties as a whole has become kind of a place for tourists to come, so yeah, for sure,” Fitzpatrick said.

“I just did a couple from Chicago the other day,” Musick said. “Yelp has been a big plus for us.”

Despite the strict Health Department requirements and the occasional drunk customer, these artists have mostly had positive experience. Musick called it a dream come true. “Just being able to create great works of art on other people’s skin is phenomenal,” he said, “and it’s a very rewarding job.”

Featured image by Billy Penn intern Addy Peterson from the 2015 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention.

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