Tattoo parties remain source of bittersweet business for artists

It was the worst tattoo Robin Lasky had ever seen.

On his client's back was an array of flowers that looked unrecognizable.

He had questions, many of them.

“Those weren’t flowers,” the owner of  Idle Hands Tattoo Shop in Glen Burnie said. “I really didn’t know what it was.”

She told him she had received it years ago at a tattoo party. After three eight hour sessions, the tattoo was retouched. Lasky and his client were happy.

“She now regularly comes back for other work,” he said. “She’s also recommended me to other family members.”

Like Lasky, tattoo touch-ups are an essential part of any artist's job. For many parlor owners, a majority come from unregulated tattoo parties.

Lasky says one reason tattoo parties are popular is because they offer a more affordable alternative to a traditional artist.

A party also poses risks.

“We’re talking an uncertified artist, dirty needles and potential diseases,” Frank DeMao, owner of Twitzid Tattooing, said. “Take the time, go to a proper studio.”

IN FOCUS | Even some proper studios may not be as clean and safe as you expect. Friday at 6 p.m., we take an in-depth look at regulations regarding tattoo parlors in Maryland and share which counties don't require annual inspections.

DeMao is from Connecticut and came to visit the Baltimore Tattoo Convention held last weekend.

He said the best way to avoid those risks is to conquer the problem on two fronts: education and awareness.

“If you want to become an artist, please get an apprenticeship,” he said. “You will grow from there.”

DeMao was interested in body art at a young age. By the time he was a teenager, he wanted to pursue the art full-time.

“That apprenticeship got me ready for this,” he said.

On the education front, those interested in getting tattoos should do their research, to ensure the artist they choose is reputable and knows what they’re doing.

“It’s permanent, it only takes one mistake and it lasts forever,” said Keith Diffenderfer of Charmed Life Tattoos in Baltimore. “Start by asking around and build from there.”

He said his most cherished retouch came a few years ago, when a former veteran asked him to redo a prisoner of war tattoo.

“It was something that reminded him of his past -- I believe he might of had a rough life,” Diffenderfer said. “I was able to change that, start something new.”

Larry Polsky, health officer for Calvert County, said the growing number of tattoo parties in their county led leaders to develop regulations on how to monitor the industry.

“We saw minors getting tattoos without the consent of their parents,” he said. “They were obtaining them at these parties- where it’s not safe.”

Lasky said this can lead to issues with artists who aren’t properly trained.

He said he always finds redoes interesting for the story behind them.

“There was a reason to get it,” he said. “ And I want to know what that story is. I also want a chance to make it better.”

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