For many years a tattoo was seen as a symbol of rebellion. Now that they are more commonplace, the public’s opinion of tattoos is changing. Athletes from Michael Clarke, Captain of the Australian Cricket Team, to 2011 Brownlow Medallist Dane Swan and Hawthorn Football player Lance "Buddy" Franklin are adorned in ink. Young people look up to these public figures, and some are partaking in dangerous activities in order to get their first tattoo.
In Victoria the legal age to get tattooed is 18, but there are some people who are content with breaking the law. Backyard tattooing refers to the practice of an amateur individual tattooing people outside the confines of a professional and licensed tattoo parlour.
The Risks of DIY Tattooing
"Good ink isn’t cheap, and cheap ink isn’t good" is a saying often thrown around in the tattoo community. There are, however, those out there who seem to think otherwise. The sale of cheap tattoo equipment on the internet has given rise to unlicensed people tattooing from home.
People across Australia are buying this equipment and giving themselves and their friends (bad) tattoos. These people have no training in and little knowledge of the art of tattooing.
Waiting until you are 18 to get a tattoo may seem like a lifetime, but it gives you the time to really sit down and think about what style and what design you want to get tattooed. There may be peer pressure to get a backyard tattoo, but with the high chance of medical issues, and being left with a horrible tattoo for the rest of your life, it's not really worth the risks.
Risk One: Damaging Your Health
The main risk with dodgy tattooing is your health. Without proper training as professionals, backyard tattooists are generally unaware of safe health practices. The risk of contracting blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV is a definite possibility when the same needles are used to tattoo two or more people, and when properly sterilised equipment is not available.
The Better Health Channel has a good overview of the health risks involved with tattooing.
Risk Two: Getting a Fine
It's a punishable offence for a person to tattoo someone under the age of 18, and it is also an offence for a non-registered tattooist to tattoo anyone.
The tattooing of minors is a criminal offence under the Summary Offences Act 1966, with current consequences of 60 penalty units (which translates to a fine of more than $8000). Backyard tattooists can also face similar fines under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 for tattooing at an unregistered premises and not following public health regulations.
What the Professionals Think
Backyard tattooing is a cause of concern for many professional, registered tattooing businesses - they get many customers coming in to get dodgy backyard tattoos covered up.
Backyard tattooists lack the knowledge of a reputable tattoo artist. They don't understand the technique of linework or shading or what artwork will make a good, lasting tattoo on skin. In the end a backyard tattoo could end up costing you more money than if you went to a professional tattoo artist in the first place.
Professional tattoo artists also believe that backyard tattooing reflects badly on the tattoo industry as a whole.
"Backyard tattooing is not only a disgrace to the professionalism, hygeine and work quality produced from a good tattoo shop, it takes away work from good tattooists who have worked their backside off for many years," says Sydney-based tattoo artist Laz Asaurus.
Kian Forreal, a tattoo artist with 18 years' experience, is another professional who doesn’t take kindly to backyard tattooists.
"There is no good reason to get tattooed by anyone other than a skilled professional in today’s day and age. Doing otherwise is an embarrassment to your good sense and a health risk to your body and your family."
If you know of someone who is illegally tattooing people, don't hesitate in contacting your local council or the police.
6 Steps to Getting a Tattoo Right
When you do finally turn 18 and can be legally tattooed, here's six tips to follow before you get inked.
1. Do your Research
Asking around for people’s opinions on the artists they have been tattooed by also gives a good indication of reliable, talented tattoo artists.
Don’t just go by word of mouth, though. The internet and tattoo magazines are useful resources when it comes to designing your tattoo and finding a suitable artist to tattoo you.
There are countless tattoo images online that you can take inspiration from. You can also visit tattoo studios in person and look through the artist’s portfolio of work.
2. Don’t Follow the Trends
Over the decades the tattooing industry has gone through a number of fads, such as Chinese symbols, tribal designs, fairies and astrological symbols. Your tattoo doesn’t have to have a deep, spiritual meaning to you, but you shouldn't get a design just because it is the current trend. Remember, you will have to look at this tattoo every day for the rest of your life.
3. Consider the Long-Term
While tattoos are slowly becoming more accepted by society, they could possibly affect your future career prospects. Have a think about the possible consequences of getting tattooed before you act on an impulse.
Consider getting your first tattoo in place where it can easily be hidden, such as your back, upper thigh or your bicep.
4. Find a Reputable Tattoo Shop
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 tattooing businesses must be registered with their local council. Generally a tattooist's registration certificate can be found hanging on the wall, or can be presented when asked for. There are a number of health and hygeine standards (set out in the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009) that must be followed, such as:
- Keeping the shop clean and hygienic at all times
- Using sterile equipment for each client
- Providing clients with health information before commencing the tattoo
If a tattooist doesn't display their registration, or won't show it to you when asked, then don't use them. Simple as that.
5. Respect Your Tattoo Artist
Watching a few episodes of Miami Ink or LA Ink does not make you a tattoo expert. Tattoo artists are the professionals - they have gained invaluable knowledge over the years. Tattoo artist Mattoo Straney says, "Tattooing is an art form. A client’s skin is a gift from them to the artist and should be taken seriously."
Don’t walk in and disregard what the tattoo artist has to say to you. They can refuse to tattoo you if they feel like you aren’t listening to their advice. Show them some respect and value their opinion. They know what will look best in the long run.
6. Take Care of Your New Tattoo
You are solely responsible for your tattoo once you leave the tattoo parlour. Make sure that you carefully follow the after-care directions that you are given by your tattooist to avoid infection, and if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate in contacting the tattoo artist or your local doctor.
If You're Old Enough to Get Tattooed, You're Old Enough to Do It Right
Life is short, but it’s wise to take the time to do your homework. Follow these tips and use your head before visiting a tattoo parlour. Tattoos are permanent, so don't make the decision to get inked lightly, and don't risk your health with illegal, amateur tattoos.
Better Health Channel - Home Tattooing
The Better Health Channel offers advice on the risks of home tattooing.
Department of Health - Tattooing
Download fact sheets about how to look after your tattoos and how to get a safe and legal one.
This article was written by Stacie, one of Youth Central's many talented young roving reporters.