Modern Japanese tattoos are real works of art, with many modern practioners, while the highly skilled tattooists of Samoa continue to create their art as it was carried out in ancient times, prior to the invention of modern tattooing equipment. Various cultures throughout Africa also employ tattoos, including the fine dots on the faces of Berber women in Algeria, the elaborate facial tattoos of Wodabe men in Niger and the small crosses on the inner forearms which mark Egypt's Christian Copts.
The first documented professional tattooist in Britain was Sutherland Macdonald, who operated out of a salon in London beginning in 1894. In Britain, tattooing was still largely associated with sailors and the lower or even criminal class, but by the 1870s had become fashionable among some members of the upper classes, including royalty, and in its upmarket form it could be an expensive and sometimes painful process. A marked class division on the acceptability of the practice continued for some time in Britain. Recently, a trend has arisen marketed as 'Stick and Poke' tattooing; primitive figures are permanently inscribed by the user himself after he obtains a 'DIY' kit containing needles, ink and a collection of suggestions.
Historically finger tattoos get a bit of a bad wrap. Typically they use to be reserved for bikers and gang members, they also were considered a bit of a faux pas if you wanted to get a respectable job. Nowadays however they are more common place and socially acceptable. The traditional finger tattoos were to get “LOVE” on one hand and then “HATE” across the other knuckles, this was a design that was popularized by movie characters. Generally people will get either two four letter words across their knuckles or one eight or ten letter word across both of their hands.
The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region were another ancient culture which employed tattoos. In 1948, the 2,400 year old body of a Scythian male was discovered preserved in ice in Siberia, his limbs and torso covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals. Then, in 1993, a woman with tattoos, again of mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb and of similar date, was found in a tomb in Altai. The practice is also confirmed by the Greek writer Herodotus c. 450 B.C., who stated that amongst the Scythians and Thracians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”
If you know you eventually want a sleeve, or if you’re going full-sleeve right out the gate, then Gualteros recommends starting at the shoulder. From there, you’ll work your way down the arm. “If someone came to me and let me do whatever I wanted, I’d start from the top with something that fits the body,” he says. “Something that doesn’t look like a sticker on the arm, then bring it down and fill it in.” Alternatively, he notes that some of his customers and fellow artists prefer to start at the wrist and work their way up, but on the same principle: By starting on one end, you aren’t guessing where to place everything else. Instead, you’re moving up or down the sleeve and filling it in with some kind of order.
The healing process would take months. The tattooed skin would have to be washed in salt water and massaged to work out the impurities. Friends and family would assist the men, since even simple tasks like walking or sitting would irritate their inflamed skin and cause great pain. Within six months, the distinctive designs would begin to appear on their skin but it would take almost a year to completely heal.
A blacked out sleeve tattoo is done by an artist to either cover up an unwanted previous design, or throw in a bold statement to this prominent area of a person’s body. The entire arm is tattooed in black, or white can be added to make a delicate design as a part of the tattoo’s look. If it’s not covered up, a negative space can be left to create a rather unique design. Blackout sleeves won’t happen overnight. Plenty of sittings are involved in this painstakingly slow process, as well as the obvious pain that comes before and during healing. Getting a blacked out sleeve tattoo isn’t a quick fix, but rather, a tattoo decision that requires 100% of the artist and the client’s commitment.
The length of an arm provides an incredible canvas for a tattooist. They have a lot of space to work with, and it gives them the opportunity to explore complex imagery that reads like a story on the skin. Or if they prefer abstraction, sleeves are the chance to create a collision of patterns. The conceptual possibilities are endless. Some artists completely cover the skin, like Little Andy who transformed the lower half of his client’s arm into a swirling galaxy. But for those that favor the minimalist approach, La Malafede showcases the impact of a single line as it traces the inside of the whole arm.
I look at him, sitting there, my 21-year-old son. I feel I’m being interviewed for a job I don’t even want. I say, “But you’re not. You’re different. I will never look at you in the same way again. It’s a visceral feeling. Maybe because I’m your mother. All those years of looking after your body – taking you to the dentist and making you drink milk and worrying about green leafy vegetables and sunscreen and cancer from mobile phones. And then you let some stranger inject ink under your skin. To me, it seems like self-mutilation. If you’d lost your arm in a car accident, I would have understood. I would have done everything to make you feel better. But this – this is desecration. And I hate it.”
A well-known example is the Nazi practice of forcibly tattooing Nazi concentration camp inmates with identification numbers during The Holocaust as part of the Nazis' identification system, beginning in fall 1941. The Nazis' SS introduced the practice at Auschwitz concentration camp in order to identify the bodies of registered prisoners in the concentration camps. During registration, the Nazis would pierce the outlines of the serial-number digits onto the prisoners' arms. Of the Nazi concentration camps, only Auschwitz put tattoos on inmates. The tattoo was the prisoner's camp number, sometimes with a special symbol added: some Jews had a triangle, and Romani had the letter "Z" (from German Zigeuner for "Gypsy"). In May 1944, the Jewish men received the letters "A" or "B" to indicate particular series of numbers.