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Tattoo Business Historical Survey and Baseline

Four recent tattoo projects with which I have been involved acutely highlighted the need for better analytical data to understand how tattooing has changed over time. In all of them, I was tasked with trying to determine how much the tattoo world has expanded since the 1960s. There are no good, specific answers!

I feel safe in saying that more people are getting tattooed today than in 1960 and more people are getting bigger tattoos (but by what percentage change?). New designs have clearly been introduced to tattooing and have become canonical (but exactly when did these start being rendered and by who?). I also feel safe in saying that the percentage of tattoo shops per capita has increased considerably (but by how much??? who knows?). I can also say without hesitation that tattooing has become codified as an industry and as part of this shift a standard protocol for health and sanitation practices has become widespread (but when exactly did this become standard practice by a majority of shops?).

So, I’ve put together the first of what hopefully will be a series of investigations that will yield some foundational data upon which future research can expand. Behold the “Tattoo Business Historical Survey and Baseline”!

Since I am almost as much of a numbers geek as I am an archives geek (here’s one of my non-tattoo numbers projects), I thought to launch this project to collect hard data on the changes in the tattoo business, so that not only now, but centuries from now, tattoo historians such as myself might be able to find proper quantitative and qualitative data to mine to understand trends and changes over time.

The survey is designed to arrive at information about trends and changes in the business of tattooing over the past 50-or-so years and is intended for tattoo artists to answer. Please help spread the word and share widely! Tattoo artists are generally very busy people so any assistance in getting a significant number of artists to participate would be much appreciated.

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Also, as a long-time member of the tattoo community (I got my first tattoo in 1990) and as someone who once wanted to be a tattoo artist herself (but who realized, smartly, that you kind of really need to know how to draw properly to tattoo), I very much understand that tattoo artists are often quite reluctant to talk about their industry. So tattooers, I would be honored if you would set aside a small amount of time to help begin to create a better archive of information about tattooing for posterity. Many of the questions are optional, and, of those, you may skip any that make you uncomfortable.

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