Alex Mitchley
2 minute read
6 Feb 2015
4:05 pm

Updated: Behind the ink

Alex Mitchley

Tattooing is an art form that takes years to master. It is not simply ink and needle, the reality is in the difficulty of creating works as flawless as a Rembrandt on a moving, elastic canvas.

Tattoo artist, Meghan Potgieter poses for pictures in her tattoo studio in Tshwane, 23 January 2015. Meghan is a BA Information Design graduate and is also a three time spelling bee champion and despite being a talented tattoo artist dislikes being tattoed but likes having them. Picture: Refilwe Modise

In layman’s terms, the process of tattooing involves inserting pigment (ink) into skin, however, it is not as easy as it sounds.

Tattoo artist Ze from Fallen Heroes in Parkhurst explains that the process of tattoo is using a machine which punctures the skin as a needle moves rapidly up and down, with each puncture of the skin an insoluble ink is deposited into the second layer of the skin.

This is where it becomes technical.

The artists must pierce and deposit the ink into the second layer of the skin, called the dermis.

If the ink is deposited into the first layer, the epidermis, it will not stick. On the other hand, you can’t tattoo too deeply either.

“If you tattoo too deep, you will get core blowout where there are no cells to hold the ink. so it will just spread,” Ze explains.

Other factors are hand speed, technique and not over-working the skin (which will cause scarring).

Then there is the picture being tattooed, which may involve colours, contours and shading.

Tattooing in the western sense uses electric machines. Different techniques are involved in traditional methods.

In one of these, tattoos are created by cutting designs into the skin, then rubbing pigment into the wounds.

The ink can also be hand-tapped using non-electrical handmade tools with sharpened steel or wood as the needle.

Whatever the tattoo technique, a fair amount of pain will be involved – for the client, of course.

The pain is greatest where there are nerve clusters, says Ze. Tattooing areas near bone is usually only uncomfortable.

The main point is that “the closer the nerves are to the skin, the more it is going to hurt.”

Ze insists there is “nothing to worry about” as regards the health issues involved in getting a tattoo.

“Lots of my clients are doctors who don’t see anything wrong with it. There’s no record of fatalities, if done correctly.”

A professional shop will take hygiene seriously, so there will be little risk of infection. Most infections are caused by inadequate care of the tattoo.

“It’s normally the tattoo owner’s neglect that leads to infections,” says Ze.