Making an impression

Tattoos use outside to express what’s inside

by Chelsie Hanstad

When Steady Tattoo’s doors open at 11 a.m., customers are already waiting.

Many of them, visiting tattoo artist Adam Barton said, are college students.

“We have a really varied clientele,” Barton said. “But there’s a ton of college kids who come here.”

From fairies to skulls, students’ tattoos vary as much as their reasons for getting them, but tattoo artists say the most important thing is to make sure customers will be happy with what they choose.

Steady Tattoo gets a lot of student customers – most of them seeking butterflies, Asian symbols or tribal art, though others opt for larger tattoos or designs they have come up with themselves.

“It’s a college town,” Barton said. “People just want to come and get little things with their friends.”

The tattoo parlor’s walls are filled with drawings. Students study them, contemplating.

Allisha Mazurkiewicz was waiting Thursday for Barton to complete a tattoo on her lower leg – she already has tattoos on her back, on each side of one shin and on her arms.

“A couple of my tattoos mean something,” she said, pointing to a tattoo of a lily on her arm. “The smell of lilies reminds me of my grandmother.”

Some people who have tattoos say the tattoos have special meanings.

Rich Higgins and his brother both got the same tattoo on their left shoulders as a symbol of family, friendship and support for one another. The tattoo is a sun with a moon representing one side of the face.

“The sun and moon are total opposites in purpose, but in actuality are more alike than people think,” Higgins said.

The tops of the shoulders and other places with thinner skin are the most painful places to have tattooed, Mazurkiewicz said.

“It wasn’t overbearing, but it wasn’t painless,” Higgins said. “Certain parts of my shoulder were more sensitive than others and hurt more.”

Symbolism is not the only reason students choose to get tattoos.

“I was always interested in them. I am a visual person and think of tattoos as an art form, like painting and illustration,” Higgins said. “I also think of tattoos as a way to express oneself and a lifelong reminder of a place and time in one’s life.”

Tattoos are priced by the hour. While rates for tattoo artists vary, they are generally about $150 per hour.

For those who are tired of their tattoos, there are a few options.

Tattoos can be removed – but it is often difficult and expensive. Laser tattoo removal can cost about $400 per treatment and can require 10 to 20 treatments.

“If the tattoos are really small, we might actually just numb up the skin and cut it out, but then you’re trading your tattoo for a scar,” said Dr. Malinee Saxena of Dermatology Consultants in Eagan, Minn.

Tattoos are more often removed using lasers.

“A laser is basically light,” Saxena said. “It passes through the skin, blows up the pigment in the skin (from the tattoo) and makes it into tiny little particles your immune system can carry.”

She sees one or two laser tattoo removal patients each month.

“It isn’t a huge business because it’s so expensive,” Saxena said.

Some colors, such as black and red, are easier to remove than others, she said.

“Every color after that is difficult,” she said.

People can also add on to their tattoos, or cover them up with more ink if they are light enough.

“My best advice is to do your research and be happy with what you’ve got,” Barton said.