Like many others that require person-to-person touch, the tattoo industry was basically shut down this spring by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on where they’re based, some artists have been out of work for months, while others went back to the shop relatively quickly — too quickly, in the opinion of some. Now that nearly all states have allowed tattoo shops to reopen (differs state by state, but they typically fall under the same phase as hair salons) it’s become clear that the experience of getting a tattoo could be changed for good.
“It was just really difficult to even forecast how anything was going to go,” says Sophie C’est la Vie, a tattoo artist based in New York City, of continuing to operate. “At this point, it still is.” The owners of the tattoo studio she worked at pre-pandemic, Saved Tattoo, announced on June 13 that the shop would be permanently closing due to financial struggles brought on by the lockdowns. “It’s really difficult for me to really make plans for what I’m going to do in the future,” C’est la Vie says. “I think I need to take some time to grieve it.”
Debbi Snax, a tattoo artist in Atlanta, echoes C’est la Vie’s sentiment. “Honestly, in tattooing, I don’t think anything will ever go back to normal,” she says. Although none of the tattoo artists Allure spoke to for this piece think there will be any pandemic-inspired tattoo trends (“Maybe people will start getting ‘Wash Your Hands’ tats? Or ‘Gimme Six Feet’?” Snax jokes), they agree that the industry will change for good.
For a sample of what getting a tattoo could be like once lockdowns completely life, we spoke to four tattoo artists working on the opposite ends of the U.S.’s coronavirus reopening timeline. Two of them are based in Georgia, the first state to reopen in April, while the other two are in New York City, which just allowed tattoo shops to reopen on July 6.
1. Not much will change about cleanliness or sanitization.
All the tattoo artists Allure spoke to for this piece said not much will change in terms of how much cleaning they’re doing in the studio, simply because tattoo shops have always required meticulous sanitization for the safety of both clients and artists.
“We already are all trained in cross-contamination,” says Becca Genné-Bacon, a tattoo artist who works at Kings Avenue Tattoo in New York City. Snax mentions that everyone she works with had to go through an online training before they could open back up. “Every year we have to get certification, but this was a certification but for COVID,” she says. “They just walk you through how it’s transmitted.”
2. Guidelines will largely be set by salon owners.
In general, the government is pretty hands-off with the day-to-day operations of tattoo shops, including enforcing safety practices. (Laws and regulations about tattooing certification vary from state to state.) C’est la Vie notes that the “standards that we follow are…set by [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. There are some regulations that are put in place by the state health department, but [the state and city governments] don’t typically involve themselves with the process of getting tattooed.”
This means that studio owners are largely left to create their own pandemic-era safety guidelines for employees and customers by following a more general direction. For example, the guidelines for tattoo shops set by Georgia governor Brian Kemp read similarly to the ones for hair salons — wear masks, fewer people in the shop at one time, take temperatures, etc. — without going into many specifics about the process of tattooing.
For Kandace Layne, a tattoo artist in Atlanta, Georgia, this has worked out extremely well. “[My boss] is one of those people that has a plan for everything,” she says. Even before Atlanta shut down in March, “we had already been talking about changes we were going to make.” On June 24, Kings Avenue Tattoo, where Genné-Bacon works, posted a PSA-style video on Instagram outlining safety measures being put in place at both of the shop’s two locations in New York City and Massapequa, New York. Additionally, she notes that “all the employees are going to be getting COVID tests every two weeks.”
4. You’ll likely have to wear a mask and get your temperature taken.
Two things that will change across the board should sound familiar at this point: everyone will have to get their temperature taken before they enter the shop, and will need to wear a mask once inside.
“It’s frightening to have to check people’s temperatures [and] to have to wear a mask while you’re tattooing,” Snax says. “I tried to wear a face shield but it just blocked my view so [instead] I wear two [masks], just in case.” She notes that the shop also has boxes of masks available for customers who don’t bring their own “or whose masks just look too dirty.”
“I tried to wear a face shield but it just blocked my view — so I wear two masks, just in case.”
Layne notes that she’s taking more breaks since masks have been required, both for the sake of herself and her client. “I want to make sure my clients are breathing properly because that can really affect the tattoo,” she says. “Having the face mask on can increase people’s anxiety.”
5. Say goodbye to impulsive tattoos — walk-ins are a no-go.
“I refuse to do walk-ins. I don’t want to have to sit in there and have to draw for them for 30 to 40 minutes,” Snax says. “That’s more time I’m spending breathing [the client’s] air.” Kings Avenue Tattoo won’t be taking any walk-ins anymore, but the shop will still be offering call-ins. “People can call on the same day and see if we have availability,” Genné-Bacon explains, noting that these same-day appointments are an important part of the business. The call-in system will also eliminate the number of people who walk in thinking about getting a tattoo, but ultimately leave without one.
“We used to have people come in a half-hour early for their appointment and just kind of hang out,” Bacon says. But now, “you have to call at your appointment time and we’ll go down and let you in and then you’ll just go straight to the [tattoo] station.”
7. You won’t be able to bring a friend.
While some tattoo shops already had a “one guest only” rule before the pandemic, all of the artists Allure interviewed for this piece noted that only the person getting the tattoo will be allowed in the shop during the appointment moving forward.
“If people do need emotional support, then they can FaceTime,” Layne explains. “We understand that some of these things are hard to do by yourself.”
8. If your pre-pandemic appointment got postponed, it might take a while to reschedule it.
Most of the artists at Kings Avenue Tattoo book their appointments months (or, in some cases, years) in advance. As New York City reopens, they’ll have to figure out how to squeeze those postponed appointments in between the pre-existing appointments for July 2020. “We’re finding out that some people [who had appointments for later this year] have to cancel because their job situation has changed,” Genné-Bacon says. “So then we’ll start putting the people that got rescheduled during the past three months into those slots or kind of tagging them on to the end, unfortunately.”
For C’est la Vie, who is now having to reschedule her appointments that were supposed to happen at Saved Tattoo, the process has been stressful. “All the clients I’ve canceled since mid-March will get priority to get rebooked because they were all canceled,” she says. “After I sort out all the clients that had been canceled, then I’ll have to get to all of those other clients [who had previously requested consultations]. But, with all of this going on, I feel thankful that I have…people to rebook.”
Both Layne and Snax were already only booking people about a month in advance at most, so their rebooking process has been less complicated. “I only had to reschedule two or three people, and I made sure they were the first people that I scheduled when I opened back up,” Layne says.
Snax notes that she’s currently only booking about a week in advance, just in case Atlanta shuts down again. “I don’t want to have to refund a bunch of people since that’s what I ended up having to do [when we shut down] before,” she says.
In addition to dealing with rescheduling months of pre-booked appointments, some shops are cutting down the number of artists allowed to work at the same time for the sake of social distancing. At Kings Avenue Tattoo, Genné-Bacon says there will be a maximum of six artists working at once (“Usually less though,” she says) compared to the usual max of 10. “Ten is pretty smooshed in there,” she says. “Usually we don’t use the second half of the room [for tattoo stations], but I’m sure we’ll be using that more to spread everybody out.” At the shop where Layne works, “there’s only me, another artist, and a piercer in the shop at a time.”
9. Artists may instate or increase their minimums, or change the types of tattoos they offer.
“I’ve always been open to whatever type of tattooing. But I have a minimum now because I can’t risk my life for 20 dollars,” Snax says, noting that her new minimum is the price of what she’d previously charge for a three- or four-inch tattoo.
“Normally, I’m your typical walk-in girl [who can] bust out eight or nine tats a day, if not more,” says Snax. “On Friday the thirteenth, I did 40-something tats in a day. Now, I’m down to two [appointments per day.] Three hours each. End of story.”
“I’ve always been open to whatever type of tattooing. But I have a minimum now—I can’t risk my life for 20 dollars.”
Layne’s minimum ($250) might also rise because she wants to move toward exclusively doing larger tattoos that would already cost the client more. “I’m using [the pandemic] as kind of a reason to switch over to all the things I wanted to do in the first place,” she explains. “It’s just easier for me to make the changes right now.”
However, some tattoo artists we spoke to who already had higher price minimums said they had no intention of raising that price. “I just don’t think this is the time for me to raise my prices,” C’est la Vie says, referring to the economic setbacks many have experienced as a result of COVID-19. “At this moment, I’d rather focus on [my clients] having access [to getting tattoos] rather than making more income off of them.”
10. More artists could move to open their own private studios.
Every artist we spoke with agreed that we’re likely to see more private studios opening after lockdowns end, in some cases because tattoo artists want more control over the environment they’re working in, and in some cases, because the shop they previously worked at, like Saved Tattoo, has been permanently closed. Snax notes that she knows a few people who left the shops they were working at to open private studios after they felt uncomfortable with the safety protocols (or lack thereof) being put in place by their former bosses.
“A lot of tattoo artists are in a great position right now to open up their own private studios,” Layne says. “A lot of [studios] are not even doing walk-ins, so why even be in a tattoo shop when you can just get your own appointments and have your own private studio and follow whatever kind of protocol you’re comfortable with?”
Although C’est la Vie agrees that we may see more artists open private studios, she believes that that ball was already rolling before the pandemic. “People have been going private studio for a long time,” she says. “Being in a private studio just gives you more freedom. [It allows the artist to] create a space that reflects the kind of environment that [they] might specifically want to work in, rather than just leaving it up to the shop that they’re in. I don’t think it’s specifically this situation that’s going to push people to that. I think it’s already been happening.”
Luckily for all tattoo artists, even if some shops are closing, it doesn’t seem like the demand for body art is slowing down amidst this pandemic. “It doesn’t seem like clients are slowing down much in wanting to get tattooed, which is amazing because I was a little nervous about that — especially with the economy,” says Genné-Bacon. (Two weeks after Kings Ave reopened, Genné-Bacon followed up to confirm that people “are definitely wanting to get tattooed!”)
“Hopefully tattooing doesn’t shift too much. Hopefully, I still have a job in the next two or three months,” Snax says. “I’m very scared for what’s going to happen during flu season. I think that for now all we can do is wear our protective gear, put on our masks, try to keep a limited number in the shop. Just be as safe as possible, and wash our fucking hands.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure