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The art of tattooing

Lisa King

The art of tattooing

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Tattoo artist Ryan Gaskin says that if Barbados had to go naked for a day people would be surprised what had been hidden under clothing.
Gaskin, the owner of Skin Talks Tattoo, has done body art for many people. The tattoo artist with more than 15 years’ experience said that he has done work on people from all social backgrounds. 
“I have tattooed from the average person in the street to the politician,” he said.
In 1995 he became interested in tattoos and did some research before he produced his first tattoo some time that year. At that time in Barbados there was very little knowledge of tattoos and the few people who were well informed did share their knowledge because there was not anyone to teach the art locally, Gaskin reported.
Gaskin travelled overseas, met other artists and got to know different styles of tattooing and the various skin types.
“Tattooing black skin in the 90s was taboo. Ninety-nine per cent of artists were white and the products catered to white skin. It was uncommon to see a black person with a tattoo because it would not show,” he said.
In 1999, Gaskin was privileged to meet and learn from Jacci Gresham, regarded as the first black tattoo artist in the world, and the person responsible for developing systems for tattooing black skin.
Gaskin said that over time pigments were developed for black skin and now, depending on how dark the client is you can get the right effect by using different colours and tones but the lighter the complexion the more that can be done.
However, Gaskin said that in spite of all the training the most important thing to have is some artistic ability or a good eye for detail and definition to be a tattoo artist.
“Being an excellent artist will not make you a tattoo artist. They are two different mediums; paper does not bleed or move, it does not speak.
“Tattooing, it is a one-time thing because you cannot erase what you have done. There and then you have to concentrate on what you are doing, shut out all the reactions from the person, even though when you are doing a big tattoo in one sitting your hands, eyes, hurt, but it is how you limit yourself,” Gaskin remarked.
He said that today a lot of shops are more interested in the money than in actually giving something that a person would be happy about their decision to get a tattoo.
He warned that there are only four legal tattoo parlours in the island.
The other shops, which he referred to as “scratchers”, would do anything to get a buck and do not care about the quality of their work, he charged.
Gaskin said he specializes in “cover-ups” – turning a bad tattoo into something good or changing it completely because the “scratchers” produce a lot of horrible work.
“People actually get tattooed and when you look at it, to the average eye it may look nice, but to the trained eye you can see the lining is not even and a part may be too deep,” he pointed out.
“The scratchers do a lot of bad work and there is one particular guy that the majority of my business, about 80 per cent [of those] that comes to me for cover-ups, they come from him,” Gaskin said.
He said people figure this job involved just buying a machine and needles and going to work.   
“It took me a while before I actually touched someone’s skin,” he admitted. “You practice on grapefruits, and pig’s skin, the closest thing to human skin. That teaches you how to hold [your] hand and the needle setting, how deep to go,” Gaskin explained.
The tattoo artist said he has done some strange pictures or concepts, but when people come to get a tattoo he always tells them to make sure they know it is something they want on their body for the rest of their life. He does not do obscene tattoos, racist tattoos or tattoos on the neck.
Gaskin does facial tattoos but only for cosmetic purposes. For people with blemishes or burn victims, pigments can be mixed to blend back to skin tone. Cosmetic tattoos also include lip liner, mascara, blush, eye shadow, permanent lip colour, and eyebrows done so people can just wake up, wash their face and go.
“I have seen a lot of people come to have removals because a lot of people make wrong choices and years later they have to change,” he said. 
“Over the years I have seen the saddest stories of people who had tattoos, went to study and changed their life and then had to get tattoos removed.
“Having a tattoo in the wrong place could become the focal point and the eyes move from the face to the neck and there are certain jobs and workplaces that do not hire people with visible tattoos.”