The Real Value of a Tattoo

By Apple Qu (21-December-2011)

In a more pragmatic sense, “how much is a tattoo worth?”

After arriving in Singapore for a few years, I have been fortunate enough to have encountered folks of every race and culture during the course of my work here in Familiar Strangers Tattoo Studio. I’ve met Caucasians, Indians, Malays, Chinese, etc. They’ve taught me the methods and ways in which the everyday Joe uses to measure the value of a tattoo.

This is just my interpretation of my findings. Please forgive me if there are any errors or omissions.

Let us first discuss the process of selecting a design. A lot of folks tend to lay eyes on a design that they saw on an artist or celebrity. Then there are those who had just lost a relationship and needed a “diversion” which incidentally ended up on the pain (and exhilaration) of having a permanent tattoo. However, the bulk of folks we entertain are those younger individuals who simply want a tattoo to “show” off – as a fashion statement. These are the same group of people who would be and get their body pierced for the sake of it.

Then we have those who get a tattoo to commemorate or remember a beloved or pet. For these group of individuals, they are not tattooing for the love of tattoos, but simply because they have a very good reason to have to. These are the people who would only get one tattoo and that is it.

These are essentially the main group of tattoo customers with no exception. While watching those American reality television with clients telling long stories about the rationale behind their tattoos, one might think that all tattoos have a meaningful story behind them!

Frankly, I think it’s all a bunch of hogwash. Where on earth do all these people get such stories from? But then again, they were doing it for the viewership. So it’s all a commercial ploy.

In the real world of tattooing, stories or no stories make up half of the tattooed population. Take me for example; I can never associate any of my numerous tattoos to any peculiar story. Except for the bitter sweet moment while getting tattooed: the pain, the adrenaline rush and the excitement. My rationales for my tattoos are simple enough. The designs are etched on my skin for life. I treat them as my best friend forever. When I’m happy, it’s there. When I’m sad, it’s there. While everyone leaves me, my tattoos will be beside me my whole life. Until death, I will never be lonely again.

Throughout my years spent in the tattoo studio, I have met people of all shape and sizes. For such a small little country, I’ve met folks from all over the world and have heard countless stories from these emotional tattoo clients. All I can say is I’ve learnt much from these encounters.

I remember a particular encounter I had with an Australian Vietnamese. He told us a very touching story. But this is an exception and not the norm. For these groups of people, they would not attach a monetary value to a tattoo. Because to them, a tattoo is a lifelong remembrance that will never be lost through the passage of time. While for those who wants a tattoo just for showing off, then they would never know the real value of a tattoo, and would simply choose their artist based on the price.

For them, it will be very difficult to tell the difference between a good and poorly executed tattoo. They may say its art. But they will never know the real significance of a good tattoo. And because of this, they would tend to have at least one badly done tattoo on their body. When they are matured enough, they would then regret it, and spend a fortune either to have it covered up or removed. Those in the know will tell you that getting a tattoo removal is expensive, and it will either not remove it completely or leave a scar in its place. This all depends solely on your luck (and skin).

In truth, most people falls under one of these two categories. I often ask my Chinese clients here, why they want to do a particular design. More than half would give the same answer. I’ll leave the answer out here. At least I’ve only met a handful of Chinese folks with a meaningful or touching story behind their tattoos. Of course, for tattoos, there are both good and bad rationales behind them. It really depends on your capacity for understanding all the varying factors.

For those of us born in the 80s, we think that we can always catch up with the latest fads and trends. But we’re wrong. As we mature and age, tradition and old cultures will slowly creep back into our lives. The bashfulness of those born in the 90s is our past.

A close friend from my hometown in China once told me that when her girlfriend saw his tattoos, she told him in the face that those with tattoos always have a shadowy past. With that they ended their relationship.

When I learnt about it, I was intrigued. Either this girl has been living in a cave all these years, or she comes from a very strict family background. Either she can’t accept new things in her life or she is just too dogged with things that change her perception of the diversity of society. Just like that, a possibly beautiful relationship had to end abruptly. Just because of a tattoo!

I felt like shouting at the top of my lungs, “Do not judge those with tattoos. Just because you have none, doesn’t mean that those who do are all bad people!”

This is just one of the long list of stories I’ve heard about tattoos. I’ll stop at one. To judge the heart of a person, guy or girl, you can never judge them simply by their tattoos. How to judge a person then? I’ll leave it up to you!

For those true tattoo lovers, please do not use money to measure the value of a tattoo. Remember the adage, “art is invaluable.” I’ll not discuss further about “art” here. Because I did it once over coffee with a Singaporean friend at a cafe and we got into an argument because of it!

A lot of things are best left unsaid. I just hope that people do not choose a design blindly. Even if you found a meaningless tattoo, be very sure that you will never regret getting it. If you really can’t find one design that you will never regret, then it’s best to shelf the desire to get a tattoo for the time being. We only have so much skin. Treasure it!

Through the years, I’ve seen countless cases of tattoo regret seeking a cover up. The most challenging tattoo cover ups are of tribal tattoos. Tribal are the buck of all tattoo regrets. Why? Is it because some pop star or celebrity got it? Do you know how many of these celebrities have regretted their tattoo choices and are in the midst of having it removed?

Those awful black blobs for designs! Then there are those who are in favour of Maori tattoos. Please go and google the meaning and significance of a Maori design before getting it inked. Thank you very much!

I can’t emphasis this enough: if you don’t have the funds, please don’t rush into getting a tattoo. Go online and research some materials, look at an artist’s portfolio, compare the good and the bad, before deciding on anything. The pricing difference between a tattoo artist and someone who simply does tattoos can be 10:100. That is why for those who are financially lacking but still wants to get a tattoo, all I can say is, wait – wait until you’ve matured in your thinking before making a decision you may regret later.

But even if you are financially able, you should still not rush into getting a tattoo immediately. Do due diligence as above before deciding on anything. Remember the 10:100 ratio. Why the staggering difference? Because a guy who tattoos, is simply doing it for the money. He may have the best location in town, but he’s all about the money. Out go ethics and other professional measures of a true tattoo artist. You want a tattoo? Sure! He won’t care anything about design, placement, etc.

Then, we have the true tattoo artists. They are not high up on a pedestal. They have elevated tattooing into an art form. Of course, for these groups of selected few, the pricing will be based on affinity and communications. They may give you a tattoo at a discount, for half the price or even charge you the full price. But no matter the costs, it’s worth it!

I’ve always been perplexed with people having difficulty differentiating between good and bad tattoos. Is it really that difficult, or is it because I’ve been in this industry for too long (my fine arts background plays a part as well). It’s just like a 9-5 worker who does not have high aspirations in life; he may never know the true value of a good tattoo.

If a fine arts trained artist desires to get a tattoo, it will be extremely hard for him to get a tattoo that he will be truly satisfied with. This may be because as a fellow artist, he knows that in art nothing is perfect. At the very least, I won’t be able to do it. Because I’m no perfectionist, I only strive for second best.

Then there is another group of people with the perfect lifestyle. They have everything they want and lead a beautiful lifestyle. But they will not be able to tell the difference between a good and a bad tattoo as well. All they have to show is a tiny little tattoo – the result of a moment of bashfulness. The simple solution is to do some homework and research online, and you’ll be fine.

If you ask me how much is a tattoo worth. Frankly, I can’t answer that question. Because art is priceless. Of course this is true only if the tattoo is expertly crafted. All I’ll say is to treasure every inch of your limited canvas.

Why does a similar tattoo with the same size and component costs $50 here and $500 there or even much higher someplace else? Well, it’s your call. Consider what your tattoo is worth to you, and then decide on its true value…