Tattoos for All

By Sara Vigneri

I have a guilty pleasure that I’m sure many of you can relate to. I love to indulge in watching reality television. I have watched Hoarders, Toddlers & Tiaras, The Real Housewives and my latest obsession, Miami Ink–a show about a tattoo shop. Tattooing has held a fascination for me in general, mostly because of the span of quality and taste that exists. From skulls and zombies on bikers to butterflies and fairies on sorority girls, there are few places where one can see such a variety of people and images as you can in a tattoo studio. And while tattoos were once edgy and reserved for sailors and rough-talking men in leather jackets, they are now considered mainstream. Actress Helen Mirren, now in her sixties, once said that she is disgusted by the tattoo she got in her youth. While it was “the most shocking thing” she could think of doing at the time,  it is now so commonplace that she is embarrassed to have one. In fact, I can’t even think of a modern day starlet who lacks a tattoo, from Megan Fox to Angelina Jolie, there are countless women out there sporting tattoos on their flawless skin.

The mainstreaming of tattoos has hit the Lehigh Valley as well. “Tattoos were becoming more popular even before the reality shows like Miami Ink,” says tattoo artist Joe Izzo with The Tattoo Factory in Easton. “But since these reality shows I’ve seen a big influx in people wanting large tattoos like sleeves or backpieces.” Matt Kramer, who tattoos at Mind’s Eye in Emmaus, agrees: “It has become much more socially acceptable for anyone and everyone to have a tattoo,” says Matt. “Of course shows like Miami Ink would not even exist if the popularity had not already been present.”

Even with the influx of tattoo seekers, it is unlikely we will see a flood of trainwreck tattoos roaming the Valley. Luckily, the tattoo artists I spoke to aren’t about to etch any old tattoo on you. “We listen, we talk,” explains Steve Lemak who inks at the Quillian Tattooing & Piercing in Allentown. “We help eliminate some of the pitfalls of what looks good on paper versus what works better on the body for someone’s lifetime. Then we take a few notes, assign the right artist for the job, create a file for the client, and set up the appointment date.”

Kramer says his clients may start with something generic, but ultimately want a one-of-a-kind. “Most people these days want something custom designed for them,” he explains. “Even when it’s based off a common image they still want to tailor it to themselves a bit.” Lemak’s clients also have more discerning tastes: “I think these days the client is very well informed about what they want,” says Steve. “The picking of flash heart #72 is pretty rare these days.”

One of my favorite moments on Miami Ink is when someone comes in with a personal story and you can see how the process of transferring a seemingly innocuous image to the skin brings tears and closure to painful memories. “The act of tattooing is an interactive thing,” says Lemak. Izzo concurs, adding that the interaction teeters on psychotherapy. “Regular clients treat me like a therapist,” he explains.

This connection, both to the tattoo artist and the process of transferring ink to skin may explain why people describe tattoos as addictive. “I quickly fell in love with the artistic expression each artist portrayed,” says Kramer. “For me it’s more similar to collecting paintings I love. By getting the tattoos I can have them my entire life and never lose them.” Izzo was hooked after getting his first tattoo at age 15. “I used to help out at a tattoo shop and one day I asked if I could get a tattoo on my back. They did it right then and there and after I saw how it came out I was hooked.”

At this point I should probably disclose that I am tattoo-free. I consider myself a bit of a tattoo stalker—I am fascinated with the people who get and create tattoos without any desire to experience it for myself. And I have to say, collecting tattoo art makes a lot more sense to me than purchasing art on canvas–tattoos are made to order, extremely personal and one of a kind. Take Rick Genest, a Canadian who has tattooed his entire body to turn himself into a living zombie (you can see his body art at He recently did an ad for a cosmetics company where you watch a normal-looking Rick (covered in makeup), wipe off his ‘skin’ to reveal his zombie tattoos. His appearance is generic when he is covered in makeup, but once he’s revealed in his tattooed glory it’s impossible to look away. He is a walking canvas, a priceless work of art encased in his own traveling museum. Truly, I have never been transfixed by an image in any art gallery as I’ve been when looking at tattoos.

I asked Kramer if he felt like he’d created his masterpiece, and like a true artist he responded that his art has to keep evolving over time. “If any artist ever truly feels they have created a masterpiece then they should stop tattooing,” he says. “If that level is achieved in one’s mind then the learning process ends.” And unlike an artist painting or creating alone in his studio, tattooists create living art that walk among us every day, and the patrons of the art get to share the art-making process in a visceral way.

Lemak understands this and says it is what makes tattooing such an enjoyable job — the opportunity to connect with people, create striking images and allow the art to be seen anywhere. “I make people happy” he says. ‘I love my career.”

The Tattoo Factory
1636 Washington Ave, Easton

Mind’s Eye Tattoo & Body Piercing
515 Chestnut Street, Emmaus

Quillian Tattooing & Piercing
614 North 19th Street, Allentown

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