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Tattoos Are Like Potato Chips - On Becoming a Tattoo Collector

When did it happen for you? When did you go from "having tattoos" to being a "tattooed person", and when did you cross that final line in becoming a Tattoo Collector? Of course it doesn't happen to everyone; this strange alchemy of desire, need, obsession, and art leads some of us to get a little crazy in the tattoo department. Many people - most people just go get a tattoo (or twelve) and move on their merry way. You want a tattoo of a koala bear in a hula skirt clutching a tequila bottle, you just go get one. Next song. Maybe you want a sleeve or a big leg piece. You pick out a shop and/or artist near you and Bob's your uncle. So what happens in your tattoo trajectory that moves you from "having tattoos" to being a collector and what is a tattoo collector anyways?

Tattoo collecting is what happens to you when your relationship with being tattooed morphs from a fun quirk of your personal life to a more encompassing passion. Suddenly you become that guy in the brew pub who can't order a beer without going on and on about the head and the body and the hops and the crispness. You start talking about tattoo artists like celebrities. You know their work by sight, and you know their names and where they are based. You probably know what inks they use. You obsess about where on your body their work would go - how much real estate you can give up. The notion of price or inconvenience factors, like the artist being in a different state or country, mostly go out the window. Strangely enough, you don't actually have that many tattoos because like a good girl, you are "saving yourself" for the right artist.

swan tattoo, torso tattoo

Tattoos, of course, have a long and colorful history around the globe. Tattoo collectors are more of an enigma and are not easily pigeon-holed or defined. You can be covered head to toe in tattoos and not be considered a "serious" collector by some. You can only have one big-ass tattoo covering most of your body and be called an elite collector.  Recently, Teresa Sharpe of Unkindness Art in West Virginia emabarked on a series of complete torso tattoos on a couple of devoted clients. The amount of trust these clients have placed in Ms. Sharpe is astounding. The quality of the tattoo (because technically it really is just one tattoo) is jaw-dropping. The lucky recipients of Teresa's artistry have been vaulted to serious collector status.

What does being a tattoo collector get you in "the real world"? Mostly, incredulous stares from strangers and long, skeptical, looks from friends and family. Those who have not been infected with the tattoo bug utterly fail at understanding why flying across the country to have a giant viking warrior maiden tattooed on your thigh by Kelly Doty is important. But it is. To me at least. Know that your passion will be misunderstood by most. Understand that many will consider your tattoos and the money you have spent on them to be scandalous. Even people with tattoos will be appalled by how much money you have spent. That's OK - just one less person emailing your dream artist, right?

Tattoo culture encompasses so many different kinds of people - both artists and clients.  In this day and age, saying you have a tattoo is about as titillating as saying you have bangs or fillings in your teeth. How you tattoo yourself is a personal decision that is entirely up to you and you alone (unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend that demands their name on your skin. Re-think that relationship.) Does it matter if you are considered a tattoo collector? No. It only matters to you and maybe to the tattoo artists who prefer to work with serious collectors. Why would tattoo artists make this distinction? Because serious collectors are not going to haggle, want tiny tattoos, drag their feet, or demand a lot of control. It would be like hiring a house painter and telling him to "do his thing" but in blue, and you will be happy with what you get. That is a level of artistic freedom for a tattoo artist that is exhilirating and career expanding. It's not like a tattoo artist can head down to the body shop and pick up a few torsos to work out some big creative ideas on. At least I hope not. The collectors that will give trust, freedom, and creative license to an artist are rare and sought out by certain artists so they can expand their craft. It is a powerful symbiotic relationship that provides us with tattoo eye candy and for that, we thank you tattoo collectors.

And when it comes to tattoos? Like potato chips - I challenge you to stop at just one.

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