A tattoo machine whirs like a cicada in the summer as Todd, wearing a knit cap, extends a muscular forearm. Dano Collins, donning a long ponytail and gray Harley-Davidson hat, has been doing this for 38 years — a timeframe that he says is the second-longest among all tattoo artists in the state. Todd already has the drawing of his new body art wrapping around his right forearm. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the tattoo itself.
Todd, who made a considerable trek from Lansing to get his newest tattoo at Bluz Tattooz & Body Piercing, located at 5720 Highland Road in Waterford Township, didn’t talk much — at least, not as much as Collins, who has been in the game long enough to have stories.
Whether those were of Thomas Edison’s precursor to the tattoo machine — one of just a handful known to exist in the world is housed in Bluz Tattooz, which is almost a makeshift museum to the history of tattooing, with Collins its curator — or what he says are misrepresentations on the now-popular television reality shows about the industry and its best practices, Collins is encylopedic.
“Universal precautions” for tattoo artists? Check. The history of the tattoo machine? Yep. Blood-borne pathogens? Absolutely. An interesting historical factoid about women getting tattooed more frequently during the Great Depression so they could supplement family incomes by working in carnivals? Definitely.
“In the last 15 years, it’s just sky-rocketed,” Collins said of the popularity of tattooing in America. “Even 20, 25 years ago, it was basically drunk sailors and bikers. Nowadays, we tattoo cops, doctors, lawyers, and soccer moms.”
And you don’t have to tell Desire Anastasia that. The 34-year-old Waterford native is now a criminology and criminal justice professor at the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Colorado, after completing her doctoral dissertation on tattooed women while studying sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit.
The professor who lived in Waterford for 17 years is heavily tattooed, herself.
Greater public exposure to people with tattoos — and their presence in the media — has given rise to a greater level of acceptance among the general public, she said.
“I remember walking through a mall one day and seeing a store with perfume and makeup and the whole display was a picture of Kat Von D (of TV’s ‘LA Ink’) in her underwear with tattoos. (The display) was the size of a semi (truck). I think the media has a lot to do with it.”
“It’s more in the public’s eye now, so it’s more publicly acceptable,” he said. “The public acceptance kind of started in the early MTV era. Then it went from there to Cher and Peter Fonda and (Sylvester) Stallone, who has a short-sleeve (tattoo). Nowadays, with TV shows and stuff bringing it to the public’s eye, every celebrity from Paris Hilton and all those kind of newer celebrities, and sports figures, we’re finally getting rid of some of the stereotyping.”
However, cultural misperceptions and brow-beating over tattooed women in particular still exist, Anastasia said.
“There’s sort of this misconception about tattooed women that we are all freaky. So, you’re trying to say this person lives a double life?” she said.
Area tattoo artists and shop owners also agree that the art form once thought to be reserved only for society’s miscreants and deviants has achieved a greater level of public acceptance.
“I have tons of clients that have nostril piercings and they are allowed to wear them at work, and that wasn’t the case 10 years ago,” said Tiffany Diamond of Lady Luck Tattoo in Waterford Township. “Hopefully that is a sign that people are looking more at the qualifications of somebody rather than their appearance. I want a pilot that’s really great at flying a plane, I don’t care if they (have tattoos or piercings).”
“It’s more about how people with tattoos present themselves in public,” said Zach Hewitt, a tattoo artist at Gypsy Kings Tattoos in Commerce Township. “I have a friend who’s a head chef and he has his whole throat tattooed.”
And, local tattoo experts say, business has been steady, even throughout the economic recession that began in 2007, although there have been some stalls in activity. They readily admit that their products are luxury items — certainly not necessities — but people continue to come through their doors looking for the next addition to their body’s canvass.
Rob Lloyd, a tattoo artist at Dixie Tattoo Company in Waterford Township who has been tattooing for five years, said the business opened about two years ago and, although “it’s been a little bit slower” there due to a lagging economy, Dixie Tattoo is “still plugging along.”
“It’s definitely affected us,” said Jay Prine, manager of American Pride Tattoos in Milford, one of several American Pride shops in west Oakland County. “Before the economy crashed, it was pretty lucrative. People got tattooed on a regular basis. When everything crashed out, it slowed down, but it’s definitely picking back up.”
“Tattoo shops always thrive, even during recessions,” Bluz Tattoos’ Collins said.
Jaime Levey, who co-owns Chroma Tattoo in West Bloomfield Township along with Tom Salwoski, said that even though her shop has been open for only a couple months, business is strong.
“Even for being a newer shop, we are pretty steady,” said the co-owner of Chroma, which is located at 33028 Northwestern Highway in West Bloomfield. “Money is still flowing, which is awesome. Every day we have a new person coming into the shop and talking to our artists about tattoos.”
Levey, a photographer who lost her job at Quicken Loans a few years back, decided to get into the tattoo business since it was “three years and we weren’t getting anywhere in this economy.”
She said her and Salwoski’s tattoo parlor is the first in West Bloomfield, and the clientele ranges “from young to old, fathers and sons, sisters getting tattooed.”
Under state law, minors need permission from a parent or guardian to get inked, and tattoo artists are forbidden from tattooing an individual who is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
Some tattoo parlors are also subject to the Medical Waste Regulatory Act, which requires shops to register and meet certain requirements if producing sharps or any other medical waste as outlined by the act.
Tony Drautz with the Oakland County Health Division said a state law passed in 2010 — Public Act 375 — requires local health departments to work under contract with the state Department of Community Health to “carry out and administer” regulations for the tattoo and body art parlors.
“We had this in place and it was very successful and we have a very good relationship with our body art facilities, operators and artists,” Drautz said.
What follows is a list of tattoo parlors around west Oakland County, and some insight into what has been popular among people getting tattooed recently.
BLUZ TATTOOZ & BODY PIERCING
5720 Highland Road, Suite E
Collins, owner of Bluz Tattooz, said traditional tattooing is “making a big comeback.”
“The big, bold lines, solid colors, kind of 1930s through 1960s era (style tattoos)” are hip these days, he said.
In addition, Collins said his business offers a range of gift cards, and this past November, a charity food drive was held at his shop for Gleaners Community Food Bank during which he and his staff tattooed for 12 hours.
“The shop did 48 tattoos and 72 body piercings and we collected over 3,300 pounds of food for Gleaners,” he said.
LADY LUCK TATTOO
5310 Highland Road
Scott Budgen, co-owner of Lady Luck, has been doing tattoos in the Waterford area for about two decades. He said, in terms of trending styles, that “everything is custom these days.”
“There’s not a whole lot of pre-fab design,” said Budgen, whose business expanded last year in a down economy from 750 to 1,600 square feet.
In addition, those at Lady Luck have been very involved in the community, said co-owner Tiffany Diamond.
“We’ve done a lot of donations to different raffles and charity events,” she said. Most recently, those include donations to the Waterford police and fire departments, as well as raising money for the Michigan Humane Society and the Never Forgotten Pet Shelter.
GYPSY KINGS TATTOOS
39500 W. 14 Mile Road
Hewitt, a College for Creative Studies-trained tattoo artist at Gypsy Kings, said he’s noticed a lot of people getting script tattoos, as well as “a bit more tribal (in style) than in the past couple years.”
“Overall, I think we do mostly custom pieces for people that are not either script or tribal,” he said.
Gypsy King is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The shop is closed on Sundays.
33028 Northwestern Highway
West Bloomfield Township
Levey, Chroma’s co-owner, agreed with Hewitt that it seems more people are requesting script tattoos these days. However, the demand overall is up, she said.
“It’s everything,” she said. “We have a girl continuously coming in getting the sleeve done on her arm. All of our artists are all 100 percent creative. They take the idea. No one comes in and picks off a board. We are fully, 100 percent custom.”
DIXIE TATTOO CO.
5324 Dixie Highway
To help out in the community, Lloyd said Dixie Tattoo Company often donates gift certificates to charities for them to raffle off so they can raise money for their organization.
Matthew Hockaday, for example, specializes in realism and portraits in his tattooing, Lloyd said.
“With the way that tattooing has progressed, I think you see more requests for realistic” pieces, Lloyd said.
Dixie Tattoo Company will have a presence at the Motor City Tattoo Expo next month.
AMERICAN PRIDE TATTOOS
6315 Sashabaw Road
Dedrick Elles, manager of the American Pride branch that opened up in July 2010, said the company offers coupons to repeat customers, as well as through advertising. And business seems to be doing well, he said.
“As far as this shop goes, last winter was our first winter being open and winter is our slow season,” Elles said. “With this past year we had, business is going up. It’s continually going up.”
The clientele that comes through American Pride’s doors is “all over the place,” he said. “It seems that the traditional, old-school style of tattooing is becoming a lot more popular again.”
AMERICAN PRIDE TATTOOS
155 E. Commerce Road
“A lot more people are giving the artists free reign to do their stuff, do what they want,” said American Pride’s manager, Jay Prine. “You have the tribal (tattoo) fad that went through the mid-1990s and early 2000s. That’s died out a little bit.”
New school and bright, bold colors are more in line with today’s trends, along with realism, he said.
The clientelle at American Pride Tattoos varies, according to Prine.
“It’s not the bikers and the outlaws and street thugs,” he said. “It’s doctors, lawyers, and stay-at-home moms. People without tattoos are in the minority.”