From Kylie Jenner’s intricate pinkie design to the cross below Justin Bieber’s eye, everyone seems obsessed with tattoos these days. In fact, nearly half of millennials have them, according to a 2010 Pew Research study. What once was associated with biker gangs or punks and considered unacceptable in the workplace has now become a worldwide trend—and tattoo artist and reality TV star Megan Massacre has been a major part of this phenomenon.
An artist all her life, Massacre took up tattooing during college and has since been featured on TLC’s NY Ink and America’s Worst Tattoos. She's since continued working at Love Hate Social Club in New York’s Lower East Side, where NY Ink took place. She’s also one of the tattoo artists showcasing her work on Tattoodo, a site co-founded by Miami Ink’s Ami James for people to read about tattoos, browse designs, and hold contests for artists to design tattoos based on users' descriptions. Tattoodo recently launched an app that’s basically Instagram for tattoos, letting people post and search for the designs and artists they like.
While she was filming a new tattoo-related reality show in Australia, Complex chatted with Massacre about what’s behind the current tattoo craze, and how she became a part of it.
Complex: What was it about tattoos that first drew you in?
Massacre: The first time I actually thought about tattooing, I was in high school. A classmate came to school with a tattoo, and everybody thought it was so cool. I also thought it was so cool, but being an artist, I was like, “I could do a better job.” I was very interested in art from a young age and wanted to learn every kind of art there was. That was the first time I saw tattooing as an art form, because at that time, most people didn’t think of it that way.
Why wasn’t it recognized as an art form then?
We didn’t really think about it because of the stigma surrounding tattooing. A lot of the types of people that you saw getting tattoos were involved in gangs. There was a lot of negativity surrounding it. People thought criminals got tattooed, so I think a lot of artists shied away from it and never really looked at it from that perspective. In the past decade, you’ve seen a huge shift in tattooing to an actual art form that many artists have become interested in.
How did that shift occur?
When I first started tattooing a couple years before Miami Ink came out, it was very stigmatic still. I had a bunch of tattoos, and when I went outside, when I went grocery shopping, people would look at me weird. They wouldn’t want to walk through doors that I held. I would have people coming up to me that I didn’t know, being like, “You’re going to regret this.” Then, a couple years later, the show Miami Ink came out, and all of a sudden, people started looking at it differently and realizing we’re just normal people like everybody else. It made it sexy. It made people who weren’t interested in tattoos actually think about getting one. Also, obviously, musicians and sports players made tattoos very cool.
It also seems like online communities like Tattoodo have played a big role in popularizing tattoos. How have you used them?
Personally, as an artist, I love Instagram and all different kinds of social media. I follow tons of tattoo artists, but it’s actually hard to keep up with all the artists. If I’m looking for something in particular from a particular artist, the Tattoodo app is really nice and consolidated, and it’s constantly updating. There’s also a cool new feature where you upload a photo with information about the tattoo, you put what body part it is, and then you hashtag the style so that it’s really searchable. If I have a studio in New York and I’m looking for a black and gray artist, I can look up the hashtag #BlackAndGrayTattoo and find all the black and gray artists that are out there. I’m always traveling and working and doing all kinds of stuff, and I want to be able to access the information very easily. It helps me keep up with my own industry.
How did you first get involved with Tattoodo?
I first heard about it a couple years ago when one of the artists told me about it. It’s a community dedicated to tattooing from an artistic standpoint, whether you’re one of the artists or a tattoo collector who appreciates tattoos. A lot of it is blog-related, exploring all the different facets of the tattoo industry and new technology in the tattoo industry, talking about tattoo trends. It’s really interesting to see all of this stuff that’s relatable to the artist and the collector in one spot.
The contests for customized tattoos seem like a really cool idea.
The contests are really cool because there are so many people who want to get tattoos by some artists and it's also pretty expensive, but the contests give people the chance to get tattoos who haven't had a chance before. Maybe they live in a completely different country, but the contest allows you to get flown to wherever the artist is.
What is it about tattoos that makes them important to enough people to form all these communities?
It’s a way of expressing the things that you love most in life. People express themselves through color and clothing, and tattooing is just another way to customize yourself. You’re born a certain way, but as you grow older, you kind of fall into the skin that you feel comfortable in. You get to change yourself.
Do any of the tattoos you've created stick out as the most meaningful?
The best stories are the kinds where tragedy is overcome. They other day, I tattooed a woman who is a cancer survivor. When she got the news, it was terrible not only for her own health and safety but for the well-being of her kids. People like her wear tattoos like badges of honor. She got initials for her kids.
What advice would you give someone considering a tattoo?
There are some people who put a lot of thought into it and some people who are just on a whim like, “I’m going to a tattoo shop.” That’s cool and all, but think about it, because it’s obviously very permanent. Then, even if your tattoo gets old and doesn’t look as good as it used to, you’re still going to love it because you’re going to love what it stands for.