Social media rise helps tattoo collectors, hurts small parlors

Ariana Arredondo

Tattoo guns buzz as people mill around the Palmer Events Center eyeing the many booths. Some look to add to their existing collection of tattoos while others plan their future sleeve with an
experienced artist. 

Last weekend, the Austin Tattoo Invitational brought artists and patrons together in celebration of tattoos. Tony Colón, artist and co-owner of Black Mass Tattoo, presented the event. Colón said he first became interested in the tattoo industry in seventh grade, when he noticed tattoos on people around him. He began his apprenticeship at age 20 and has been a tattoo artist ever since. 

“When I noticed tattoos on people’s bodies, something just clicked,” Colón said. “I realized people can wear my art on their bodies.”

Colón has been tattooing for upward of 13 years and said he has seen sizable changes in the industry, both in technology and in how the world perceives tattoos. 

When he entered the industry, there were more limitations on equipment and communication. Now, artists draw their designs digitally, tattoo machines have more functions and some use social media to connect with potential clients. 

“The tattoo industry in the world is just changing,” Colón said. “People accept it a lot more now. Even the artwork itself has grown. It’s gotten better.”

Colón said as professional environments are beginning to slowly accept tattoos in the workplace, stereotypes about tattooed people are fading, leading to a boom in the industry.

“It’s more accepted, even with more professional jobs,” Colón said. “My sister for instance is (a Master of Science in Nursing) at BAMC hospital, and she’s covered in tattoos. People tend to not be as closed minded as they used to be.”

This recent trend of acceptance can be widely seen on social media as more and more feeds feature tattoos. This allows artists to reach a new demographic of individuals who otherwise may have been opposed to tattoos. The spread of tattooing online also helps potential clients search for an artist or design they want. 

Brandon Smith, a tattoo artist in San Marcos, Texas, attended the invitational last weekend. He said he has been working in the industry since 2008, allowing him to witness the negative and positive effects of social media on the world of tattooing.  

“Social media has consolidated good work into an easily accessible platform,” Smith said. “It took me years to figure out what good tattoo work looked like and to learn how to emulate it. The algorithms favor quality pictures over quality tattoos.” 

Mason Chimato, an artist in Florida, said another downfall is that smaller, local artists can easily be buried under the countless tattoo pages and hashtags. Eventually, as the photo gets passed around, the artist loses credit for their work. 

“Social media helped at one point, but it seems that it is holding back most small business now,” Chimato said.

While social media sometimes causes tattoos clients to be catfished and smaller parlors may experience difficulties in getting public attention, it has become easier for consumers to reach out to an abundance of artists. 

Through events like Colón’s and networking via social media, tattoo collectors are no longer restricted to their local tattoo parlor.

“It’s just about keeping the art alive,” Colón said.