N.B. tattoo artists reopening shop say they’re fighting supply vs. demand

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Permanency in uncertain times: N.B. tattoo artists face backlogs
WATCH: Tattoo artists say the past 17 months of the COVID-19 pandemic has been revolutionary for the industry. Now, as they reopen, they’re battling supply vs. demand. Travis Fortnum has more. – Aug 11, 2021

Tattoo artists say the COVID-19 pandemic has been a revolutionary time for the industry.

The industry sees its professionals up-close and personal with clients, something that came abruptly impossible with COVID-19-related lockdowns in March 2020.

“COVID kind of changed the way that we want to approach tattooing at large,” said Jake Jeffrey, who’s been working in the industry for over a decade.

“Tattooers aren’t a group of people that are easily swayed, there were a lot of upset tattooers that got closed down and that forced people to do what they had to do.”

Jake Jeffrey’s been a tattoo artist for over 10 years – none of them like the past 17 months. Travis Fortnum / Global News

Pre-pandemic, Jeffrey was working in a Saint John-based tattoo parlour with a sample of other artists.

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He says lockdowns led him to a lot of self-reflection.

“It was stressful and damaging of course, but for the first time in 10+ years of tattooing, I got the chance to self-reflect and think about what I want out of the industry,” he says.

He now tattoos privately at his own shop in the city’s uptown after the shop he used to be based out of, Pain & Pleasure, all but dissolved.

“COVID was the catalyst that inevitably led to going into a private environment,” he says.

READ MORE: The business community is greatly in favor of the vaccine passport

Still operating privately under the Pain & Pleasure banner, Chet Wood says that even when business stopped, bookings kept coming in.

“There’s a big demand for tattoos,” he says.

“I don’t understand why now it’s getting crazy — could be boredom or maybe because tattoos are getting better and better.”

Currently, Wood’s booking appointments into 2022.

He says the pandemic has had an interesting impact, in that some artists have opted to work under the table to circumvent COVID restrictions or people have taken up tattooing as a pandemic hobby.

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“Tattooing used to be underground, then it came out of it and then got pushed back underground,” Wood jokes.

Chet Wood says he’s not sure his business would survive another lockdown.

Those artists choosing to circumvent COVID restrictions satisfying impatient customers — but also apparently creating more work for the rest.

“In the last few months I’ve gotten more requests for cover-up tattoos that were done in the past year than I have in 10+ years of tattooing,” Jeffrey says.

Tighter restrictions, particularly in those first few months of the pandemic, created another problem for tattoo artists in that some of the supplies necessary to operation became a hot commodity.

“Every time you look to do a supply order it says out of stock,” Wood says.

“Especially trying to get gloves.”

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Many of the products used in the sterile tattoo studio are also needed in healthcare settings.

“You go through a lot of gloves, probably more than a doctor does,” says Troy Snow, who owns Ink Addicts Tattoo and Body Piercing in Rothesay.

“Prior to COVID it wasn’t too bad, a box of gloves was like 15 bucks — now it’s like 35.”

READ MORE: Many tattoo inks mislabelled, raising allergy concerns: international study

Snow says these increased costs translate to more expensive tattoos for the customer.

Pandemic strain on supply and demand, not something these artists expect when turning their passion into a business.

Tattoo artists say demand is skyrocketing as pandemic restrictions lift. Travis Fortnum / Global News

Business advisor Jenifer Bartman says that’s a problem for all local shop owners.

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“I think we’ll see an economy coming out of this with a lot of businesses that aren’t there anymore,” she says.

She says owners need to employ creativity to navigate business during a pandemic – something that is not in short supply in tattoo studios.

She suspects the upswing in businesses might be because some want to commemorate the pandemic in ink.

“We’ve been through something that hasn’t been comparatively seen in a hundred years or more,” says Bartman.

Something Snow’s seen first hand.

“There’s a tattoo that was done of a Corona bottle with coronavirus in the bottle and a lime on top,” he says.

“It was a pretty cool tattoo.”

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For those hoping to go under the tattoo gun, these artists say be patient as they work through bookings.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to wait because if someone’s booked months in advance that means there’s quality behind what they’re doing,” says Jeffrey.

“Someone that can get you in tomorrow? You’re probably going to be emailing me a few weeks later for a cover-up.”

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