- Buyer's Guide
Specialist Carry :: Tattoo Artist
For years now, the new wave of tattoo love has been crawling up the legs and sleeves of everyone you know. A reborn phenomenon, now undeniably inked in and fixed to our cultural radar. It makes me dream up visions of all those gnarled, old bikies and rockers with faded anchors under their eyes, laughing and gloating “I told ya so!” But one thing you don’t think about when you ponder the tattoo craze is carry. Things have changed, high-in-demand tattooers are now transient, traveling the globe for conventions or jumping from one shop to the next, taking with them a stockpile of sharp and inky paraphernalia. And we were curious – how do they carry? So we tracked down Australian-born Carly Kroll who globe-hops from Germany to Australia every year to simply do what she does best – make awesome art! We dropped her a line and discovered the ins and outs of tattoo carry…
Carry-on or check-in?
Everything goes in check-in. I have a set of the basics in both Berlin and Melbourne, but my machines and basic travel gear get checked in. Ideally, I would like to have my machines with me, I’ve had them in my carry-on before, but in some countries it can be a problem. Once, I got asked if they were guns…plus a lot of Islamic people consider tattooing haram, so taking them through security in the Middle East (which I almost always do traveling between Europe and Australia) just isn’t worth it. The thought of having machines taken away at security is worse than the thought of them being chucked around by baggage guys.
What do you rock for check-in?
I have a Burton duffel…I got it about 7 or 8 years ago. I used to snowboard pretty regularly so I have a lot of stuff from them. They started making it in colours and other designs in the years after, but I haven’t seen one similar for a few years now. The main reason I got it was that it was one of the biggest I could find without being ugly. The inside is decked out with like a wetsuit material called a ‘CRAM’ stretch panel. It’s perfect for messy packers like me. It has skateboard wheels on it. I actually had one break off in New York about 5 years ago, but I went into a Burton shop in Soho and they changed everything free of charge and it was good to go. I have literally traveled the world with this bag. It’s been to every continent and a whole lot of strange places with me: the US, Caribbean, South America, Hawaii, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, all over Europe, even to Omsk! Just to name a few.
What are the most delicate items you carry?
My machines are pretty important, I try to only take the ones I’m going to use and one backup of each…so like four or five. They are my most important tool and any kind of dropping or knocking can send them totally out of whack. When I’m traveling I keep them all in a foam-packed tool case. It probably looks like I’m turning up to a construction site or something.
How many inks do you need to take with you?
I have a travel set of colors, the essentials in mini sizes, plus I might bring along some favorites but I tend to mix all my colors up anyway, so there isn’t much I would use straight out of the bottle. I have a set of blacks, grays and white in Melbourne as well as a few other things. I carry my inks and small supplies in a small plastic box; I just got it from the hardware store in the case section.
What normally breaks or goes wrong in transit?
So far I’ve had nothing break, but I think I’ve been pretty lucky. I try to pack everything as secure as I can. Ziplock bags are my friend here. I did pack a few boxes of needles on one trip and got pulled over in customs in Australia. It wasn’t a problem and they let me through after a bit of prodding but I figure now I just keep a small stock in Melbourne. That waiting and searching through my stuff in customs/quarantine really bums me out.
If things go wrong can you get parts in any city? Or do you need to carry spares?
I carry a little machine repair kit, which has some basic bits and pieces if I need to adjust something. I’ve never sat down and had an official lesson about repairing and tuning tattoo machines, but after using them everyday I know what I like and what I don’t. I just like to have a few tools so I can change something up if it doesn’t feel right after being knocked about on a flight.
Where do you start with your carry options? Is it hard cases for photographers that you adapt?
For my machines, yes exactly. I use a Pelican case in the laptop size. It’s pretty banged up on the outside, I got it second-hand from somewhere. I actually can’t take more than about six machines because they don’t fit! I have a few other smaller soft cases for my other equipment.
Have you learned carry tricks from other traveling artists?
I know a lot of other artists have their own ‘convention case’. It’s a tall, hard case on wheels, something like what a makeup artist or a hairdresser would use. It’s great for moving about conventions going to different cities in Europe or road tripping if you’re in the States, but I travel mainly between Melbourne and Berlin, so it’s just not practical for me to be bringing all that stuff along with me on each trip. I need that precious room for my clothes (it’s always opposite winter to summer) and of course shoes to match those outfits!
Do you have to take a workstation with you? How much is work station vs work tools?
Nope. I might take a few small pieces of equipment, my own armrests and headrests if I was traveling in Europe. But definitely not between Berlin and Melbourne. I literally take the bare minimum and buy (or borrow – I have an awesome crew of colleagues in Melbourne) everything else when I get there.
How long does it take to unpack and set up? Then to pack up again?
I usually try to plan about a week in advance, that way I can think about what I need when I get there and order it so it’s ready for me. Then I know what I need to bring along. Usually it takes me about an hour to pack and unpack.
Lighting must be crazy important for color and details. Do you try and control that?
Most shops will supply a work lamp. It’s definitely an essential. I’ve seen these mini-work lamps that you can clip onto your machine, but I don’t even want to try that. I would find it super distracting having something hanging off my machine. Plus it’s just another thing I’d have to carry around…
Do you ever have the shakes after a big night?
Ahhh, good question… Actually I don’t drink very much, especially not if I’m going to tattoo the next day. But saying that, I know a lot of tattooers who can go out drinking ’til 5am or 6am then head in at 10am for their first appointment with no problem at all. I guess it’s part of the lifestyle.
It’s out of the question for me, I just couldn’t manage it. If I do go out for a drink, I need to keep that well away from my working hours. Since I’ve been tattooing I’ve had to give up my morning coffee because even coffee can give me the shakes!
Help us avoid sounding like douches…what words should we avoid when talking about ink/tattoos/skin art?
Well, calling a ‘tattoo machine’ a ‘tattoo gun’ is something that seems to ruffle a few feathers. Honestly, it’s not something I really care about…in the exception of other tattooers I don’t expect people to know the correct terminology.
Are there terms for artists that do original pieces versus requested pieces (kind of like DJ’s vs Mix-masters)?
That is actually something that is also really important to me. What is a big no-no inside the industry is to copy any tattoo that has already been tattooed or designed by another artist. It’s seen as plagiarism and theft. Of course, that doesn’t stop a lot of tattoo artists and there is heaps of it going on.
There is ‘flash’ tattoo art: a sheet of pre-drawn designs that people can choose from and have tattooed, a lot of artists sell their ‘flash’ and that is widely acceptable. Those designs have been made for the purpose of being reproduced and permission has been given by the original artist.
I have customers every day that bring in a photo of a tattoo they’ve seen online and want the same thing. I think it’s up to us as artists to educate people – that tattoo already belongs to someone else. I think a lot of it is people don’t realize most of us can actually draw and there are more than just those tattoo designs that are getting about on Google out there.
I’ve seen many tattooers print things off the internet or photocopy tattoo designs straight from other artists’ sketchbooks and tattoo them straight on. It just seems a shame they’ve lost the opportunity to create something original and it’s the customer who loses out.
There is always a way to create something similar in your own style. It’s just a matter of asking your customer the right questions; you can add a bit more of a personal touch and create something unique just for that client.