Tattoo enthusiast stresses safety, education


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Kris Richter said she barely knew the tattoo artist who created her first tattoo, an orange sun design between her shoulder blades.


And though she is now friends with the artist, she said, people should seriously consider who they allow to mark on their body before getting inked.

The founder of Beyond the INK said she realized there wasn't a centralized place for those interested in getting a tattoo to find accurate information. Though she has never been an artist herself, she said, her work around the industry has inspired her to educate others.

Richter said even television shows such as "LA Ink" and "Miami Ink" provide false information and unrealistic expectations to those who are considering getting a tattoo.

"I'm friends with a lot of people on those shows, and they will be the first to tell you it is very fake," Richter said.

The 25-year-old stopped at Indigo Body Art Gallery, 2419 Second St., Coralville, on Monday evening to give her first lecture on tattoo education.

Richter, a Nebraska native, said knowing the person who is going to permanently mark your body is an must.

"I would watch clients flipping through portfolios and not be sure about what to look for," she said. "They would be critical about what the image was of instead of looking for the things that count, such as the style of the tattoo artist and if they are creating clean lines."

Stingray, from Stringray's Nix Rue Tattoos, 2 Hawkeye Drive, North Liberty, said there are clues in an artists' work that shows they are talented.

"They should make sure the lines touch each other, that there aren't lines that are undone or that cross," he said, noting that a tattoo shouldn't be one color but have an array of shades.

Richter said access to the Internet has led to a spread of untrained tattoo artists practicing unsafe techniques in their home.

"Nowadays, a tattoo machine can be bought on the Internet," she said. "If people are tattooing out of their homes, they are considered 'scratchers,' and they may not have the ability to sterilize. Anyone who calls it a 'tattoo gun' is not a true tattoo artist."

People interested in getting a tattoo should make sure the artist is certified and can show proof, she said.

An Iowa tattoo artist must apply for an artist permit from the Iowa Department of Health and undergo a one- to two-year apprenticeship before being certified. There are 18 certified tattoo artists in the Iowa City and Coralville area.

Richter said during their apprenticeships, tattoo artists learn how to draw tattooable pictures. She said artists practice on animal skin, such as pig ears or pig skin, before actually attempting a tattoo on a person.

"It takes years to master this art form," she said.

Stingray said he has overseen over a dozen apprenticed tattoo artists.

Talisa Miller, the director of Iowa's Tattoo Program, said the state Public Health Department requires each tattoo parlor be inspected once a year, and must check monthly that the autoclave — a machine that sterilizes tubes and needles by using pressurized steam to kill bacteria — is working correctly. All equipment must be sterilized to avoid such diseases as hepatitis C on shared tattoo needles.

"Spore tests should be done every month. These should tell you if the autoclave is working," Richter said. "You should be able to ask to see the spore test at any tattoo parlor, and if the tattoo artist hesitates, be hesitant."

Bill McCabe, a dermatology administrator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said that they rarely see people with tattoo infections come in. However, there has been a huge request for tattoo removal. The UIHC offers laser removal for $435 a session.

Richter said her main goal is to make tattoos more accepted in society.

"It's been in every culture and civilization at some point or another," she said. "Females in ancient Egypt wore lavish tattoos. Polynesian cultures used marks on their face to show their social standing. We refer to ourselves as a tattoo family."

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