you get plastic surgery out of someone’s garage?”
That’s what Ruben Alcantara wants people to consider before they get tattooed from “scratchers.”
A scratcher is someone who tattoos without proper education and experience.
Like surgery, disease can be transmitted during the tattoo process, Alcantara explains.
“There’s blood involved!” he continued.
Working from his Rooster Tattoo Art shop on Riverside Drive in Lake Elsinore recently, Alcantara was tending to a client who was laid back in a reclining, padded chair. The scene resembled something like a doctor’s office. Gloves were worn by Alcantara as he worked on the man’s arm, needles and tubes were disposable, and clear plastic was covering just about everything in the work space.
In the station next to Alcantara, Daniel Reece tattooed a woman’s back. Together, the two tattoo artists have decades of body art experience between them, they said.
Robert Browning is a body piercer who works alongside Alcantara and Reece. He’s seen horror stories -- infected piercings, nightmare tattoos, he said.
“They’re messing up people on the streets,” Reece said of scratchers.
Many scratchers work inside their homes, according to the three men, but Alcantara insists some shops do hire them.
“I’ve had a vacant station for three months,” he said, explaining that qualified tattoo artists rent space inside Rooster.
“Scratchers come in with terrible portfolios. I can’t have that here,” he continued.
Scratchers are hurting public health and they’re cutting into the bottom lines of trained tattoo artists, Alcantara said.
“It’s putting a dent in our pockets,” he added.
There's even a movement on by tattoo artists to prevent untrained workers from tattooing via a Facebook page titled "Stop Tattoo Scratchers."
Reece said requirements to become a tattoo artist are too lenient.
The Riverside County Department of Environmental Health has established minimum standards that apply to body art facilities and practitioners. The requirements include obtaining a county permit, establishing "exposure containment'' plans that prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, and allowing regular inspections by county personnel.
“Garage guys are what you have to look out for,” said Tony Majringer, who tattoos out of Mob Syndicate Tattoo on Casino Drive in Lake Elsinore. The shop owner is Mike Metzger.
While scratchers are often much cheaper than artists working in traditional brick-and-mortar salons, the price can be expensive in the long run, Majringer said.
“It’s going to cost to get it [a bad tattoo] fixed,” he explained.
On average, expect to pay up to three times, maybe more, for a professional tattoo versus one done by a scratcher, Majringer said.
Finding a quality artist is tricky. It’s important to check out a tattoo artist’s portfolio before agreeing to get work done; the artist’s style should reflect your tastes, Majringer said. Portfolio tattoos should look clean, with sharp lines, not ragged edges, and there should be no signs of infection.
According to tattoo artist Jon Leighton, who works out of Alcantara’s shop, many in his profession spend years drawing and painting before they ever work on a person.
“If you have no idea how to draw, how can you tattoo?” asked Leighton, who said he spent more than a year as an apprentice and during that time wasn’t allowed to do any tattooing.
Leighton explained that he sits down with a potential client beforehand, to find out what type of artwork is wanted. He then spends several hours drawing out a prototype. If the client likes the design, the tattooing can begin, Leighton said.
Majringer added that while off-the-shelf art is common, customers run the risk of wearing the same tattoo as the next person. He relayed a story about seeing two guys in line at Taco Bell with the same exact tattoo.
“You don’t want that,” Majringer laughed.
When picking an artist, make sure he or she has the appropriate county paperwork. If the shop is operating within a city, make sure additional required documents are in order, such as a business license and any health documents. Thoroughly review artists’ portfolios ahead of time, and ask to see work premises to ensure a facility looks clean. Ask about experience level, the type of equipment used, and what hygiene protocols are in place.
“It’s common sense,” Majringer said, but then laughed, “not everyone has common sense.”