"I grew up with it; my dad had lots of tattoos at a time when tattoos were really out there — they were done, but they were wow, you knew exactly who had tattoos," shares Voja Djordjevic, the owner of BotRich Tattoo in Belgrade, Serbia, and one of the artists at Needles & Pins in Runding, Germany.
With eight years of experience as a tattoo artist, he's in the perfect position to help SteadyHealth readers on their quest to find the right tattoo studio, answer your questions about tattoo aftercare, and share his views on the potential medical complications of tattoos.
Talking about his art, Voja says: "This is my profession, I love it, and every empty part of my skin looks, well, empty to me. Because that's what tattoos are. When you start getting tattooed, you embark on a path. You decide on one sleeve, two sleeves, and every empty corner of your body starts looking unfinished. It's like when you go sunbathing. A woman gets a tan and her bikini top left part of her body white, and she feels like she has to go topless to tan that part of the body too. To be complete."
'God didn't give us cognac either, and you don't seem to have any issues with that'
Depending on where you live and what statistics you're looking at, such a large percentage of the population now has ink that you might have trouble believing tattoos still carry a social stigma, and you may even hear people — usually "tattoo haters", I might add — share the sentiment that "not getting tattooed is the rebellious thing to do these days".
Voja believes that tattoo taboo is indeed alive and kicking, however. "Tattooed women are perceived as dirty, as strippers maybe, while we men are immediately pegged as criminals, maybe even murderers, people who've done prison time. Of course there are tattooed criminals, but they'd probably give off criminal vibes without tattoos all the same."
Has he ever encountered unpleasant situations with tattoo judgers himself? His kids are cool with his tattoos, he says, but not all of their friends' parents are. "Yes, I had an experience with the father of one of my son's friends. He's a priest, and everything was great until the moment he saw my tattoos." In case anyone is raising their eyebrows at the thought of a priest with kids, Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religion in Voja's home country of Serbia, and Orthodox priests can marry.
'They're beautiful, but you don't get something tattooed just because it's pretty'
Voja's most important advice for first-timers is to get to know their tattoo artist and allow the artist to get to know them, as well. Don't just come in with a finished picture, especially something you found on the web or another person's body, but explain what you want so your artist can "create something unique on you". Listen to your artist's advice about tattoo placement, as well — both finger tattoos and tattoos on the inner lip "heal catastrophically", he says. "Nobody can guarantee you what it will turn out like".
"Plenty of minors come into the studio," he shares, and while they need parental consent to get tattoos, you'd be surprised what some parents are comfortable with. Even if your mother or father is just fine with that hand or forehead tattoo you're planning, your artist may not be. "You've got plenty of time for that later," Voja is adamant, and "artists should use their common sense and decide what they’re willing to do and not do."
Even if you're all grown, that old "customer is always right" saying doesn't fly — you're hoping to have the tattooist's art on your body, after all, and their reputation is at stake too. Voja explains: "Tattoos should be carried with love and enhance your beauty, not ruin your life, and you should know what your tattoos mean to you on a personal level. It doesn't matter what it is, even if it's just a line, but you should know why you're getting it." Over the course of his career, Voja has asked people to explain why they want a certain tattoo and even insisted that a potential customer sing the full Serbian national anthem before agreeing to tattoo a controversial historical figure (the customer wasn't able to, and walked out without that particular picture on his skin).
Besides hate symbols — which he's not alone in refusing to do, and not just because they'll "get you arrested in Germany" — he steers clear of "Christian symbolism, Maori tattoos, and mandalas," the last two of which have really risen in popularity in recent times but are ultimately an important part of someone's cultural heritage. If you're not that someone, perhaps they're not the right tattoos for you. "They're beautiful," Voja acknowledges, "but you don't get something tattooed just because it's pretty. You need to know what you're talking about, be familiar with the culture, and be clear on why you want that tattoo."