The social relationship that develops between the tattooist and his or her client is of primary importance. If the novice tattooist is to be moderately successful as a service deliverer anclbr a commercial artist. it is necessary to gain skill in defining client needs and devising tactics by which those needs can be both shaped and met. The street tattooist's basic goal in this regard is maximizing financial rewards while maintaining interactional control during the tattoo process. Learning to tattoo. therefore. involves learning how to structure the ritual performance that is central to building client trust.
Fostering client trust is of particular importance in tattooing. Customers typically feel some degree of anxiety when entering the tattoo studio. The major source of this apprehension is the anticipation of pain. Unfam1l1arity with those commercial settings in which tattoos are applied is another source of anxiety since most tattoo customers have never been in a tattoo studio prior to entering one to be tattooed for the first time.
The interactional skills fostered by the tattooist are more than ways to
maximize income while minimizing conflict. The ability to «read» the client and
shape his or her needs have another practical function. Simply complying with
the customer's requests may result in a product that will have negative
consequences for the tattooist. the client ancLbr the reputation of tattooing.
Most tattooists routinely refuse to place tattoos on «public skin» (usually
defined as above the neck and below the wrist) or to inscribe overtly
The desire to become skilled at defining client needs and controlling the
commercial outcome also derives from an ethical concern for the impact of the
tattoo on the social and psychological
Through contact with customers the tattooist learns how to handle recurrent
interactional situations and to control the definition of the tattoo situation
Tattooists, who see themselves as being motivated by more than commercial interest and feel some responsibility to both tattooing and the client. maintain that education is a central facet of their interaction with the customer. They reflect what Griff (1970: 156) describes as the «compromise role» in his discussion of commercial artists.
A tattooist who predominantly did custom work stressed the importance of
While presentations such as this are indeed noble. the social skills
developed by the tattooist have. for the most part, an eminently practical
function. As emphasized in the following chapter, the tattooist's major goal is
to control the interaction within the shop in order to ease his or her worklife
and increase the profitability of the commercial operation. Studies of other
types of service interactions clearly indicate that client satisfaction is
based primarily on the experienced quality of the relationship with the service
deliverer. Since the vast majority of tattoo customers are drawn