Arts & Events

Tattooing in the Age of the Internet

A photo posted on Instagram by user @ignorant_tattoos. Tattoo done by @tannerclarkfuckingsucks for @dietsodas.

By Ari Lauer-Frey

  The world we now occupy is one marked by unprecedented levels of accessibility – to information, to products, and to each other. This condition is particularly evident in the continuously changing landscape of tattooing practices and culture. In prior generations, a tattoo shop was the primary route for artists to make a career in this field. Nowadays, anyone can simply buy a tattoo gun from Amazon, practice on themselves and others, and build a following online. With more attainable means of entry, a larger and more diverse group of people have found footing in the tattooing world. Such expansion, coupled with the individuality that this new internet-based environment allows, has produced a culture that is questioning and pushing the boundaries of tattoo tradition like never before. 

  Like many other Gen-Zs, my exploration into the world of tattoos has been remarkably informal, led by Instagram accounts and word-of-mouth. Almost all my tattoos have been chosen through and paid for across the internet. I have been tattooed in bedrooms while movies play for both the artist and my entertainment. I have participated in a tattoo party, consisting of people sprawled across a living room waiting for their turn to be inked. I have listened to a band play in the adjoining room as my tattoo artist carries along in their makeshift studio that occupies a basement supply closet. But I have yet to step foot in a tattoo shop. 

  Such an experience is echoed from the other side of the needle in artist and student Rhae Schulz’s tattooing practices (whose art can be found on Instagram @1624co). They have been tattooing since they were 16, starting with stick and poke (the practice of using a hand-held needle rather than a tattoo gun), a time-consuming but precise process. Next, they built themself a prison gun – a simple motor and button system attached to a pen. They worked on their craft on the skins of fruit and, of course, themself. “I bought UV ink. That was how I started practicing, actually. So my legs are covered in invisible tattoos,” says Schulz. 

  As they became more confident in their skills, they began tattooing friends and building a clientele. They have now given over 60 tattoos, all of which have occurred in casual settings – their living room, a friend’s bedroom, or a kitchen table – each space transformed into a personable studio. Schulz explains that working outside of shops is preferred primarily due to its viability for up-and-coming artists. “I have so many underground artists who are following all these protocols but just don’t have the time or money to go and get licensed – because you have to pay for an apprenticeship.”

  Tattoo shops are an important part of tattooing culture. They set precedents for safety and proper protocol, aid in dispelling the stigma surrounding tattoos and the people involved, and offer customers predictability in quality (most of the time). So why are so many people choosing independent artists and informal spaces over the shop? 

  Iris Manring (whose art can be found on Instagram @irisartsalot), another artist and student who has been practicing stick and poke tattooing since fall 2022, names at least one reason why the modern customer may prefer the practices of artists like Rhae and them over more “professional” space: Manring is a big fan of the American traditional style, which is bound to be found in practically any tattoo parlor. This love has brought them into tattoo shops more than a few times –  environments which they recognize are not always the most fun or approachable. “Sometimes I feel like going into a tattoo shop can be really uncomfortable. And it’s really hard to ask for what you want, especially with American traditional tattoo artists, who are predominantly white men who have been doing this for a long time. And I think they have a certain attitude towards things and especially don’t really realize their positionality in relation to, like, how does this affect the people that I’m tattooing?”

  It’s important to remind oneself that tattooing, as popular or trivial as it may sometimes seem, is a real practice in intimacy. To allow someone to permanently alter your skin is a great act of trust and vulnerability, so it is no surprise that customers want to work with artists who they feel understand them and are willing to build a relationship established from effective communication. This communication is made easier through social media and the one-on-one settings customers receive with independent artists. 

  Last fall, I got a tattoo from artist Alex Begninio (whose art can be found on Instagram @alexcvltx) in an apartment in the historic center of Rome as I leaned over the dining room table and chatted with him and his friend. As he tattooed me, Begninio explained that he chose such environments because he felt they made the experience more meaningful to both the client and artist. “Getting tattoos in these kinds of situations builds stronger memories. It’s just more genuine, like I feel the contact with people.” Tattoo shops are, of course, not being entirely run out of business by these new independent artists. However, the characteristics of the standard shop may indeed be changing in response, and shifting towards a more thoughtful approach to the tattoo experience. More and more shops are working to acknowledge the diverse range of folks involved in tattooing – as both artists and enthusiasts. In her article for Coveteur titled “High Hopes Tattoo is Providing a Safe Space for the Queer Community,” Ama Kwarteng discusses this trend, stating that “thanks to social media and a changing political and sociocultural environment, the industry has made serious shifts over the past few years. There are more women and queer people tattooing, and getting tattoos, than ever before. And they’re creating inclusive spaces where a sense of community and comfort are key.” Many spaces with similar intentions continue to open, such as shops with more knowledge about tattooing people of color or shops trained in a “trauma aware” approach – skills that are often lacking in your average parlor.  

  As the demographics of the tattoo world continue to change and people move away from the traditional shop setting, artists are becoming less and less married to the norms set by past generations. Great stylistic variety in tattooing has been born from this desire for change and the ability to share one’s iconoclasm via social media. For both those creating and seeking, this cyber world immensely widens the possibilities of what tattooing can be. And this variety sets a new premise: in finding one’s tattoo style, there are very few wrong answers. If you want to learn about some of these styles that might be right for you, you can find the remainder of this article on our website. 


  The term “Eurotrash” primarily has been used to describe a form of fashion characterized by designer sweatsuits, Gucci sunglasses, and a lack of refinement. Once almost derogatory, the term is no longer an insult, but instead a sought-after aesthetic. Osman Ahmed explains the appeal of the Eurotrash look in his Vice article, “How Eurotrash Became Eurochic,” stating, “Unlike so much fashion, it’s not overly conceptualized or unwearable. Part of its appeal is that it’s never serious and it’s always having a good time.” 

  For the world of tattooing, the term is similarly implemented to define tattoos that are particularly bold in their attitudes of irony, absurdism and simple fun. “It is something different, far from the traditional, extra clean, close to “perfection” type of tattoos. It’s definitely more interesting,” says Dario, another artist working out of Rome (whose art can be found on Instagram @17th_museum). Visually, there is no simple way of defining Eurotrash. Sometimes it is marked by a purposeful visual amateurism, while at other times artists use internet iconography – such as memes and emojis – as source material. But more important than any particular visual element is the work’s intent, which is to disrupt boundaries within tattoo culture and resist easy definition. “It’s not something that I would get on my body, but I understand where the kind of humor in it comes from,” comments Schulz. 



  This style intersects with Eurotrash in many ways, with an even greater proclivity towards purposefully amateur-looking tattoos. In many cases, the result is a tattoo that looks like something your five-year-old self drew – but instead of putting the drawing up on the fridge, your mom decided to save it forever on her skin. There is an undeniable desire to bring the joy and playfulness of youth into tattooing here. “I think it is taking away from tattooing needing to be this perfect moment on your body. Because perfect is unachievable,” says Schulz.



  In its practice, Cybersigilism is a style that is still quite new and constantly developing. Rhea Singh explores Cybersigilism among other subversive tattoo styles brought about by Gen Z artists in her CBC article, “What’s with those messy, deliberately weird tattoo styles that are gaining popularity?” Singh writes,This new style of tattoo design has gained popularity in Montreal and Toronto, particularly with Gen Z. It challenges the past and rejects the “rigid standards and ideals” of the tattoo scene, bringing an unorthodox and freer form of tattoo design.” As the name suggests, made of sweeping symbols of curving, fine line work and sharp edges, the images sometimes feel reminiscent of the Y2K era of tribal tattoos. In such instances, this trend brings up important conversations about cultural appropriation in tattooing and how ignorance towards the past might, in some instances, lead to undesired outcomes. Yet, just as frequently, the combination of sci-fi aesthetics and rejection of traditional tattooing results in pieces that seem entirely of their own world and time. Through its hyper-aware placement in a technology-ridden reality and an infatuation with the supernatural, Cybersigilism represents a growing aim among young tattoo artists: to not simply look ahead but to look beyond.