Tattooist warns of dangers behind home ‘inking’

Joanna Woszak, Inksomnia. GG 0702026 13
Joanna Woszak, Inksomnia. GG 0702026 13

A TATTOOIST who set up shop in Stranraer two years ago has sent out a stern warning to youngsters after dealing with the aftermath from scores of home tattoos.

Joanna Woszak, who owns Inksomnia on George Street, has been shocked at the amount of people asking for cover ups or removals after undergoing a tattoo by untrained people.

Tatooist Joanna Woszak working in her parlour. GG 0702023 13

Tatooist Joanna Woszak working in her parlour. GG 0702023 13

And she says it’s an increasing problem with a whole generation failing to understand not only the hygiene dangers, but also the long-term effect bad tattoos can have.

Joanna said: “There is a reason why tattooists need proper training and those without are being let loose in their kitchen to permanently mark people and put their health in danger. It’s shocking.”

Home tattooing kits and are now readily available online, and although disposable materials may not be a danger, the quality of the ink is still questionable. Inks can contain toxic chemicals which can have a long term impact on health.

Joanna says that all reputable tattooists will always use top-quality inks to make sure their clients are safe. She herself started her tattoo adventure in one of the first established tattoo studios in Poland before moving to Michigan in the USA where she perfected her skills, and has had to invest a lot of time, energy and money in becoming a responsible and admired tattooist.

So admired is she that she recently tattooed a man who travelled from Canada for a tour of the UK and who built in a trip to Stranraer to have her tattoo a custom Celtic design, something she specialises in thanks to her passion for Scotland and its history of tattoing which goess back thousands of years.

Often, Joanna receives phone calls from people asking if she will take them on as an apprentice, but she says they simply phone her and ask after reaching for equipment available online and tattooing at home, and believing they can build their caeere based on this. She said: “Being a tattooist is not a ‘cool life’, it is not what you see on reality TV. It is very hard work and you have to be prepared to undertake many afterhours work sacrificing your time that could be spent with your friends or family. Learning doesn’t stop after finishing an apprenticeship, this is only a beginning.”

Joanna says she is not so keen to tattoo younger people for a few reasons - the higher risk of changes in body shape, no guarantee of responsible after care, but most importantly, the risk of disappointment over their chosen design. She says mature clients have developed a character and have usually put more thought into what sort of design they’d like, rather than when 18 year-olds come in who want a tattoo simply because they legally can.

“There is a reason why 18 is the established legal age to have a tattoo,” she said.

She has been asked to fix a few tattoos which were done on people aged just 17 and whom she refused to tattoo right after opening her studio.

“These folks didn’t want to wait one more year, they wanted it there and then so they went to someone who didn’t care about legal issues or quality of work. They go to someone’s house where they are nothing but extra cash, practice skin, you name it. Going to a reputable tattoo studio means that the moment you leave the door, you are a walking advertisement, so it is obvious you will get the best tattoo a tattooist can do.”

The amount of bad tattoos coming before her made Joanna to take a step she never thought she would - she took training in laser tattoo removal and brought to Stranraer the newest laser device.

“I got sick of telling people there was nothing I could do about their tattoos beyond the point of repair or cover up. I wanted to do something, to help people fix these horrible tattoos.

“What really frightens me is that lots of these youngsters aren’t even thinking about the hygiene aspects of a home tattoo, they don’t realise what kind of disease they can contract such as Hep-C, a virus which can stay on the surface even for four days, STDs, Staph infection etc. Being properly trained is not only about learning how to tattoo but it is also about preventing cross contamination.”

Joanna’s immaculate studio had to meet a long list of requirements before being given the okay by police and environmental health, and is constantly monitored to ensure standards are high - something that no home tattooist can claim. But Joanna also feels that a lot of responsibility lies with the tattooist to ensure a person won’t regret what they ask for. She refuses to tattoo backs of hands, faces or the side of the neck on anyone who is not a devoted tattoo collector (someone already heavily covered by tattoos), because these are known to prevent people from being eligible for certain types of job, and she will always talk thoroughly with the client to ensure their choice is the right one even if it means she will lose a potential customer.

Joanna said: “I give myself a right to refuse to do certain tattoos even if people don’t like to hear that. These are my ethics.”

Joanna also offers cosmetic tattooing - she is one of not many techinicians in the UK offering hand technique she learned in California. She also worked with cancer survivors who may have lost their eyebrows and even tattoos areola after surgeries.

The name Inksomnia comes from Joanna’s frequent inability to sleep at night because she constantly has tattoos in her mind, and she takes much pleasure from her work. Her most recent heartwarming story came from an 83-year old woman who went to her with her 18-year old granddaughter for identical tattoos.

Joanna explains: “Grandma had never had a tattoo and she said to me, I don’tknow how much time I have left on this Earth, but I want my granddaughter to have something she will remember me by when I am gone.”

But possibly her most touching story was of a woman who wanted a tattoo of a drawing done by her 10-year old son one day before he died of cancer.

“This woman didn’t like tattoos and she never thought about getting one, but what happened in her life made her to see tattoos in different light. It was a cross with word “I love you Mummy. She was grieving while I was doing a tattoo. It was trying not to cry. I was something I will never forgot. When I finished she gave me a hug and she said, ‘I am in peace now. Thank you’.

Joanna says the best reward for her is the look on the face of a client who looks in the mirror after a tattoo is finished.