REGION - Societal fads come and go, but tattoos seem to be more than a craze that’s going to disappear anytime soon. For some, tattoos symbolize who they are, or allows them to express their thoughts; for others, tattoos offer a way to remember loved ones and share their experiences. 

 From Milford to Carbondale, four owners of four tattoo shops believe that tattoos are an art people of all ages appreciate. With that, they don’t see the industry slowing anytime soon. 

  Jim Palmer, who owns Stone Bear Tattoo in Milford has been a tattoo artist for 18 years and owned his own shop for 11, said tattoos are art that happens to be presented on a “living canvas.” But, people get them for many reasons and the reality is that, they are likely to be permanent, unless someone is willing to pay to get them removed. Today, the industry is “growing in leaps and bounds,” and he doesn’t see things slowing down. 

 PA laws lax

  To be a tattoo artist and own a shop, the co-owner of Ink Therapy Tattoos in Carbondale, Andrew Vranicar said in Pennsylvania the laws are “pretty lax” and so, his shop follows the requirements that exist in Philadelphia, such as being licensed and having blood borne pathogens certification through the Health Department. 

 Although the state doesn’t have requirements, across the industry apprenticeships are the way the artists truly learn the trade. Currently, at Ink Therapy Tattoos, Andrew Vranicar who has been a professional tattoo artist for 17 years and fellow owner Corey Grundstein are mentoring three apprentices. An apprenticeship simply requires “a lot of dedication,” said Andrew Vranicar, as well as money since he charges $2,500 over a period of 18 months because they are students. As apprentice, they watch the artists and learn the details of the job, such as proper use and disposal of the needles and all that the profession entails. 

  In addition to the apprenticeship, Billy Rubino, who has been an artist for 15 years and is the owner of Stigma Studio Tattoo in Moscow said hard work, “tremendous art skill” and an art background is necessary to be a tattoo artist today. Because it is an “art driven” industry, the artist must invest time into their artwork to develop their talents and business. For some, like Rubino they have degrees in art, but most complete apprenticeships that last varying periods of time. 

Owning a shop in Pennsylvania is comparable to the “Wild West” joked Palmer, because there are no laws. In neighboring states there are “stringent laws” compared to Pennsylvania, where owners are “basically on our own.” This is problematic he said, because many people who want tattoos aren’t educating themselves and aware of what to look for.  

Good artist essential 

 In today’s industry, “first and foremost” Palmer said a person must be a good artist because people are no longer choosing a picture off a wall, so skill and creativity is essential. With the industry changing, its “interesting” because it has become a “career choice” for those who love art leading to the market “getting flooded.” 

When considering a tattoo, first Palmer suggests visiting shops to see if they are clean, then look at the artist’s portfolios to “educate” themselves to learn what “makes a good tattoo” and talk to the artist since the tattoo is likely to be forever. A good tattoo he explained, has “clean crisp line work” with “solid color” and “soft shading.” But, good composition is “important” since it must work on that area of the body. 

   In Pennsylvania, with parents’ consent a 16-year-old can get a tattoo or, depending on the tattoo artist and shop’s choice Rubino said. At Stigma Studio, 16-year-olds can receive a tattoo with a parent’s signature, but he prefers a parent be present so they know what their child is getting. Rubino actually sees a lot of poorly made tattoos on “kids,” whose parents didn’t approve and so they are of “very poor quality.”

 Palmer actually no longer tattoos minors he explained, because of the “risk” and the difference in maturity between 16 and 18 is quite something, as the teens think about “their place in the world.”

Mostly ages 20- 40

   Andrew Vranicar said there are quite a few minors getting tattoos with parents’ consent, but people between 20 and 40 are getting tattooed the most. The feeling “doesn’t tickle” instead is more like a “constant cat scratch” that isn’t “unbearable.” 

 The News Eagle was at Vivid Ink in Honesdale, when owner Kayla McGrath was covering a burger and fries tattoo that Arlene Utter got with a former friend. Utter, who has 11 tattoos, will now have a sleeve of flowers. As McGrath worked, Utter said it was “exciting” and it didn’t hurt because she couldn’t wait to see the finished piece. The pain, Utter believes depends on a person’s tolerance. Both Utter and McGrath think the calve is the most painful area to get a tattoo.Then again, a minute later they also said the ribs are quite painful too. 

Andrew Vranicar from Ink Therapy Tattoos said the backbone isn’t bad, instead the stomach, rib cage and foot are “excruciating.” The forearm, calf and back of the neck are the most common areas he tattoos. 

Rubino said there are “trends” in regards to where people get tattoos and now, many are going for hand tattoos, which “has a certain sting.” As well, there are popular designs, currently being the infinity symbol. Others popular now are feathers turning into birds and water color tattoos. An aspect to the experience Rubino said, is how long a person is sitting, laying or however they must position themselves to get the tattoo, makes a difference to one’s comfort.        

Cover-ups are quite popular too, McGrath said, with people not liking what they got or the way the tattoo aged. Often, she covers a lot of names. To that, Mike Leone who is an artist at Ink Therapy suggests just in case relationships don’t work, persons should get a tattoo that is meaningful to both individually and together, so they don’t regret the tattoo later on.

Why so many?

Each shop owner said nearly every person they work on, has more than one because many believe tattoos are addictive. Once a person gets one, they want more. To that, Andrew Vranicar said he isn’t sure why, but he does agree because he has about 60 tattoos total, and it’s like “Oreos, you can’t have just one.” For many, the tattoos have a lot of meaning, but for Andrew Vranicar, “unfortunately” not all of his do since he got his first spontaneously when he was 15. His next, didn’t come till he was 30 and started to memorialize his life. 

Rubino though, said he doesn’t feel tattoos are addictive, instead if a person likes them, they’ll get more until they don’t want anymore. Having always wanted one, Rubino doesn’t recall what led to his second. All of his tattoos though, do have meaning. 

As people age and their skin changes, each artist said that does affect the tattoo. But, Andrew Vranicar said it doesn’t “distort” the tattoo. Instead, the black ink turns a bluish green because the skin has aged. There isn’t a dramatic change though, he noted. If a person’s skin stretches, that could alter the look of the tattoo as well as the sun can alter tattoos.  

 Palmer however, said as people age and their skin changes the affect depends on the tattoos location. Such as the underarm or a “saggy” area that can be problematic since it may distort the image. Colors though, in today’s industry don’t fade because there is “better ink” and it depends on how the tattoo artist works on the person’s skin. 

 McGrath said the “tattoo will age with the skin.” But, the sun will age the tattoo faster and affect its vibrancy. She has found, most people don’t realize that, instead they don’t consider the importance of the healing process that can last two to three weeks.

The skin, Rubino said is a “huge factor” in how the tattoo will look years later and most people, don’t think of that. Instead, it’s something he is conscious of as he checks the location and the “quality” of the skin to see if a tattoo will work on different areas of the body. If he doesn’t think the area will work, Rubino will tell them and he has actually turned people away because their skin was too thin. 

Can be risks

 There can be risks to getting tattoos too, such as hepatitis C and blood borne pathogens can be transmitted said Palmer. According to McGrath, there is a chance for infection, especially if someone doesn’t take care of the tattoo. In fact, because the skin is punctured with needles, it’s considered an open wound. 

Rubino said the practices of the studio are essential to the potential for risks, because he for one, only uses prepackaged and pre-sterile materials and that, he considers to be safer than going to the dentist since he is not doing the sterilization or reusing anything. 

Cost too, is something to consider when looking around for a tattoo. Rubino who charges $200 an hour, said if a quality tattoo is what someone wants, they’re going to pay for it. Having been in the industry for a while, Rubino didn’t start at his current rate. Instead, it’s the “level” he is at, and considers the demographics of the area as well as what other artists charge he explained. Each session varies, but the longest Rubino has worked on one tattoo was for eight hours. Tattooing, is a “process” that isn’t like the programs on TV. Instead, what is shown gives a “false premises” because time is needed he said. 

   Utter believes people are “paying for art” as well as the artists who are working. McGrath figures her prices on the artist’s skill and the piece being done, because detail and the period of time is an aspect. The day the News Eagle was at Vivid Ink, Utter was paying $200 for the outline. Whereas another customer McGrath explained, had an old outline that she had to re-outline and then color it in, so she charged $300. 

            At Stone Bear Tattoo, Palmer charges $100 an hour, which he said has been the “standard for years.” Time is key, because of the time needed to sketch the tattoo, figure where the tattoo will be on the body and how long the process will take. 

            All artists do coverups, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t paying to have them removed. But, Andrew Vranicar who had a tear removed from his face said the process is expensive, costing as much as $100 a square inch. He felt the pain was much worse than getting the actual tattoo, since the laser burns the first couple layers of skin he said.  


Despite it being 2018, judgement towards those with tattoos still exists, each artist said. Because of his tattoos, Rubino said some people look at him as if he is a criminal, even hiding their purses as he passes by. 

 Because judgement towards those with tattoos still exists, Andrew Vranicar suggests people don’t get any on their hands, face or neck if they want a professional career. 

People with tattoos, McGrath said are looked at differently, especially if they have many. But, Leone feels there is more of an acceptance today, because tattoos are seen as a form of art. 

Even though pictures can be taken and memories can be kept in other ways, Rubino believes they are popular because they are likely to be permanent. The tattoos, offer people a way to keep their memories, even when loved ones have passed. 

   To people considering getting a tattoo, Utter suggests thinking about only getting something that means a lot to the individual. She for instance, has her son’s name and quotes. McGrath added, the tattoos should be chosen carefully, because they will “have to look at it every day.”