Business of tattoos: Patterns of money

Abhishek Chakraborty Posted online: Sunday, Sep 15, 2013 at 0000 hrs
For many, tattoos are a form of art or a fashion statement. For others, they can even be a way of life or a medium of self-expression. Yet, for a select, but growing lot, they are also turning out to be a lucrative career option.

Ask Sailesh Gopi, 28, and you’ll know. A bachelor’s degree holder in visual arts, the Bangalore resident always wanted to do something creative, especially using the body as a canvas. As a college-going youngster a decade ago, he’d often scribble designs and figurines on his arms. A chance encounter with

Girish S, a well-known tattoo artist of those days, transported him to the world of indelible inks and image insertions. There were not too many tattoo training centres then, but an impressed Girish decided to take Gopi under his wings. Today, Gopi is a successful tattoo artist earning as much as a lakh per month.

The same story goes for Jasmer Singh, 22, who wanted to become a tattoo artist since his school days, but had to restrict himself in the absence of any formal training institute. Singh started working with a BPO, but soon came to know about Ink Inn Tattoo Studio in Delhi, where he trained for a couple of years. Singh is now working at the studio’s Rajouri Garden branch, earning satisfaction as well as money, probably more than what he was getting at the BPO.

Till about a decade ago, tattooing was not considered a commercially viable option and was just an upcoming art. So enthusiasts like Gopi and Singh had no other option but to wait for the right time and the right place to fulfill their dreams.

Back to the present, and the numbers speak for themselves. Although there is no official outline on the size of the tattoo industry in India, the figure, along with the popularity, has only been rising over the years. As per an estimate, there were just about 5,000 tattoo parlours in the country a decade ago, which grew to 14,000 by 2012.

Looking at the trend, and the increasing demand from enthusiasts, many tattoo studios in Delhi, as well as other parts of the country like Bangalore, Mumbai and even the North-east, have opened training centres for aspiring tattoo artists.

Lokesh Verma, who started Devil'z Tattooz in 2003, says, “It’s better to learn something professionally, especially when someone’s skin is involved permanently. Without proper training, there are chances of infection, as well as the artwork not meeting expectations. As there are no tattoo laws in India and people do whatever they want in the name of tattooing, it’s better to get professionally trained and start the right way.”

While many of these centres are seeing as much as a 20% increase in the number of students on a year-on-year basis, tattoo artists are hopeful that the trend is only going to strengthen tremendously in the coming months. Tattoo studios like KDz Tattoos, which earlier used to get students only from Delhi, are now seeing students from Chennai, Kolkata, Imphal and Bangalore, among others. Moreover, looking at the number of enquiries they have been receiving from Europe, KDz Tattoos is coming up with a studio in Canada, the first from India to launch an international venture.

Kamal Deep Sethi, popularly known as KD, founder of KDz Tattoos, says he is seeing students from the age group of 18 to 65 years, who have shown exceptional interest in the art form. “This is going to open new avenues as tattoos are very popular in the world. Nowadays, it is also important to have multiple income options to lead a satisfied life. The skill also helps people find new opportunities to earn and enjoy,” says KD.

Mini Sharma, a tattooist from Mumbai-based Witch Art Tattoos, says the craze for tattoos is slowly but steadily catching up in India. She aims to plug the gap between demand and the availability of professional tattoo artists by offering a structured tattoo training course. “We aim to provide modern and comprehensive training on how to create a professional tattoo. We deal with aspects of tattooing other than just the actual tattoo—the hygiene involved, the art of dealing with clients and the science behind tattoo equipment,” says Sharma. She strongly believes that this 360-degree training module would go a long way in helping someone with a desire to become a fine tattoo artist.

Witch Art Tattoos offers different courses—from simple tattooing to hardcore training—and the course fee varies accordingly from Rs 30,000 to Rs 1,00,000. The time frame varies from one to six months, depending on the type of course the person opts for.

The course module starts with basics in tattooing like an introduction to tattoo art, framing, colour blending, sketching, shading and mixing, etc, and later introduces students to new and advanced subjects. The students first start with basic sketching, followed by practising on fake rubber skin. Once the trainer feels the student is doing well, he/she starts tattooing under his/her guidance. It is followed by personal tattoos, which can range from tribal, shaded, coloured or portraits, among others.

Devil’z Tattooz, which has been running a training centre at Rajouri Garden, Delhi, offers a 90-day advanced professional course with certification, which includes building the students’ fine arts skills with a variety of mediums, as well as practising with the tattoo machine on skin, at a cost of Rs 1.2 lakh. They also offer a 45-day basic tattooing course (with certificate) for people who want to take up tattooing as a hobby at a cost of Rs 65,000.

“If the students start learning professionally from an experienced artist, they will avoid the time consumed in the hit-and-trial method and they will start using the right equipment for getting well-paid jobs,” says Verma. They also provide accommodation facilities for outstation students at an additional cost of Rs 6,000 per month, which includes three meals a day.

KDz Tattoos offers a more organised course module so that it is easy for students to adapt and learn the art of tattooing. They have five different levels of training, which starts with medical training, sterilisation processes and sketching and goes to advanced levels, like piercing training and real tattoos on volunteers. The course fee is up to Rs 69,000, which includes a free tattoo kit and a personal website.

“Making a tattoo is like doing a minor surgery; so you need to be sure of the type of needle to be used, the pressure, the technique of shading, filling colours, etc. Detailed information on blood-borne pathogens and complete sterilisation process should be on one’s fingertips. The course covers every aspect associated with tattoos,” says KD.

However, some studios, like Ink Inn Tattoo Studio, focus only on one student at a time as it gives the student more attention from the trainer. The minimum tenure for such courses is three months with a fee structure that varies from Rs 90,000 to Rs 1,20,000. However, students can continue learning after the completion of three months without any additional cost. “We don’t teach here in batches because everyone has a different learning curve. So we focus on each individual as per their previous knowledge of art. The fees may vary from one student to another depending on his/her level of knowledge and previous experience,” says Lokesh Mishra, popularly known as Max, owner of Ink Inn Tattoo Studio in Defence Colony, New Delhi.