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The Latest: Love 'em or laser 'em

Why some people can't just get one tattoo and others wish they never had

 by Kate Kliner
 published on Thursday, February 17, 2005

<em>Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>
Eighteen-year-old Daniel Nieto gets his 12th tattoo of a cherub at Tempe’s Liquid Carma on Friday. /issues/arts/692035
Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Eighteen-year-old Daniel Nieto gets his 12th tattoo of a cherub at Tempe’s Liquid Carma on Friday.


The sound of a tattoo needle drifts into the waiting area of Tempe's Liquid Carma, its buzz oddly similar to the noise an electric chair makes. Mellow hip-hop courses through the room and spotlights illuminate a display case of hundreds of shiny sketches, including spiritual symbols and voluptuous naked she-devils.

Smooth, tiled floors form a path into a private room adorned with oversized Bettie Page and Al Capone posters. A reclining chair looms inside the doorway, and a tray containing silver instruments sits on the plastic counter.

In the leather chair is Daniel Nieto, who is getting his 12th tattoo; it's of a cherub.

The slender needle dips repeatedly into the surface of his arm, resembling a minor surgery. Tattoo artist Tony Olvera's golden arms are tattooed as well, and a few shining pieces of metal jut out from his ears and lips. Black ink licks his neck and peeks out of his collared shirt.

Olvera, who owns Liquid Carma, got his first tattoo at age 20 and now has several.

As the 25-year-old Phoenix native bends over Nieto with intense concentration, he says the majority of people never stop adding tattoos to their body once they begin.

"Tattoos are definitely an addiction," he says.

Whether it's the intense pain of getting a tattoo or the permanent self-expression that people enjoy most, meeting a person who has just one tattoo is fairly rare.

Nieto, Olvera's customer, got his first tattoo in November 2004 and now has 12. His father is a tattoo artist, so Nieto grew up around the culture, he says.

"I like decorating my body with things that have personal meaning, which all of my tattoos have," says Nieto.

At ASU, tattoos are as common as the iPods and Starbucks coffee cups students clutch on their way to class.

Plant biology sophomore John Cameron got the Bob Marley lyrics, "Life is worth much more than gold," tattooed on his back last year and says he has been planning a second tattoo for a while.

"My tattoo isn't in a place where everyone sees it, so not everyone knows I have it, and that's part of what I like about it.

"Tattoos are a form of self-expression, and once you get one you want more," he says. "Even though your ideas might change, your tattoos never lose their meaning. New ideas take hold and other things become important to you, so you want to add more to your body."

He says his next tattoos will stem from his Greek heritage and will be small, blue wings on each heel.

Cameron says truly individualized tattoos are the only kind he would get and criticizes the cookie-cutter tattoos such as tribal bands, butterflies and hearts that dot the bodies of ASU's coeds.

"Tattoos are a permanent part of your body, so they should have personal meaning. I think tribal bands are ridiculous because they're basically a piece of commercial art carved into your body," Cameron says.

Philosophy junior Sean Merritt got his first tattoo when he was 15 years old and currently has 11 tattoos.

"A lot of people like the experience and the way it feels," he says. "But I use tattoos as a marker of where I'm at in my life, and it reminds me of different points. They give me a chance to reflect on certain things."

For example, Merritt spent time at a Buddhist temple and shortly after got a tattoo of a praying Buddha on his upper back to remind him of the experience.

"For me, it's a different kind of an allure because I'm more interested in the artistic aspect of tattoos, and I don't mind the pain because the end result is worth it.

"I also have a lot of tattoos that I can't explain in just a few words," says Merritt about the significance of his body artwork.

Olvera says not only the type of tattoo a person gets, but also the tattoo's location speaks volumes about someone.

"We deal with a lot of outgoing people who like to decorate their bodies with multiple tattoos, and they like them to be out in the open where people can see them," he says. "But people who are more reserved like to get tattooed in places where their clothes normally cover, where they have the option of hiding it."

On the flip side of tattoo addiction, there are people who get one and decide it was a horrible mistake.

Tattoo removal expert Stuart Blinick of AZ Tattoo Removal says his office removes about 600 tattoos each year despite the fact that it costs $100 to remove just a quarter-sized tattoo.

"Our business spikes after spring break when ASU students come back from Rocky Point or other destinations," he says. "Girls come to us with initials or other crazy tattoos that they don't want anymore."

There are many different methods of tattoo removal, but the most effective is laser surgery, he says.

Blinick adds his clientele might surprise some people.

"We work with lawyers, doctors, bikers, ASU students, even Mormon missionaries," he says.

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