Some people say tattoos are like potato chips–that you can't have just one. You might start out with a single, simple tattoo, like a tribal arm band or a Chinese symbol above your ankle, and before you know it, you're planning your next tattoo. The second time around, you're more focused on tattoo art and partnering with an artist whose work you admire, getting a particular style of tattoo, or both. You save up, maybe travel a distance to see your preferred tattoo artist, and you walk away feeling even more intoxicated with the experience than you did the first time–which is saying something since firsts have a way of sticking in our memories. You're not even halfway home from the tattoo shop–maybe not even all the way out of the tattoo chair–before you start thinking about what else you love enough to have it permanently emblazoned on your body and what imaginative ideas your tattoo artist might pitch to you next. Sound like you, maybe just a little?
Whether the bug bites you the very first time you're tattooed or a passion for tattoo art grows in you slowly with each tattoo you get and each artist whose work you discover, you'll know the moment you progress from being a tattoo enthusiast into a full-fledged tattoo collector. Tattoo enthusiasts like the idea of tattoos, but that doesn't mean they're covered in them (yet, anyway). They may have a handful of tattoos comprised of disjointed themes in varying styles, or they may have segments of their bodies devoted to true tattoo art by one or two artists, but they have yet to embark on building an extensive collection of wearable permanent artwork. Even tattoo collectors aren't always covered from head to toe, although many end up with beautiful sleeves on their extremities and panels of work on their backs and torsos, if not on their hands, feet and heads. Within each collection of tattoos, every piece tells its own story while seamlessly intertwining with the pieces around it. It's a walking library of memories and meaning for the collector and the artists who inked their tattoos, as well as a source of inspiration to other tattoo enthusiasts and artists alike.
UrbanDictionary.com defines a tattoo collector as "[a]n enthusiastic aficionado…who sees their ink not just as individual pieces but rather as a curated collection. They seek ink from specific, carefully chosen artists, using their skin and the artists' work to build a library of body art that is meaningful and significant, potentially even beyond the collector's own appreciation." Their description goes on to say that "[s]ome collectors gain reputations and followings in social media and the convention circuit, and can wield tremendous influence within the community. Anecdotal evidence suggests comments or reviews from certain collectors can make or break an artist's career."
Although there are collectors who are well known in the tattoo industry, there are also many people who have tattoo collections simply for their own enjoyment. The art of tattooing has progressed at a rapid pace in recent years, luring more and more tattoo enthusiasts into covering larger portions of their bodies with works by their favorite tattoo artists, but not all collectors seek the limelight. Your tattoo collection may not have its own Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr profile, but that doesn't make it any less of a collection. If you have an ever-expanding number of tattoos on your body, travel to conventions and well-known tattoo shops to scout new talent and meet famous tattooists, search tirelessly for talented artists to ink your tattoos, and wait patiently until each artist has time to design a custom piece that will hold great meaning for you, you're very likely a tattoo collector, social media maven or not.
Even quiet tattoo collectors today seem to take greater pride in their tattoos and the talented artists behind them than collectors from past generations. While not every collector wants to dedicate an entire Facebook page to their tattoo art, most are quick to share the meaning of their tattoos and provide a positive recommendation for the artists who inked them. Even the quietest, shyest of people show off their tattoos at conventions and online, taking every opportunity to talk up their artists and discuss their tattoos with like-minded, interested individuals from all over the world. These collectors and enthusiasts support and encourage each other, and they form a tight-knit community that works as a whole to elevate tattooing and see it recognized as the true art form that it is. They delight in the variety of talented artists who have graced their bodies with their designs as much as in the artwork itself. They share photos of their tattoos, artist recommendations, anecdotes about their tattoo experiences, and more with each other via online tattoo galleries, forums and tattoo websites all over the internet–a place that brings the world closer together every day. Their tattoo collections may never be on exhibit at the Smithsonian, but once shared online, they'll forever hang in the gallery of the World Wide Web where they'll continue to inspire other tattoo collectors, enthusiasts and even tattooists as the art of tattooing continues to evolve and be embraced by people everywhere.
Those just starting their collections can find a wealth of tattoo information online, too–not just the pictures and stories other collectors have shared, but full artist portfolios and historical information about the emergence of different tattoo styles that interest them. They can research, save pictures of tattoos they like, talk to different artists, plan, and more carefully embark on the journey of building their tattoo collections, all from the comfort of home.
So the question remains: Are you a tattoo collector? If you weren't sure before, you should be now. If you are a tattoo collector or you're headed in that direction, think about sharing your body art with others. Post a picture or two online, in places like our photo gallery, and show the world what the tattoo artists who have inked you have to offer other tattoo enthusiasts working to build their own collections.