ELKO — Don’t judge a book by its cover.
That’s what Spring Creek resident Kayla Hill says to people who don’t like her tattoos. Hill, 21, has been getting tattoos since she was 17 years old. She now has five.
“It’s my body, not theirs,” Hill said.
The cultural perception of tattoos is changing, said Audrey Vasquez, owner and artist at POPS (Permanence on People’s Skin) Tattoo.
“There’s really no stereotype anymore,” Vasquez said.
Hill said her own grandparents used to not like tattoos.
“Now, they both have one,” she said.
Etched into every tattoo is the story of why it was made.
For Dusty Gilbertson of Elko, tattoos have a symbolic meaning. Gilbertson has gotten two in honor of people he’s lost.
His most recent tattoo is an elk horn with a tree that covers almost his entire right side.
“The elk horn is from an elk hunt,” Gilbertson said. “One of my buddies died in a crash in 2007.”
Vasquez, the artist who did the tattoo, said it took about eight to nine hours over three sessions to complete. Gilbertson’s other tattoo done by Vasquez depicts parts of photographs taken from his father’s life before he died in 2008.
In the case of Sarah Dutton of Spring Creek, getting tattoos all over her body has been part of a personal rebirth as she’s lost weight.
“It makes me feel beautiful,” Dutton said.
In the past year and a half, she has added to her designs, covering both arms and legs.
“It’s celebrating me,” Dutton said. “I don’t think every tattoo needs to be meaningful.”
Still, each of her tattoos represents something she’s passionate about.
Dutton has 17 crows over her entire body, inspired by the Counting Crows song “A Murder of One.”
“I add a crow to most of the tattoos I have,” she said.
The Motorcycle Jamboree this weekend is likely to bring a few tattoo artists into town, but people should be knowledgeable about where they go.
Debbie Henseler, business licensing technician for the City of Elko, said that like piercings, tattoos are not regulated by the state. Cities can adopt their own regulations, Henseler said.
“In Elko County there’s not a whole lot of regulation,” Vasquez said. “... It’s kind of the responsibility of the artist to be knowledgeable about blood-borne pathogens.”
In the six years she’s been operating in Elko, Vasquez has never had an inspection. Henseler said the state health inspector visits only establishments that serve food.
Cade Milligan, owner of Sacred Oath Tattoo, said he has been advocating for more regulations.
“In Nevada there’s not truly an age limit, but there’s also really bad health codes,” Milligan said. “I’ve been fighting it for awhile.”
Milligan said he tries to educate people about the importance of cleanliness and certification.
Both Vasquez and Milligan have chosen to get blood-borne pathogen certification. Clients still have to sign a liability waiver.
When it comes to tattooing people younger than 17 years old, Milligan said he won’t always do it.
“If it’s a tasteful tattoo, I’ll do it with the parent or legal guardian’s signature,” Milligan said.
He also chooses not to tattoo anyone who is intoxicated.
For Milligan, being a tattoo artist is all about the artistic value.
In any given week, Vasquez does about eight to 10 tattoos. She’s already booked through November.
“This last year, the demand has been up a lot,” she said.
Milligan, too, has seen business increase steadily in the last few years.
“People are more interested now than ever,” Milligan said. “...It’s actually been really crazy.”
One explanation for increased demand is that tattoos are becoming more socially accepted, he said. Another is that, as many people with tattoos will tell you, tattoos are “addicting” in that one frequently leads to another.
“I just kept going and going and going,” Hill said.
But new customers are also on the rise. In the past month alone, Milligan said he has done five or six first-time tattoos for clients.
Each tattoo may require anywhere between 30 minutes to five hours to complete. Rates vary on size and detail of the tattoos. Vasquez said she charges a starting rate of $80.
Trends in tattoos vary on the geographical location, Vasquez said. She has seen a lot of American and traditional designs in her work.
Sleeve tattoos on arms and legs have also become a growing trend.
“More people than ever want a sleeve, not just a little tattoo,” Milligan said.
Subject matter depends a lot on the person, Vasquez said. With a base of 15 colors of ink, Vasquez also does custom mixes for colors.
“It’s a lot like painting to me,” she said.
Vasquez graduated from the Southern Oregon University with a bachelor’s degree in art. Milligan has been tattooing for more than 10 years.