Everything you always wanted to know about tattooing

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Tom Kipp is a self-taught tattoo artist who’s been at it for 17 years. He is the proprietor and sole custom artist at Durango’s Conductor Tattoo (170 E 12th St, # 3). We asked Kipp some of the questions we’ve always had about getting inked.

Is there any place on the human body you won’t tattoo? What’s the most difficult body part you’ve ever had to work on?

There are places the ink won’t take well, such as inside the fingers and near the bottoms of the feet. I suggest people do not get these areas tattooed at all. I will also not tattoo the hands or neck of someone who is not already pretty heavily tattooed. The most difficult place I’ve ever had to work with is probably the head/face; it’s very nerve-wracking to permanently change someone’s outward appearance.

Do you ever try to talk people out of getting a bad tat, or one that’s grammatically incorrect?

If someone is making what I feel is a bad choice, I won’t do it. I will try to talk them into something else. That’s not to say they won’t find someone to do it for them, but I’m fine declaring that I’m not the man for the job. There are times when my opinion may be something like, “Are you SURE you want to do this?” In all honesty, though, a lot of what I think is a questionable tattoo turns out to have a good story behind it. As far as grammar, I got good grades in English class, and if something is grammatically incorrect, I will correct it. I’ll point out to the customer what I changed, and they’re usually OK with it. If the original, incorrect way is the way they want it to remain, then I change it back and let them do the explaining later on.

What are some of the most common designs people ask for?

There will always be trendy tattoos and timeless tattoos. Roses, skulls, birds, flowers, etc., never go out of fashion, and I love tattooing the traditional imagery. It’s fun to take that timeless image and tweak it just a little bit, to where the old aesthetic is still there, but the tattoo is customized for the individual. Trendy tattoos come and go, and sometimes they can actually be fun. The amount of repetition in trendy tattoos gets old, but I’m not here to judge. There’s not a whole lot I can really do to improve on a bunch of bird silhouettes coming out of an anchor inside of an infinity sign dream catcher; but at that point, I try to challenge myself to do the cleanest and most technically perfect tattoo I can.

Have you noticed any Durango-specific tattoo trends?

I’ve done a lot of Colorado pride tattoos. Mountains, rivers, columbines, snowflakes, aspen leaves, the Colorado flag. I did one piece that focused on several buildings in Durango including The Strater, the gazebo and a few others. That was fun.

What’s the tattoo removal process like these days? Is it a lot more painful/expensive to get a tattoo taken off than put on?

It’s definitely a lot more painful to have them removed. Some tattoos are easy to remove, and others will take several sessions to notice a difference. To the best of my knowledge, it all depends on how well the tattoo was put in to begin with, as well as the quality of the laser and the skill level of the person doing the removing.

A lot of people are scared of getting a tattoo because it’s painful. How would you describe the pain?

All tattoos hurt. Period. It’s hard to describe the way it feels, but it’s akin to an insect sting or cat scratch. It feels sharp and hot. Again, it’s a case-by-case basis; some tattoos take only a few minutes to do, others take several sessions of multiple hours. I’ve had clients who were surprised by how easy it was, and others who have to keep digging deeper into their own pain cave to try and find their comfortable spot (which might not be there). Obviously, so many people are continuing to get tattoos that it can’t be THAT bad. If one truly wants the tattoo, they make the sacrifice to sit through the process. It does hurt more on the torso than on the limbs, but you should never let the way a tattoo feels dictate where you get it. The fact is, the tattoo is only going to hurt during the application process. Once it heals, it no longer hurts, and it’s going to stay where you chose to get it. It’s better to get it where you want to see it for the rest of your life.

How much do tattoos fade over time?

Everything fades, and I try to tattoo accordingly. Lines are going to spread, color is going to lighten. If the tattoo is simple, bold and not overly intricate, it will still look good years down the road. Repeated, prolonged sun exposure fades a tattoo the fastest. Sunblock and long sleeves or pants can add years onto the life of a tattoo, especially in our sunny, arid environment.

Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer

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