Tattooing has certainly come a long way from being the involuntary branding of slaves and criminals, to the rebellious tags of counter culture characters and to the mainstream, multi-billion dollar industry it is today. In fact, recent technology has evolved tattoo art into a fine art and new hybrids of painters/illustrators/tattooists are creating works of “skin art” such as 3D tattoos, watercolor tattoos and even glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Even legendary “blood artist,” Vincent Castiglia, has added tattooing as an extension of his work and explains that although tattooing is still a much more delicate and deliberate mode of art, the technology has come far in terms of allowing more creative freedom and less artistic compromise. “One thing about tattooing is that its very different in that skin has limitations, but technology in terms of tattoo equipment, has definitely come a long way in that regard,” says Castiglia. “I had used coil machines for almost twelve years before switching to rotary a few years ago. I love rotary machines, particularly for what I do, which is black and grey. They are very soft hitting and cause very little trauma to the skin.”
But five years ago, Carmen Vanderheiden was a single mother who was working as an esthetician and foresaw the flipside of the tattoo evolution: That with more people getting tattoos and the artistry continually improving, there would also be a much higher demand for tattoo removal. Fortunately, she found that technology had also advanced in laser tattoo removal and what was once a painful process with messy results has become a painless procedure capable of removing permanent tattoo ink without scarring the skin. Today, her company Tataway uses the most advanced laser tattoo removal technology in the industry and she is working directly with world renowned artists such as Paul Booth of Last Rites Tattoo Theatre, Vincent Castiglia and other top artists at New York’s famed Sacred Tattoo, to clear the canvas for their fresh ink artistry. Vanderheiden’s clients also cover the entire spectrum of tattoo regret and she also provides safe, cost free tattoo removal for those who need a fresh start at life.
Vanderheiden says that currently there is an estimated 45-50 million people with tattoos in the United States and not only has the population grown such a high number but also that the demographic has become an equal divide of men and women. She also explains how that demographic has trickled into the tattoo removal industry as well. “We’re finding it’s mostly women between the ages of 25 and 35 seeking tattoo removal and usually it’s because they’re going through a major transition such as getting married or becoming a mother,” Vanderheiden says. “But there are all types of people who want to get rid of their tattoos for all types of reasons, such as wanting to get rid of gang affiliations, or they’re pursuing certain careers or they simply don’t like their tattoo and want to get a better one.” Basically, Vanderheiden predicted right and as tattooing techniques have advanced the level of artistry from yesterday’s flash art to Castiglia’s level of intricate shading or Paul Booth’s detailed illustrations, people’s expectations have evolved as well.
The good thing is that laser technology has also changed the tattoo removal process even more so and its now possible for people to completely get rid of old tattoos and have the option to start over with a clean canvas of skin. “The methods used to be quite painful and only allowed you to fade the ink rather than remove it. So people would either be left with a funny looking faded tattoo, or they would have to get a new tattoo over the faded ink. The problem is that eventually the new ink fades and blends into the old tattoo, so a lot of artists won’t even consider it,” Vanderheiden explains. She says that now a highly trained specialist using the right equipment such as the PicoSure lasers used at Tataway, it’s also possible to remove all colors of ink from the skin as well. Which is exactly why the top-level tattoo artists who don’t want to compromise their work or their reputation, rely on Vanderheiden to ensure they have a clean surface to work on.
“There is nothing worse than the already unfortunate situation of having something on you that you don’t like, then compounding this by adding to the muddy, confused mess that will ensue once a tattoo is worked over,” says Vincent Castiglia. “Laser removal, or lightening is my recommendation for most clients who have existing work that they want to work over or around. It pays to just remove it.” Castiglia also explains how a clean canvas is integral to the way artists work in general. “There are some similarities between canvas and skin, in that it’s completely unforgiving and you can’t erase or go back during the process. When I’m painting I work on white paper using blood which is a reddish a medium and once it’s there, its there. Same thing with skin except that you can’t work on the same area over and over without causing the skin to bleed or scar. So for an artist, tattooing is high pressure perfection all the way through the process and we simply can’t do our best work without a clear canvas to start on.”
But while Tataway has become the go to removal specialist for clients of the A-list tattoo artists, Vanderheiden says there is the other, not so glamorous side of the tattoo regret spectrum that she finds the most rewarding of all. She explains that tattoo removal isn’t always about vanity or keeping up with the latest trends. In fact, it can make all the difference for people who need a clean slate and a second chance at life. A few years ago Tataway started collaborating with the Fresh Start community outreach program in New York City and they developed the INK program to provide free tattoo removal to at risk youth and adults. Since then, they have successfully helped former gang members and people who were formerly incarcerated become more employable by removing all the telltale tattoos on their hands, neck and face. Vanderheiden explains that it can also help people on a psychological level by visually erasing the mistakes of their past and helping them to see themselves as the person they want to become.
“This is especially true with a lot of survivors of human trafficking and former sex workers that we work with as well,” says Vanderheiden. “Often they have really unprofessional tattoos that their pimps did to basically brand them as their property and it’s really important to get rid of those visual reminders, so they can feel in charge of their own lives again.” She says one of her favorite success stories is about a girl who had started prostituting when she was 12 years old and was running her own prostitution ring by the time she was 18. “She ended up going to prison for several years and by the time she got out, she was really committed to changing her life around. We removed the marks of her past life and since then she’s gone on to become a local radio talk show host and she’s even had me as a guest on one of her shows,” Vanderheiden laughs.
Both Vincent Castiglia and Carmen Vanderheiden agree that even in the last few years technology has dramatically increased industry standards, demanding more professional tattoo artists and more highly trained tattoo removal specialists. Considering the rapid rate at which today’s technology continues to advance, they also say that the future of tattooing is only just beginning and we can expect to see a lot more in this new genre of artistry.
To find out more about today’s laser tattoo removal options and the community outreach INK program, go to directly to: www.tataway.com
To find out more about Vincent Castiglia and his artwork, go to: www.vincentcastiglia.com