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In a continuing series of features from our authors, James R. Tuck serves up dispatches from the tattoo shop.

James R. Tuck

I’m a tattoo artist, have been for 21 years now. That’s near half my life. Tattooing is one of those things that is more than what it is. It marks you, gets down in your DNA, becomes as much a part of you as the hours of ink you wind up sinking into your skin. You live one of the few artistic lives that can actually pay most of your bills, most of the time, but it is a continual war of commerce against creativity. You make art but you make it on demand for people who mostly act as if they don’t appreciate what they are getting. It is a lifestyle that rewards talent and hustle over hard work and skill, and so you become very good at working people and making flashes of inspiration into instant art that connects with people. You can be a bad artist with mediocre skill at tattooing and maintain a large, happy clientele simply by being entertaining.

It’s a hustle.

Make people happy, even for a moment, and they will give you their money.

But along the way, you do deal with some jokers, looky-loos I call them, who will never get tattooed, or at least won’t get tattooed by you.

Here are some exchanges I have had in this job.

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