By Sharon Challenger.
The word “Tattoo” can conjure up a host of images in people’s minds, including sailors, bikers, teen-age girls, ancient Egyptians, and Maori warriors.
The oldest known example was found on a male mummy on the Italian-Austrian border. Carbon dating suggest he lived some 5,200 years ago. Others have been found in Egypt, Chile, Peru, Siberia, North America, China and Japan. Throughout history human beings have often made tattooing a part of their culture. There seems to be a need within people to tell their story through imagery on their bodies.
In a move to learn more about this “ancient artform”, I paid a visit to Goodspeed Tattoo in Higganum Center where I met the owner and artist, George Smith.
As I entered the building, I was surprised to see what looked like a General Store out of the 1940’s. The walls were adorned with artifacts including the original sign from the first store on the premises. A large upholstered carved chair occupies one corner of the room. I counted at least 9 carved faces on the arms, legs and back of the frame.
A bookcase displays items from the past, including old oil cans, funnels, and tins. Metal signs advertising various products and messages such as “Welcome,” and “Tattoos Free Tomorrow” adorn the wall. They also tell a story about the owner of the shop who carefully selected them in order to make his customers feel comfortable and safe.
As we settled in to talk, George remarked that his partner, fellow tattoo artist Jeremy Gish is an exceptional artist. They enjoy working together, and it is obvious to their clients, “People want to see people working together, no egos, good friends.” He won’t tolerate working “with people who do not want to get along.”
One of his goals was to create a friendly atmosphere, a place where even children are happy visiting. A large toybox sits on one side of the room, and each child is encouraged to choose a toy of their own to take home.
George takes pride in the fact that he does not run a business that is centered around making money and getting people in and out without establishing any kind of relationship.
When a new customer calls for an appointment, before any work is done, he has a meeting with them. He feels it is important to “get to know the person.” A doctor’s letter of approval is required if the person has a medical condition which could put them at risk.
A stencil of the design a person selects, is created on carbon paper and then transferred onto clean skin. The carbon outline doesn’t impact the inks that are applied, it is simply an outline of the design.
“Requests largely follow trends,” said George. “At one time it was popular for women to have a tattoo placed on the lower back because the style of jeans was low-rise. Fashion and even fame can dictate what becomes the latest trend in tattoo design and placement. After the film From Dusk to Dawn, starring George Clooney hit the screens, demand for full arm tattoos like the one George had exploded.”
George said that sometimes the reason a person decides to get a tattoo is highly personal. They may have had surgery that was disfiguring and are depressed and feel a sense of loss. A tattoo can give them a “sense of hope and confidence,” and their healing can begin on an emotional level.
Some people choose to get a tattoo to remember a loved one who passed. At times, the stories George hears from his clients are so moving that he will not charge them for his work. He feels that if he can help someone who is deeply suffering, that is reward enough.
At Goodspeed Tattoo, they use StarBright pigments. “You have to buy the best. You get what you pay for.” George has used the same company, StarBright for 20 years. https://www.starbritecolors.com/tattoo-inks-info/history.html
To get a license to give tattoos, “You have to be certified by the Red Cross.” They are trained to save a life in the event of a medical emergency. In their initial appointment with a new client, they ask people to be honest about their health. If necessary, they will speak with a person’s MD to get a better understanding of a person’s condition. They want to make sure the person is safe before any work is done.
George is cautious and takes pride in looking out for the well-being of their customers. Before an appointment, all equipment is sanitized, tools sterilized, and the chairs are cleaned with a chemical called MataCide which is noted to be an effective bactericide, virucide, germicide, and fungicide. Alcohol is used as a final wipe down for the tattoo table the client will rest on.
The Tattoo work is done with an electric device referred to as a “machine.” The needles that are used come in a variety of styles and sizes. Some are used for outlining and some are used like a paintbrush to lay in color and can have a number of needles on one piece.
George demonstrated a machine he uses that is attached to a foot pedal, similar to a sewing machine. Pressure on the foot pedal controls the power to the tattoo instrument. When the tip is inserted into an ink pot, ink is drawn in and it gets applied to the skin by the movement of the needles and the direction the artist moves the tool.
When asked what the youngest and oldest people were who requested tattoos, he said that he sometimes gets clients as young as 16, but parental consent is needed. He also had a lady “well in her eighties.” She wanted a butterfly. When asked why she wanted a tattoo, she explained, all her life she always did what people expected. It was now her time to do what she wanted to do.
When asked what his favorite design has been, he paused for a split second then said, “They are all my favorite.”
When asked if business has picked up since he moved to Tylerville, he responded, “It hasn’t slowed down!” and he showed me his calendar. “This is a good spot. We already had people from East Haddam, Salem, and now we are here and getting customers from this area.”
Goodspeed Tattoo has customers who travel from MA and MD because of the service they have received. Satisfied customers often send him letters of praise, and he is deeply moved by them.
“Our values are different from other tattoo businesses; some take people’s money and don’t care about their clients; we care.”
Goodspeed Tattoo is located at 310 Saybrook Rd. Higganum, CT 06441
Phone: 860 554-5147
You can see examples of their work on Instagram: www.instagram.com/goodspeedtattoo/?hl=en