Tattoo by Cody Lee

Tattoo by Cody Lee

A modern rite of passage

Cody Lee dispels old myths with modern tattoo art


Tattoo terminology

¤ Apprenticeship How a tattoo artist learns his craft. He/she typically will study under an experienced tattoo artist for two years.

¤ Fresh piece A new tattoo or a new work. It should not be called "new ink."

¤ Heavy handed A term used to describe a tattoo artist who someone thinks tattoos too deep into someone's skin. This is a common misconception. "You can run a machine too fast, but it's impossible to go too deep," Lee said.

¤ Machine The tool used to administer a tattoo. It's not a gun.

¤ Mission accomplished When someone's entire body is covered in tattoos and there is no bare skin left.

¤ New school Refers to tattoos in the graffiti and cartoon genres. They typically are more three-dimensional than traditional tattoos and tend to have lots of vibrant colors.

¤ Scratcher An artist trying to teach himself or herself how to tattoo. They typically just pass through towns. "Basically a butcher, " Lee said.

¤ Sleeve This refers to a collection of tattoos on your arm. The amount of your arm that is covered in tattoos can be described as a half-sleeve, quarter-sleeve or three-quarter sleeve.

¤ Traditional Refers to tattoos that stem from the original Japanese style of tattoo art. Tattoos in this genre include dragons, koi fish, sparrows and nautical stars.

¤ WIP Work in progress.

— In case you haven't noticed, tattoos aren't just for bikers, sailors and convicts anymore.

In fact, local tattoo artist Cody Lee said getting a tattoo is like buying an Armani suit - it has to compliment the aesthetics of your body and age well.

Advances in technology, pigments and even the appearance and feel of tattoo shops during the past 10 years have helped the tattoo industry become safer and increasingly mainstream.

Lee, a tattoo artist at Truth Tattoo in Steamboat Springs, said the industry is dispelling many of the myths and fears of getting tattooed.

"The walls (of most modern tattoo shops) aren't lined with flash art, and they don't have three Harleys parked in front," Lee said. "There isn't some big fat dude with a beard and not the most pleasant of attitudes doing your tattoo. But most shops will still have a Social Distortion CD."

Infection and cross-contamination are no longer issues because tattoo artists use new equipment that is sterilized, Lee said.

For most first-timers, the primary fear is pain.

"It's more annoying than painful, like a mosquito in your ear," Lee said. "The further away from the heart, the more painful it is. The leg is more painful and the ribs, armpits, genitals, nipples and neck. I believe the most painful is a head tattoo."

The sensation of getting tattooed feels something like scratching a sunburn, but after the first five to 10 minutes, the body goes through a mild state of shock and the subject gets an endorphin rush, Lee said. It's that euphoric feeling that makes tattoos so addictive to many people. And many simply enjoy collecting artwork on a permanent, portable canvas.

Lee said the recent trend in placement of tattoos on women is the top of the foot. Tattoos on the lower back are become less popular. For men, the ribs and sides of the torso are the new popular spots, but they can be troublesome because those are ticklish areas for many people.

At Truth Tattoo, Lee and shop owner Brad Cramer can do just about any traditional, tribal or "new school" tattoo. Cramer is more of a traditional tattoo artist, while Lee is more "new school."

"Brad will do a koi, and I'll do a monkey fight," Lee said.

He prefers doing custom pieces.

"When someone gives me a piece of skin, I just run with it," Lee said. "The only thing I won't do is hate tattoos, like swastikas. A man's gotta have principles."


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