Tattoo artists say studios have doubled down on COVID-19 precautions

With appointments, questionnaires and increased sanitation, tattoo shops hope to continue as normally as possible.
tattoo artist with hand sanitizer and knife through

After a messy end to their employment at another tattoo parlor earlier this year, tattoo artist Bear Cunningham was subject to a six-month noncompete clause. Until they could return to earning a living in their chosen profession, Cunningham helped set up giige, an Indigenous and queer-owned tattooing collective in Madison. Unfortunately, soon after the studio opened, a member of the collective contracted COVID-19.

“So we shut down for two weeks to make sure that everything was safe before returning,” Cunningham says. “I am fully willing to do this again in the future if the need arises. Money is not worth more than the health and safety of us and our clients.”

Although giige is uniquely focused on tattooing as a healing art for people who feel marginalized, what it has in common with other Madison tattoo studios is a commitment to safety measures — pandemic or no pandemic.

“Most tattoo shops already had a very strict and thorough sanitation processes,” says Alyssa McNall, a tattoo artist for the last two years at Lost Lakes Tattoo on North Sherman Avenue. “However, we have added a few extra precautions to make everyone feel safer and more comfortable.”

Lost Lakes and giige require clients to make appointments to be tattooed, and customers must also answer questions 48 hours in advance about their possible exposure to anyone infected with the coronavirus. Artists, staff and clients are required to wash their hands, have their temperatures taken upon entering and wear masks in the shops.

Bear Cunningham with artwork

Courtesy of Bear Cunningham

“We are always open to adjusting these policies and to rescheduling appointments if there are any red flags or if our clients feel uncomfortable,” McNall says.

McNall says that before COVID-19 she tattooed an average of three people per day. “But now I have been limiting myself to one,” she says. “The slower pace of business has been good for my physical and mental health.

“I will never mind an extra level of precaution when it comes to tattooing, especially since we are directly dealing with bodily fluids and personal safety,” McNall says. “I miss conventions and traveling to do guest spots [at other tattoo studios]. But for the time being, it’s left me with more time for drawing and refining my skills.”

Iron Quill Tattoo off South Gammon Road has adjusted operations to follow COVID-19 guidelines, says Sogdiana Kashaeva, a tattoo artist there since April 2019. “We have always operated with a sterile environment,” she says, adding that the studio is also not allowing walk-ins.

“We’re taking [fewer] appointments than we normally would to allow plenty of time in between clients to clean properly,” Kashaeva says.

“Everyone has been very understanding and responsible so far and has shown us huge support,” she says. “We all have loved ones and friends we want to see remain healthy.”

Joel Patenaude is a former associate editor of Madison Magazine.Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"