CHICAGO-Any time a bunch of your guests go home with fresh tattoos, you know it was a good party.
Christian and Lauren Siwek of Elwood, Ill., recently gathered about 20 of their friends, neighbors and co-workers at their home for a tattoo party, an increasingly popular way to spend an evening. And night. And sometimes, early morning.
“When people hear `tattoo party,'” Lauren said, “they freak out. And they say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m gonna make it because I don’t have any money,’ or ‘I don’t think I want a tattoo.’ And my response to everybody is, `The tattoo guy is not going to chase you around with a needle.’ The idea is to come, sit, have a good time, look at the art and see what’s out there.”
The Siweks are no strangers to tattoos (“I probably have 30, 35,” Christian said. “She’s probably got, oh, 15.”) or tattoo parties.
“My friend had a party about a year ago and I met (the artist) through that,” Lauren said. “Since then he’s probably done six or seven on me.”
Providing the ink was an artist who calls himself Steve-O. He has been doing tattoos for 11 years and is in such demand for parties that his Sundays are booked until next January, his Fridays and Saturdays until May.
“Basically, it’s like a Tupperware party. Except I do tattoos,” Steve-O said. “I require a minimum of four people for a party. The minimum per tattoo is $45. But it varies according to detail and size.”
The logistics are simple: Steve-O sets up his equipment_a small light table, a laptop, a printer, a little red toolbox full of bottles of ink, bags with needles, a briefcase, etc._in the kitchen. Guests put their names on a sign-up sheet, and Steve-O works on them while other guests wait their turn. At the end of the night, the host gets a 10 percent discount on his or her tattoo for each guest who got inked.
Steve-O got to the Siweks around 9 p.m. and was working on his first customer, Christian’s father, Bob, about an hour later. Bob Siwek wanted a dragon on his left arm, but the design from one of Steve-O’s books had to be altered and the dragon’s head repositioned so it would wrap around another of Bob’s tattoos. No problem. Steve-O is an artist, after all. A little sketching, a little discussion, and they had a workable design.
“I make it so easy that more people want ’em than refuse ’em,” Steve-O said.
On every customer, he explains what he’s doing and asks for questions. He shows them the needles he’ll use on them_always new needles, which he sterilizes_and gets them to sign a release. After that, he’s down to business. But not in a too-businesslike manner.
“I screw around with a lot of people when they get their tattoos,” he said. “It makes it easier on the customer.”
He has music playing. He tells stories_about a tattoo artist named “Fingers” who had only two or three digits, about the untimely death of a hermit crab he was baby-sitting, about meeting freaky musician Rob Zombie. He makes the whole process pleasant if not painless.
“The classic thing everybody asks (the person in the chair) is, `Does it hurt?’ I tell them, ‘Only when you remind them.'”
While he worked, partygoers gravitated to the kitchen. And not just because that was where the table full of snacks was set up. Steve-O likes to work with an audience.
In the living room, meanwhile, a dozen people watched television or thumbed through Steve-O’s books of tattoo designs. This was as low-key a party as one would ever see. Even the cooler full of beer had few customers.
“The more you drink, the more you bleed,” Steve-O said. “And the more you bleed the more the ink comes out.”
Back in the chair, Bob Siwek said he got a tattoo from Steve-O at his son’s earlier party.
“It’s the shop or a home party. It doesn’t make a difference,” said Bob, who paid $110 for his dragon, which took about an hour and a half. “It’s the quality of the work that counts. I saw the quality of his work after he did me last time.”
When a tattoo is completed, Steve-O will give the customer ointment and instructions on how to use it, as well as tips on how to care for the tattoo. He takes a photo of his work, then moves to the next customer.
Second in line was Cherisse Infusino of Elwood, who got the Chinese symbol for strength on the back of her neck.
“One thing about tattoo shops, when they have Chinese characters on the wall, usually they’re wrong,” Steve-O said. “That’s why I carry a Chinese dictionary.”
The next customer got a design on the small of her back. There are other tattoos_on an arm, a leg, a back . . . just about everywhere. Just about.
“I don’t touch Mr. Winky,” Steve-O said in response to a question, not a request. “You can change a light bulb, but that doesn’t make you an electrician. You can fix a leaky pipe, but you’re not a plumber. But you touch one penis, you’re a professional penis-toucher.”
The party finally broke up around 5:30 a.m., with seven guests tattooed. Three others on the list had to schedule appointments with Steve-O because of exhaustion. Even the hostess had conked out, delaying work on an intricate leg tattoo that Steve-O had started previously.
And would she throw another party?
“Oh, sure. God, yes,” Lauren said. “Just depends when his next appointment is available.”
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