Tattooing you: Jen Anderson personalizes body art
09/20/2016 08:55AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
At first glance, Landenberg resident Jen Anderson does not seem to share much in common with Rihanna, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Adam Levine and other celebrities whose tattoos are nearly as famous as they are.
However, the story of what led her to the world of tattoos -- and eventually to her own tattooing business, now approaching its seventh year -- began when she was a student, cheerleader and athlete at Avon Grove High School more than ten years ago.
It was 2005, a time when tattoos were still relegated to the typically un-sanitized underworld of our culture, where the arms and torsos of our nation's outliers -- sailors, prison parolees, motorcycle gangs and celebrities -- were offered up like canvass of rebellion.
Then came "Miami Ink," a groundbreaking television show based on a tattoo parlor in South Beach. It was an instant success, and introduced the mainstream to the styles of personalities of tattoo artists, and before the year was up, Ami James, Tommy Montoya, Kat von D and Megan Massacre were famous. It lowered the curtains of taboo for mothers and daughters and lawyers and teachers and doctors and business people, who learned that the art is not only beautiful but easily attainable. It said that everyone's body can be a canvas of expression for who they are and what they believe in.
In 2005, Anderson was in her senior year at Avon Grove, and the idea of getting a tattoo carried with it the stigma of rebellion, given that she grew up in a conservative family, where no one had any form of body art on them. When she turned 18, she got one anyway, because it was the cool thing at the time. In the 11 years since, she has acquired several more, the most prominent of which encompasses nearly her entire right arm in a gorgeous swirl of colors.
Now, just over a decade later, Anderson, now 29, is riding the crest of a very high wave that has seen the popularity of tattoos surge into the stratosphere, in what has become the generally accepted inking of America. Of Americans aged 18-25, 36 percent have been reported to have at least one tattoo, and the tattoo industry is the sixth fastest-growing retail business in America.
"I think that like a lot of things, tattooing has become more acceptable," said Anderson, whose Jen Anderson Tattoos reaches more than 30 clients on a regular basis, which include high school teachers, a phramacist, a nurse, and many other professionals. "For those who have them, particularly those who are considered professionals, it's a relief for them, because now they they can finally breathe, and now they can do something that was once frowned upon. It's a slow transition, but now that people are being given that freedom, they're taking that acceptance and going with it."
Anderson graduated in 2009 from Penn State with a degree in Fine Arts, with a focus in drawing, painting and art history. After college, she went into sales, but she hated to be confined to the often stuffy world of business. In order to pursue her art, she received an apprenticeship with a well-known tattoo artist in Pottstown. It was tough but learned road; during her first year under his helm, Anderson scrubbed ink tubes, cleaned bathrooms, arranged tattoo stations, and learned every phase of proper sanitization.
"He literally taught me everything I know," she said.
For Anderson, every consultation she has with a client reveals a narrative that the client wishes to be transferred to his or her body.
"I hear so many reasons why people want tattoos, from honoring children, wanting to have their scars covered, to those who simply want art on their body," she said. "A lot of people want to tell a piece of their life story, such as a recovery from addiction, a major life event that they want to memorialize, or someone or something they want to remember."
Getting to the end result of tattooing, Anderson said, takes a lot of listening and several ideas expressed to her by the client that occur well before application.
"When someone reaches out to me, via e-mail or text, we set up a meeting, and I tell them to bring any images with them that they are interested in," she said. "I'll start hand drawing, taking all of their images and putting it into one custom image. I will then send them the image halfway through so that they can tell me if they like where it's going. When we're both happy with their design, we'll then set up an appointment date."
Anderson calls herself a "Germ-a-phobe," and for good reason. In an industry where accessories are often re-sanitized and re-used, all of her equipment is one-time use, and all tubes are tossed out after each session.
"I am very cross-contamination conscious," she said. A lot of times, an artist clean their tubes through an autoclave, a process of heat and pressure that makes the tubes sterile. When I was cleaning those tubes, even after they went through the autoclave, there was ink residue, and once that ink gets wet again, it can re-ignite viruses. I like to throw everything away and start fresh, every time."
For every ten people who receive a tattoo, there is usually one recipient who regrets the decision, which can often be a costly and painful procedure to remove. Occasionally, Anderson sees clients who come to her in desperation to remove the name of a former significant other that has been tattooed to their skin -- or do a little re-wording of the existing mark -- in the event of a break-up.
The practice was made famous when Johnny Depp, during his relationship with Winona Ryder, had the words "Winona Forever" tattooed to his chest as a testament to his forever love of the actress. When the relationship ended a year later, Depp had a tattoo artist tweak the message to "Wino Forever."
"I had one client ask me to put an 'X' through the name of his ex-wife," Anderson said. "Then he asked me to tattoo the words 'Everyone Else' beneath the 'X.'"
Another time, a woman came to her with a request to have her husband's name tattooed across her chest. Although Anderson was hesitant to do so, the woman assured Anderson that her marriage was rock solid. Halfway through the appointment, the woman complained of the pain involved with the application, and left with half of her husband's name on her chest.
"I told her that we could complete the appointment in two weeks, but before that two weeks was up, she called me wanting it covered, because they were now separated," Anderson said. "Usually when someone wants their significant others' name tattooed on them, I try to steer them away from that. I encourage them to go with an image, not a name, because (in the event of a break-up), you can always give the image another distinction."
Anderson's work removes her clients as far away as possible from the commonly-perceived image of a tattoo shop; sessions are done either at her temporary studio in Landenberg, or at the client's home, one session at a time. Her goal is to open a permanent studio by next year, one that will be accented with personal touches that will lend an air of comfort and serenity.
"When I was first working in the industry, some of those who were applying tattoos intimidated me," she said. "A lot of my clients are mothers and grandmothers and business people, and I think they appreciate the fact that I don't resemble the stereotypical image of a tattoo artist."
One of Anderson's greatest pleasures in tattooing has been working with clients who come to her in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. She has used her skills to help cover up tumor removals, tummy tucks, cancer scars and serious body bruises -- and wants to devote more of her businesses to helping them.
"My job allows me to hear people tell me their life stories, their experiences, so that it becomes not just a tattoo session, but a therapy session," she said. "I think tattooing is a beautiful art form, but I want to dedicate more of my job to helping those people feel better about themselves, to give them a better self image and make them feel comfortable."
To learn more about Jen Anderson, visit her web page at www.JenAndersonTattoos.com .
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .