Covering up old tattoos is a growing trend at local parlors
PITTSFIELD -- It's been two years since she's broken up with her ex-boyfriend, but Kayla Bedford, 24, is reminded of him every time she looks down at her lower-left hip.
Bedford had the name of her then-boyfriend tattooed on her during the four years they were together.
"It was the whole lovey-dovey thing," she said.
But the name was about to take a different shape -- a cheetah paw print or koi fish; Bedford, who was reclining in a leather chair at Intradermal Designs on North Street, was ready to have her old tattoo covered up.
"No one should ever get a person's name," she emphasized. "Not until well after they're married."
Regret and hindsight, such as Bedford's, is financially lucrative for most of the seven local tattoo shops willing to do "cover-ups." According to owners, a steady flow of customers is looking to hide their past written in ink.
"There's a lot of cover-up stuff going on in the area for sure," said Brian Brown, who opened Dalton's first tattoo parlor, Red-Karpet Tattoo on Depot Street, in November. He previously tattooed in San Francisco. The ban on tattoos in Massachusetts was lifted in November 2000.
"People at a young age are doing random things and not taking the time to prepare," Brown said.
At Intradermal Designs, many of the tattoos that get covered up include names of old lovers -- tattooed names of children or deceased family and friends usually remain intact -- and shoddy tattoos done by underground tattoo artists known as "scratchers."
"Whenever I do a name, I remind them that we do cover-ups," Intradermal Designs owner Wesley Lamore said while prepping his ink and needles to cover-up Bedford's ex-boyfriend's name. "We try to use as much of the initial design as possible."
A tattoo artist at Armory Studio Tattoo and Piercing in Adams said there has been an increase in cover-ups at their business. The owner declined to comment further on the topic.
Berkshire Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery Center schedules so many tattoo removals, that it actually turns a profit on the center's three laser-removal systems, each totaling $115,000, according to Plastic Surgeon and Medical Director Basil Michaels.
The tattoos are removed using sound generated through a laser, causing "little explosions in the middle of the skin," which evaporates the ink, Michaels said.
Without anesthesia, "it's very uncomfortable," he said.
Some of the people he's removed tattoos for don't want all of the designs removed -- just certain parts.
"Sometimes I have people who were in gangs who have a swastika or very distasteful image on them," Michaels said. "They'll keep the eagle wings, and get rid of the swastika."
If a person approaches Lefty's World Famous Tattoo, 103 Dalton Ave., looking to have an unprofessional tattoo covered up, owner and tattoo artist Stephan Lanphear will "spin them right around and push them out the door," he said.
For almost eight years, Lefty's has refused to remove or cover up unsatisfactory tattoos that weren't done there professionally, Lanphear said, because professional artists "become the clean-up guys."
"We're bailing out the person that's operating below the wire," Lanphear said. "I feel like we're covering up other people's mistakes, that we're bailing them out and making it better."
Covering up a tattoo takes "an incredible about of artistry" on the artist's part, he said.
"People think they're going to cover up a black panther with a daisy, and it's just not going to happen," he said. "There's no reason for anyone to get bad tattoos. If you get them, you need to understand the expense that's in them."
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