Indiana Daily Student

Bloomington tattoo artists, piercers continue to practice during pandemic

<p>Tattoo artist Kae Hutchens gives a tattoo to Kava Seek on Feb. 23 at Crystal Moon Body Arts in Bloomington. Hutchens is the shop&#x27;s tattoo artist and has been tattooing for 15 years.</p>

Tattoo artist Kae Hutchens gives a tattoo to Kava Seek on Feb. 23 at Crystal Moon Body Arts in Bloomington. Hutchens is the shop's tattoo artist and has been tattooing for 15 years.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited physical contact and social interaction in most parts of life, but receiving a tattoo or piercing cannot be done from six feet away. 

While adjustments have had to be made to ensure safety, Bloomington’s tattoo and piercing shops are still working with restrictions. In a time when skin-to-skin contact is rare, body art such as tattoos and piercings requires physical touch.

Brant Dailey, a tattoo artist at Moon and Dagger Tattoo, said operations haven’t changed much since the pandemic. Tattoo shops are sterile environments already because artists are trained in how to handle bloodborne illnesses, he said. To keep his shop safe, Dailey said he’s taking the recommended precautions such as sanitizing anything people touch, wearing masks and limiting the number of people in the shop.

He said one benefit of the pandemic is requiring appointments, providing him the opportunity to spend more time crafting a piece. 

“You can take a little more time on drawing something, where before we would do a lot of walk-ins,” Dailey said. “Somebody might walk in and 20 minutes later have a tattoo.”

For the most part, he said business has been steady and many clients are returning customers. Some are collectors, interested in the vintage flash designs from the early 1900s-on that cover the shop. Other customers stop in when coming to Bloomington to visit family.

Dailey said about 30 to 40% of people get meaningful tattoos related to the pandemic. Sunflowers have also been a common request recently. 

“A lot of people just want something that looks cool," Dailey said.

Jamie Rio, Evil by the Needle co-owner and piercer, said she isn’t doing piercings on facial areas underneath a mask, like nose or lip, to keep her clients safe. She’s also keeping guests to a minimum and doing appointments only.

Many people get piercings as a stress reliever or fun activity, and it brings her satisfaction to put a smile on customers’ faces, Rio said, and she feels comfortable keeping the shop open because she feels there’s little risk if people obey the rules. 

Though many businesses have faced financial difficulties, Rio said Evil by the Needle has been generally successful through the pandemic. During the initial shutdown, they sold merchandise to make extra income, she said. 

“We got very lucky,” Rio said. 

Crystal Moon, a new tattoo shop located at 410 W. Kirkwood Ave. in Bloomington, opened Feb. 19. Piercer and owner Annie Buechlein said she planned on opening her own shop after the pandemic ended, but did so sooner out of necessity. 

“It’s definitely not the time I would have chosen, but it’s the time the universe decided,” Buechlein said.

She said many locals have told her that since the pandemic began they've decided to buy jewelry from local businesses instead of shopping online.

Buechlein said body art is a way for some of her customers to ease anxiety and depression amidst current circumstances. Buechlein said she strives to make her shop a healing sanctuary.

“People were like, ‘I don’t know, it could be the end of the world, and I’ve always wanted my belly button pierced, so damn it, I’m going to go get my belly button pierced,’" Buechlein said.

Getting a tattoo or piercing is intimate and vulnerable in itself, she said. The hardest part, she said, has been avoiding contact with people outside of what’s necessary. Buechlein said usually after she pierces someone, they’ll hug — something she can’t do anymore. 

Despite necessary COVID-19 protocols, Buechlein said the connection isn’t all lost behind the barriers of gloves and masks.

“Someone is putting their body in your hands and trusting you to do something to them,” Buechlein said. “Knowing that it’s going to hurt and trusting that you’re going to hurt them but something beautiful is going to come out of that pain.” 

Crystal Moon Body Arts owner Annie Buechlein discusses the ups and downs of running a tattoo parlor in the COVID-19 pandemic. Video by Katharine Khamhaengwong Edited by Stefan Buba Music from YouTube Audio Library

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