Maybe they never were, but for years, popular culture suggested otherwise. Just think of the movies: Robert Mitchum's homicidal preacher in "The Night of the Hunter," with "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on his knuckles; Robert De Niro's vengeance-crazed ex-con in "Cape Fear," his torso covered in soulless ink; or Ralph Fiennes' serial killer, Dolarhyde, in "Red Dragon," his back emblazoned with an elaborate, and clearly demonic, ram's horn motif.
But in an era where everyone from Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie to Keith Urban is sporting tattoos, such image problems are clearly fading.
We asked Troy Timpel, owner of Philadelphia Eddie's 621 Tattoos and an organizer of this weekend's Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention, to address a half-dozen myths associated with the art of applying ink under skin. The annual gathering, featuring scores of tattoo artists, as well as vendors and sideshow-style entertainment, runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center.
1. Getting a tattoo hurts. And it'll probably get infected.
Tattoos don't really hurt. It takes a little pain to look this pretty.
Tattoos rarely get infected. A tattoo is an open wound, and people infect open wounds by not taking care of them very well. You have an open wound; you can get anything into an open wound by not taking care of it. … I mean, you can get a staph infection if you work out on gym equipment and get other people's sweat on you.
2. A tattoo is forever, and as you get older and your skin starts to wrinkle, you're going to regret the day you got it.
The last thing you're going to do, when you're old and wrinkly, is worry about a tattoo you got years and years ago. You've lived your life with it and become comfortable with yourself having it.
You're more going to be worried about those darn teenage kids and why your Social Security check can't buy you a decent meal anymore.
4. Only people who ride motorcycles and guzzle beer get tattoos.
Well, I guess I'd be guilty of all of those.
I tattoo everyone from the criminal that commits the crime, to the cop that locks him up, to the lawyer that gets him off. The variety of people, it's as rich a tapestry as life itself.
We've tattooed a lot of musicians, sports people. Rikki Rockett, I've tattooed Jazzy Jeff, Barry Gardner, basketball stars whose names I can't remember because I don't follow the sport very well. We tattooed [Michael] Martinez of the Phillies.
Tattoos are symbols of people's lives — people, places, things. I actually did a cover-up of a guy's ex-wife, and I turned her into Jesus. It looked like a beautiful tattoo, but it still had a little bit of a mascara thing going on with the eyes. It wasn't quite the sadness you wanted.
6. Tattoos are not acceptable in polite society.
I don't know, I haven't really met polite society yet.
The Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W.Pratt St.Hours are 2 p.m.-midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 per day, $40 for the weekend. Information: 800-541-8239 or tattooedkingpin.com.