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Popularity of tattoos grows
Professional artists warn of amateur work
3 Tattoos pic3
Dragon's Den Tattoo artist Daniel Thaxler outlines a tattoo for Patrick Rhoden of Forsyth County. - photo by Photo/Michele Hester

When Bob Shelton opened Dragon’s Den tattoo studio at War Hill almost two decades ago, he was one of only a few tattoo artists in north Georgia.


Over the years, he’s seen new studios come and go. Some couldn’t attract the business they needed to stay open. Some were shut down. One in north Forsyth was basically “run off,” according to Shelton.


“But I’m still here, and tattooing has never been more popular than it is right now,” he said.


The key to his long-term success in an industry many people still frown upon — give the client what they are looking for and follow the rules.


“I run a pretty tight shop here. We always have,” said Shelton, who began giving tattoos almost 40 years ago.


“The clients, they watch us unwrap the needles and the sterile packs before we give the tattoos,” he said.


Shelton said he was doing it that way long before Dawson County regulated operations of tattoo studios around 2003.


“We’ve been regulated so long — it’s like second nature for us,” he said.


Dragon’s Den welcomes the strict rules and regulations from the county, Shelton said.


“There are so many bad things out there, like hepatitis and HIV, the industry needs to have someone watching over it,” he said.


Shelton said he knows of several local amateur tattoo artists who travel the county, giving tattoos for discounted prices at parties.


“Those are the ones people need to worry about,” he said. “I’ve had so many people come to my shop after one of these jobs to fix the problems or cover the work completely.”


The amateurs often ignore the age restrictions.


“In my shop, no one under 18 is getting a tattoo, even with parental consent ... no matter what,” Shelton said.


Rob Ingram, who owns Gold City Ink, behind the outlet mall off Ga. 400, has also seen first hand the problems associated with tattoos from unregulated artists.


“We had a 16- or 17- year-old girl come in a while back crying because of the tattoo she paid $5 for at a party,” Ingram said, uploading a photo he took of three large and messy, freehand-drawn stars on the nape of the girl’s neck.


“We can’t fix that. First because she’s under 18, and to cover a tattoo, you have to plan for the new tattoo to be about three times bigger,” he said.


Amateurs also pay little attention to the health risks, Ingram said.


Ingram left the health care laundry industry to open his shop, noting he knew all about “cross contamination, vaccinations, employee safeguards.”


“When we opened in late 2007 and applied for permits, the artists had to demonstrate their knowledge of infection control. You have to do what you can to make the studio clean,” Ingram said.


Permits issued in Dawson County must be renewed each year and apply only to the individual and facility for which they are issued.


“I think that’s huge,” Ingram said. “The artists can’t take their permit and go home to give a tattoo. A professional tattoo artist would never give a tattoo outside his studio. If he did, he wouldn’t be a professional.”


Both Ingram and Shelton communicate with Dawson County Environmental Health officials on a regular basis to stay on top of any new county regulations and guidelines pertaining to their businesses.


“Some county’s try to make it difficult for businesses like tattoo studios, but Dawson County has worked with us and helped us,” Shelton said.


Kent Garrison, head of Dawson County Environmental Health, said his office inspects the two local studios twice a year.


E-mail Michele Hester at