[Tattoo 2 – Peter Poulos]

An interview with tattoo artist Peter Poulos of Long Island Tattoo Studio, shot for the documentary Tattoo, by Susan Milano.

00:43Copy video clip URL Camera setup. 

01:04Copy video clip URL Tattoo artist Peter Poulos discusses his early interest in tattoos. “I started when I was 12 years old. I tried to get tattooed but I was too young to get into studios. I went home and learned how to do what they call a pin job, with a pin and whatever color would stain the pigment. I had a lot of disasters. By the time I was 16 I got good at that.” Getting his first tattoo machine at 16 and making his own tattoo machines by the time he was 18. Taking a course in dermatology. 

02:38Copy video clip URL Practicing using his tattoo machine on himself and his friends. 

03:08Copy video clip URL Going to all the tattoo artists he could to try to learn from them. “Some of them didn’t want to help. Eventually I found a man in Illinois I corresponded with who wanted to help me.” 

03:45Copy video clip URL Becoming a “good” tattoo artist “by wanting to be good” and working hard at improving. 

04:17Copy video clip URL Advice for becoming a tattoo artist. Poulos is choosy about who he mentors because “there are a lot of people in the business now who are undesirable. You know, some people want to become tattoo artists for the glory of it all or what-have-you and are not capable of the artwork. First you have to get your artwork down pat and behind that you have to learn how to work the skin, which is very important.”

04:54Copy video clip URL Discussion of “working the skin” – learning how to apply art to human skin without causing injury

05:31Copy video clip URL Most of Poulos’s body is covered with tattoos, he says. Getting tattoos from every tattoo artist in New York that he can. “I would like to go around the world if I had the money.” Growing more selective about who does his tattoos now that there are more artists around; earlier difficulties finding any tattoo artists. 

06:08Copy video clip URL Getting inks and dyes from a local chemist and having parts for his equipment made at the local machine shop. 

06:26Copy video clip URL Using six different colors, including violet, which he uses sparingly because it “doesn’t take to the skin well.” The techniques of applying color well. 

07:42Copy video clip URL “All kinds” of people coming in to get tattoos recently. “Ten years ago it was strictly for the drunk sailor and the tough guy. Now it’s changed a lot. Now it’s all different types of people. This is what I’m going for, for the image to change completely. Young women, office people, lawyers, police, all kinds of people.” 

08:11Copy video clip URL The arm being the most common location for tattoos for men. Poulos recommends the leg for women because of the “masculine” appearance of arm tattoos. 

08:40Copy video clip URL The most tender and sensitive portions of the body to get tattoos. 

09:04Copy video clip URL The differences between tattooing lighter and darker skin colors. The difficulties in tattooing dark skin. “Only a black and a dark green will show well. There’s no way to get light colors to show well on dark pigment.” 

09:35Copy video clip URL Discouraging people from getting tattoos, especially if they’re drunk or high: “They’re not capable of picking designs. They may not really want to get tattooed and I don’t want somebody wearing one of my designs who doesn’t really want it because I do try hard and I do beautiful work.” Listening for hesitancy in people who come into the studio. “Tattooing’s a beautiful trade and everybody should get tattooed. But if you’re not into it don’t get tattooed.” 

10:15Copy video clip URL Boys and men getting tattoos to “prove their masculinity” and to be “manly” and “tough.”  The changing associations in the previous decade that allow for women to get tattoos. 

11:00Copy video clip URL The largest tattoo Poulos has ever done being a design called “The Dragon and the Royal,” depicting “an eagle fighting a snake fighting a dragon.” Such elaborate tattoos potentially taking months over multiple sittings. 

11:40Copy video clip URL Poulos explains the process of applying tattoos, starting with the preliminary outline either drawn on or put on with an acetate overlay. Demonstrating and explaining the acetate process. 

12:40Copy video clip URL The technique required to apply tattoos that is not simply tracing the preliminary outline. The need to work the skin to create the desired effects, as skin stretches and designs grow distorted. 

13:34Copy video clip URL Demonstrating and explaining the tattoo machine, starting with the needle bar. Sterilizing the bar in between each use. 

15:15Copy video clip URL Explaining the tattoo machine again. 

15:39Copy video clip URL Health department requirements in Nassau County. The lack of knowledge about proper sterilization and other issues related to tattooing at the Board of Health. 

17:02Copy video clip URL Explaining the workings of the tattoo machine. How the needle works to apply pigment in the skin, and how the skin reacts. 

18:17Copy video clip URL Removing tattoos by the same process, but using a solution that dissolves color instead of pigment. A tedious process, “it’s really only for people who are really dedicated and have to get the tattoo off.” Other techniques used by doctors and others to remove tattoos. The difficulty in removing tattoos. 

19:34Copy video clip URL Pain caused by tattoo application. Nausea resulting from fear for the tattoo subject. Sending people away if they are hesitant or reluctant or unable to sit still. 

21:21Copy video clip URL Poulos’s struggles with the Health Department. 

21:40Copy video clip URL The most difficult things about selecting a design for a tattoo. Helping customers decide on designs. 

22:46Copy video clip URL Struggles with the Board of Health for tattoo artists since the 1950s. Poulos’s own techniques for safe and healthy and the regulations that he thinks should be enforced for tattoo studios. The ways the Board of Health operates. 

27:25Copy video clip URL Belonging to the Tattooer’s Club of America. The importance of color capsules for healthy tattoo application. Wanting to alert artists in other states to the existence of color capsules. 

28:35Copy video clip URL Not thinking tattooing is a dying art, in spite of the studios closing around New York. Having more customers than he can handle himself. Wanting to only tattoo people who are serious about the art. 

29:40Copy video clip URL The future of tattooing and of Poulos’s own career. Passing on knowledge of the art. His own learning over years of practice. 

31:27Copy video clip URL The walls of the Long Island Tattoo Studio. Close-ups of the “flashes” framed on the wall. 



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