Got Ink? – Tattoos

Tattooing has evolved into a respected art form.

Tanya Whitehurst of Willits endures the pain of three tattoos at once at Valkyrie Tattoo in Penngrove. Harry Tucker, front, works an arm while Jennifer Untalan, left, inks a leg and Jessica Coccia works on her thigh. (photo by John Burgess)

There are two important rules when it comes to getting a tattoo: Don’t do it on a whim, and don’t cheap out.

“Being budget-conscious can make for a really bad tattoo,” warns tattoo artist Jennifer Untalan, owner of Valkyrie Tattoo in Penngrove.

Since the late 1990s, “inking” has transformed into an increasingly common expression of individuality for, well, pretty much anyone over 18. “It’s not about being a rebel anymore,” Untalan said. “It’s almost like you’re a rebel if you don’t have one, especially here in California.”

That’s due in large part to tattooing’s evolution into a respected art form, with highly detailed illustrations and a rainbow of colors that can last decades. In her 16 years behind the needle, Untalan has been asked to illustrate everything from delicate flowers and pin-up girls to flaming skulls, even a Band-Aid.

“It’s pretty much all been done at this point,” she said. But that doesn’t mean that Patrick the Starfish tattoo you’re jonesing for can’t be meaningful to you. “A tattoo can be emblematic of anything that’s important to you,” Untalan said. “It’s good to think deeply about it, but also to trust the artist, and the art.”

After all, it’s permanent.

Or at least mostly permanent. One afternoon, she worked on a friend’s tattoo, her needle buzzing against his calf. Untalan was doing a “cover-up,” which entails re-tattooing over an existing tattoo, usually to fix it. “Cover-ups are on the rise,” she said. Which is why it’s imperative, she said, to find an experienced artist you really like.

“It can be very intimate, something even magical that happens between you,” Untalan said. “It’s a genuine human interaction. You finish and think, this is why I do this.”