Tattoos on Burned, Scarred, or Grafted Skin
Can You Get a Tattoo on a Scar?
Well, that is exactly what we wanted to know. So I got online, of course, and started searching Google. I tried all kinds of different words and sentences that included "tattoo," "burn," "scar"... you get the idea.
Well, there wasn't much info out there, and what I did find was mostly forum Q&As. Which of course contained very different answers, no real info, no photos of a tattoo on a scar, and no real description of the process of tattooing on scars.
So, if you have been considering getting a tattoo on a scar or grafted skin, then here are some real answers that will show you the process, with photos, to help you decide if you are ready to consider this for yourself.
My Husband's Story
On August 6th, 2002, my husband Scott was severely burned over 85% of his body in a flash fire explosion.
Before Scott's accident, he had a one-of-a-kind skull tattoo on one shoulder and a large wizard on the other. The skull was completely burned off, and all but the top of the wizard's staff burned off.
Scott has contemplated getting another tattoo since his accident, but he was unsure how the grafted skin would take a tattoo.
We had heard of people getting tattoos on grafted skin, but Scott has 100% grafted skin on his arm where he wanted the tattoo. So finding a tattoo artist who had experience with grafted skin was important to us.
We tried looking up information online about tattooing on burn scars or grafted skin and came up empty-handed.
We talked to the tattoo artist who had originally done the skull on his arm, but he seemed skeptical about if it would look good or not. He seemed very reluctant to even try it. So our next stop was to see Dang. Dang is the hubby of an old friend of mine, and he is the artist who does my middle son's tattoos.
Choosing Where to Get Your Tattoo
I have quite a few tattoos myself, some of which are over 20 years old, so I have seen a lot of changes in the tattoo industry since I got my first one. Back in the day, people could just walk into a tattoo shop, drunk or high or whatever, and get any crazy-looking tattoo you asked for right there on the spot.
A lot of the old tattoo shops were filthy, with grungy bikers hanging out, smoking, drinking and swearing, while some hungover biker gave you a tat with the same needle he had just used on the last customer.
True, back then, that atmosphere was all part of the thrill of rebelling and getting a tattoo in the first place. Thankfully, times have changed. These days tattoo shop are usually very clean and well-run businesses.
There are now sanitation laws and tattoo shops need to follow rules and be licensed. This makes getting a tattoo a much safer experience than it used to be.
Still, not every business is run the same. When you choose a tattoo shop, you want to choose one that is clean and where the license is prominently displayed and up to date.
Never get a tattoo at a shop where they don't ask for your ID and have you fill out a form that asks you medical background questions.
Make sure the shop you choose actually follows the safety and sanitation procedures, like sterilizing equipment, wearing gloves, cleansing the area of your body where the tattoo is going to be placed.
My personal review of B-Cool Tattoo, the shop we chose for Scott's tattoo, is five out of five stars. It is cleaner than most hospitals, the people who work there are friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful. They even have a machine with snacks!
Why We Chose Dang
Well, Dang was my first choice all along, but Scott had really loved that skull tattoo and was hoping for the same artist so that he could design something similar. Talking to that guy though, was enough to convince Scott to talk to someone else.
Scott liked Dang right away, I knew he would. Dang assured him that yes, he had done tattoos on scarred and grafted skin and though it was different, it was definitely do-able.
Plus dang has such an easy going and likeable personality. One of the reasons I wanted Scott to go to Dang, was because I was already aware of Dang's incredible artistic ability. A lot of tattoo artist rely on transfers for their tattoo designs. A transfer is where they photocopy the image with special ink, or trace the image on carbon paper and then rub the carbon image onto the place where the tattoo is going to be. Then they just basically tattoo on the lines and fill in the color.
I knew Scott wanted a one of a kind design, and I knew that Dang had the actual artistic skill to deliver. Because Scott is getting a tattoo on grafted skin, it will take more than one visit to complete the piece. This first visit, Dang is just doing the outline of the flames and some basic shading, to see how well Scott's skin takes the ink. On Scott's next visit, Dang will be incorporating skulls and more shading into the design. We will add Scott's next visit to this article, after it happens.
A Conversation With Dang
Q: Do you prefer Dang or Mr. Dang?
A: Either one is okay. It's funny all the strange variations we get when people call. People ask for Dan G. a lot.
Q: How long have you been doing tattoos?
A: About eight years.
Q: When did you decide to become a tattoo artist and why?
A: I did the corporate thing and was good at it, but tattoos are just so much more personal. If someone's happy because I helped them through their very first [even stamp-sized] tattoo, they're really happy. It's just more "pure."
Q: Which tattoo artist or artists are your favorite and why?
A: I don't really do the idol thing, but there are a lot of innovative artists bridging off of the old-school style that I really like: Adam Barton, Stevie Edge, Matt Rinks, Seth Cefari, and so many that nobody's heard of... yet.
Q: A lot of the younger generation of tattoo artists started out as taggers or graffiti artists. Were you into that scene before becoming a tattoo artist?
A: Nope, grew up on a farm. There'd be a pretty short list of suspects if I were to tag a cow.
Q: What is the best advice you would give someone thinking about getting their first tattoo?
A: The more personal the better. Get it how you want it, where you want it. If you really want it, you can handle however it's going to feel.
Q: Other than tattoo art, what is your favorite art medium?
A: Pop art, sequential art.
Q: Where can we get DANG gear like t-shirts, buttons, and stickers?
A: At my online store.
Dang the Graphic Novelist
Q: You have a published graphic novel. Tell us about it and how it came to be?
A: My latest book is my 11th published book (and largest to date), GREYDUCK: Volume of Roars. I've been occasionally self-publishing on the side (in my extra-extra-extra spare time). GREYDUCK was an idea that all of our pop culture has an energy to it, all the importance we place on things (both superficial and nostalgic), a life to it. In the book, I flesh out a lot of my own pop-philosophy through the genre of Daikaiju (giant monsters). Drawn in my own offshoot of the old-school tattoo style; it's funny, wild, and so surreal that its most bizarre moments just might actually mean something.
About Tattooing on Scar Tissue
Q: How is tattooing on grafted skin and/or scar tissue different?
A: When considering working over a scarred area, you want to wait at least a few years after the injury, wait for the scar to whiten/lighten up. Often the details aren't as crisp, texture of the scar can affect the consistency of color/shading, and the skin sheds differently.
Q: What are some of the other types of scars that you have tattooed on?
A: Cuts, burns, surgery scars, stretch marks. I even had a client with a small gecko tattoo on her stomach that was cut in half and shifted a bit from a car accident scar. We re-attached 'im.
Q: What type of tats do you recommend for people with grafted skin and/or severely scarred skin?
A: Same as anyone else, look for what you like. Just takes a little experimenting to see what the tissue will take.
Q: What are your plans for the future...What will Mr. DANG be doing 5 or 10 years from now?
A: Probably same as I'm doin' now, helpin' the world express itself... but in the future... maybe a silver jumpsuit?
So where can we view and buy prints of your incredible artwork?
Q: What else are you currently doing artistically that you want people to know about?
A: GREYDUCK is still pretty fresh-squeezed, so I'm hitting a few conventions this year to promote it (G-FEST in Chicago, and MNCBA Fallcon at the MN fairgrounds). Also working on more Flash art and pop art. See A'LA DANG for updates!
Conversation With My Husband Scott
Q: Does it feel different to get a tattoo on grafted skin than it felt getting your other tattoos?
A: Definitely, the other ones hurt. I don't have any nerve endings anymore on the grafted skin, so there was really only a little pain under the wrist. Everywhere else it was just like a slight vibrating pressure.
Q: What do you think of the tattoo so far?
A: Love it! I can't wait to come back and get the skulls put in.
Dang Finishes Scott's Tattoo
Dang Adds the Skulls to Scott's TattooClick thumbnail to view full-size
One Week Later
Scott is very happy with his new tattoo and can hardly wait to get more. He has shown his new tattoo to other burn survivors, and they are very excited to learn that they also can successfully get tattoos on their grafted skin once it is fully healed.
We'd like to thank Mr. Dang and Be-Cool Tattoo for making this informative article possible. We hope this information will be helpful for other burn injury survivors or anyone thinking about getting a tattoo on a scar.
Thanks, Bambi and Scott.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Bambi Watson