The ‘healing’ power of tattoos – by artist who says studios are like confession booths – Birmingham Live

Posted in Tattoo Shop on Nov 08, 2020

Cheryl Geary was already working in a tattoo shop when the owner gave her the chance to add some blue shade to a new design on his own skin.

Wow! That instant sense of pleasure saw her hooked, line and inker.

For the past 14 years, Cheryl has been the proud owner of Birmingham Ink Tattoo on the city's secret shopping street of Dalton Street

And she's always had the same warning advice for first time, nervous clients.

"I tell them all: 'Your biggest fear is that having a tattoo will become seriously addictive'," she smiles.

"I absolutely love this job and it has given me an amazing life.

"Making people feel happy is what I get off on.

"Tattoos make you feel so good. They're like Pringles, once you have one you can't stop."

But some jobs are more than just another boyfriend's name on a wrist or even a design so polished it would certainly shame a packet of crisps.

They're the ones that will go as deep as the human soul will allow...

"Tribesmen, Japanese, Mori... these were societies where you had to 'earn' your tattoos," says Cheryl inside her pink-coloured studio close to the Elizabeth Law Courts.

"I began to get my tattoos when I was fairly young and I've realised people often come here for healing.

"I recently had a customer preparing to lose her baby aged about eight months.

"This mother already had some tattoos, but she was desperate to get the tattoo before her daughter passed over at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

"It was so important to her so I went above and beyond to make sure she got in.

"It was really tough to do that and to produce the kind of really good artwork that she wanted - a ribbon with two colours with a heartbeat and a heart and dates.

"When she came, (the baby) had very little time left.

"But we managed the tattoo. I didn't cry, while I was doing it, which was a Brucie bonus, and it was just brilliant healing for her.

"And in all honesty as well, it was quite good for me as well because it puts you through your paces.

"It's emotional. A very sad thing, but it's also a very beautiful thing.

"But she sent a message afterwards to thank me.

"We get a lot of people from the Children's Hospital."

When others ask for a quick tattoo, 49-year-old Cheryl will take a very different view of their request.

"Young people come but I often ask them to go away and think about what they want," she says.

"One girl came to me saying she wanted the tattoo of her boyfriend even though she'd only been going out with him for a week.

"I told her to come back a week later and, when she did, she couldn't thank me enough for not doing it and that gains respect with the industry and customers."

Although more women are now becoming tattoo artists themselves, Cheryl says they are still a minority.

"I get used to the fact people think I'm here but will not be the owner.

"That means you have to prove yourself twice over.

"I can tell when people judge me."

Over the years, trends come and go in all walks of life.

And then there are challenges like Covid-19 which simply have to be surmounted.

But one of the defining moments for the trade was David Beckham's switch from clean-cut blond kid on loan at Preston North End to Manchester United star and England captain who has increasingly become the face of tattoos.

It's as if Becks wanted to redefine Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous 1966 World Cup commentary line as 'They ink it's all over, it is now'.

"Beckham definitely, definitely, did make make a difference and helped (the industry) a hell of a lot," says Cheryl.

"Less so now, but the number of times I've done the 'Beckham angel' tattoo is just incredible, often with people putting their own twist on it.

"Rhianna and Cheryl Cole have had a massive impact as well."

The last time I wrote a feature about tattoos, my host was Brazilian artist Cesar De Cesaro at Body Garden Tattoo (now on Sheepcote Street).

There, the recipient of a second 'sleeve' told me he couldn't 'see' the new inking after about six weeks (a bit like you notice the paintings in your living room more if you get up the day after rearranging them).

Cheryl agrees - but says that's no reason not to get one done.

"You do forget what you have had done and which side of your body it's on, unless you look in the mirror.

"But that's like having a car. You don't think about it, but one day look at it and then think you are really glad you have it then.

"A tattoo really does run deeper than the ink on your skin."

Why do people have their backs tattooed if they can't see the work?

"You don't have them done for other people or to show off, they are purely for your own soul," Cheryl explains.

"The back is a large canvas and the flattest area of the body, so it's a really enjoyable place (or a tattoo) that is just for you.

"Sometimes your soul cries out for a bit of comfort.

"The tattoo itself might be painful, but it's comforting and healing (the person) at the same time.

"Some girls get them to retaliate or to make themselves feel stronger.

"But I've also done pensioners including a woman over 75 after her husband had died - (yes, her skin was thinner but) like mobile phones, technology has really moved on."

Cheryl originally opened next-door-but-one in the unit that is now Swordfish Records (est 1979).

Given their Dalton Street location close to the former Steelhouse Lane police station, various law courts and an NCP car park, Cheryl has experienced just about everything life can offer after.

"I've seen everything from Starsky & Hutch style police operations to quite a few suicides - which are really dramatic and very sad," she says.

"I've had people coming in before they are sent down in the courts opposite, but also lawyers and barristers, too.

"Criminals are just people, I don't ask what they're being sent down for because you don't know their circumstances.

"But you are like a confessional, a therapist.

"The really hard ones, like gangsters or cage fighters or famous footballers, have nothing to prove so their respect level is incredible.

"I can always tell when someone is a gangster or famous because they are so calm.

Originally from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Cheryl says she loves Birmingham.

"It's got such energy, it's big and got everything you want and the people are friendly."

Offering a warm welcome in reception is vivacious young assistant Doris, who says of her name: "My parents must have hated me!"

But Cheryl says: "Doris is the friend of a friend and is someone with a friendly face who knows how to put everyone at their ease from the start. She's brilliant."

As well tattoos, Cheryl specialises in various types of piercings.

"I was really scared myself the first time I did it, but you just practice on friends until you have no friends left," she smiles.

"Now there's no trauma (on either side). I love it and have such a gentle technique that people are amazed when they leave."

The range of piercings includes everything from ears, nose, lips and tongue to nipples and genitals.

"I do both males and females and they'll have everything.

"'Extreme' means how many (piercings), not what.

"A piercing is a 'quick fix' compared with a tattoo, but people are generally more nervous because it's more invasive.

"But once they've had it done they have an absolute sense of euphoria and end up bouncing off the walls after having arrived shaking like a whippet.

Cheryl also has a 'top quality' laser machine to remove tattoos.

"People do change," she says.

"That (removal process) hurts, but it really works," she says.

Although the general mood in 2020 has been downbeat, Cheryl says her clients have been looking to counterbalance that with their choice of tattoos.

"People seem to want something to be more happy," she says.

"Nothing has changed mentally on that score - some people still want them for a 'reason', others for no reason.

"Somebody wanted an 'evil' sleeve on one side and a 'religious' sleeve on the other.

"Even though we are looking at another lockdown, my customers' spirits are still high.

"Once I am with a customer they absolutely get my full attention - when you've finished, they are beaming an often end up crying tears of joy.

"I never do lip service and promise anything I am not capable of - I want everybody to be comfortable with what they are going to get.

"I want to be able to sleep at night, knowing I've done a good job."

Read more from the original source:
The 'healing' power of tattoos - by artist who says studios are like confession booths - Birmingham Live

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