Tattoo artist Ryan Rader looked up from his drawing - a scantily clad, angelic woman with a skeletal figure beneath - at the mention of "scratchers," the unregulated home artists who do cheap work throughout the state.
"They see the TV shows and say, 'Oh, it's an easy job,'" said Rader, a 24-year tattoo veteran and owner of Sacred Keystone Ink in Altoona. "They think it's 'scratch a line into somebody and get 50 bucks when you're done.'"
The prevalence of ill-trained, low-overhead tattoo operations in Pennsylvania led Auditor General Jack Wagner this week to propose a raft of regulations on the popular - but as-yet unmonitored - industry, which at its worst can spread blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis C.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Altoona tattoo artist Brandon Montero works on the arm of Brittanie Hopkins of Altoona at Custom Skin Art on Friday afternoon.
"It's time we join the growing number of states that regulate tattoo parlors," Wagner said in a news release.
As an art form, tattooing goes back thousands of years; mummified cavemen have shown evidence of skin inking. Modern tattoo artists generally use an electrical tool that pushes ink between the skin's outer layers, ideally with needles thrown out and equipment sterilized between uses.
Among the less reputable home artists, however, health standards are sometimes abandoned in favor of low price.
"There's a lot of home tattooing [in Pennsylvania]. It's actually way too common here," said Randy "Cheeze" Williams, co-owner and manager at Custom Skin Art in Altoona.