SPECIAL REPORT: The Big Business of Ink, Part One

Bill Funk
Bill Funk
Nic Crawford
Nic Crawford
Leah Michaels
Leah Michaels

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bill Funk has tattooed customers for over thirty years. As one of the top artists at Skin Deep Tattoo Waikiki, he has seen the industry explode.

"We see a big shift from women getting very small, decorative, very feminine things, to definitely more elaborate, large format tattoos just like the men have been getting for years," he said.

In Hawaii, tattooing has long been an art form with polynesian roots, so it's accepted here.

Funk said that and other demographics contribute to the boom in the tattoo business.

The age range for customers used to be 18 to 25 and largely military. Now it's male and female 18 to 78, from all walks of life.

"People get tattooed because they like the way it looks, or they like the body adornment," he said.

It's estimated 45 million people in the United States have at least one tattoo.

Nic Crawford has more.

"I've got a sun. I've got stars that actually go all the way down my side. I've got a Honu and flower on my foot," she said.

Body inking went mainstream when celebrities and athletes started sporting tattoos and showing them off.

Funk estimates business at established Hawaii tattoo parlors tripled in the last decade.

"There are people who get full body suits that are continuously getting this type of thing done, so it's still basically a work in progress," he said. "Sometimes it becomes a lifelong commitment that takes years or decades to complete."

Costs from shop to shop vary but a basic design costs around $50. Fancier pieces run into the thousands of dollars.

"This is a kanji I had on the back. I had it for about ten years, it says Mother Earth for the motherland," tattoo fan Leah Michaels said.

She easily invested over $1,000 in the half sleeve that covers her skin from her left shoulder to her elbow.

"I'd like to finish the inside here. but I'm happy with the art as it is," she said.

As Hawaii's tattoo industry grows so has the expertise of its artists. As the oldest shop on Oahu, Skin Deep has some of the best inkers in the state.

"I do a lot of my work free hand with a marker. I'll actually draw it right on the person before I tattoo it," Scotty Bender said.

It took him more than thirty hours to draw and color the Phoenix on Crawford's arm.

"A lot of people do stop me. I get stopped everywhere I go," she said, showing of her multi-color masterpiece.

You need to be at least 18 to get a tattoo in Hawaii. Funk advises that you think before you ink.

"Do your homework. Do your research. Go to a licensed artist. Go to a licensed facility. Go to a place that has a long-standing reputation," he said.

In Part 2 of our report on tattooing, Hawaii News Now covers a growing controversy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying tattoo ink to see if there's a link to skin cancer.

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