Tattoo artists cope creatively during Covid-19

From shutdowns to appointment-only service and digital paperwork, tattoo services are back in business


X. Tattoo, hidden at 1315 Railroad Ave. in downtown Bellingham, hosted its annual Halloween event, despite the global pandemic that had challenged its business for months.

“It was much less of a typical tattoo event,” explained KC, one of the tattoo artists. “We still were doing our tattoos appointment-based and limiting the foot traffic through the shop. But it was nice to give everyone the illusion that we weren’t all living in a pandemic.”  This tattoo shop opened in 2017 and started the Halloween event the same year because they wanted to do something fun for clients.

Covid-19 certainly caused a lot of problems for small businesses and businesses that involved close contact, such as tattoos salons and similar services. X. Tattoo had to close down business from March to June in 2020, which was a struggle for the artists having to spend money for bills and rent without making any income. These types of businesses received stimulus checks from the government during the pandemic so these businesses could stay afloat.

“After the initial shutdown, and the following rules that were in place to slow the spread of Covid, we found that we had a bottleneck of clients and a waitlist,” said KC.

 Their business model changed from an impulse walk-in style business to a very on-demand appointment-based business model, creating much slower days as the appointments were spread out. The artists focus on more traditional tattoo styles, but they do incorporate some other styles as well.

“Sales are definitely slower and we have had to make adjustments to accommodate those changes. The silver lining is that we are all booked further out, which adds some job security to know there is income on the horizon,” KC added.

With the latest stimulus checks came a direct influx of business, KC noted. Previously, people most likely were hesitant to spend money on tattoos when they had no idea how long the restrictions were going to be in place.

“Most tattooers that I know all have a side hustle. I personally spent my time making paintings and artwork, as well as doing commissioned design work for other businesses,” explained KC.

Old School Tattoo and Piercing, 209 E. Holly St., also had to close their doors for a while during Covid-19. Due to covid restrictions, all oral work couldn’t be done and for awhile clients were unable to get nose piercings. Eventually nose piercings were accepted again, during phase two of the pandemic restrictions reopening. Salons and tattoo shops were limited to 25% capacity during the first two phases and 50% capacity during phase three. Old School has been around since 1999 and each of the artists are capable of doing different styles of tattoo designs. 

All clients had to follow all the Covid guidelines. Like X. Tattoo, Old School had to start doing appointments only. One of the tattoo artists, Ramsey, made artwork to sell when he was unable to work at Old School.

“I was commissioned to paint some murals during the pandemic,” Ramsey explained. Ramsey promoted his work on places like Instagram and Facebook.

Both shops went fully digital after they opened up their doors once more. Instead of paperwork, clients signed their tattoo and piercing release forms on their phones, and they had to make sure their phones and hands were properly sanitized. Masks were required for all clients and tattoo artists, and friends and family were no longer allowed to watch clients get tattoos. They do temperature checks for clients coming in for their appointments. They have not been asking about client’s vaccination status.