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Digital surfaces are just as important as skin surfaces
To Ruben MacLean, tattooing is both an art form and a way of life. As a tattoo artist, everyday life can be just as much about developing sketches and style as about actually carrying out assignments on clients. Ruben has run his tattoo business for seven years at Youngstorget in the heart of Oslo.
“Tattoos can be a whim or a lifestyle. I have both one-off and regular customers, and most have either seen one of my tattoos on others or found sketches and work samples on the internet. I typically post once a day on Instagram, and sometimes up to 10 Stories. Being active on social media and in channels where people search for tattoos is crucial to the business,” Ruben says.
There is little in Reuben’s bright and airy studio, bedecked with green plants, that is reminiscent of traditional darkened tattoo shops found down secluded alleys. A series of framed drawings and a decorated wooden model are among the few markers that hint what the premises is actually used for. To the naked eye, it could be a photography studio or a physical therapy practice where we meet Reuben just before he begins working on a “coverup” on a friend.
“Confidence is important when it comes to tattoos. What I create is the stuff my clients live with for the rest of their lives. Many have been planning their tattoos for a long time, and we spend a lot of time sketching out and talking through what it will be like. Others give full artistic freedom, both in terms of location, size and motif. As a tattoo artist you need to be able to handle both.
Equally as vital in the business, it seems, is social media.
“I have active profiles on the most important social channels. Instagram is important in my profession. This is where people come for inspiration and find different artistic expressions. I use hashtags like #oslotattoo and #norway to make my work visible to tourists and visitors as well. Summer is high season for people getting tattoos, and many do it on holiday – even in Oslo. At times like those, it’s important to be available and respond quickly when the request arrives, otherwise they may move on to another studio.
Despite the fact that Ruben runs a small business for himself, he says that customers expect to be able to pay in the same way as established chains: by card, or with other digital payment services.
“The payment solution must be simple and recognisable. I use a card reader connected to my mobile phone and it provides security both for me and for the customers. And if anyone wants to Vipps [send money through a digital app], that’s OK too. Digital solutions have made it very easy to set up and operate that part as well.”
From promotion to payment options, it’s clear that much has happened in the seven years since Ruben started his business. Even aspects of the art itself are now done differently.
“Although I make a living by drawing, everything but the tattoo itself is done digitally. I sketch on the pad, publish drawings and pictures on social media, and make payments via mobile. These tools give me more time to develop my designs. After all, that’s what I do!”