Original ink

Queanbeyan tattoo artist Matt Rickard has been in the business for 10 years and says tattoo are becoming more mainstream. Photo: Kim Pham.

Queanbeyan tattoo artist Matt Rickard has been in the business for 10 years and says tattoo are becoming more mainstream. Photo: Kim Pham.

QUEANBEYAN tattooist Matt Rickard has spent 10 years in the industry and if there's anything he's learned over his tenure, it's to expect the unexpected.

There's no knowing who will be the next potential customer to walk through the doors of Tattoo Xtreme on Monaro Street.

From eager 16-year-olds with their consent forms in hand, to 70-year-old grandmothers. You can never quite pick them.

"I like the diversity of people I'm exposed to," Matt says.

"There's no one particular type of person that gets tattooed and there's no one particular type of tattoo that people get. Mums, dads, kids ... I do whole families.

"So in this job, you've got to be pretty versatile."

The 40-year-old said gone are the days when tattoos were reserved for bikies and punk rockers. They've become a lot more mainstream, with young women being the largest demographic they service.

However, Matt does question whether getting too much ink, too young is a good idea.

"A lot of kids these days make really bad decisions. A lot of kids want to get very covered, very quickly. I just don't know if that's such a good thing. A lot of people have no idea what it's like to be a heavily tattooed person," he said.

"Other people's bad attitudes can affect you ... for someone like a school leaver or a young person who isn't established in their relationship or careers or even their identity. To get heavily tattooed can limit them in their employment, housing and just generally. They can live with regret."

Being a tattoo artist means you have to play the role of counsellor, creative and confidant. But Matt said there's a fine balance between being in a service industry - where the aim is to give the customer what they want - and knowing where to draw the line, so to speak.

"Tattooing does have limitations. We do try to talk people out of making bad decisions or getting tattoos that we think won't hold up over time," he said.

"But ... all we can do is offer advice, we can't force people into or out of anything."

Matt said there are some requests he will outright refuse. He will not tattoo anything he deems to be a bad design, ugly or offensive.

"There are plenty of designs I just won't do ... if I don't want to put my name to it, I won't do it," he said.

"There's been some racist stuff. I don't like to promote that 'us and them' mentality.

"If you hate someone, that's fine. I just won't tattoo it on you. Also, ugly designs like drawings people have done on the back of their maths book ... I just say no."

Matt came to the profession after years of slaving away in kitchens as a chef and doing other odd jobs. He already had a bit of ink himself and bought his first kit online. When he decided to take it more seriously, he visited professional tattoo artists and showed them his designs. He describes his style as "modern, traditional with a Japanese influence".

His advice to anyone thinking of getting tattooed is to see a professional despite the popularity of "back yarding," which is illegal tattooing often done by an amateur.

"You can do damage to a lot of people when you don't know what you're doing. We see evidence of that every day. People come in showing us really awful tattoos and ask for our help. Can we fix it? Can we cover it? Is there anything we can do?," he said.

"Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. Some people are beyond help and that's tragic because they have it forever."

Just like fashion, there are trends in tattoos. Designs that feature on the limbs of celebrities and sport stars filter down to everyday society.

While Matt admits the number of clients who want to emulate tattoos like those on singer Rihanna have "pretty much paid off my mortgage," he said individuality is the key.

"People bring in the same reference material off the internet every day," he said.

"There are couple of footy players' [tattoos] whose names I don't know but I see the tattoos over and over again.

"We always try to encourage people to get their own tattoo instead of trying to duplicate somebody else's. That's how they work; even if you copy somebody else's you can never really duplicate these things.

"They're all hand-done, one-offs."

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