Say the name Lisa Fasulo in a San Diego tattoo shop and you may get blank stares from shop owners, employees, and hangers-around. Mention the Learning Channel’s one-hour reality-style television program about Fasulo’s tattoo school, however, and you’ll get an earful of seething comments and a list of reasons why Fasulo is the devil incarnate. The program, “Tattoo School,” premiered on July 14 and gives an overview of Fasulo’s two-week course, in which wannabe tattoo artists pay $4800 for lodging and 80 hours of tattoo instruction.
“The two-week thing is bullshit,” says Jack D’Amore, a 59-year-old tattoo artist who works out of Body Mark’s Tattoo on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park.
D’Amore has just completed inner-lip tattoos on two young musicians. Now he leans against a glass display case and explains that the traditional way of entering into the tattoo industry is through a two- or three-year apprenticeship. He recalls a woman he knows who used to take on apprentices for a full three years.
“The first year, you’d learn how to do all the technical stuff: building machines, making power boxes, and all that stuff,” he says. “And then the second year, you learned the customer service. Then in the last year, she’d teach you how to tattoo.”
Mark Nes, the 34-year-old owner of Body Mark’s, pipes up from his station by the window where he’s tattooing a client’s chest.
“I don’t know what procedures they teach them [in the two-week course], but the things we learned in two years seem kind of hard to condense into two weeks,” he says.
Then he goes on to explain that during an apprenticeship, a budding tattoo artist learns sterilization techniques, skin stretching, the differences between skin types, the basics of anatomy, “a lot of repetitious drawing,” and the rules specific to subject matter and tattoo styles.
“Tattooing isn’t just pick a design and do it. Nowadays there are more rules being broken, things that don’t follow the guidelines of good tattooing,” Nes says. “For example, take a cherry blossom tattoo. Cherry blossoms have five petals. There are a lot of guys who do them with four petals, which doesn’t make sense. It looks like a pink four-leaf clover. But we see them in tattoo magazines and on people who come in and have been tattooed other places. It just looks silly.”
Although neither Nes nor D’Amore has seen “Tattoo School” on television, they agree there’s no way a two-week program can provide the knowledge needed to become a tattoo artist. In addition, they fear the impact such a program could have on San Diego’s tattoo industry. It could flood the already overpopulated industry with new, inexperienced tattoo artists.
“[Fasulo] is somebody who’s got a great idea on how to make a buck. What scares me and a lot of shops is that it’ll take off,” D’Amore says. “It might sound a little like ‘Oh, woe is me,’ but it’s true. It could ruin the industry.”
In San Diego, “There are at least 130 to 140 shops,” Nes says. “Each shop probably has anywhere from three to eight artists. And the industry has probably grown 20 or 30 percent in the last five or six years. Between last year and this year, there are at least 15 new shops this year, maybe even 20. And compared to last year, it’s a lot slower this year [at Body Mark’s] than it was the year before and the year before that.”
To what does Nes attribute the rise in the number of people interested in becoming tattoo artists?
“TV,” he says. “There are so many shows glorifying the tattoo industry and tattooing.”
The lineup of shows on the Learning Channel on August 4 seems to confirm this. “Tattoo School” aired at 7:00 p.m. (eastern standard time), followed by a one-hour episode of NY Ink, four one-hour episodes of LA Ink, another of NY Ink, and then “Tattoo School” again at 2:00 a.m. That’s eight consecutive hours of tattoo programs.
Prior to the airing of “Tattoo School” on July 14, Tattoo Artist Magazine, a trade journal, published an “Official Statement” on its blog shaming the Learning Channel for producing the show and asking for a boycott of the channel.
“Do not promote or give airtime to the lowliest and most unethical practitioners of our treasured craft and profession. The dangers to the general public cannot be overstated,” the statement read. “Every case of infectious disease transmitted, every victim who will need laser surgery after receiving a bad tattoo could potentially bring lawsuits against TLC, the producers of this show and the ‘stars’ who own and operate the unethical tattoo schools, as well as their students. (And we will encourage these actions in every appropriate case.)”
Bloggers across the country took up the cause, creating Facebook petitions and organizing protests. One small protest took place here in Pacific Beach on Monday, July 11, outside Fasulo’s Tattoo Learning Center. (She also has a school in upstate New York.) Although the Tattoo Learning Center has been in San Diego since December 2008, Fasulo moved it from its City Heights location at the end of 2010. According to a July 12 NBC San Diego report, the protesters had not been aware of the school’s existence until hearing about the television program.
Fasulo knows that she’s on the outs with the tattoo industry. One of the first things she says in the introduction of “Tattoo School” is “The tattoo world hates me.” It’s also a phrase she uses to close the program. “Although the tattoo world hates me.…”
But, still, when she heard on Sunday, July 10, that a protest would take place in front of the San Diego school on Monday, she cancelled the two-week program that was set to begin that day. Her fear was compounded by the “threats and hate” she received in her email and voice mail as the television channel began promoting the program. San Diego was the first place where things got “physical.”