Covering up: Tattoo artists getting more requests to erase past ink mistakes

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - While flowers and chocolates are the go-to for Valentine's Day, some people opt for a more permanent way to display their love.

So what happens after the love is gone, but the ink remains?

"We get very busy during Valentine's Day, especially with some of the promotions we run," tattoo artist Jeff Tuano said.

For the past 22 years, Tuano has left his mark and he generally stays pretty busy this time of year.

While he appreciates the business, Tuano has a warning for those in love.

"If you do decide to tattoo somebody else's name on your body, please make sure it's exactly what you want to do," he said. "If not, I'll see you in six months to get it covered up."

Cover-up tattoos are a growing part of the trade, with more and more people looking to erase a past mistake.

Bella Connolly is on one of those people looking to move on from a past decision. She got her first tattoo, a black panther, as a teen. The artist needed practice and asked for volunteers.

In retrospect, it maybe was not the best idea. Plus, the tattoo was big and not at all what Connolly had hoped for.

"For years, I really didn't know what I wanted to do with it," she said. "Covering tattoos wasn't as popular back then as it is now, so a lot of artists were scared to touch it."

Luckily, artists like Tuano have mastered the art of the cover-up

"I would say all told, total, about 30 to 40 percent of my business is cover-ups," he said.

They are also some of his most challenging pieces.

"A lot of people are under the assumption that what we do is like spray paint, where you can take white spray paint and go over top of black and it will cover it up," Tuano said. "It just doesn't work that way."

To pull off a successful cover up, Tuano has some rules the new tattoo must meet.

"No. 1, you have to pick something that is usually bigger than the one we are covering up. You want to be able to pull the eyes away from the areas that are being covered up," he said. "It has to be something that has a lot of layers, it can't have any big open spots in it, can't have any big patches of light color."

For Connolly, the roses Tuano drew up were a sign she had made the right decision in covering her old tattoo.

"When he showed me the picture and I got chills and I was like, 'This is it,'" she said. "My dad, he grew roses and he passed away in my arms and I made his entire funeral all types of roses."

That's the part of cover-up tattooing Tuano likes the most - being able to help people move on.

"For me, the satisfaction comes not necessarily in the artwork I'm producing but it's seeing the reaction from the person who is getting the work done," he said.

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