Lyle Tuttle: How to be a real tattoo artist

Covered a tattoo convention over the weekend for the Star, and had a chance to interview Lyle Tuttle, the man who made tattooing safe for women, back in the 60's, beginning most famously with Janis Joplin. (And here she is, displaying her armband, courtesy of Tuttle.) Here's his part of the story


Among the celebrities at the convention was octogenarian Lyle Tuttle,
who became famous in the late 1960s for tattooing Janis Joplin, Cher,
the Allman Brothers and other celebrities.

Tuttle said that when he started working professionally after World
War II
, tattoos were like stickers on luggage — mementos of travel and

"Now seems like everyone in the world has them," he said.

Tuttle thinks there is beauty in body art but also thinks that too
often people get tattooed for the wrong reasons, such as out of peer
pressure or drunkenness, and he has reservations about tattoos on the
neck or hands. "If I was to get a neck tattoo, I would in essence be
alienating myself from society," he said. He added that he's troubled by
people who want a tattoo on their hands or neck as "the first rattle
out of the box."

Tuttle said he no longer works professionally. He told a story of
refusing to give a tattoo to a woman who came in to his shop who
couldn't decide on a design. Instead of trying to talk her into buying a
tattoo she didn't really want, he talked her out of it.

"You have to have a conscience to be a real tattoo artist," Tuttle said.

To me he added, as he walked away, "Make me look like a gentleman."
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  1. Michael Strickland

    You did make him look like a gentleman. I wanted more Tuttle and less tattooing, since legends by definition are rare and bad skin art is ubiquitous.

    September 18, 2012
  2. Kit Stolz

    Thanks Mike…yeah, I would have liked to have spent the whole story on Tuttle, who was an unusually honest man. Especially for a guy who must have been interviewed at least a thousand times. Who knows, maybe next year.

    September 20, 2012