Pandemic therapy and the art of tattooing

Sari Green/Courier St. Stephen based tattoo artist Adriann Walsh, owner of Haunted Hearts Studio, said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t effected her business much, other than creating a backlog of clients after the lockdown last year. She said tattooing can actually be very therapeutic for some, particularly during a time when people are dealing with depression and other mental health issues due in part to the pandemic.

ST. STEPHEN – We’ve been hearing so much about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected small business owners, in many different types of industries. So, how is it affecting the tattoo industry? That would depend on who you ask. St. Stephen based tattoo artist Adriann Walsh, owner of Haunted Hearts Studio, said the biggest problem she has faced in the past year-and-a-half was the lockdown, which she hopes will not happen again. To this day, she still is dealing with its knock-on effects.

“The lockdown had a very negative effect on my business, on my finances, and on my mental health,” said Walsh. “It coincided with our busy season, so I’ve never really been able to catch-up on the backlog of people who would like to get in and be tattooed.”

Other than the repercussions of the lockdown, Walsh said the pandemic hasn’t had a huge effect on how she operates her business. Due to the nature of the business, sterilization has always been an important part of her day, and that hasn’t changed due to COVID-19. She always sterilizes each piece of equipment and all touchable surfaces between each client. She said the only real difference is that she now sanitizes the pens people use to sign consent forms, and she frequently sanitizes the doorknobs.

“The pandemic has not had a huge effect on my daily operations,” said Walsh. “In this business, every client carries a potential risk. There’s no way for me to tell if a client may have a blood borne disease or illness. Such is the same with COVID. So, for blood borne illnesses, all my PPE, my sanitization/sterilization procedures, and plastic barriers that cover all my equipment, all those things offer layers of protection as well.

When asked about the mask policy, Walsh said she does require clients to wear masks in the shop, and she also wears one. But, in this type of business, wearing a mask can come with a “few disadvantages”, particularly when it comes to the comfort of her clients. She said if a client feels lightheaded during a tattoo session, she will ask them to pull their mask down and take a drink of water until they are feeling better. While the mask is down, she goes into the gallery room at the front of her shop.

“Tattoos are painful, and I try to make my clients as comfortable as possible,” said Walsh. “People also have a tendency to hold their breath in an attempt to stay still. Sometimes people feel hot or short of breath, so the mask can add discomfort to a procedure that is already causing discomfort. Rules are rules, but I won’t have someone faint and potentially hurt themselves sooner than pull the mask down for a few seconds.”

Currently, tattoo shops are not mandated by the Province of New Brunswick to ask for proof of vaccination. Walsh said she is “big on privacy”, and always keeps her clients’ names and personal information strictly confidential. She added she would feel quite uncomfortable having to ask clients about their private medical information, and hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“There’s the potential for legal issues to arise from that as well. And, I haven’t had to ask. Everyone who is vaccinated has been very happy to provide that information without being asked.”

So, what does Walsh see in the future for her business, especially in the midst of a pandemic? She said she tries not to think about the future much, because of the “constant and ever-present threat of being shut-down again”. She said this can be quite scary for anyone who has a client-based income.

Walsh said that getting a tattoo can actually be quite therapeutic, particularly during these uncertain times when people are struggling with mental health issues.

“I think it’s safe to say at this point that lockdowns do a number on peoples’ mental health,” said Walsh. “Believe it or not, being tattooed can be extremely therapeutic. I hear it every day. I do hope we are not locked down again, so I can continue to provide a little happiness, and a little relief, during a scary and uncertain period in our lives.”