When Petaluma tattoo and piercing artist Frankie Cresci looked at her corporate research and development job eight years ago, she knew she wasn't happy: "I had to get out," she said.
So Cresci left her high paying job and embarked on a journey to become a tattoo artist, apprenticing for five years before becoming a full-fledged artist.
"I left good pay and a structured work schedule, but I was happy when I came to work," she said. "I always am now."
While most people don't uproot their lives for tattoos, Cresci's career change reflects a shift in attitudes toward both people with tattoos and the artists who create them.
"It's definitely becoming more mainstream, even over the past few years," said Cresci. "There's still a stigma, but not nearly as much as before. It's no longer for sailors and thugs."
Tattoos have been around since ancient times, when people inked their bodies with a single needle driven into the skin repeatedly by a stick. Over time, tattoos spread to fringe groups of society, including the military and gangs. But since movie stars and musicians began sporting tattooed skin and television shows like NY Ink and Ink Master made their way into primetime, the industry has seen an explosion in growth.
"I think having tattooing on television has made the biggest difference," said Petaluma artist Tito Ramirez, who works out of Petaluma's American Classic Tattoo shop and is covered in ink himself. "It put it in the forefront and really displayed tattooing as an art form."
Tattoos aren't just relegated to youthful indiscretions anymore. A 2010 national Pew Research poll found that 32 percent of people from the ages of 32 to 45 have a tattoo — a number that has likely increased over the past three years. The same study also found that 23 percent of all Americans have a tattoo.
"We see all ages, all genders, all races coming into the shop these days," said Cresci, who also works at American Classic Tattoo, and said that popular designs include "tribute" pieces for loved ones, realistic portraits and biomechanical pieces that often portray ripped flesh with mechanical parts.