Cover-Ups: What’s under your skin

By Ant Perrucci |

Anyone with a tattoo can describe what getting one feels like. There are a host of physical reactions the body has to process.

You shiver when your skin is prepped. A tattoo artist lubricates your skin with a mixture of water and anti-bacterial soap.

Your flesh, freshly shaven and clammy, raises goose bumps as deodorant is rolled on and a stencil of your chosen body art is applied.

When you hear the tattoo machine click on and the low, drowning bzzzzzzzzzzzzz begins, you’re seconds away from having ink injected into the subcutaneous layers of your skin and your body will be altered forever, and a chill runs down your spine.

When it’s finished, you feel like you’re going into shock. Your head’s swimming from loss of blood, you’ve been sweating, and you’ll be dying for something to eat or drink.

But what does it feel like when you wake up one morning and find your bed empty and the only relic of your ex-girlfriend is her name on your arm?

What do you do after you outgrow the artwork you chose two decades ago?

How can you undo something as permanent as a tattoo?


Travis Baar sat in the lobby of his shop, Stay True Tattoo, on US-1 in St. Augustine.

As the rain fell outside his window, he sat on a couch, feet on a coffee table, eating Starbursts.

“It’s usually just a bad tattoo, or names,” Baar said of cover-up jobs that his shop does. Baar, 27, has owned his shop for just over two years, and said he sees up to 10 customers a month for cover-up work.

“There’s just this lack of quality,” he said. “Usually, if someone’s tattooing out of a house, it’s because they can’t get a job anywhere else.”

When a design is inked into someone’s flesh, the skin takes roughly six weeks to fully heal. The design, colors and placement of the offending piece affect the feasibility, design and coloration of any possible cover-up work, Baar explained.

Baar said a tattoo of a name is a prime candidate for a cover-up job.

“It’s poor decision making,” Baar said. “Everybody thinks their relationship’s going to last forever. And we all know how that goes.”

Something as simple as a name in two-inch block letters on the biceps could lead to having the entire upper arm covered.

“Say they want a rose over a name,” Baar said. Certain things work as a cover-up, certain things don’t. You can’t go over black with yellow, so you have to use more black or darker colors than you ordinarily would.”

You’ll also have to size up. “Usually you have to go three or four times bigger than the original tattoo,” Baar said. “You don’t want it to look like a cover-up.”

Baar said floral patterns lend themselves to the job. Florals, especially in the traditional style, offer greater leeway in coloring and shading.


Mishell Futch, a Jacksonville resident, goes to Pegasus Art Gallery on West King Street in St. Augustine for her tattoos, seeking out Kimberly Wells’ expertise as an artist.

Wells, who has been a tattoo artist for 12 years, said that while cover-ups are often the first idea people have, they are by no means a sure thing.

“Not everything can be covered up, unfortunately,” Wells said. “If [a design is] close to other tattoos, I can’t cover it up. I need some areas that aren’t tattooed. Also, if something’s extremely scarred, I can’t cover it up. You just can’t keep going over it and going over it and expect something to happen.”

Futch said that her first tattoo eventually became her first cover-up.

“I didn’t intend to get a tattoo that day,” Futch said. “I’d just turned 18.” A spur of the moment decision resulted in a band of roses on her left ankle.

Futch had it covered two years ago.

“It wasn’t a bad piece,” Futch said. “It was 16 years old, faded, it needed to be completely re-done.” Rather than have Wells go over the design with fresh ink, Futch elected for a cover-up.

Futch’s roses are gone now. Wells inked a design of hibiscus blooms and the Gemini symbol from the zodiac over the original design.

“If it’s a woman, I will nine times out of 10 jump into doing floral work,” Wells said. “I can manipulate those shadows to not necessarily cover every square inch of the tattoo you have, but I can do something to draw your eye somewhere else.”

“She’s awesome,” Futch said of Wells’ work. “I’m happy with what I have now. We’ll see in 30 years.”

Wells cautioned that people looking for a cover-up tattoo should have realistic expectations. “You get a solid, professionally done tattoo but make a bad decision on what you get, it’ll be hard to cover it up,” Wells said.

Wells said that she occasionally has to turn away customers with unrealistic expectations. “A lot of times they’ll go somewhere else, and I’ll see them six months later and they’ll say ‘is there anything you can do about this?’ And it’s a cover-up of a cover-up and it’s completely out of my hands,” she said.


Matthew Wysocki said that he was first tattooed in “probably 1990.” Wysocki, an assistant professor at Flagler College, stands out from his fellow faculty members, due in large part to the full-sleeve designs he sports on both of his arms.

“I started that process in the fall of ’92, spring of ’93,” Wysocki said. He began with separate tribal pieces that later became linked together.

“I honestly didn’t have the confidence to get the full sleeve from the start,” he said. “I wasn’t forward-thinking enough.”

Wysocki, whose tribal designs on his left arm are being covered with a dragon, said that he didn’t intend for the new sessions to result in a cover-up.

“I wanted the dragon to complement [the tribal designs] but it wasn’t feasible,” he said. “My artist sketched it up, and it came out looking much better.”

Wysocki’s new work, which he estimated was about 80 percent finished, was done at Pegasus.

“I trusted her, and I was right to trust her,” Wysocki said. “The results are far in excess of what I was hoping for.”

But Wysocki went big starting out – he has amassed “between 7 and 13 [tattoos] depending on how you count,” he said. And, he said that his apprehensions about future employability affected his tattoo habits.

“I wasn’t unhappy,” Wysocki said. “I still like the tribal, got nothing against it.” His right arm has not yet been added to.

Rosalie Cocci, a Flagler College graduate, said she got her cover-up as a result of a mistake her tattoo artist made. A misplaced stencil was never completely cleaned off, and was inked over.

“So I ended up with a tattoo with a repeated word,” Cocci said. “I got it covered up, once, but you can still see it.”

Stephanie Hicks, also a Flagler graduate, has five small tattoos on her body. She hasn’t had to get any covered, nor does she plan to.

“I like my tattoos. Why would I cover them up?” she said.


Jesse Britten is a man who looks as though a cover-up tattoo would be out of the question. His neck is covered by a solid tribal design in something of a Pacific Northwestern style, and his arms are completely covered.

But, Britten said that about 80 percent of his tattoos are is covering up something else.

Britten, who’s been tattooing for 10 years and in St. Augustine for three, said that his own cover-ups lend him credence when he’s advising clients.

“I take into consideration what I’m putting on someone’s body,” Britten said. He’s had to talk clients out of tattoos that blur, are too small or just aren’t doable.

Britten, like Baar and Wells, said that he covers up names on a regular basis.

“I’d say purple roses [are] my best cover-up trick,” he said, laughing. “That, or realistic skulls. Skulls, birds, ravens, anything with lots of black.”

Britten said the cover-up work he does is split between fixing another artist’s mistake and covering a design that someone changed his or her mind about.

“It’s easier to fix what’s already there,” Britten said. “If you can’t fix it, you have to cover it [anyway].”

Britten has a list of common complaints:

“The ink didn’t stay well. The lines are shoddy. The blacks aren’t black enough, the colors aren’t bright enough.”

Sometimes, people get too much sun, he said, and a piece that’s only a few years old fades and ages far before its time.

Britten, Baar and Wells all have similar advice for people looking to avoid cover-ups – Don’t get a name tattooed on you.

“I’ve covered up names that I’ve put on people,” Britten said.

“I think research is the best way [to avoid future cover-ups],” Britten said.

“Look online, look through magazines. See if you have any way to compare” what you want with what your artist comes up with, he said.


After the healing time is over, and your 6- to 8-week-old tattoo is permanently on your body, the experts offer standard advice to keep it looking its best: Keep it out of prolonged, direct exposure to sunlight, use an ointment with vitamins A and D, and so on.

And of course, the best way to keep your tattoo in good is as easy as thinking long and hard about whether you really want it.

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