The Invisible Cost of Improvement
Let me preface todays piece by saying I am all for piercer self improvement. I think we should always strive to be better, offer our clients better and learn more. An inherent nature of our industry is that new information and new science is constantly happening and we are always updating our techniques and methods and improving and growing. It’s an important, essential facet of virtually every industry.
That said, there is a cost to improving as a piercer. It is one thing to be a good piercer with a good foundation of techniques, angles, placement, and anatomy and simply learn a new method to pierce. Or learn about and switch to a different method of skin prep or surface cleaning or sterilizer maintenance. It’s another thing entirely to have no foundation at all, and start to relearn all of this.
For many of us, our start in piercing was less then ideal. Shitty shops with externally threaded jewelry who never taught us about anatomy or skin prep or angles. We never learned about needle quality or bevel theory. And then we meet other piercers, actually really good piercers- And we realize the overwhelming lack of education and knowledge we have. It’s one of the most disheartening moments a piercer can have. I know because I was there myself as a baby piercer. In that moment you are faced with a few choices. Arguably the best choice, quit, and find a new apprenticeship and learn the right way. Arguably the worst choice, say fuck it, keep using bad jewelry and doing bad piercings and say it doesn’t matter. Many folks choose a road somewhere in the middle- they continue piercing, but start learning all they can online about better quality jewelry, cleaning, technique, placement, etc. It takes a long time, but eventually after years they get to the point of being a good piercer. And, for many years, this was really the only choice. However, this choice has an invisible cost. A high one.
And who pays that cost?
When you lack any solid foundation, when you don’t even understand how to clean skin correctly, how bevel theory works, how needles work, what correct anatomy and angles are. You are starting from the ground up. And along the way you will make mistakes. There will be a learning curve. And when you are working as a full time piercer rather than an apprentice, it’s your clients who pay for your education. Still learning to prep skin correctly? It’s a client who gets irritation or bad reactions. Still learning anatomy? It’s your client who gets a piercing that never heals because they didn’t have the anatomy for it. Still working on upgrading jewelry? It’s your client who gets pierced with something they are allergic to.
I’m not saying don’t take the path of self improvement. But when you are looking at that vs reapprenticing completely to learn things right, remember the path of self improvement comes at the expense of the client. Ask yourself honestly what your skill level is. How much education are you actually lacking? Is it 50%? 80%?? How long will it take you to correct things? How many clients might you hurt in that time? Your intentions are great ones, your heart is in the right place of becoming a better piercer. But intentions and heart go out the window when we start talking about making mistakes and scarring up paying, trusting client's bodies.
One class at conference. One podcast. One week long seminar. One thread in a forum. These things don’t teach you how to pierce. Understanding many of these concepts comes from weeks and months of hands on, one on one training under a skilled piercer. It comes after watching them do literally hundreds of nostrils and helixes and industrials. It comes from being able to sit down and pierce step by step with someone over your shoulder guiding you. Again and again and again.
I love how much this industry has opened up, and how encouraging we are of each others growth and success. I’m in many professional forums where I watch piercers using the worst jewelry and doing the worst piercings blossom into great piercers, with great jewelry and great technique, doing stellar piercings daily. But no one talks about the cost. No one talks about the learning curve. It’s a high cost to learn without a mentor and without guidance how to do this correctly. There’s a lot of experimentation, doing something half wrong and getting feedback and then doing it a quarter wrong and getting feedback. Learning to understand anatomy and along the way doing a lot of piercings you shouldn’t have.
It’s important to remember every day that your clients pay the cost for your education when you do this. Not you, your clients. And they pay with their bodies. Sometimes with pain, irritation, scars, and damage from your education and your learning. Some people for whatever reason are unable or unwilling to reapprentice. Everyone's situation is different. But please, never forget it’s your clients who you are learning on, and each learning curve you take, you take it out on them.