The Piercing Bible Interview with Master Piercer Elayne Angel
Author of The Piercing Bible and Master Piercer Elayne Angel is just the person you’d be lucky to meet if you were interested in getting pierced. After all, she’s pierced over 40,000 people in her career and her passion could put anyone at ease.
Perhaps it is the tattooed angel wings upon her back (which are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office) or her love and respect for the industry that puts her in a league of her own.
She’s passionate, educated, and she’s got your back.
Elayne is a body modification enthusiast who began her profession at the Gauntlet, the first body piercing studio in the United States.
President of the APP Association of Professional Piercers and Author of The Piercing Bible which is now in its fourth printing- let’s chat…
Since you’ve been credited for starting the pierced tongue trend, what made you want to do it? (I confess, I did too)
Elayne: I already had quite a few body piercings already when I saw a photo of a man named Tattoo Samy. He was from Frankfurt, Germany and he had a tongue piercing that had been done in 1978 by Jim Ward, owner and founder of Gauntlet (the world’s first piercing specialty studio).
The image was in a PFIQ Magazine which was published by Gauntlet, where I later worked. After I assisted Jim in doing a tongue piercing on a truck driver named Dennis in the early 1980s at a piercing demonstration I knew I had to have mine done.
Dennis didn’t end up keeping his in, so after my tongue was pierced (I think it was 1985) it ended up being among the first to be permanently worn in the US.
I believe I was also first to wear a tongue tip piercing, and to have multiple tongue piercings.
From viewing that first photo I was totally fascinated by tongue piercing and after I got mine I just loved it. One was so great, then two was more than twice as much fun, and that’s how I ended up with so many. I was so incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about tongue piercing that I spread the word to encourage other people to try it.
I still wear all 5 of my tongue piercings. When I recently visited the dentist he asked me how it was possible that I had a mouth full of metal for literally decades, but no damage to my teeth. I explained that my piercings are properly placed, I wear jewelry that fits closely to my tongue (it is VERY IMPORTANT to downsize after initial swelling is gone), and I don’t click the bars or balls against my teeth or chew on them.
Did your interest in body piercing stem from any medical passions?
Elayne: Yes! My father is a doctor, and my favorite dinnertime conversations were always about whatever interesting cases he’d seen in his practice.
I poured over all of his medical books as a child and was quite the amateur surgeon. As a young child I did “autopsies” on dead fish using medical instruments I got from my father. I also operated on tomatoes, which may be why I can’t eat them to this day.
I think if I hadn’t managed to create a career as a piercer, I would have gone into some aspect of the medical field.
As President of the Association of Professional Piercers; your most important duty is…
Elayne: To oversee the direction of the organization and make sure we’re fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about safe piercing.
The most important message in your book, The Piercing Bible:
Elayne: Educate yourself so you can make good decisions and get hygienic, successful piercings, because not all piercers are competent or conscientious.
How many book cover ideas did you play with? Be honest; which was your favorite?
Elayne: The book was not self-published, so I didn’t really have much control of the cover art, the quantity of photos and illustrations, or even the number of pages in the book. In fact, when the publisher contacted me after receiving my proposal, my manuscript was 157,000 words. They asked if I could cut it down to 100,000! I told them that I really wanted to get the book published, but it would not be the comprehensive volume that needed to be available on this subject, even with the most judicious editing. Ultimately, we compromised at 133,000 words.
I’m happy with the current cover, but along the way the publisher’s designer was playing with images of body jewelry to create some of the letters in the book’s title. It wasn’t working at all and I actually regretted signing the contract at one point. But it all turned out okay in the end.
If you could keep only one tattoo, it would be:
Elayne: Ooh, that’s a tough question! I really had to ponder this one for a while because I really enjoy all of my tattoos.
I think it would be my mermaid tail. I just love the softness and the subtle variations of the colors, and the way the fins and scales accent my curves. Juli Moon did an exceptional job. Even though I consider it to be a single tattoo, it does cover my whole lower body–about 50% of me! So if I kept just that one, I wouldn’t feel too naked.
Do you like the educator/author, piercer or role of the APP board position best? You wear lots of hats. Which one fits best?
Elayne: Overall I think the educator hat fits me most comfortably–and that one seems to go along pretty well with everything I do. I have a passion for teaching and providing information. I love that my formative years in the industry under Jim Ward and Gauntlet fostered this type of free exchange. I’m always surprised when people are secretive about their industry knowledge because my whole career and lifestyle is based on openly sharing.
What’s on your iPod right now? (The song you keep replaying)
Elayne: It’s a song called All I Want by E.G. Daily (who is a friend of my husband’s) from her 1999 album “Tearing Down the Walls.” It may be a little obscure, but I really like her music–and she’s a really cool lady. If you’re not familiar with her work, you should check it out!
You travel in a gypsy caravan and pierce. What’s the name your studio and how much do you charge?
Elayne: Well, more accurately, I fly in and out of Merida where I live to various places and pierce in the studios of my colleagues. I owned and operated Rings of Desire, Inc. in the French Quarter of New Orleans for over 12 years, and it closed after Hurricane Katrina. So when I’m home, I work full time online answering piercing questions, blogging, and sharing piercing information. And I pre-book the piercing appointments I do when I hit the road.
I usually fly somewhere, pierce like a maniac, and then come home to recover. I just got back from a five-day work trip to Philadelphia and I did 104 piercings on 87 clients. They came from 12 different US states and also Japan and the UK to get pierced by me. What an honor!
I’m traveling from out of the country, so regardless of placement on the body, my piercing fee is $100 for an initial piercing, plus the jewelry. Additional piercings on the same person in the same session are $50. each (plus jewelry).
You live in Merida, Mexico. Has your body art been influenced by the Mayan culture there?
Elayne: By the time I moved to Mexico I already had almost all of the body art I now wear. But my most recent tattoo was definitely influenced by Mayan art and culture. I got a sun ray design across the tops of both shoulders for my 50th birthday. I think it is sort of ironic and interesting that I ended up living in a place with such a strong tradition of body art and modification.
For every piercing trend that comes and goes, this one will always be timeless:
Elayne: Nipples. This was the most popular piercing when I first started working at Gauntlet in the 1980s, and I’ve done them throughout my career. Even though ninety-some percent of my current work is genital piercings, nipples are the next most common spot that I do.
Name your piercing that hurt the most (ouch) or felt the best.
Elayne: My conch (ear cartilage) piercing. It was done at 10 gauge with the old style Gauntlet needles, which weren’t as sharp as they are nowadays. The back of the piercing looked like I had been shot with a small caliber bullet, and the crunch was heard across the studio. Not sure if this is TMI, but I have a clitoral glans piercing (not my hood) and it wasn’t even as painful as my conch piercing. Then we made the mistake of putting a matte finish charcoal niobium ring in it. Oh, it was agonizing!
Do you think intimate piercings for women will become trendy?
Elayne: It’s already happened. I can tell you that I pierced the hoods of an entire sorority when I had my studio in New Orleans! That was interesting.
As I mentioned, about 95% of the piercings I do are female genital piercings. That’s my specialty and it has been for some years now. Interestingly, a large percentage of my clients are mature women who have no other piercings or body art. They are actively seeking sexual enhancement. This is definitely not a “trendy” type of thing for them. It is very private for many of these women, and they take the time to educate themselves and they are motivated by something that is deeply meaningful to them. “Trendy” fits with impulsiveness and something short-lived, but for most of my clients, it isn’t about that at all.
Why are there angel wings on your back?
Elayne: I couldn’t help it.
In the early 1980s I was inspired by seeing a woman who had a full back dragon tattoo. I was really stricken by the impact of a large, single-image back piece and began to consider getting one for myself. As I pondered what I might get, the idea came to me of neoclassical angel wings. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I knew I had to do it. I felt that it was right for me. I’ve always had flying dreams that were very positive and exciting for me. They felt really important in my life.
But this was the ’80s, and there were not a lot of heavily tattooed women at that time. I visited the artist that did the bold dragon tattoo I so admired: Bob Roberts of Spotlight Tattoo in Los Angles. He drew a little sketch after I described to him what I was seeking and he totally shared my vision. I proceeded to think about it–every day–for the next year. When I still wanted it as badly as I had when the idea first came to me, I set an appointment and did it. I had NO idea I was embarking on something that would later spark a tattoo trend!
Is there a fetish world associated with body piercing?
Elayne: Yes, for sure, though obviously, not everyone who gets pierced takes this approach to it.
Does any form of body modification scare you?
Elayne: Anything to do with the eyes freaks me out–tattooing the sclera, eyelid piercings…. I just can’t get past the risk of losing eyesight for body art or modification.
Your favorite page in your book The Piercing Bible?
Elayne: Ah! There’s over 300 pages in there, so that’s really a tough question. It took me about five years to write the book. So each one of those pages is kind of like my offspring, together we went through a long gestation and painful delivery…. I can’t pick just one.
So, the preface (page ix) is among my favorites because I get to be a little more personal and explain why I wrote the book.
I don’t think I’d call it a “favorite” per se, but there’s one I refer people to quite often: “The Worst Piercing Story” on page 119. It tells a cautionary tale of the disaster that happened following cheek piercings.
And another one of my favorites is actually the final page, which talks about being a liaison to the rest of the world when you’re visibly pierced, and about the future of piercing.
What makes a great body piercer?
Elayne: A person with a deep passion for piercing and a true love of people, coupled with fine technical skills and an abundance of experience. Patience and empathy are crucial, and when combined with sound communication skills produce an important quality: a soothing bedside manner.
How can body piercing enhance or distract from less desirable features; such as facial scars, prominent nose, off-set eyes, etc.?
Elayne: Here’s a brief excerpt from The Piercing Bible that addresses this question:
Jewelry will bring attention to the area in which it is worn. If your ears resemble those of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, you might not want all eyes drawn to them with conspicuous jewelry. (Or maybe you do!) Perhaps an eyebrow piercing to bring the focus away from your large ears would be preferable?
Conversely, if you have never liked the shape or size of your nose, you might consider customizing your nostril with jewelry to make it more pleasing to you.
Then again, if you have a lovely nose, why not embellish it with a glimmering jewel? Whether used to downplay, modify, or highlight a particular feature, your piercing can be personally empowering and gratifying.
Gaze in the mirror and envision how a piercing will look on you. Would a ring or stud be best? Does a subtle ornament suit you or would bold jewelry look better? Ask some trusted friends for their opinions. A professional piercer is also a good resource if you have doubts or concerns.
If she wasn’t a body piercer, Elayne Angel would be:
Elayne: A medical professional; probably a doctor like my dad. [Already answered above.]
You moved to a twin city after losing your Louisiana piercing studio from Hurricane Katrina. You then moved to twin city Yucatan. Was that intentional?
Elayne: No, it was completely a coincidence. Or at least I didn’t realize it at the time. Not only are they sister cities, but they are both located on the same longitude! And we bought our house in Mexico just a few weeks before Katrina hit! So we were actually planning to move. My only unanswered question was what I was going to do with my piercing studio, and the storm answered that for me.
Speaking of sisters, what is your best “sisters” tattoo design suggestion? I need some creative inspiration for my next article.
Elayne: How about a matching, traditional “Mom & Dad” tattoo? I also liked this butterfly design (two halves of a butterfly that placed together make whole), or some other that makes a new complete image when the tattoos are adjacent to one another. It is a cute “sister” concept.
Thank you for the interview and best wishes for continued happiness and success with The Piercing Bible.
Elayne: Thank you so much! The Piercing Bible is in its fourth print run, and actually sold more copies last year than the first year it came out, which is pretty amazing! And it is also available as an eBook. I’m thrilled that people are reading it and getting well educated about piercings.
I also wanted to recommend Jim Ward’s book Running the Gauntlet, which is fascinating, and it is a great read for pierces who have an interest in the history of the industry.