By Kiara Rudder
There’s a few things that your green $20 bill can buy you now a days. At a particular piercing studio in midtown, $20 can give you a dazzling brand new decoration on your body if you take the risk.
Mason Smart lived with Emily Mona for three months, and she put her trust in the hands of her amateur body piercer roommate, to be the very first flesh that Smart would experiment on.
After three weeks of training to be a body piercer, Smart performed an ear piercing on Mona for the cost of $20. While the average cost of an ear piercing ranges from $40 to $70.
Mona said that she was not too nervous about the piercing, because she felt like she could trust Smart. During the process Smart engaged in small talk with Mona, and explained the whole process making her feel comfortable.
“I had been wanting my ears pierced for a long time and I hadn’t done it yet or gotten the opportunity to, and I knew that they were in an apprenticeship for it. So I was totally comfortable letting them pierce my ears and me being the first,” Mona said.As you walk into the Art Ink Collective, you are welcomed by the sound of upbeat electronic music blaring from the speakers. The store is filled with a variety of abstract artwork, unique paintings, and grungy decor such as skulls. Behind the artwork each of the walls vary, with a plain white wall, a red wallpaper with a gold design, while the rest of the walls are brick.
The store is separated into three parts: the waiting area, the tattoo space, and the backroom for piercings.
In between the front desk and the wall, a small black door acting as a barrier reads the following message in white capital letters; “ABSOLUTELY NO SPECTATORS BEYOND THIS POINT,” followed by a gold symbol of the store’s logo.
The backroom where Smart performs the piercings has a hole so that spectators can watch without being a distraction.
In the backroom the walls are painted grey with two mirrors on either side of the wall, followed by three silver shelving units. One holding an autoclave which resembles a microwave, that disinfects the tools. Another contains three tiers of shelves with various jewelry inside boxes, sanitation equipment, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, sharp tools, and a box of purple latex gloves. The last unit is a table where Smart sets up all of the tools needed to perform the specific piercing. In the very middle of the small room is a black chair for the client.
A close up shot of the equipment needed for the piercing at the Art Ink Collective on Feb. 6, 2020. This includes a pair of scissors, a needle, the jewelry, and cotton swabs. (Kiara Rudder/T•) Mason putting on gloves before the piercing at the Art Ink Collective on Feb. 6, 2020 . Smart specifically puts gloves on in front of clients so they know that it’s a fresh new pair. (Kiara Rudder/T•) An autoclave in the piercing room at the Art Ink Collective on Feb. 6, 2020 . An autoclave uses high heat temperature to sterilize the piercing equipment. (Kiara Rudder/T•) A separate room at the Art Ink Collective where Mason Smart performs the piercings. This room is segregated from the rest of the shop. ( Kiara Rudder/T•)
Deliberately in front of each client, Smart said that they spray the cotton swabs with rubbing alcohol, put on their gloves one by one, and open the packaging of the piercing tools. This is so that the clients know the tools are sterile and clean.
To begin Mona’s ear piercing, Smart lined the silver table with a protective sheet, on top held a few cotton swabs, a small plastic package containing the jewelry, and a sealed sharp needle.
Once Mona was seated in the backroom, Smart dotted Mona’s freshly clean ears in the designated spot with a marker. In the mirror adjacent to the piercing chair, Mona verified the placement of the piercing. Smart then proceeded to slide the sharp needle through her ear, and inserted the jewelry successfully.
The whole procedure took place under the supervision of Smart’s boss at the Art Ink Collective tattoo shop.
“It didn’t feel intimidating! George was tattooing and he was very receptive to taking me on,” Smart said.
Before landing their apprenticeship at the Art Ink Collective, Smart marched up and down Bloor St., West with a stack of resumes during the summer after their high school graduation, with the hopes of a studio willing to train them.
During the training process at the Art Ink Collective, Smart practiced piercing on foam ears with practice needles. This helped them learn how to insert the jewelry, the different placements, the correct angle to pierce, and how deep to pierce.
Before piercing their roommate and their first five clients, Smart admitted that their hands were shaking. When piercing another client’s earlobes, Smart’s hands were shaking so much that the placement was messed up on one ear. “I felt terrible but she was very kind!” Smart said. When Smart makes a mistake on a client, they apologize and offer to repierce the spot for free.
After two months of training Smart said they began to feel more confident in their piercing journey, with better results, and faster piercing times.
A really exciting moment for Smart was when they successfully completed a septum piercing. The septum is the piece of your nose that separates your left and right nostril.
“This is one of the more challenging piercings because the piercer must determine where to pierce based on feeling inside the client’s nose, and trying not to pierce the rim of cartilage. The goal is to pierce the tip of the nose where there’s more skin, to have a safer healing time,” Smart said.
Smart said that they were able to successfully execute this piercing on their first try.
“I felt elated! It feels great to share a moment of excitement with a client, and see the smile on their face,” Smart said.
Smart themself currently have their earlobes stretched from spacers to about the size of a nickel coin on each ear. Dangling from the nickel sized holes are Betty Boop earrings.
Although Smart doesn’t plan on getting into the tattooing industry, they have ten tattoos on their body. The only visible ones that day being a tiny square on their finger, a black and purple box on their wrist, and a black tattoo barely peeking through their loose fitted button up shirt.
Smart isn’t quite sure how long they’ll be doing body piercings for, and what the future holds.
“I’d like to still be piercing in five years, and hopefully doing freelance graphic design work at the same time,” Smart said.