Thinking Ink? You're Not Alone

Research shows a third of Americans have a tattoo. What are our students getting?
Kent State lightning bolt Tattoo
Tattoo by War Horse Ink

Juliana Buonaiuto, Undergraduate Student Government president, stated in her convocation speech this year that she got a lightning bolt tattoo during the first two weeks of her first year.

“When I first got to campus in 2020, there was not a lot to do, but I met these two girls, and they just really wanted to get tattoos,” Buonaiuto said. “I had a huge fixation on the lightning bolt back then. So I decided I was down, and we made an appointment for Warhorse.”  

Buonaiuto also expressed the coincidence of her lightning bolt tattoo and her later application to work as a Flash Guide. 

“The lightning bolt is a tradition for Flash Guides, but I had already gotten my flash tattoo in 2020. So, when I became a Flash Guide in 2022, I felt like I was destined to be one,” Buonaiuto said.  

Buonaiuto had her campus tour scheduled for March 13, 2020, so she never got to experience Kent State before enrolling. She explained she simply felt that Kent State would be a positive experience for her.  

“People asked me ‘Well, what if you transferred?’ but I just knew that I wasn’t going to,” Buonaiuto said, “I just had the strongest intuition that this is where I wanted to go, and at the time I hadn’t even been in the state before.”  

Buonaiuto is not alone.

A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that 32% of Americans have a tattoo. Even more interesting, for those ages 18-29, that statistic increases to 41%. Guess who fits into that age range? Here’s a hint: it’s college students.  

Kent State Today went to some local authorities to see if those national trends match the Kent State University community. 

War Horse Ink and Defiance Tattoos, two local tattoo shops in downtown Kent, helped explain how customers, many of whom are students, make their decisions.  

“A solid 75% of our clients are students, roughly 100 students a week,” Clint Marsh, owner of War Horse Ink, said. “We have three shops, all in Portage County, and we even get an overflow of students going to those other shops too.” 

Tattoo culture has been a tradition at Kent State for years. From Flash Guides getting matching lightning bolts to seniors immortalizing their graduation years on their bodies, students are frequent customers of the local tattoo shops.  

David Winland, tattoo artist at Defiance Tattoos, also agrees that most of their customers are from Kent State’s campus.  

“Roughly 80% of our customers are students and during the summer we have an entirely different demographic,” Winland said.  

Tattoo trends change over time, and, with the influence of Instagram and TikTok, it seems as if every year student tattoos trend differently.  

“It’s something new every year. Lots of small simple stuff,” Winland said. “The most common requests we get are vines, patchwork, fine lines and angel numbers.” 

Shoulder Tattoo by Joe Rafferty at Warhorse Kent
Tattoo by Joe Rafferty at War Horse Ink

Patchwork tattoos are small, individual tattoos that do not necessarily share a theme. They form a collage and provide limited empty space between them. Angel number tattoos are repeating numbers like 222 or 333 that have a personal meaning to the wearer. 

Marsh explained some students want to commemorate their time at the university, but sometimes they just want something they’ve been thinking about for a while.  

“We’ve done the Flash logo and graduation tattoos for groups of seniors coming in after commencement. But most people are coming to get stuff they have always wanted,” Marsh said.  

Forearm Tattoo
Tattoo by Wyat Kibler at War Horse Ink

Pew reported that the most common reasons for getting a tattoo include honoring something important, making a statement about what you believe in, or, for the 32% of adults who want to boost their confidence, they say improving their appearance with tattoos will do the trick.  

Pew also noted that 22% of those inked up have more than one tattoo. The good news is, according to Pew, about 80% of people agree that society is more tolerant of tattoos overall.

As the interview at War Horse Ink drew to a close, Marsh, ever the businessman, decided to throw in one last comment.  

“You know what, if we have a student who comes in and mentions they read this article,” Marsh laughed, “we can offer them a deal on their special Kent State tattoo.”  



POSTED: Monday, October 2, 2023 03:35 PM
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2023 11:22 AM
Paul Burlinghaus, Flash Communications