Dustin Kiskaddon presents 'Blood and Lightning: On Becoming a Tattooer'

In Blood and Lightning, we join people who routinely manage a messy and carnal type of work. We land at the tattoo shop, where the smell of sterilizing agents, the hum of machines, and the sound of music spill out onto the back patio.


Third Place Books is delighted to welcome tattoo artist Dustin Kiskaddon to our Ravenna store! Kiskaddon will be discussing his new book, Blood and Lightning: On Becoming a Tattooer, where he guides us through a strangely familiar world, inviting each of us to become a tattooer along the way. This event is free and open to the public.

For important updates, registration is highly recommended in advance. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book!

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About Blood and Lightning. . .

Any tattoo is the outcome of an intimate, often hidden process. The people, bodies, and money that make tattooing what it is blend together and form a heady cocktail, something described by Matt, the owner of Oakland's Premium Tattoo, as "blood and lightning." Faced with the client's anticipation of pain and excitement, the tattooer must carefully perform calm authority to obscure a world of preparation and vigilance. "Blood and lightning, my dude"—the mysterious and intoxicating effect of tattooing done right.

Dustin Kiskaddon draws on his own apprenticeship with Matt and takes us behind the scenes into the complex world of professional tattooers. We join people who must routinely manage a messy and carnal type of work. Blood and Lightning brings us through the tattoo shop, where the smell of sterilizing agents, the hum of machines, and the sound of music spill out onto the back patio. It is here that Matt, along with his comrades, reviews the day's wins, bemoans its losses, and prepares for the future.

Having tattooed more than five hundred people, Kiskaddon is able to freshly articulate the physical, mental, emotional, and moral life of tattooers. His captivating account explores the challenges they face on the job, including the crushing fear of making mistakes on someone else's body, the role of masculinity in evolving tattoo worlds, appropriate and inappropriate intimacy, and the task of navigating conversations about color and race.

Ultimately, the stories in this book teach us about the roles our bodies play in the social world. Both mediums and objects of art, our bodies are purveyors of sociocultural significance, sites of capitalist negotiation, and vivid encapsulations of the human condition. Kiskaddon guides us through a strangely familiar world, inviting each of us to become a tattooer along the way.


Praise for Blood and Lightning. . .

"Blood and Lightning is a stellar and vivid depiction of an industry that has long been mythologized in popular culture. Kiskaddon's memoir offers a candid perspective on both the business and creative sides of tattooing. As it dives into a cultural rite of passage, Kiskaddon's work also excels as a character study."

"In Blood and Lightning, we don't just enter the silent and physical spaces within the world of tattooing, instead the spaces are lived, examined, and connected to our humanity. Kiskaddon shows how tattoos, like history and storytelling itself, can evolve depending on the body or the world they occupy."
—Devin Katayama, Senior Producer for NPR's Throughline

"Kiskaddon's sensuous ethnography takes us behind the scenes in the mecca of tattooing—Oakland, California. His richly detailed prose sings as he describes his apprenticeship: learning the right touch, both needle-to-skin and with other members of this 'cool' shop. More than any other ethnography I've read, this one breathes on the page: we inhale the sharp snap of isopropyl alcohol and the tang of sweat, while early Black Flag pumps out the speakers, thumping over the hum of machines, phone calls, and pain-filled exhalations of the clients. "
—Jennifer C. Lena, author of Entitled: Discriminating Tastes and the Expansion of the Arts

"Even readers who, like myself, have never gone under the needle will find themselves lured into the world that Kiskaddon unveils....Kiskaddon explores how tattooing intersects and resonates with many of the deepest themes of humanity, including art, commerce, race, identity and bodily autonomy."
—Paul Constant, The Seattle Times

Dustin Kiskaddon is an applied sociologist who studies the intersection of culture, bodies, money, and technology. His book, Blood and Lightning: On Becoming a Tattooer, explains how tattooers experience their lives. It’s based on Dustin’s experience working as a professional tattooer, and it was published by Stanford University Press.

Want a signed edition of the featured book, but can't make it to the event? Order through our website or over the phone, and write your request for a signature or personalization in the comments field at checkout. Please call the hosting store if you're placing your order within 24 hours of the event.

Third Place Books Events Code of Conduct: Third Place Books is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of event attendees and guest authors, during both online and in-store events. By registering for this event, you are agreeing to refrain from engaging in inappropriate behavior and harassment of any kind throughout the course of this event (i.e. racial slurs, profanity, hate speech, spam comments, etc.). Please note that any participants who engage in inappropriate behavior or harassment of any kind will be immediately ejected from the event.

For media inquiries, access inquiries, or questions about our Covid-19 policies, please email events@thirdplacebooks.com or call our Lake Forest Park store at (206) 366-3311.