Interview (A conversation with Brian)

Interview (A conversation with Brian)

Piercing Experience Founder Brian Skellie

||| A conversation with Brian

How did you receive your training?

My initial experimentation on my own body came about after inspiration through anthropological sources such as old encyclopedias, National Geographic, Smithsonian and reading stacks of dusty old tomes. If nearly every culture in the world had body decoration before even a written alphabet, it could not be such a complicated thing to do for myself.

If traditional means were sufficient for healing and safety in a setting other than our urban environment, then I would need to balance the means to my surroundings so that my immune system would not have to do all of the work itself. I researched the conditions and procedures necessary for successful traditional body adornment of all kinds: cicatrisation, tattoo, ritual burns such as brands or moxibustion, body shaping such as corsetry and binding the feet, arms, legs and head, and the insertion of decorative objects under the skin. I compared all methods I could learn of with scientific and medical research to determine how to emulate these sorts of processes without deleterious effects. Anthropologists’ reports of what they saw as ‘ruined’ body manipulations were often hard to decipher as to indicate infection or trauma. I wanted to carefully avoid any undesirable outcome.

All of this intrigued me at a very early age. The permanent results of the rituals and processes I read about enthralled me, particularly as a personal reminder of experiences. I have collected books and pictures of all sorts of body adornment ever since. I decided to begin altering my own body during adolescence, when I felt my mind and spirit changing at the speed of thought. I put forth a concerted effort to determine what kind of outward mark of my inner growth would feel right to me.

Though the desire for marking my body was apparent to me from early on, I needed much further meditation to find the physical beginning for me. It was not until I was about sixteen and had read and experienced more along the lines of body modification and adornment that I decided I was ready. I chose to put jewelry in my body as milestones of change, a way to remember the wisdom gained from both hard and sweet lessons and experiences.

I put together what I needed to open my skin, and jewelry to put in it. I meticulously cleaned every thing as well as I could in a stovetop pressure cooker, chugging away at the highest temperature and pressure it could muster for nearly an hour. I hoped that archaic method would be enough for new unused supplies. I scrubbed my hands and donned latex gloves. I prepared my skin as if for major surgery, with iodine surgical solution in a great big patch around the site. I then changed gloves and set about figuring out how to hold the skin in alignment while putting a sharp piece of stainless steel through my body. About an hour and fifteen minutes later, after numerous changes in my technique, I realized that I simply was not pushing hard enough to break through the skin. The needle was custom made and very sharp stainless steel, but about 1/8th inch thick, nearly twice the thickness of the ring I intended to put in. This was the major impediment… I took a deep breath and bruised my fingers on the blunt end of that shiv in the split second of force it took to go through.

I put more thought into the next few pieces that I put into myself and had the next few done by more experienced professionals. I concluded that I should still go about learning more. My closest friends wanted me to put jewelry in for them when they could tell how much it meant to me, and urged me to find a mentor. I met Jack Yount in 1992, a kind and gentle person with over forty years experience, and he steadied my hands and gave them direction. I interacted with as many other experienced individuals as I could to share knowledge and discuss ideas. I observed and was supervised while in Florida, and continued to interact with Jack until he passed away in 1995.

What was involved in your learning process?

I had done enough research in the development of my own techniques, but was not ready to use them on anyone but myself without supervision. I pursued observation of the work of those whom I considered authoritative in the field along with detailed scrutiny of their experiences. I had my hand guided the first few times, and practiced on willing and patient friends under supervision. I continuously work to refine the practical application and broaden my knowledge of the human in change each day.

Learning to work with this change in all of its aspects never stops. The next challenge seems to appear readily and without fail. I tend to eddy off into different ways of seeing the experience to keep it fun and add to the stimulating variety of subtle reactions involved with these shining little things I put in people.

Why and when did you decide to become a body piercer?

I planned to NOT do it for a living, or for trade, just for my friends and myself. When I came back to Atlanta from my first year of college, I made so many appointments within my circle of friends and acquaintances that I rented two rooms with a sink from a retail store, and set about making a studio as Piercing Experience. I met with success and saved my money intending to rent a larger space for exclusively piercing. I spent over a year side tracked, sharing space with a group of tattoo artists, and finally in May of 1995, had found and designed my ideal space. It was a building located one block from where I grew up, and just the right size. I did most of construction myself and had it opened by August. It has been amusing ever since…

What is the most common piercing you perform?

I notice that many of one type of piercing will come to us in a week’s time. This I attribute to word of mouth promotion by our clients. One good piercing for a happy client can bring in dozens more of the same in time. The common jewelry changes too much to predict. Sometimes it seems obvious, like when someone famous shows off their jewelry, we get many requests for that same sort of thing. I see the media as saturated with that sort of inspiration, just waiting to trigger someone’s desires.

What is your favorite piercing to do and why?

A knowledgeable and relaxed client who appears determined to get the best service really brings out the best in me. I try to talk with people ahead of time until I feel that they are comfortable and informed enough to proceed with a clear conscience.

What kind of sterilization methods do you use?

Sterilization is a clear and simple issue: nothing dangerous should survive the steam sterilization process in our autoclave. I maintain a STATIM 2000 cassette sterilizer in proper working condition, test it weekly with bacterial spore samples and an off site lab to assure that it does kill harmful pathogens, and use it according to its capability.

I researched all available forms of sterilization and determined that a steam would be the best available choice for the implements and jewelry we use. It does not damage our jewelry or leave any dangerous residues. A few novelty pieces cannot be successfully steam sterilized and stay intact such as acrylic and many plastics, as well as almost all epoxy and glues used. We choose not to sell or use any item we can not assure that will be entirely safe based on current scientific standards. We choose not to sell jewelry made with glues and most plastics. Not only do they tend to break too easily, but may conceal and protect pathogens through any sterilization process other than by penetrating radiation. Other types have common disadvantages: heat takes too long, and only works for gauze and metal tools; radiation is not available for individual use; and chemical liquid or vapor sterilization have dangerous fumes, may not get all surfaces of objects, and leave dangerous residues.

Is piercing your full time, or part time job?

Full time since 1992.

Brian’s role in the studio began diminishing in the mid 2000’s as he began to travel regularly. He stopped piercing regularly at the studio in 2008 when he sold the shop to Christina. He now travels the US and Europe to sell sterilizers, help piercers set up their shops, and to educate piercers.

What is your perception on body piercing? (Art, fetish, cultural, etc)

It manifests as a social force, and what I observe depends on the equipment I use. Just as light has wave-like features or particle-like features based on the test and equipment. Today in the microscope it appears as just people who choose to wear jewelry that is harder to lose than a bracelet or necklace, tomorrow with different scopes it may seem mystic, religious, fashionable, fetishistic, an exotic anthropological reflection or a personal symbol. I have dedicated my work to keep it safe, simple and gentle. Make of it what you will…

Any other information that you could give me about being a professional body piercer would be much appreciated.

I anticipate the eventual decline of anyone practicing non-sterile piercing methods. People are moving towards safer procedures such as wearing sterilized gloves to handle and insert autoclave sterilized needles, instruments and implant grade jewelry and steer away from prevalent clean-looking but contaminated procedures. People are beginning to realize that too much has been previously left to guess about in the business, and that there are safer ways to put jewelry in people, without all the loose ends and nagging issues of conscience. I anticipate that clients will choose safer methods based on researched instead of perpetuating old guesswork opinions and assumptions.

Caveat vendor; caveat emptor: Seller beware; buyer beware

I am working on refining systems of quality control to provide for public health while still in the best interest of the piercer. It is a challenge to take safety seriously without incurring some expense, whether it be time, labor or cash. It is worth it…


Brian Skellie

“You already have the precious mixture that will make you well. Use it.”

— Rumi

7 thoughts on “Interview (A conversation with Brian)”

  1. this article was really amazing to read brian! very inspirational.. quick question though do you every miss piercing full time? also do you miss running a shop?

  2. I do miss piercing full time, and I’m glad to do guest spots any time I can. I also miss running a shop, but one of the bright sides is that now I can help out many shops, including and especially Piercing Experience.

  3. that is amazing man.. yeah i think it would be hard to quiet working for me full time! that is great man well you are a very good inspiration for young people such as myself and i thank you for that. that. Piercing Experience is an amazing shop and you and your people did very nice things with it…

  4. This is really an amazing article from Brian. He is definitely someone who had introduced such a trend in our fashion and he has been an inspiring piece for many youngsters. The reason behind his traditional body adornment had been made possible only through his sincere researches.

  5. Thank you for your ever ensightful thoughts and knowledge.

    As a slighly 'aside' question, what requirements would body and piercing jewellery need to comply with, for someone who was looking to independently produce their own? Is PLA ok to use as a replacement to 'bioflex'?

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      If you were to choose a material for jewelry, make sure that it is certified for surgical implant purposes. ASTM and ISO specifications exist for just about all materials available that have been successfully used for human implant, and the ISO 10993 series of standard tests for biocompatibility would be the alternative for a novel material.

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