Human branding, scarification yield dramatic results
Published: Thursday, March 6, 2008
Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 14:09
The concept of art is different for everyone. Some enjoy the paintings of Picasso or the sculptures of Caravaggio. Some consider their own bodies a free canvas where their work can begin, the work of branding and scarification.
Branding and scarification have occurred since the early stages of history.
In Papua New Guinea, in the middle of the Sepik region, the scarification process among the young men of the local tribes is a rite of passage and initiation. The young men's backs are inflicted to resemble alligator teeth in the skin. Alligators were considered holy creatures. Pictures of these body modifications can be seen in Australia's Museum of Body Art.
Branding has been dated back to the ages of Greeks and Romans when they would brand their slaves to show a form of ownership.
Punishment was another use for branding. This punishment was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons, and the ancient law of England, by the Statute of Vagabonds in 1547.
Vagabonds and gypsies were ordered to be branded with a large V on their chest, and slaves who ran away were branded with S on the cheek or forehead. This law was repealed in England in 1636.
In some instances, high school students, particulary the boys, have experimented with their own types of branding.
Edward Bustos, 23, and his friends experimented with self-branding a couple of years ago.
"It was fun at first, now it's just painful," Bustos said.
Bustos and his friends began branding themselves when they were in bars with nothing else to do. They would heat up a fork or a knife with a lighter and place the elements onto their skin.
"First it was just for fun, and then it turned into who could last the pain the longest," Bustos said.
Now Bustos and his friends are left with many scars from their experiment.
"One of my friends has a scar about 3 inches long, and 1 1/2 inches wide, and it's going to be there forever," Bustos said.
One of the most well-known forms of branding is strike branding.
The type of branding used on cattle is strike branding but is done in such a way that a single design is made into one piece and placed on the skin.
Strike branding on humans is done in series of small strikes with a heated piece of metal to the skin to draw a design onto the body.
This technique of multiple strike branding has been used on African slaves so the owners knew who their property was.
Some African-American fraternities and sororities have incorporated this tradition into their initiation process, according to "African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision" by Tamara L. Brown.
Another form of professional branding is hyfricater branding, better known as laser branding.
This method uses small amounts of electricity to leave an impression on the skin.
The tool is heated by electricity and placed in small amounts on the skin to make the design.
This technique is recommended for large designs, but it does have its disadvantages. It is said to be more painful than strike branding.
Areas of the body that are more flat and muscular tend to take to branding more than the fatty and softer areas of the body.
The tools must be heated to somewhere around the 500-degrees range for the tools to make a clean imprint.
Sectional branding irons, generally used in strike branding, are easily held with pliers.
Artists position themselves and keep their hands and wrists steady, raising their forearms at the elbow away from the selected branding site.
An assistant will bring a lit blowtorch to the branding iron, holding the flame to the clamped metal piece used to make the design. The iron takes about 20 seconds to heat to the correct temperature of 500 degrees.
The high temperature range of the tools is what allows branding to be less painful and kill the nerves of the skin on contact.
Once the tool makes contact with the skin, the burn should go through the epidermis, through the dermis and just hit the subcutaneous layer.
The process is repeated until the design is complete.
The points where the strikes were made on the skin will spread and heal. The scar will heal to an enlarged state almost two to three times larger than the original size, hence the reason for placing small spaces in between each strike.
Jessica Vela, 23, was intrigued by branding and liked that her design would be 3-D.
"My original thought was to get a tattoo, but I liked the way a branding would be 3-D," Vela said.
Vela has a brand of a dragonfly above her knee. She received it at Skin Graphics, 1255 S.W. Loop 410, No. 140. The artist used strike branding.
"I'm not going to lie; it hurt, a lot," Vela said.
She hopes to incorporate a tattoo with the brand once it is fully healed, which she is estimating to be next month.
"I need the skin underneath the brand to fully heal before I can get the tattoo," Vela said. "If I get a tattoo over it now, the wound will reopen and not heal correctly."
At Industrial Primitives in Austin at 315 E. 6th St., Rick Frueh, owner of the shop, has been branding people for six years.
Branders do not need an official license to brand, only a license to tattoo and pierce.
"I learned how to brand from friends," Frueh said. "I would practice on them, too."
Frueh prefers to use a thermal cautery unit to brand his clients. It uses heat, much like a laser brand uses electricity, to warm the tool used for application.
"I'm not a fan of strike branding; the consistency you need is not there," Frueh said.
Frueh's clients must come in for two consultations before being branded.
"I never brand anyone on the first day," Frueh said. "Branding is a lot more serious. It's a lot more painful than a tattoo, but it comes out with dramatic results."