If you, like me, believe that your body has value, that you yourself have value, and that you deserve to get a tattoo that you will always love, then this blog is for you. If you’re a bit more nihilistic, perhaps you don’t take things so seriously, you could still learn something from it 🙂
If you’re already pretty experienced with tattoos, you can probably skip right through #1, because it’s pretty common sense, but believe it or not, common sense ain’t so common.
1) Never ever ever, and I mean this with no exceptions, get tattooed in any establishment that is not a licensed tattoo studio. I originally wrote “never get tattooed in someone’s house” but some of the best tattooers in the world have a private studio in their homes, because they ball like that. But they are licensed and they tattoo out of their homes to avoid the hassle and overhead of a street shop. They have paid their dues, worked hard to become renowned to the point that people from around the world seek them out specifically and will travel any distance to have their skin imbued with these artists’ work.
99% of people tattooing out of their homes are NOT these artists.
So if your cousin invites you to a tattoo party, I’m begging you DON’T GO. Sure, a $20 tattoo sounds like a great deal, especially if you’ve been drinking. Or even sometimes maybe your friend knows a traveling artist who’s “legit” but just doesn’t have a shop to host him or her in your town. BUT remember these guidelines
- “Legit” tattooers work in licensed tattoo shops- if they are not working in a shop, chances are it’s not just because they don’t want to share their commission- it’s because no legitimate shop wants to be associated with them.
- Cover-ups are waaaaaaayyyyyyy more expensive and time-consuming than if you had just gotten the right tattoo in the right place by the right person in the first place.
- Bloodborne pathogens and communicable diseases. Look em up. They are no joke. Come on, don’t risk it.
2) Look At Portfolios! Sure, the shop came well-recommended from your friend who just got some pretty high-quality work, but if you walk in and get tattooed by the first available artist, you could get stuck with the apprentice and walk out wondering how you ended up so unlucky. Maybe you’re a little more experienced and know to ask for a certain artist that you’ve heard good things about. And that’s great, because you’re a few steps ahead already. But what if they don’t do the style you want? What if you want a portrait and this person specializes in traditional?
The first thing you should do when you’re thinking about getting tattooed is look up the tattoo shops within a 3 hour driving radius of you, and look at the portfolios. Select your top 10 artists and call the shops to schedule consultations. And that brings us to #3.
3) Don’t give your money to a shop/artist with bad customer service. If you call the shop, and they sound bored, irritated, or condescending, don’t go there. If you arrive at the shop and they don’t greet you with a smile, turn around and leave. This is a service industry, don’t let the old taboos fool you into thinking it’s normal to be intimidated when you walk into a shop. If they don’t make you feel good when you walk in the door, how do you think you’ll feel being cozied up to them for the next 30 minutes/several hours while they literally take your skin in their hands? And sure, maybe the artist has a better personality than their front-counter help. But chances are, the attitude of the person sitting behind the counter reflects the attitude of everyone who works there. They are hired to be the face of the shop, and if that face isn’t smiling, they don’t care if you stay or go. They do not aim to please. When you get a tattoo, you’re paying for the whole experience, and you deserve the best for your money.
4) Trust your artist to give you good advice, but be very clear about what you really want. A lot of times I tell people it’s best to come in with a very flexible idea of what you’re looking to get. Select a theme and a location and if you like the artist’s work, trust them to take your idea and run with it. Trust them when they tell you something you want to do will not work the way you’re hoping it will (this is, of course, assuming you’ve followed the first 3 tips). Trust them when they say that they have a great idea and would like to run it by you. Be open minded when they show you a custom drawing they seem passionate about, because those make the best tattoos. Good artists know what’s been done to death, what can be done, what can’t be done, and what needs to be done, and chances are they have a much better idea of what will make your tattoo great. But they don’t know YOU. So be very specific about what you want and don’t want. Don’t feel pressured to get something that isn’t really what you want. A great tattoo is a delicate balance between the artist’s knowledge and ability, and the tattooed person’s desires. If you can’t nail down something you really want and the artist has drawn something for you, offer to compensate them for their time and find another artist that “feels” you more. This will get you off the hook and leave the working relationship open- you never know if this artist may be better suited for another tattoo you want in the future.
5) Don’t let time and money factor in to your decision-making. So many people want to get tattooed right there on the spot, and there are a lot of artists who thrive on walk-in business. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that… until there is. If you’ve followed the first 4 tips, and you’ve found an artist who gets you and you want them to tattoo you, but they have a waiting list or the price they quoted you seems a little daunting, don’t let that deter you from getting your tattoo from them. Your skin will always be with you and that can be a blessing or a curse. Let’s say you don’t get burned by a fly-by-night tattooer, and you don’t regret turning down the artist you really wanted in favor of someone available and within your price range. Ten years from now, you could have a mediocre tattoo that came a lot cheaper and you got it when you wanted it, or you could have a piece that you saved up for and waited to get and now it’s your most prized possession, and you’ll have it with you as long as you live.