December 10, 2012

6 Things Tattoo Artists Wish You Knew.

Bonus, via reddit: “I had a customer the other day that prompted this post: Please do not smoke before you get tattooed. Now hear me out, it has nothing to do with smell, attention, or sobriety when signing a contract. When you get tattooed while high, you’re 10x twitchier than you’d otherwise be. Often, you don’t even realize how bad you’re twitching. So do your artist a favor, if you want your tattoo to look the best, wait til after you’re done for your reward.”


Tattoos have invaded your homes!

It’s true. I’m no anthropologist, but it would seem there has never been such a copious amount of people on the planet at one time and there is an incredibly vast host of tattooed yahoos to fill it. If you’ve done any homework on tattoos, you might be interested and a little uneasy about the fact that tattoos have been around as long as humans have.

Fast forward to today, with all of the prime-time shows, clothing lines, swag and merchandise out there, and the tattoo lifestyle is penetrating the general masses at an alarming rate and in ways that have never been seen before. Needless to say, the past stigmas and social dogmas hanging over tattoos, and more importantly the people with tattoos, are being rapidly dissolved in these ways.

Now, there’s a price for everything. As tattoo artists are getting bombarded with a multitude of new demography of clientele, one should count themselves lucky to find a decent artist, who is professional, friendly, dependable and produces well. So for the average Joe Diddly walking into a shop off the street, there’s always a few things you should keep in mind while shopping around for an artist. See how I worded that? You shouldn’t be shopping for a shop? You should be searching out shops to invest in a specific artist. Did you notice that I said “invest”? More on that shortly…

So here we go. As relayed to you, the reader, straight from a licensed tattoo artist of over six years and reformed piercer, these are some things you should know and be thinking about when you walk into a tattoo shop. Blam!

1. Don’t be a dick!

Most of the time the tattoo artist can be a way bigger dick than you can. I understand that because you watch New York and L.A. Ink and Ink Master and Tattoo SchoolBus, you think you have a handle on how the business works. Trust me, we’re all kind of sensitive artsy types, so we’re extremely particular. Do you think a police detective would appreciate you walking into a murder scene and voicing your theories based on a few episodes of C.S.I.? I think not.

Back on track, some tattoo artists out there are some of the most egotistical, self-absorbed ass-jacks you’ll ever meet. Part of the reason is that they’ve been dealing with the general public. Know that when you’re entering a tattoo shop, you’re in their element. So do yourself a favor and be nice, and you’ll most likely get the same treatment. Sometimes you might have to put up with a sour environment to access the artist that you’ve chosen, so you’ll have to address that and weigh out the pros and cons. Some shops are a riot to hang out in, and some are just hell spawned pits of loathing and drama. You decide for yourself.

2. Do not be hammered!

Rude! You don’t go to your doctor three sheets to the wind. Or do you? If so, you might just want to find a different shop. As I stated earlier, we’re sensitive artsy types. You think we haven’t had too much to drink once or twice? We can usually spot our own type of addictive personalities from a mile away, so don’t think you’re fooling anyone. Also, that brings up another point, If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, please bathe! Again, rude! If I’m going to be all in your business, you’d better make sure you’re ready for someone to be all in your business. The tattoo artists should be on the same page, so if they smell like it’s been awhile since their last shower, you’d probably want to beware. Still with me?

3. Have at least a rough idea of what you want.

I can put a tattoo on any amount of open skin I can get my hands on, and shave you to access the area if need be. A tattoo can be anything you want, with regard to how large and complicated the design may be. If I can get the needle in the skin, technically, it’s a tattoo. So when you say something like, “I want a tattoo,” it leaves room for interpretation. You’ll have to bear with us while we dig an idea out of your brain-pan.

On that note, don’t expect anyone to get excited over an idea that you haven’t come up with yet. It helps to expedite the situation if you at least have a slight idea of what you want and potential locations on your body that you want to use. You know, it’s really truly permanent and deserves effort in contemplating your design. Most shops that you go to, you’ll find they have what’s called “flash” sheets, or “porkchop sheets” all over the walls. (It pays the bills and puts food on the table, hence the term “porkchop” sheet.) These are really meant to help you communicate with your artist if you don’t have any reference material for your piece or you just have a hard time expressing what it is you want. We get it, words are hard sometimes. Some people don’t know what they want until they come into a tattoo shop and look around. It’s difficult to get motivated when someone hasn’t put forth the energy.

4. Trust your artist.

If he or she says that something might not work or needs to be altered a bit, trust in what they say. If they have years of experience and a deep clientele, it’s probably worth it to let them control the situation. If you don’t like something, of course, feel free to state your opinions about how you want something to look, with the design or where it is located on your body. Please do! It’s your tattoo! You’re the one that’s going to have to walk around with it on your person for the rest of your natural or unnatural life. You do have a say, so don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.

And don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re getting a bad vibe. Trust your instincts. If some artist is giving you the run-around and you don’t feel good about the situation, don’t lie about it or make something up like, “ummm… I have to run to the ATM really fast. I’ll be back in a sec,” and never come back. Just be honest with yourself and your tattoo artist and you’ll feel better about it.

5. Be informed!

The more you know about it, the better. It makes our lives as artist a lot easier as well. Most people don’t really have a solid idea of how to go about getting a tattoo, or the processes that you have to go through to get a substantial piece, much less how to heal them. Some people don’t even know they have allergies to elements that can be found in everyday tattoo inks. Preservatives are a big one. Allergies to certain types of preservatives can make the affected (not infected) area of skin react horribly. And if you have latex allergies, skin conditions, topical hazards, etc. you’ll want to alert your tattoo artist about that as well (before you get the tattoo!). The more we know, the more we can accommodate, the better your over-all experience will be.

6. You get what you pay for.

There’s an old saying that you may or may not have heard: “Good tattoos aren’t cheap, and cheap tattoos aren’t good.” You wouldn’t take your car to a “shade-tree” mechanic to get your transmission worked on, you take it to the guys that work on transmissions for a living. They know what they’re doing. This is our livelihood and it’s what we think about constantly and any artist that gives a damn will tell you the same thing. I’ve personally known some artists that are more expensive on-the-hour than other artists in the business, (this is usually regionally/city specific) but most of the time it’s because they’re really good at what they do, and they have a long waiting list.

Remember when I mentioned “investing” in your artist? That’s kind of what that’s about. You’re allowing someone to put their personal touch on your body that will last even longer than your waking life. So don’t be afraid to dote on your tattoo artist and tip them as well. We love that sort of thing. It’s sort of like going to a salon or drinking at a bar for a few hours; you want to show that you appreciate the work and the artist will remember that, I promise.

So there’s a few tips to think about when considering a new tattoo. Whether you’re a newbie or just an old salty dog, it can be a lot of fun to hang out at tattoo shops and get familiar with some of the art and artists that comprise your local tattoo community. Happy hunting, and just remember one more little thing when you finally get into the chair: hold still, breathe and it’ll be over with before you know it. (Shut up and bleed!)


Ben Bray is a Nashville-based professional tattoo artist (and former piercer) with over six years of professional experience.






Ed: Kate B.

Bonus: Unfortunate tattoo placement in an engagement pic (x-post r/Facepalm)


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Image: Iburiedpaul/Flickr 

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