In 1999, 21% of Americans had tattoos. In 2014, that number had nearly doubled to 40%. The acceptance of tattoos over the years can be chalked up to many things including television shows showcasing the craft as well as celebrity culture including those who are heavily tattooed. With millions walking around with some form or fashion of permanent ink on their skin, it’s only safe to assume that this trend will continue to grow.
I am not only heavily tattooed but I’m married to a tattoo artist who has been working in his career for 20 years. He has now been tattooing in life longer than he’s not been tattooing.
All that to say: I have had many conversations with people about tattoos, tattoo artistry, the process and even lifestyle questions - so much so that I figured it was worthy of a blog post.
Here are some tips and some of the most common things I have answered or explained over the years - Maybe it answers your question, too. (all photos of tattoos are his work)
It takes time: TV shows - while great for sharing acceptance of the craft - doesn’t show a lot of reality. Going into a shop and leaving with a full back piece just 30 minutes later doesn’t happen. Every large tattoo requires time, planning and you have to be ready to pay for that.
It won’t happen in half an hour. It won’t even happen in a few hours. A big piece - like a full back - will take MONTHS of appointments.
While that may not help you cure your need for immediate satisfaction, it will be done right and you’ll have something to be proud of. Not just in execution, but there’s also time that has to be spent in planning the tattoo. Unless you’re coming in with the heart, arrow, infinity symbol idea from Pintrest that can take a little bit of time, be prepared to plan.
Planning is welcomed - remember, these are artists and the bulk of those that I’ve met over the years welcome collaboration. They want to create something with you and you should want that, too. You should want your piece to be something unique and one that you will love forever.
If you come in and say “I don’t know - what do you think?”, be prepared for a witty or sarcastic answer. As good as they are, they don’t read minds so come with some input. You’re commissioning this artist - be a part of the process.
Please don’t ask them to reproduce the exact same custom tattoo done by another artist. I wouldn’t ask Rembrandt to reproduce Michelangelo or Picasso to paint an El Greco. If you need it exactly the same as the tattoo you found online then go to the original tattoo artist because that is their work and their style.
Respect their experience
While they may not be the artist with the vision for you (and that’s okay), do respect their experience.
You’re not the first person to come through their door wanting a white tattoo on their finger. I cannot tell you how many times my husband repeats the same advice about common misconceptions. Trust me - he’s not being honest with you because he “doesn’t want to do it”, he’s wanting you to be happy with your results. The misconceptions of what can or cannot be accomplished are floating around on the internet without abandon. He lives it every day so his answers do have merit. I promise.
Tattooing is very different than drawing on paper. The skin changes during the tattoo process. They will have to account for many things from your physical condition, your skin’s condition, swelling, bleeding, your skin tone, body type, placement, artistic integrity, value and more. They will know if that tattoo will look good on the spot you’re thinking of. Be open to that opinion.
Come by the shop
Come meet artists and look at portfolios - talk business and the process - and be a contributing portion of your final piece.
Every artist has their own style and vision so you’re not hurting their feelings if you feel another artist has the style more to your liking.
Make appointments - many weekends are crammed with walk ins so secure your consultation time or your tattoo time with an appointment.
No, I’m not giving you his phone number - or relaying a message to him for you. I’m not his secretary and our couple time is few and far between so I don’t want that muddied with a billion texts about work - and he doesn’t either. The shop is where he works. The best place to see an artist at work is where they do their work.
Under the influence? Stay home.
You may be nervous about your tattoo appointment and you have decided to have a few shots before to “numb” yourself or you’re out with your friends and deciding to get tattooed on-the-fly... if you’re hammered - don’t get tattooed.
It does NOT take a village to make a tattoo appointment happen
While we can all appreciate the desire to have some supporters during this time, be respectful of the space needed to make it happen. You may have all of your sorority sisters with you or your immediate family members - and that’s great - but keep them at a distance. Do not hover over the artist’s shoulders to take photos of the tattoo happening. They have medically sanitized the area and there are barriers that can’t be touched by you. Let the artist do their job and take photos afterwards.
They may be the most precious, sweet, kind, patient child in the world but this is a different environment and your tattoo needs to be done well and without a lot of getting up and chasing of babies. Also, the medical barriers (as previously stated) are compromised by sticky fingers and would require an entire breakdown, sanitation and re-set. It’s time consuming and completely frustrating for everyone involved. By then, your skin has changed and is already swollen and a bevy of breaks would - honestly - make the rest hurt worse.
Be honest about medical conditions, allergies, medications that you take, etc, and do this at the consultation. During the appointment, be quick to let them know if you’re feeling “off”, “funny”, “queasy” or any variation of it. They’ve experienced this before and can help you through it.
Did you shower? No? Do that first.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good” - and that’s absolute truth. Google search for “tattoo fails” and then see them against the successes. You’re paying these guys to give you great work so don’t be cheap on something so permanent.
(see image below - I googled "cheap tattoo")
No tattoo artist I’ve ever met has ever earned a salary or hourly wage. They live in a world of straight commission so, unless you’re sitting in their chair and paying them, they’re not making money. The 60+ hours per week they’re working is not an easy life so don’t be disrespectful to them, their tenure and skill by trying to haggle with them. If "Jim down the street" will do it for less, there’s no need to say that - just go to Jim.
Tipping - If you like your work, then say so with a gratuity. 15 - 20% is customary but any tip is appreciated because that’s often how an artist lives.
Deals - This is something that I get asked about a lot. I will get the “oh, so you’re husband’s a tattoo artist! Do you think he’d give me a deal if I mention you?” - I always answer with “No - because I like eating.”
If you’re hungry for a deal, then you can ask the shop if there is an apprentice that’s practicing his craft for tips or a lower price; or, you can talk to the artist, himself, if he has any suggestions on ways to make the piece work within a budget. No matter what, though - be polite and respectful and remember that if you want a pro piece, pay a pro price.
I’ll get messages from people asking “How much do you think your husband would charge for ____?”
I’m not Yoko. I don’t manage his business. I wouldn’t quote for him anymore than he would try to quote my work for me. He’s got 20 years of happy clients for a reason. If you want to know the cost, have that conversation with the artist.
There are a lot of blogs and articles out there that are talking of etiquette or what to expect with tattoos as the craft grows in popularity so, I’m sure, you’ve read a lot of these, before but I felt it was worthy of a post, here, too.
I hope this helps you in your tattoo adventures!