I have had some reader requests asking me to make a post about tattoos. As an experienced tattoo artist, this is one of my favorite subjects, so I am happy to oblige!
I am not currently working as a body artist, but the years I spent in the industry were some of the best of my life. It is a wonderful art form steeped in tradition, and as the years go by, the artists just keep getting better and better.
I had the chances while I was in the business to work under, and alongside some of the most talented people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. My decision to take a break from the shops was made because of personal reasons, and while I’m not certain it is something I will go back into, it has by far been the most fun and rewarding job I have ever had.
What I would like to talk about today, is how to properly shop around for a studio and artist, as well as a few tips on choosing a subject for your piece, as well as some positive ways for you to approach the design process. I feel that this is one of the most important decisions you as a potential body art collector, can possibly make. It will make or break your tattoo experience, determine the quality of the work you get, as well as your satisfaction with your tattoo long term. Also, picking the right shop, and artist is necessary for your safety.
NOTE: All photos and art/tattoo work pictured in this post are my own property. Please do not use, or copy without my express permission
The first thing you should do is make a list of the shops in your area. Take into account any suggestions you get from friends, especially if they are avid collectors with quality artwork. Then take to the internet, and read some reviews. Consumer reviews are not gospel, even if you see a bad one, that is no reason to avoid at least giving that shop a shot, but it is a good way to get familiar with the studios in your area.
DO NOT use price as a factor. This is the most common mistake I see. This should be the last thing on your list of things to consider when shopping for a tattoo. If this isn’t something you are willing to save up for and plan out well, then maybe getting a tattoo isn’t for you. More on pricing, and payment options later.
I hate that I even have to say this, but here it is.
That guy that tattooed that buddy’s girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend in their living room for $50 and it was “the best tattoo ever”? NO. NO NO NO NO. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. In the business, these tattooers are called ‘Scratchers’. They are unlicensed, and in most cases are self-taught, with cheap equipment, and sub-par inks, as well as non-existent sterilization methods. Most of them don’t know the first thing about how to tattoo properly, and they do not have access to the products and knowledge needed to ensure your safety during the process.
Even if you get out of there without being exposed to a health risk, it is a good bet that that tattoo isn’t going to be what you had envisioned, and to have a pro cover it up at a reputable studio, will cost you on average at least 4 times what you paid that amateur in the first place. Not to mention, that with cover-ups, you have about half as many options and are going to be limited by the original tattoo as far as what will effectively and attractively cover it. Best just to get it right the first time.
I feel like I have to mention here, that cover-up tattoos can be absolutely gorgeous, I even have one myself, and there are some very talented artists out there that work some magic to cover up old, unwanted, or unloved tattoos. But there is no reason to set yourself up for needing one by going to an artist that isn’t capable of doing beautiful work on your beautiful body.
Now, you have an idea for your tattoo and your handy list of studios that you want to look into. It’s time to hit the street. Now, don’t worry if you don’t have a pocket full of cash right now, you are only shopping. Today is just to get the lay of the land, and also, to look at portfolios.
Things to look for at each studio:
When you walk through the door, you will probably find yourself in some sort of lobby area. Look for the shop’s license. It should be on display somewhere in an easy to see location. If you do not see one, ask to. Make sure it is current. Most states require not only the shop to carry a license, but also each individual artist. Their personal licensing should be on display in their work area or ‘station’ in plain sight if this is something that your area requires.
You may or may not be able to see the area where the body art procedures are performed. If you are, great. Take a cursory look around, noting general cleanliness, and if there is a tattoo being done at that time, look at the artist. Is he/she wearing gloves? Is there a covering over their work area? Artists use things like surgical cloths, plastic wrap, or even tin foil to cover their work area, it really doesn’t matter what they are using for this purpose, just that they are using something. The reason this is so important is that it allows for a more thorough clean up afterward, and trust me, this matters as you may be the next person that is going to sit down in that chair.
The artist should also have a covering on the cord that connects his/her machine to the power supply, and even possibly one protecting the machine itself from cast-off.
Now, ask a few questions. Do they use disposable tubes and grips? If not, ask to see their autoclave area. There should be an autoclave inspection sheet somewhere around there from the health department. Make sure it’s up to date. Same thing if they are using a sonic cleaning system. I personally have used both, disposable and metal tubes and grips, but, whatever I use, I make sure to open them in the presence of my client, same with needles. That way they can see that they are in sterile packaging until the moment I use them for our project. Don’t be afraid to request that your artist do this for you as well, if it is not already their habit to do so.
Assuming all this checks out, and you are confident that this will be a safe place to get your body art done at, it’s time to shop artists. This is the fun part.
Meet the artists! Especially if you are getting a large piece done, it’s crucial that you feel at ease with your artist. They are going to be all up in your business as they work on you, and if you don’t feel comfortable with them, this is going to make for an unpleasant experience. Ladies, don’t hesitate to request a female artist. This is actually quite common, and there are so many super talented lady tattoo artists out there to choose from.
You probably already have a good idea of what you want your tattoo to be and the style in which you want it executed. Look through portfolios of the artist’s work, and make sure that is the kind of thing they enjoy doing, and that they do it well. There are as many styles of tattooing out there as there are colors in the rainbow, and every artist has their own unique style. Use that to your advantage, and pick the artist that can best help you realize your vision.
Take your time with this. Visit a few different shops, meet different artists, look through their work. You will find the perfect one for you. When you do, you are ready for the next step,
Consultation. Schedule a time to come in and discuss your idea with your chosen artist. Sometimes, they will be available to do this right away, other times, they may be booked out a bit. Be willing to wait for your chosen artist. This is going to be on your body for the rest of your life. A wait just means that they are good at what they do. What can possibly be bad about that?
When you sit down with your artist, you will tell them what you have in mind, and what part of the body you would like it to be on. A seasoned artist will want to take some time, and draw up something for you, a piece that not only makes your idea a reality but also, one that fits the placement on your body, a piece that fits in that spot. Flowing with your specific shape. This is very important when designing a tattoo. A good tattoo flows with the body, is a part of it. It was made to go there. Your artist will use this time to educate you on how best to make your idea into a good-looking, cohesive piece of art, that you will love for years to come.
Some artists have the time to draw on the spot, but as I mentioned above, they may be booked out for a while, so be prepared to put a deposit down on your tattoo, and schedule out an appointment. This deposit will come out of the final price of your tattoo, so don’t worry, your tattoo didn’t just get more expensive, but it also is a type of insurance for the artist. They are going to spend some time drawing this design out for you in the time between now and your scheduled tattoo appointment, and if you don’t show up for it, at least they got something for their time.
Pricing. Tattoo artists usually price their own work. Tattoos are usually priced hourly, and they may also have a minimum rate. For smaller pieces, they can usually give you a flat price. Minimums range from $50-$100 on average, and hourly rates are usually around $100-$150 per hour. Some artists charge a bit more, but these are average industry prices, and it’s safe to say that you won’t see many shops charging below this. Work with your artist on how to go about effectively affording your tattoo. Sometimes it is possible and even necessary to split your work into multiple sessions. This can really take some of the pressure off when it comes to cost. Some shops have even partnered with lenders and offer financing. Credit cards are most often accepted as well, so you have lots of options.
“Good work ain’t cheap, cheap work ain’t good.”
– Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins
It is also customary to tip your tattoo artist. Most artists only make about 50% of what they charge you for the work, the rest goes to the shop they work out of. They are independent contractors, so they are responsible for all their equipment and supplies. Down to the paper towels that they use to clean up. Quality inks, sterilizing supplies and machines are expensive! Tip your artist for their hard work and dedication to making your art the best it can be.
Finally, the day has come. You have looked over the artist’s final design, made any changes and you are ready to sit down in that chair and make this happen!
Remember to relax, and have fun! It’s going to hurt, but it’s worth it. I used to tell my clients, “It’s a moment of pain for a lifetime of pleasure.”
I hope you got some good information out of this, and that I helped you figure out how to make the most of your tattoo experience! Thanks for reading!