How Do You Explain to a Tattoo Artist What You Want?

Since getting a tattoo is a big decision, it extremely important to that you and the artist doing the work are on the same page. This can be difficult if you have never gotten a tattoo in the past.

The most important thing you can do before you arrive to get your tattoo is having done as much research as possible to ensure you make the most informed decision possible.

Below we will give you some additional tips that will make your tattoo experience a positive one!

Research and Make a Decision

Showing up your tattoo appointment without doing any research or knowing what you want can be incredibly frustrating for a tattoo artist.

It’s one thing to show up to your appointment and have questions, that’s completely understandable!

Our frustration appears when people come into the shop and have no clue what they want their tattoo to look like and then want the artist to make the decision for them!

Before showing up to get your tat, go online and look at some different images so you at least have an idea of what you want. Pinterest is a great resource for ideas.

Don’t try to get your tattoo artist to make your final decision. You are the one that will live with the final image. You need to be the one that makes the final call.

How Do You Tell The Tattoo Artist What You Want

Getting a tattoo takes more than just knowing what tattoo you want. It is a two-person process, and generally always requires more research on the client’s side of the table than it does for the artist.

For instance, if you happen to have an image handy to show the artist it will definitely simplify the process.

If you want custom art done, let’s say you have an original idea for a tattoo but lack referential material or the ability to draw it out yourself, you will be wholly dependent on the artist to interpret your ideas and put them on paper for you. Which can still be tricky at best.

I’m not saying you can’t get what you want. Just be aware that some alterations may be needed to your idea that you either may not agree with or did not expect, especially depending on your tattoo idea and the artist. Negotiation is a valuable skill in the tattoo industry.

Also, not all tattoo artists do custom work or are those that do custom work willing to go too far outside of their comfort zone. Remember that you getting a tattoo is a small drop in their bucket, whereas one tattoo can affect that artists whole reputation and lifestyle.

The saying goes, “You are only as good as your last tattoo.”

First, A Little History and Education

Tattoos are a very specific art form, the reason being for this is that the canvas that is being used is alive. The skin is unlike every other medium used for art. It lives, it breathes, it flexes, heals, and most importantly it ages.

These aspects of the canvas have caused tattoos to follow a strict form throughout history.

Let’s take a look at two very long-standing forms of tattooing to get our bearings, Irezumi and Old School. Both of these formats have enjoyed a rich history in their respective cultures and a long-lasting application throughout the previous century and into the one we reside in.

The artists of the era also had the foresight to design tattoos with the qualities of skin as a canvas in mind.

As a matter of fact, both formats have not only influenced each other over time, gaining brighter colors, better contrast, and popularity, but have also evolved into new formats.

Today’s artist are more likely to practice what is called neo-traditional and neo-irezumi, due to the borrowed nature of the techniques used.

Proper Format and Form of a Good Tattoo

In traditional Old School style there was a set of rules known as the rule of three:

  • A third of the tattoo should be lines
  • A third of the tattoo should be shading and color
  • A third of the tattoo should be empty space.

These rules gave the artist the comfort of knowing that their art would last. Because over time, as the skin ages the ink itself will move under the skin. The idea was to give the tattoo “room to grow.”

It makes it easier in the future to touch up an old piece, to thicken a line that wavered, or to freshen up the color of faded ink.

I’m not a Japanese artist but deeply love the art form of their tattoos for the philosophy of the application. The motifs in the art embraced the idea of the temporary nature of not only a tattoo but of life itself.

If you look at Irezumi you can note that the motifs are seasonal, with certain flowers being placed relative to other flowers or animals you would expect to see in spring or summer or winter.

In the actual application of a Japanese tattoo, you will also see similarities in the philosophy of format.

  • There are strong contrasting values, with bold colorful images being placed on or in dark backgrounds.
  • The imagery is never too busy to take away from any singular image or the piece as a whole.
  • Negative spaces where the skin is untouched are used to accent the images, especially in using water and waves or wind as a background.

I wanted to bring this to your attention as a potential client because it gives you a foundation of knowledge to talk to an artist about your tattoo, especially if you are very passionate about your end result.

It allows you to be able to speak with an artist in terms they understand if you aren’t very art savvy yourself.

Also, the tattoo industry is often riddled with all different kinds of fads. It’s simply a part of the job. For instance, the tie-die tattoos that have become popular in recent years.

There are a lot of opinions in the industry of these tattoos because a tattoo will never look as fresh as the day it was done. The colors will eventually blend together muddling the contrast that makes these tattoos so popular.

Some artists wouldn’t touch this type of tattoo with a 10-foot pole, others are more than happy to give you a tattoo you may not appreciate anymore in a few years.

Others will want to make alterations so they feel comfortable enough to do it. So it’s really on you to know what you are getting into because once you say yes and that tattoo is completed, it doesn’t wash off.

Red Flags You Should Know

Tattooing at the end of the day is not only a skilled trade but also a service. That being said I’m sure most people have a negative experience with a salesperson who sold them a product that they were ultimately unhappy with, or simply wasn’t what they told you it was. Used car salespeople probably have the worst rap sheet to bring to your mind.

The tattoo industry is not any different. There are tattoo artists out there that have been tattooing for years and still can’t land a good tattoo. So I want to give you a few warning signs to keep an eye out for while shopping for an artist.

  • Cleanliness of the shop. If the shop looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a while it’s not a good sign that the artist or artists in the shop take much pride in their trade. Especially be sure to check out the bathroom, the last place anyone wants to clean.
  • Look out for puppy-mill shops. These are shops where the shop owner will sign on a bunch of excitable apprentices who have little or no experience tattooing in order to bring in revenue for the shop overhead. Be sure to look for portfolios and talk to people who work in the shop.
  • Poor Attitudes, which should probably go without saying. Sure they may be really good at what they do, but not only do clients not enjoy these people, neither do the other artists who have to listen to them gloat. Please do not feed the animals.
  • Word of mouth. If you have heard from other people that and artist is good and have seen their art, then they are most likely good. If otherwise, well, then that’s pretty self-explanatory.

These are key points to look at for just walking in the door while you are shopping for an artist. Also, be sure to look at portfolios to compare the art they are capable of with your tattoo idea.

Another big point I have come to notice myself, if a tattoo artist is gruff and upfront and not scared to say no, then he or she knows their limits and capabilities well, is good enough to turn down work. That is an artist worth working with.

Is it Okay to Get a Tattoo of Someone Else’s Art

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. That being said, tattoo artists have a tendency to be a rather egoistic bunch, so be prepared to be told no and please don’t be offended by that.

If the artist gets offended by being asked to replicate another artist’s work without giving you a reasonable explanation, then that’s on them.

Maybe they believe it’s a bad tattoo or it may be out of their comfort zone, they might just simply not like the artist you are asking them to copy.

Like I said if a reasonable explanation isn’t given, they are more than likely just being thin-skinned. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like easy money?

Remember, getting a tattoo is a negotiation between your wants and the artist’s comfort and personality. Don’t be scared to express your desires for your permanent body art, within reason, and don’t be offended by a no. Happy hunting.

What Should You Bring To A Tattoo Appointment?

There really isn’t a whole lot that you need to bring with you when you are ready to get your tattoo. The two primary things that you need to bring is payment and your ID (if you need to prove you are old enough to get a tat).

Keep in mind that many tattoo shops only accept cash so check with the shop before you arrive so you know what to expect.

Beyond those two things, the only thing you need to bring is things to make your visit comfortable and enjoyable. Many people will bring water, light snacks and a jacket when they come in.

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