17 Tattoo Artist Misconceptions (That Refuse to Die)

Tattoo artist misconceptions and myths still run rampant today. With a generous hand from social media, *reality* TV, and good ol’ fashion gossip, we’ve created a world-wide version of the telephone game.

How did this happen?

Well, for starters, tattooing is an industry that for decades operated with dark ops level secrecy, a close-knit brotherhood and rumored ties to certain *shall not be named* organizations. If you weren’t in then you were most certainly—out, and not in a cute *Heidi Klum, Project Runway* kinda way.

Until tattoo shops {<= and by association their artists} became more affable, it was an underground art-form most knew next to nothing about.

So, why are we still in the dark about the artists behind the tattoos? And, what are the most common misconceptions tattoo artists hear that they’d like to clear up?

After connecting with artists at the top of their game and digging around online, we found 17 tattoo artist misconceptions that need to be burned to the ground.

Let’s start with Elisha’s biggest pet peeve …

1. Tattoo artists should be at your beck and call

Elisha Belden is co-owner at Twistid Ink and she told us: “A lot of people don’t understand how busy of an industry tattooing really is—it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Many clients expect artists to fit them in at the drop of a hat and work on them at all hours of the day/night. They tend to get upset when an artist isn’t accepting walk-ins or is unable to discuss tattoo ideas without an appointment. This industry is busy—and a good artist isn’t able to work at the drop of a hat, because chances are, they’re already overworked and fully booked.”

2. Tattoo artists are untrustworthy, irresponsible … jerks

One of the biggest tattoo artist misconceptions according to Omri Amar is the *untrustworthy, unprofessional tattooer* stereotype. As a husband, father, and the owner of Collingwood Tattoo, Omri told us: “I find it to be our responsibility to show the world you can look a certain way or actually, you can look any way you want. The way you look doesn’t define you as a person.”

3. Tattoo shops attract *bad* clientele

Jason from Chico, California recently branched out on his own and was looking into renting a one-person, appointment-only studio. To his surprise, NO ONE would even hear him out. Overall, the general opinion was: “tattooers are irresponsible and attract *bad* clientele.” Eventually, one place gave him a chance (he successfully opened Jmink Studio) and two people in the building even told him he was the best tenant there. Guess you can’t believe everything you see on TV 😉?

Related 3o Things Your Tattoo Artist Wishes You Knew

4. Tattoo artists are employees

Brandi, from Human Kanvas, feels a lot of clients “look at artists as *employees* when they’re really self-employed.” Tattoo artists take ownership of all aspects of their business from client service to branding; the day is rarely over when they leave the shop. Besides managing their schedule, there are social media accounts to update, skills to be sharpened and conventions to attend … not a 9-5 lifestyle.

5. Your tattoo artist may as well be unlisted

Gone are the days when you need to send a carrier pigeon to see if your favorite artist is available. Most tattoo artists now use appointment scheduling apps to keep track of their bookings or at the very least have a dedicated shop number where a friendly receptionist will give you the 411 on their schedule. Now you can finally get that portrait of Ryan Reynolds in all his Deadpool glory—happy 21st birthday to you.

6. Any good *artist* can tattoo

Let’s be real for one hot second. You may be one helluva painter or sketch artist, *Van Gogh-like* even … on canvas. But the moment that canvas becomes a twitching, sweating, yelping mess—your skill-set and fancy-schmancy Fine Arts degree goes out the window. Add in a tattoo machine and … oh, boy. Artist does not equal *tattoo* artist.

7. You don’t need to tip (tattoo artists are rolling in it)

Your tattoo artist isn’t an employee, they’re a business owner {we covered this in #4 ^^^}. That means, more often than not, they have a lot of *extra* costs you may not even think about (i.e., ink, needles, machines). Like any other owner, they also need to think about marketing, health insurance, rent, and the list goes on. Before you book your next session, add on the cost of a generous tip, your artist will thank you.

8. Tattoo artist misconception –> They’re all men

It may be an industry with a history deeply steeped in machismo but like most other professions, the times they’ve been a-changin’. Thanks to social media, the rise in widespread cultural acceptance and {let’s be real} women taking matters into their own hands (see: Millie K, Electric Odyssey Tattoo, Mackenzie Evanjeline)—the tide is shifting. It may not even be close to 50/50 just yet, but you can definitely find a shop that’s not blaring Motorhead {← RIP Lemme 🙌} 100 percent of the time.

9. Your artist could care less if you’re intoxicated

Uhhh, this is one of those tattoo artist misconceptions that need the kibosh immediately. It’s a wee bit shocking there are still people out there believing any *reputable* artist would be cool tattooing a belligerent drunk off the street. You know the one, the guy at last call who’s had one too many and is *like, totally sure* tonight’s the night to get *You only live once* tattooed on his lower back. Be respectful and go into your next appointment sober and flu-free {no one wants to get sick while they’re working 🤢}.

10. Tattoo artists are allergic to tech

allergic to tech

Competition is fierce in the tattoo world and unless you’re one of the chosen few, it’s tough to make a living on word of mouth alone. Tattoo artists are alive and thriving online using social media and websites to stand out. There any many different platforms that can help clients find the right tattoo artist. Instagram is a match made in *visual* heaven with images, stories, and IGTV giving artists the chance to express their vision and show off their talent. While a website or tattoo booking software can give their clients the convenience of peeking their portfolio, viewing FAQ’s and booking outside regular business hours.

11. Tattoo artists are dying for their shot on reality TV

We could have a pretty heated debate over whether tattooing is more counterculture than mainstream. However, there’s little argument that reality tattoo shows have missed the boat when it comes to doing the industry any favors. Rather than focus on the art, or heck even the struggle of becoming an artist, they’ve chosen to cash in on the average armchair experts fascination with manufactured drama. The *reality* is, these shows make real tattoo artists’ lives a little more hellish after every season. What a bummer.

12. You need to be an *artist* to tattoo

Mark Merchant, owner of Higher Truth Tattoo doesn’t think every tattooer needs to be an *artist*. Mark says, “From my perspective, there’ve been many tattooists from all generations that came from different backgrounds and were successful at tattooing or contributed significantly. I feel tattooing is mostly “formulaic” though sure, one could use their artistic proclivities to make a more unique or “original” (looking) tattoo. However, once the formula is learned (technique-wise) there are unlimited designs from countless cultures/eras that are already timeless classics. To me, one need not be an “artist” to be a successful tattoo(er).”

Related: 7 Things Great Tattoo Artists Do Every Day

13. Tattoo artists want to have full control

If you’re unsure what lifelong image you’d like tattooed on your body, perhaps take a step back and think it over? This isn’t a situation where you come in and let the artist *roll with it*. This line of thinking rarely works out gangbusters with a hair stylist…and your hair grows back. Telling an artist holding a tattoo machine to “do whatever you want” might get you a fantastical Rick & Morty adventure piece or a dark & gnarly Grindhouse scene … but hey, it’s your {permanent} coin toss, right 😳?

14. Tattoo artists are nothing more than … tattoo artists?

According to Brittney Smith, her tattoo artist husband Brandon is very different from other artists. In their life, it’s all about family. Brittney told us: “sometimes clients at their shop Lifestyle Tattoo Co. think he’s simply an artist, therefore, he has nothing better to do than talk about tattoos or draw them. Although he loves what he does, every single day and every single minute doesn’t revolve around it.” Look, I get it. It can be awkward when you’re getting tattooed, the pain can overwhelm the part of your brain that would normally come up with great topics for conversation. But, now you know. So, next time you’re in the chair try to keep that nugget in the back of your mind.

15. The road to becoming an artist is a cakewalk

Not many *jobs* require you work for free … for years. And though that’s the traditional route, many artists coming up today opt for a different path. They might be self-taught (see: Doreen Garner), or learning the required basics in more mentor-focused surroundings (see: Velvet Underground Tattoo)—after all, living wage-free for years isn’t doable for wide swaths of the population. There’s no set road to becoming a tattoo artist, but one thing’s for sure, clients often underestimate how difficult it can be to get into the business. Even once you’re part of a shop, it’s a constant process of building portfolios, creating innovative work, and putting yourself out there to build your client base.

16. Nothing is off-limits if the price is right

A tattoo artists’ list of “hard no’s” is far longer than you think. After all, you’ll be a walking billboard for their work once the piece is finished. Why would they choose to indulge you’re *I’m with stupid ←* ridiculousness because you lost a bet? Same goes for hate symbols {<== if your artist is cool with giving you a swastika, maybe it’s time to find a new one? Just sayin’}

These next few may be more of an artist judgment call:

  • No hand, face or neck tattoos unless you’re running out of space
  • No palms, lips or ears because they fade out time is fast
  • Teeny-tiny pieces (you know the ones, they look super rad at first but then fade out and healing is a bummer)
  • White tattoos
  • *Lost a bet* tattoos
  • A back piece, full sleeve, *any other huge piece* as your first piece

17. X marks the {incredibly painful} spot

When I found this on Reddit I remembered why the internet is the greatest invention ever. This *tattoo artist myth* has slight variations but it seems to have originated from a sign posted up in Ed Hardy’s shop. It read (something along the lines of): “If you get the Lord’s Prayer tattooed on the bottom of your foot in one sitting, without complaint, free tattoos for life.” This myth has morphed in recent years to: If you’re able to sit for an “X” on the bottom of your foot without flinching, free tattoos for life at ANY shop … but either way … YIKES.

On that incredibly uncomfortable note, I hand the floor over to you …

What’s a common misconception or myth about tattoo artists you’d like to clear up?

A loaded question? Perhaps.

But one we’d love to hear your answer to. Drop your response in the comments below ⬇️.

We can’t wait to read them.