I’ve spent a great deal of time inside tattoo shops across Canada. Clean, seedy and one shop where the next guy through the door was bound to be asking where his money was. I’ve seen it all. Over the years I’ve heard tattoo artists at all stages of their journey earnestly discuss what they wish clients knew before they booked their first appointment.
So, here are the 30 things your tattoo artist wants you to know before you set foot in their shop.
1. They’re tattoo artists, not psychics
Hold on; I have a vision. It’s of a client who’s looking for a custom piece. They’ve come prepared with images and a solid idea that they can straight up explain. This can’t be real.
If you’re stoked about finally getting that custom tattoo, but it’s still in ‘dream’ mode, hold off going to any reputable shop you’ve been checking out until you can put your vision onto paper. Artists aren’t psychic, and they’re already overwhelmed with clients who can articulate their ideas. Bring in your visuals, get on the same page and then the creative process can begin.
2. Walk-in appointments are a myth
You want to get a killer tattoo by an in-demand artist, right? That’s what I thought. Keep that in mind when you walk into the tattoo studio to chat about your design. Most experienced, and in-demand artists are by appointment only – with many booking months in advance or wait-list only.
3. Haggling for prices isn’t cool
Tattoos are a luxury item; they’re something you save for – not something you haggle for. On top of that, each piece is custom created by an artist who has trained extensively to hone their craft, and no one deserves to have their artwork undervalued. If it’s out of your budget today, remember it’s on your body for life, so take the time to save up for it.
4. Be prepared to spend some cash
Most tattoo shops have an hourly rate which differs depending on the artist, shop minimums and a deposit up front. Look, art doesn’t come cheap – and this art, well it’s on the toughest canvas in the world. One that moves, flinches, cries and is checking Instagram when they should be laying still.
5. Small tattoos aren’t cheap
This is only gonna cost $20, right? Look, even if you’re getting the ever popular infinity symbol on your wrist, tattoo shops still have to charge a minimum for each appointment. This minimum covers set-up, prep, sterilization, and supplies, which remain the same no matter the size of the design – not to mention maintaining health and safety guidelines. On top of that – you get what you pay for. Value your artist’s time, skills and creativity.
6. Tattoo artists fees will vary
Depending on the shop you hit up fee structures may vary. Some artists charge by the piece, while others charge by the hour – the odd few make it up as they go 😬. Within those fee structures, tattoo artists rates will differ depending on experience, education, and location.
7. Do your own research
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to artwork that’s going to be on your body for life. Take the time to plan out your tattoo, not only the content but also the context and styling behind your design choices. When you walk into a tattoo shop for the first time have specifics with you to share with your artist, so they can help you bring your vision to life.
8. Have a design in mind
Feeling unsure about what tattoo to get? Don’t get one. Tattoos are permanent artwork on your body. Now’s not the time to ask for opinions from your friends, or partner, or your tattoo artist. A tattoo design doesn’t need to symbolize a life-changing event, but it should resonate with you – and your artist can’t determine that for you, nor should you ask them to.
9. Unlimited (free) re-draws do not exist
The consultation you have with your tattoo artist is the time to be clear with your expectations, ideas and bring all your references. From this meeting, they’ll be creating a drawing that will be used for your tattoo, and in most cases, it’s done on their own time. Don’t be afraid to speak up if the final sketch isn’t what you envisioned but be aware that by the third round of changes there may be an issue. You need to do some reflecting: are you being too picky, did you make a mistake choosing the original design, or finally is the artist you chose not the right style.
10. Tattooing is a creative collaboration
At the heart of the tattoo industry are artistry and creativity. If you ask anyone that resides within it, they’ll tell you that having to create on-demand can be mentally draining. As a client who’s looking for a custom piece, you’ll be consulting with an artist to share your ideas and resources before your tattoo. After your consult, your artist will begin to create a design just for you based on your thoughts and vision. This is where the collaboration comes in (remember, artists aren’t mind readers). But, be patient as this process can take some time – yours may not be the only piece that is being created.
11. Respect your tattoo artists advice
Ask, and you shall receive. You’ve done your research and found an artist that’s respected within the industry. Now take the information they’re giving you as trusted guidance, not as starting points for argument. Whether it’s about how a particular design will or won’t work or the changes required for a successful piece
12. Think about your tattoo placement
It may come as a surprise to learn that not all shops are down to put that lion tattoo that you love on Cara Delevingne on YOUR finger. If you want to get a unique place on your body tattooed, be it your face (please don’t), fingers or inner lip, make sure you call the shop you’re hoping to go to first. Due to the healing, longevity, and quality of the finished artwork, not all artists will tattoo all body parts.
13. The reality show expert
You might be a reality show junkie, but a tattoo expert you are not. Tattoo reality shows are the bane of an artist’s existence. So, leave the craft to the real pros who have spent years honing their skills and spare them the amateur hour commentary.
14. Bigger may be better in the long run
Gravity plus time is a real bummer, and when it comes to tattoos, it’s the worst. That’s why you might be surprised when you get to your appointment, and the tattoo you imagined is not quite the size you had envisioned. Now’s the time to speak up but be mindful that your artist is the expert and understands how your skin will change, what designs fit where and how colors move/fade.
15. Stay away from trends
Trends happen in every industry; the significant difference is that your tattoo lasts forever. When a new style pops up there tends to be a rush to be part of it. Clients can overlook the importance of finding a clean, reputable shop in favor of getting the work done quickly. Though we each have our style preference, some fads are just better off on the pages of the latest magazine instead of our skin.
16. Declare your love another way
Name tattoos are one of the most covered up and removed tattoos in the industry. You won’t be the first person to declare your love via a permanent mark, and you won’t be the last – but the smarter choice would be to have a t-shirt made, or jewelry or literally anything that’s not permanent. Just some unsolicited advice.
17. Rome wasn’t built in a day (and your backpiece won’t be either)
OK, we’re back to reality TV again. Contrary to what you see on television a sleeve or backpiece isn’t completed in an hour, or two or even 6. Large pieces like the back, a sleeve or even half-sleeves require more work than you realize.
Your first step will be a consultation where you’ll discuss your idea with your artist; they’ll trace the area you want tattooed and create a drawing for you. You’ll likely come back at a later date for your first appointment (and to see your drawing – this takes time). Your custom piece, well that’s going to require multiple sessions with a 2-3 week break in between to heal.
18. Don’t ask a tattoo artist to copy a custom design
Want to know the quickest way to get declined for a tattoo? Insist on the same design you found on Pinterest. There’s nothing more unethical in this industry than asking your tattooist to copy another artist. So, how do discuss your design ideas with your tattoo artist without getting the boot? When you’re in consultation bring in reference materials from several sources, or if you can’t find multiple images make it clear that the one that you have is for inspiration only.
Oh, and I’d probably just avoid Pinterest altogether.
19. Dress for your tattoo appointment
Make sure you wear clothes that allow easy access to the area that’s going to get tattooed. Think loose and comfortable clothes. There’s no need to dress up or be constricted; it’s about accessibility and ease.
20. Practice good hygiene
Let’s keep this short and sweet. Take a shower, brush your teeth, and skip the scents and moisturizers, so your skin is prepared to work with. Basic hygiene ladies and gentlemen.
21. Show up sober
Tattoo artists are not impressed when you show up intoxicated for several reasons. Drinking and certain medications need to be avoided within 24 hours of your tattoo appointment as they contribute to thinning of the blood. It’s illegal in many places to tattoo people under the influence, and you’ll need to sign a consent form before you begin stating that you’re sober, so lay off the narcotics and booze.
22. Eat before your appointment
Heading into a long tattoo appointment on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. To avoid feeling faint get some food in your belly and stay hydrated. On a side note, make sure you use the bathroom and take any other breaks you need before heading into your appointment. Time is money for your artist, and unless you’re in for a long session, you want to get everything out of the way before you get into the chair.
23. Tattoos are going to hurt
There’s going to be blood, needles and yes, pain. If you have a low threshold for the pain, speak with an experienced artist about what the best choice will be for you – before you sit down. Look, the pain is part of the process, and tattoo artists prepare for you to gasp or groan every once in a while. If you’re getting a large piece done, it might even warrant a break midway through if you’ve reached your breaking point. However, screaming, crying and physically wincing – now you’re moving into a territory that’s going to affect your finished tattoo.
Before you sit in the chair, you need to evaluate your tolerance for pain and decide if you can sit still throughout the entire process. If the answer is no, a tattoo may not be for you.
24. Keep movement to a minimum
As we discussed above, this is going to hurt, but you need to keep your movements to a minimum. Your body’s response to pain may be to pull away, but that’s a big no-no. It’s going to frustrate your artist, put your piece at risk and make the tattoo more painful. Instead, concentrate on your breath, listen to music and focus on your end goal.
25. Time restrictions and tattooing don’t mix
You can’t rush art or an artist, so don’t ask. If you’ve got somewhere that you need to be an hour after you sit down, it’d be best to reschedule your piece. Your tattoo is being carefully crafted on the human canvas, and the concentration is placed on design, not deadline – as it should be.
26. Allow your tattoo artist to concentrate on their work
Now’s the time to read the room. Not all tattoo artists enjoy chatting while they’re applying permanent ink to your skin. It’s essential to quickly identify if your artist is a talker or if they require quiet concentration while working. Take note and be prepared to entertain yourself during your appointments.
27. Leave your posse at home
Ideally, you’ll be chilling at the shop solo. If you must bring a support staff, try to stick to one friend only. Shop rules will vary on who can go where, as your artist is trying to concentrate on your tattoo, the other clients in the shop are going through their own experiences, and each station is designed to accommodate minimal bodies, so keep that in mind.
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t bring children to the shop. Ever.
28. Be on time
As with any appointment, make sure that you get there on time ready to go. In the tattoo industry, it’s standard practice to put a deposit down after a consultation to ensure that you’ll show up. Once you’re in make sure that you’ve left enough time open in your day to sit for your whole appointment – even if it goes longer than you anticipated. If you wake up with cold feet, the best practice is to call the shop or go in and chat with your artist to go over your concerns.
29. Tipping is a standard part of the industry
When you’re saving up for your first tattoo make sure you include enough for a tip – it’s the norm within the industry. Not tipping is ignoring the extra work that went into creating your design, the customer service, the non-mandatory stuff like comfort during your pain and all the creative collaboration.
30. Ignoring your aftercare will affect the results of your tattoo
You’re super excited about your new tattoo but when it’s finished is the most critical time to listen up. Want a distorted, faded, infected tattoo? I didn’t think so. Artists don’t go over their step-by-step aftercare procedures for new tattoos just for fun. You just sat through hours of pain for beauty; now it’s time to take care of your new piece for a lifetime of enjoyment.
I think that about covers it, don’t you?
You should feel confident walking into your first tattoo shop, ready to ask for the custom tattoo of your dreams. Do you have any questions that we haven’t answered? Let us know in the comments.