How to Choose the Right Tattooist for Your Experience

Inked. Miami Ink. Tattoo Stories. It seems like everywhere you look on television today there is someone promoting the tattoo industry. This may or may not be causing an increase in the number of average, ordinary everyday “Joes” who have been “inked,” but it is definitely causing an increase in awareness, and, on a lesser scale, acceptance of the industry.

While tattoos and tattooing were once reserved for a “hardened” class of people, for hoodlums, bikers, convicts, and, later on, for military infantry soldiers, it is now becoming more and more common for white collar, upper middle class business men and women to be sporting some kind of ink, whether it be a large, expressive full back piece or a dainty flower nestled in the small of one’s back.

So, you want to join the ranks of the tattooed masses? You have picked out a design, now what do you do? Where do you start? Word of mouth is a good place to start. If you have friends who have tattoos, ask them where they got theirs. Were they happy with the experience, the service, the end result? If they answer no to any of these questions, you may want to avoid the shop where they went, or at the very least, the artist that did their work. This is not to say that one person’s bad experience is a reflection on the entire shop, or even on the artist himself, but if you can’t trust your friends who can you trust?

If you don’t have a friend’s experiences to draw from then you will have to do some research on your own. Start in the yellow pages. Jot down the addresses of five or six shops in your area then set out. Visit each shop and explain that you are looking for a new artist and want to get a feel for the place. As with any other kind of consumer based industry, each place you visit is going to try to sell themselves and their services to you. Of course since you will be trusting them to apply a permanent adornment to your body, you must be the one to make the final decision.

Every (good) artist keeps a portfolio of his or her work and they are always willing to show these to potential clients. Also, (nearly) every artist has a specialty; you may find one artist whose strong point is portraits while the next one you meet might specialize in traditional Asian artwork (dragons, geishas, Buddha, even anime figures) and still a third may specialize in 1940’s pin up girls. At this point in the game, you should know what kind of artwork you are looking for so definitely look for an artist (if you can find one in your area) who is strong in the style you are considering. It is also helpful to take along a picture or sketch of what you want to compare to their work. If your desired design doesn’t fit into any of the specialty areas of the artists whose work you see, narrow your choices down to portfolio pieces that interest you or that look similar to what you want.

Once you have narrowed the choices down to three or four artists whose work interests you, try to meet with them. You may run into problems such as artists with clients or artists who aren’t in the shop when you stop in to visit. When you meet with the artists, trust your instincts. Especially if it is your first tattoo, you don’t want an artist who gives you a bad vibe. This person will not only be touching you very intimately for close to an hour, or more, depending on the size of the piece you are getting, but they will also be permanently applying ink to your skin with a mechanized needle. You want to be sure that you like being around them. You don’t want to be as close and intimate as tattooing involves with someone who makes you uneasy.

Trust your instincts is the best advice I can give when looking for a tattoo artist, either new or for the first time. You may have found (or been recommended to) the best artist in town but if he makes you feel uncomfortable, your whole tattooing experience will be altered. Also, while most shops today hold to the strictest in sanitation standards, there can still be found those back alley shops in which you might find all sorts of dirt, bacteria, and germs. If you are uncomfortable in the shop, don’t be afraid to turn and walk out without a word.

If you trust your instincts and don’t allow yourself to be pressured, you will have the best possible tattooing experience and will be less nervous, worried or scared the next time you get an itch for ink.

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