How to Choose a Tattoo Artist for Custom Work

Because of the permanent nature of tattoos, you may not feel that picking a tattoo out of a book or off the wall of a tattoo shop is right for you. A custom tattoo is often a much more meaningful way of expressing yourself through body art. Custom tattoos can be anything you want them to be and in any style. Once you have something specific in mind for your custom tattoo, finding the right tattoo artist is crucial to getting exactly what you want. Here are some tips for finding the right tattoo artist.

Research Tattoo Parlors in Your Area

Tattoo parlors and custom tattoo artists get most of their business through word of mouth. A great custom tattoo walking around town is a mush better advertisement than a coupon in the phone book as far as tattoos are concerned.

When you first start looking for a custom tattoo artist, talk to people you know about their tattoos. Ask them where they went, who did the tattoo, and what their impressions of the shop were like. Don’t be afraid to approach a stranger with a great tattoo to ask questions. Most people with custom tattoos are extremely proud of the work they’ve had done and will be happy to tell you all about it, especially if you tell them why you’re asking. People with tattoos often feel connected to each other in some sort of strange, shared experience kind of way.

Just talking to people around town will give you an idea of what tattoo shops have a reputation for cleanliness and high quality of work. You may also find yourself told where not to go, so take these warnings seriously. On a personal note, I know an unfortunate young man who decided to try a brand new tattoo shop that was advertising a special. He ended up with a custom tattoo of his guitar with the name of the guitar spelled wrong. In the custom tattoo world, reputation is everything.

If you live in a rural area or can’t find a reputable custom tattoo parlor in your area, you may need to do some extra research and driving to get the custom tattoo you want. Purchase several tattoo magazines, and look for featured art and contest winners from tattoo parlors in your region.

Find a Tattoo Artist Who Meets Your Needs

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, the next step is to pick your tattoo artist. Go into the tattoo parlor(s) you’ve chosen from your research, and spend some time looking at the tattoo artists’ portfolios. A portfolio is different than the pictures (called flash) hanging on the walls. A portfolio is an actual book of photographs that a tattoo artist takes of tattoos she has done. A tattoo artist’s portfolio is a reflection of what she feels is her best work and reflects the range of her talents, or showcases her particular expertise.

If you’re especially drawn to a particular portfolio, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not the tattoo artist is skilled in the style of tattoo you want. There are many different styles of tattoos, from tribal, black and gray fineline, to graffiti style, and every tattoo artist has a specialty.

Once you’ve found a custom tattoo artist whose work appeals to you and looks like what you want, the next step is to have a consultation. If the tattoo artist is busy, you may need to make an appointment to come in and talk. If not, you can usually talk about the kind of tattoo you want right then. Once you are sure of your tattoo artist’s abilities, you need to assess whether or not he is enthusiastic about doing your tattoo and willing to work with you to make the drawing for it. You can find a great tattoo artist, but finding one willing to satisfy your needs and is receptive to your ideas is just as important as having talent.

Meet Your Custom Tattoo Artist Halfway

Finding a custom tattoo artist that you love is great, but getting the tattoo you want requires more than just tracking down the right person for the job. Meet your new tattoo artist halfway during the creative process so that he can more quickly assess what you are in the market for.

When you talk to your tattoo artist about making your custom tattoo, it helps to tell her more than just what you want your tattoo to look like. While your custom tattoo artist will make a drawing of the tattoo you’ll receive, you need to help her figure out what that drawing should look like. Take in drawings or pictures of things or other tattoos that match the style or subject of your tattoo. Explain the symbolism behind the tattoo. Make a rough sketch of what you want, even if your drawing abilities are usually limited to stick figures. The more you give your tattoo artist to go on, the more likely you are to end up with a good drawing the first time.

When you go back to look at the drawing your tattoo artist has made of your custom tattoo, feel free to suggest changes or modifications. If the drawing looks nothing like what you had in mind, don’t be afraid to say so or look for another tattoo artist. You have the final say about what goes on your skin, so don’t worry about offending his artistic sensibilities.

Don’t Worry about the Price

You should get an estimate of how much your custom tattoo will cost before your tattoo artist starts inking you. Some tattoo artists charge an hourly rate for custom work, while others charge based on the size and complexity of the design. Either way, be prepared to pay more for a custom tattoo than for something you pick off a wall.

Remember that tattoo artists work in the service industry, and they should be tipped accordingly. For a tattoo artist who is willing to take the time to talk to you about your tattoo and draw it for you, be especially generous. While the talking is free, that time they spent just talking was time they could have spent actually tattooing someone else for money.

When it comes to custom tattoo work, be willing to shell out some cash. This is one aspect of your life where being frugal won’t get you anywhere good. The best custom tattoo artists charge more than others because the quality of their work is higher and people are willing to pay for it. In five years, you won’t remember how much you paid for your tattoo, but you will still have to look at it every day.

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