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Choosing a Tattoo Design.
My take, as a professional tattoo artist, is a little different than what you find online when choosing your tattoo. Take it as a starting point for:
- First time clients who haven’t been introduced to shop life.
- Clients who have had a negative experience with an artist.
- Those of you who want to know how another artist may expect out of you when coming in for work.
Choosing your tattoo is difficult but, if you are prepared, honest, and communicate, it can be enjoyable process.
Before a consultation – The planning stage.
When starting the process of choosing a tattoo, ask yourself a few questions:
What style do you like?
Are you into hair metal band logos? Do you enjoy simple geometric designs? Knowing what you like is the first step in choosing your tattoo.
Find something that you are believe you will enjoy through your life, not just today. You can have our guarantee – your love of something trendy (getting Yeet or YOLO tattooed dropped out of fashion just like Kanji) won’t have the staying power you expect.
Using social media, search engines, or online tools like Pinterest are amazing at helping you find something permanent to mark your body.
Think of things you know you will enjoy when you are older.
There are so many styles to choose from! Don’t limit yourself by thinking only one type will fit your personality throughout your life.
Be open to any tattoo style when you start your search. Let your mind wander and use your imagination as you look for inspiration. Learn to understand what your aesthetic is currently. Remember that you are working towards designing something that will be on you for the rest of your life.
Where do you want the tattoo?
The place where the tattoo is going to live for the rest of your life is important. Places on the body influence the design of a tattoo and poorly placed designs can’t stand up to the tests of time. Think about the size and where you want it to go before committing to a single design.
Are you worried about the pain of a tattoo? If you are you need to ask yourself,
Is the fear of pain influencing my decision?
If pain is a deciding factor you need to let the artist know. Explaining to the person who is going to mark your body what you feel and think is key to good communication.
Compile your images and ideas.
Once you have done some research, take any combination of ideas and pictures and put them into something that you can give the artist. Printouts and typed notes work best but having a link to a Google Drive or One Drive box works as well.
The Tattoo Consultation
Choosing what shop or artist to get the tattoo from.
Once you have gathered the references you want to use to design your tattoo you can start looking for an artist. Before committing to any shop you should answer a few questions:
- How scared am I?
- Who can accompany me to the appointment?
- When do I want to get the tattoo done?
- How far am I willing to travel to get the tattoo?
Once you have answered these questions, start looking for artists that fit the travel limits you have. Reach out to as many as is needed to ensure you get exactly what you want.
Where the tattoo is on your body matters.
The placement of the tattoo will influence how the design is made. Choose at least 2 places on your body where the tattoo can go but be prepared to discuss the options with your artist.
The process of getting tattooed is collaborative so take the ideas for you tattoo, and the placement, to your chosen artist. Talk to them about where the design is going to be placed and listen to their explanations about what is the best option based on their experience. If want they suggest doesn’t fit with your style, choose what is best for you.
If the tattoo artists suggestions are purely aesthetic in nature, you can choose to listen to them or not. When their suggestions are about your health, wellness, and safety, listen to their advice.
Also, be sure to plan ahead of the new tattoo will connect with other/future tattoos. This will ensure a congruent theme (if that is what you are looking for).
If you want to read a bit more about large scale design and how the body plays a role in the design process, read our article Tattoo Design And The Body | Body Mapping.
Does sizing play a role when choosing a tattoo design?
In tattooing, size means everything.
Size will determine price, time to complete and limitations on location. Knowing how big you are willing to go (as well as how small) is essential when planning ahead. Most tattoo artists are going to want to make your tattoo as big as possible. Be prepared to stand your ground if you are set on a specific size. Leading with what your budget is, when choosing sizes, ensures the tattoo artist won’t push too hard to cover your entire thigh.
What is your budget?
Pricing is usually non-negotiable and for good reason. The skill of the artist is reflected by their experience and that influences what they charge. Newly seasoned tattooers may be great at a style and be willing to offer it at a much decreased rate. Compare that to a master artist who charges more.
On one hand you can save some money but the quality won’t be guaranteed. (Even if that is the less seasoned artists only style.) On the other hand, the price for the perfect tattoo experience may be well outside your budget.
If you do have a budget, stick to it!
If the work that you want to get is outside what that amount is, start saving. Talk to the artist about putting down installments or paying deposits.
If you are not a person who enjoys waiting, get something smaller that is inside your budget. You can also go to a tattoo artist who charges less per hour.
What local options are there for you?
Do you live in a major metropolis, or the middle of nowhere? Seeing what options are available near you may influence your decision if you are locked into a specific region with little ability to travel out.
Plan to venture out of your comfort zone if it ensures quality work. If you are unable to, keep the most sentimental tattoos on the backburner until you can get exactly what you want, from who you want.
For first time tattoo clients, pick something that fits in the palm of your hand,
If you are going for your first tattoo, try and put it in a place that isn’t at the high end of the pain spectrum. There is no reason to take an enjoyable process and mark it with a painful experience. If you have plans for multiple tattoos, you may adjust your ideas for the future after going through a painful session.
If you do want to plan ahead and really commit to the process of getting a bigger tattoo design, talk to your artist about how the tattoo procedure is going to go. Let them know if you want to get more tattoos and start learning about how to fight the pain of a tattoo. Also discuss tactics for planning multiple sittings. If you have a theme or some ideas that may work well together, create a plan to make the final product cohesive.
Have you spent very much time planning the tattoo?
Is this a spur of the moment idea, or have you really put some thought into what you are planning to get? Regardless of the scenario, don’t expect anything more than what you put into it. The more time and effort that goes into choosing your tattoo will increase the personal value.
Although, sometimes great deals or spur of the moment tattoos are pretty cool!
Choosing A Tattoo Artist.
Now for the difficult part. Reaching out and talking to tattoo artists that you want to work with. There are more things to think about when getting ready to take the next step in choosing your tattoo.
Start by checking out artists near you. If there isn’t anyone close by, find one you are willing to travel to. Do some research before making the trek. Make sure they are versatile enough to do any design you throw at them.
How experienced is the tattoo artist?
Looking at the length of time an artist has been working is a must when choosing your tattoo. There is nothing that says a person who has been tattooing 20 years is any better than one that has been working for 2 but experience can help when you have questions.
There is something about seasoned artist that makes approaching the tattoo design easier. The seasoned tattoo artist may not be exactly what you are looking for but they will know how best to fit designs to the body, how to deal with allergies, healing the tattoo, and discomfort experienced during the tattoo session.
These artists are also more likely to answer questions even if you don’t get tattooed by them!
- When a person has been in tattooing for a long time they should have a better understanding of how the design process works. There is also a chance the seasoned artist is willing to connect you with a person they know is the best at what you want to accomplish.
Do you like the tattoo artists style?
Looking at online portfolios or in person photobooks are a great way to see if you can trust the artist with your design before committing. Check to see if they do only one style or if they are versatile in their artwork.
Artists who choose to do only one tattoo style may do so for a couple of reasons:
- They are new to tattooing and haven’t learned enough to do multiple styles.
- Their artwork mirrors their tattooing and they do not venture out of that safe space.
- The artwork/tattoos they produce are connected to their lifestyle – They identify through their art.
- They have so much experience that they like doing what is comfortable.
- The artist in question got hooked into a style because people liked seeing it on social media.
- The tattoos you see are part of a trend or fad and the artist is banking on that trend.
What do they like to do?
Checking to see what “style” the artist puts up on social media is a good indicator as to what they enjoy doing. While I have a harsh critique as to why artists choose styles, it is still in your best interest to pick someone who has practiced a style when choosing your tattoo. If the artist enjoys what they are doing, or has a lot of experience in a specific style, there is less chance the final product will be opposite what you may ask for.
Getting Ready For The Consultation
Once you find the tattoo artists you feel will be the best fit, reach out and set up consultations.
Make sure that you have a range of days and times that work for you. Don’t stress yourself out by having to fit into the tattoo artist’s schedule. A few hints about setting up a tattoo consultation:
- Most professional tattoo artists will have set times each week to consult with people. Some don’t.
- If you reach out and can’t get a date set immediately, ask what the wait time is.
- When asking about a consultation you get an excuse, or a price that seems outrageous, look elsewhere. That shop just isn’t into y.our design
- If the artists is just really busy, ask what steps can be taken to get a talk with them. They may have a wait list so ask to get put onto it.
This is jumping ahead in the process but why not talk about it now!?
…Fun things about waitlists is –> cancellations.
When someone doesn’t show or cancels last minute, the artist may give you a call to setup an appointment. The timeline may not fit your schedule so don’t worry about saying “no” if its inconvenient. If the cancellation does happen during a time you can make it, you can get in the door faster.
What to do at the tattoo consultation.
Using good communication and bring high quality photos that explain for you what you like to see. Be brave and have a simple hand drawn example to show. You would be surprised how much this helps when translating your idea.
Having some form of visual reference to show your artist can help them understand your style wants much quicker than using feelings or descriptive words. For example, showing someone a picture of a field of clover is better than describing something as “Big” and “Green”.
If what you want is not possible, the artist should be quick to tell you it’s not a good idea. Make sure that you ask why it won’t work! There must be a good explanation for any dismissed idea. Just not liking the tattoo is not a reason not to do the tattoo. If an artist gives you this option, they may not be the best fit for your body art.
Be sure that the artist you are having a consultation with will not judge your attempts at conveying your thoughts. Your efforts to explain exactly what you want will save design time in the future.
If you get a negative reception from the artist when you share your idea, they may not be the best fit for your tattoo. All tattoo artists need to treat you with respect. You are paying them to mark you. They should be willing to treat you and your ideas with respect.
What not to accept from your first meeting.
If your ideas are met with an artist rolling their eyes and trying to change what you want to mark your body with, stand strong if they are being unreasonable. Leave if they are not.
Tattoo artists should approach your tattoo with ambivalence. They should not be concerned about what you are choosing to get tattooed but be competent in the process. They need to make it perfect.
If you are met with some hostility or negative comments about your efforts, leave. The person who talks down to another when they are making their best effort to communicate is not the person who should do your tattoo. Don’t give people like that money, it emboldens their ego and makes the cycle of abuse continue.
A Tattoo Artist’s Opinion About Consultations
There are misconceptions about us tattooers and how invested we are in what you mark your body with. While tattoo bros worldwide enjoy the idea that they are marking you with their specific brand, most of us really don’t care how you choose to adorn your body. The lack of caring and detached persona you walk into when getting a consultation shouldn’t be taken personally as tattoo artists do this as a job.
We seriously do this all day, every day. There is a good chance that the idea you found while surfing social media has been done before and it isn’t being done the way that we would prefer to do it. That doesn’t matter.
It is your body and your choice how you want to adorn it.
Baggage. Do you have any?
Walking into a tattoo shop can be an experience that brings joy or, to some, terror. Needles, blood, crazy moustaches… It can be intense! If you have gotten any tattoo work before and have chosen a new artist, don’t walk in thinking all tattoo artists are a uniform breed. They are humans, just a bit more colorful.
Take the time to have a consultation and get a feeling for the artist. Your experience will be that much better and ensure you’re not strapped to a chair for 60 hours with a person you can’t stand. Feel out the artist’s vibe, energy and tact. If they don’t align with you, regardless of the final product, you should move on and find someone who you will mesh with better.
Also, when meeting with your artist, be very plain and direct about why you are getting the tattoo. If the tattoo is just rad and you have no deeper meaning attached to it, perfect! If this is a memorial for the sister you lost to cancer 2 weeks ago and the family would like to be there during the tattoo process, let the artist know.
After The Tattoo Consultation
Work with the artist. Ask questions. Be involved from start to finish.
During the design process, it’s your job to be available. Answer emails or text messages, and give input as they work up a design that you will be wearing permanently. If the artist has any issues with you working over their shoulder, give them some space and offer up critiques that are constructive, if needed.
What to expect from the tattoo artist.
The artist should take the time and ensure all critiques are heard and understood. Some artists charge for the drawing time when designing a tattoo so be prepared to pay when necessary.
Most of the artists that charge for designs are not a bottomless well of inspiration. They may offer a single image or 1-2 redrafts if they image doesn’t match up with what you want. If pass that limit they may tack on additional charges to supplement the amount of work they are expending. If you are not wanting to pay extra, take extra time doing your homework!
Take multiple consultations. Be sure you want what you want.
If any part of the process results in the tattoo artist acting in a way that is disrespectful , it is time to take your business elsewhere. There is no worse a feeling than being tattooed by someone you dislike. That negative energy will accompany your tattoo for the rest of your life. Every time you look at the tattoo you will be reminded of how much of a jerk the tattoo artist was, regardless of how good the tattoo looks.
When choosing a tattoo, please, please, please… Don’t try and design the tattoo yourself. This is ultimately important if you are unsure about what you want the final product to be. There is a greater chance that your chosen artist will make something better than what you can imagine. Give them room to surprise you.
Once you have taken the time to figure out what style you enjoy and think has the staying power to be impressive for your lifetime, look at the most common themes or images you see in that style. The most commonly tattooed images are the ones that will have small variations or nuances that you may not notice unless you look really closely. Being able to describe small nuances is a thing tattoo artists enjoy when critiquing tattoos. If you can spot small variations that you do not want to see in your tattoo, your tattoo artist will thank you and be better able to craft the tattoo that you want.
Hopefully you are in a better place now and have confidence about choosing your tattoo. You control the fate of what is put on your body.
But please… Do not tattoo your partner’s name on your arm.