Getting Your First Tattoo?
By Scott Terry
Getting a tattoo is not something to be taken lightly. While you might think that “tattoos last forever” it is not completely accurate: they only last until you die, or until you cover them up with new ones, or get them removed with laser surgery. Tattoos may be painful to get, but they are even more painful to remove. Suffice it to say, the decision you make now will affect you, in some way, for the rest of your life.
The ‘proper’ way to get the perfect tattoo is to do research! Visit some tattoo conventions, surf the internet for hours, email and talk with tattooed people you know, check out the landscape, and learn about it before jumping in.
It should be mentioned here that if you are going to talk with heavily tattooed people about tattoos outside of a studio or convention environment, that you should do so with intelligently. Many heavily tattooed people put up with minor public hassles like staring, whispers and comments as they walk by, and people who have the attitude that because someone has many tattoos, that they are automatically on display for strangers’ amusement, like a circus sideshow performer. Many heavily tattooed people, and particularly women (who generally appear less intimidating and more approachable than tattooed males), complain of people they don’t know reaching out and touching or grabbing their tattooed skin in awe or wonder. This can be very threatening, even if people do not mean anything harmful by it. Give them respect and be polite.
They will usually appreciate your politeness and tattoo etiquette and be that much more willing to share some of their knowledge with you.
So, the first rule to getting the perfect tattoo, like almost anything in life, is to be patient and really learn about this fantastic art form before taking action. In this information age of knowledge sharing, there is no reason to enter the world of tattoos without doing it the right way. Sure, most of us heavily tattooed people did not follow the advice being given in this article, but that’s because we were young and dumb. Now that we have learned all these lessons the hard way (and our dumbness is still debatable) and are sharing them with you, you don’t have any excuse for making bad tattoo decisions. If you end up on a website like badtattoos.com, or as the butt of your friends’ jokes, don’t say we didn’t try to warn you…
Finding the perfect tattoo artist is probably more important than finding the right design, though many first timers don’t realize this. After all, if you find the right artist they will make sure you get the perfect design in the end, whether you have it in your hand to begin with or not. In fact, even if you only have a vague idea in your head to start out with, the right artist should be able to work with you enough to make that idea a reality. Conversely, if you have the perfect design or idea but not the right artist, you won’t get the best tattoo possible.
But to find the perfect tattoo artist, first you have to learn what goes into finding one. First and foremost, your tattoo artist must be clean and sanitary. After this comes the technical ability to apply good tattoos, artistic talent, proper quality equipment, honesty and ethics, a good reputation, and a zillion other personal traits and qualities to do a good tattoo. Finding a tattoo artist like this will take a bit of time and effort–they probably aren’t your best friend’s friend who tattoos out of his kitchen in return for a six pack. Your best bet is to do lots of homework and learn, and then ask industry experts to back up your decisions. Every phase of the tattoo process involves being patient enough to do it right.
Only you can know what the perfect design is for your body, and it’s an extremely important decision to make about your tattoo, obviously. At the end of the day, most tattoo artists are in the service business. That is, with a few exceptions (generally racist tattoos, or tattoos on the face/hands/neck, or artists that are so sought after that they decide which tattoos they do or don’t do), a tattoo artist will put whatever you want on your skin to the best of their ability because they are in a retail industry providing a service to a consumer. You want a tiny tribal dragon on your massive back or your girlfriend/boyfriend’s name? You should get it. You may find later that you are selling yourself short with that decision, but the bottom line is that you should get what you want, because it’s your body.
It’s common for tattoo artists and clients to form a bond of friendship. After all, you’re spending time in their chair, talking, and having them change your skin forever. After getting your first really good tattoo, it is very tempting to never find another artist to tattoo you. Despite this, you should never feel like you owe your skin to a tattoo artist. Simply put, a tattoo artist has no ‘right’ to your skin, and if you choose to work with another artist, any quality and ethical tattoo artist won’t blame you for your decision. Any choice you make about your own body is completely your own to make. Your skin is your permanent art collection, and many people like to have a diverse collection of art. If you ask your tattoo artist who has inspired them, and seek out work from your tattoo artist’s influences, then you will be on your way to quite the collection of tattoos.
But, there’s still nothing wrong with sticking to one artist if the bond you both form is just right.
While it isn’t proper to flippantly have another artist finish off something another one started, there are plenty of reasons to have one artist finish the work of another. In fact, many people end up with tattoos that are being finished by a different artist than the one who started them. It is obviously much better to be in a situation where you are 100% behind your tattoo artist and they do your tattoo from start to finish. But the fact is that tattoo artists are people, and things can go awry between you and them–but at the end of the day you still deserve the best tattoo possible. If you are thinking of changing artists mid-tattoo, or of having an older piece covered up or reworked, the most important thing to keep in mind (other than safety of course) is quality. Is this new artist talented and the right person to bring the old tattoo to life? Are you very confident that this artist will be the one to finish the tattoo for good? Like we said before, the reworking and covering up of older tattoos is a large aspect of the tattooing art-form, so there’s no need to feel ashamed or angry if you end up in that situation yourself.
After doing all of your research on tattoos and who is the right artist for your job, you may likely find that the one you’re interested in is not exactly right around the corner from you. If this tattoo means a lot to you–and we think that any tattoo worth pursuing should mean a lot to the collector–then you will have to make arrangements to travel to that artist once the consultation/discussion process is over and it’s time to book your appointment to have the tattoo done. For a permanent marking on your body, imbued, as it should be, with meaning and significance to you, this is a relatively small inconvenience to endure. Dedicated tattoo collectors and enthusiasts sometimes fly to different continents for the perfect artist who can give them the perfect tattoo, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do a bit (or even a lot) of traveling for your own perfect tattoo.
It bears repeating that everything about the tattoo process involves thinking, learning, and being patient, and the people who do these things reap great rewards, in the form of amazing body art and meaningful experiences. If you are a first timer who happens to be considering a larger piece to start off with, be prepared for a longer process involving multiple sittings over a span of weeks or months, during which you get the experience of watching a work of art take shape one step at a time. Your patience, commitment, and trust in your chosen tattoo artist will afford you the satisfaction of ‘earning’ your tattoo and enduring an ordeal to reach a meaningful (and hopefully awesome looking) conclusion.
Souvenir tattoos comprise a very common type of tattoo-getting scenario. Many people decide to get tattoos during a vacation or trip somewhere as a way to permanently memorialize that particular experience. Unfortunately, very touristy-type places usually have some less-than-ideal tattoo studios and tattooers who cash in on this phenomenon by banging out very quick and cheap tattoos on unknowledgeable tourists.
Fortunately for you dear readers, you no longer fall into this category of collector, and by reading have started to gain the knowledge necessary to make a smart and safe decision about any souvenir tattoo you may get. Even still, many souvenir tattoos are gotten while experiencing the thrill of your new travel experience, and may be regretted later. So just make sure you give it some proper forethought, and use the advice given in this article to research the artist and shop in the area you’re traveling to before you end up with a bad tattoo.
Another thing to contemplate, especially for larger custom tattoos, is the ‘energy’ that the tattoo will express, or the message that it will convey. This may sound a little cheesy, but it’s still worth noting that the subject matter of your tattoos will project a certain ‘vibe’ about you into the world, especially to any up-close viewers of your tattoos. Just like a painting is meant to affect the viewer, your tattoos will affect their viewer, even though you may have gotten them solely for yourself. Images of death and destruction are very powerful, as are those of beauty, but the former may lead other people to stereotype you in a potentially worse way than the latter. Therefore, give proper thought to the images you choose to adorn your body with for the rest of your life, and be sure that you can live with any foreseeable consequences. In no way are we attempting to reinforce or justify unfair social stereotypes of certain tattooed people by mentioning this, but you should be aware of the social conditions that you live in, to determine what you do or do not want to deal with.
As you can see from the length of this article, the process of getting the perfect tattoo can be long and very involved. There are many different paths one could take in their own tattoo journey, and there are many important factors which demand careful consideration along the way. There are trials and tribulations, and even some pain or discomfort to endure before the entire process is complete. All of these things just serve to make the experience of getting the perfect tattoo fulfilling, exciting, and meaningful.
In writing this, I hope to educate the general public and those interested in tattoos, so that their experiences can be more rewarding and satisfying. I feel a strong responsibility as respected professional in this industry to help spread positive information about the highest potentials of this amazing art-form, which has suffered from much negative publicity and social stigma in the past. I also feel a strong obligation to promote the highest standards and ethics within the tattoo community, from the tattoo artists to the tattoo collectors, in order to keep it moving forward and progressing. So thanks for reading this entire article–by doing so you have helped me with these goals, and hopefully you have helped yourself as well. Thanks again and good luck!
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