Its definitely an exciting time – You have made the decision that you are ready to get your first tattoo! Nerves and excitement are running high, your mind is going 90 miles/hour and you don’t know where to start.
If you want to walk away with a good experience and an amazing piece of artwork to show off, then you need to do your due diligence! It is important to take sometime, do your research and make a well informed decision!
- Know Yourself
Before you even start looking at tattoo artists and moving forward, it is important to know yourself and set some reasonable expectations. If this is your first tattoo it is better to start smaller than to set yourself up for failure.
It may be tempting to select a large back piece, but you don’t want to end up with a half finished tattoo because you get in over your head!
Starting with a smaller design is going to give you a few advantages
- Gives yourself a chance to experience getting a tattoo without it becoming overwhelming
- Allows you to become familiar with your pain tolerance levels as they pertain to being tattooed
- Provides an opportunity to see how your body reacts to the ink
- In the days and weeks following your tattoo it will give you a chance to see how it heals
- Find Your Inspiration
One of the greatest aspects of getting a tattoo is the opportunity to work with your tattoo artist to design and execute an original piece of art. The tattoo artist that you do eventually work with is going to need some direction as to what you are hoping to have done.
Research different styles and browse the internet for some examples of pieces that you like. Remember – Originality is important! Walking in with a picture and asking for an exact replica of someone else’s tattoo is missing this point entirely! This type of copying is seen in most circles as disrespectful. That being said having a selection of different pieces that you like elements and/or the style of will help your tattoo artist understand what you are looking for. Sites like Pinterest make this easier than ever!
If you are looking to get text in your tattoo, explore different fonts. Sit down at a computer and type your message out trying them out, print out examples of the ones that ‘feel right’.
If you are working with a real life inspiration, for example wanting a tattoo that represents your dog, bring clear, easy to see pictures. The better the pictures, the easier it will be for them to design your tattoo!
- Research your Options
Don’t just jump on the first tattoo artist whose shop you see on Main St! Take the time to learn who is tattooing in your area, and what they are capable of. Each tattoo artist is going to have their strengths and weaknesses, and if you are looking to rock the best tattoo you can it is important to find someone who will line up with what you are looking for!
Start by asking around. Word of mouth is a GREAT way to get an idea of who is worth looking into, and who you would be better to pass over. Recommendations are going to be based on positive experiences from people you know and trust, and on the other end of that spectrum a bad experience will bring a red flag for someone you may wish to avoid. Remember that someone can be an amazing artist on paper but lack professionalism. You want to find the total package for the best experience!
If you have the opportunity to visit a tattoo show, this is a great chance to see what is happening in your area! Explore the show, watch what each artist is working on, see how they interact with people. If there is anyone that you feel may fit what you are looking for, grab their business card!
- View Their Portfolio
If you find that there are a couple artists who stand out to you at this stage, now its time to take a closer look at their body of work. Reputable artists will have a portfolio prepared that will showcase actual pieces they have completed. These should be clear photos, allowing you to see the details of the pieces, without obstructions like tape, plastic wrap or bandages.
You want to find someone whose portfolio speaks to you. This will show you a lot about the artist that you are looking at. Many artists have specialties or styles that they prefer. While they may be able to deliver anything you put in front of them, for the best chance at getting exactly what you want, look for an artist whose style lines up with your own. Pay careful attention to details like their line work (does it look shaky and uneven, or crisp and clean) and their colour work (is it faded or patchy, or does it have good saturation).
Remember that the artist has put this portfolio together to show off their best work. If you find that you are questioning a lot of the tattoos that you are looking at, then I would walk away! If the tattoos that made the portfolio aren’t solid, imagine the ones that didn’t make the cut!
With today’s world of modern technology many artists have digital portfolios that you can view! Whether it is directly on their website, or on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, this is another opportunity to see the work that these tattoo artists are producing.
- Visit the Studio
Now that you have selected an artist (or a couple artists) that lines up with your creative vision, it is time to do some more research into their actual practices. Take the time to visit the studio prior to actually arriving to get your tattoo.
If an artist is working in a dirty, dingy studio – run away and run away fast! There are many medical complications that can come from poor cleanliness and lack of attention to sterilization. Your health is one of the most important things that you have, and it isn’t something to take lightly! Blood-born pathogens can and do kill tattoo clients, so don’t take a gamble with a questionable studio!
When visiting watch to ensure that they are practicing proper sterilization habits, and understand the importance of a disposable mindset. By a disposable mindset I mean that there are a number of items that should ALWAYS be disposed of following each tattoo. If you see a tattoo artist returning everything to containers, they are not paying attention to cross-contamination! This includes how they handle everything from ointment and water to ink and needles.
Needles should be removed from the autoclave bag just prior to use. If they are already open prior to the appointments, they may be reusing them! Also pay careful attention to the condition of the needles. They should be a clean, silver metal. If they appear to be stained or dulled – walk away!
Lastly, tattoo artists should be wearing gloves while working on all tattoos. These are going to be similar to those that you see in medical clinics and hospitals. They should be new, free of tears and holes, and should fit the artist properly.
Diseases like hepatitis and AIDS are no joke – so don’t be lax in this inspection! Pay attention to the details, and ask questions! Any artist that isn’t willing to answer questions regarding their studio, equipment and sterilization efforts is an artist I wouldn’t even consider allowing to work on my body!
- You Get What You Pay For
Remember that tattoos are not cheap! If you are making your decision based solely on the price point, you run the risk of getting a sub par tattoo. For those of you that are loyal to a quality hairdresser, you understand this concept already! You wouldn’t allow a bad hairdresser to chop up your hair – you chose someone that you trust based on their ability to do quality work and make you look your best!
This is something that is going to be permanently on your body, so now is not the time to cheap out! If you currently can’t afford the price that the artists are putting forward as you go through these steps, then I suggest taking a step back, delaying your gratification and saving up a little longer. The final product will be well worth the wait!
- Control the Experience
There is more to the overall experience than just the final piece. Once you have made each of these decisions, sleep on it before pulling the trigger – The artist that you decide to use, the placement of the tattoo, the design that come up with together – Make sure that you are happy with each and every step of the process.
If you aren’t sure of the placement, try drawing a tattoo on that spot with a marker and see how you feel about it over a period of time. Alternatively, use a temporary tattoo, it will be like a throwback to childhood!
Once you know that you are happy with every aspect of the plan, design and preparation, then make sure you book your appointment and put it in your calendar. If you are worried you are going to get nervous and back out – tell someone to hold you accountable! There are a ton of people out there that talk the talk about wanting a tattoo, but never follow through!
Get plenty of rest the night before your appointment. Avoid drinking heavily the day before, as alcohol does thin your blood. Similarly, a lot of coffee or energy drinks the day of your tattoo should be avoided as they too will thin your blood. Eat a good solid meal before your tattoo, and drink a lot of water the day of – this will help you sit longer, and avoid getting shaky during the process.
Pack a small bag to bring with you the day of your appointment. Include bottles of water and snacks. Some items I would suggest when picking snacks include granola bars, crackers and fresh fruit. If you find that you are getting shaky during the tattoo these items will be key to helping yourself perk up and feel better! Also I always ensure that my phone is fully charged – it provides me with a distraction if needed (playing games, checking social media, chatting with friends).
If you have someone that you trust that you would like to bring with you, go for it! Having a friend along for the ride can be great for a number of reasons… It will give you someone to talk to while you are being tattooed, someone who can calm you down if you find yourself getting nervous or anxious, and who can keep you updated on the progress if you are getting a tattoo in a location that you can’t see. It will also mean you have someone to drive you home if you find that you are not feeling up to it afterwards. Getting a tattoo can be exhausting on the body, and you may not be up to driving!
- Remember That This is YOUR Tattoo!
Others will inevitably have opinions about your tattoo, whether you like it or not. Some will keep this opinion to themselves, while others will be more vocal. I have walked into a coffee shop and had a complete stranger feel it was their place to make comments about my ink, both positively and negatively, over the years. At the end of the day – that’s just their opinion and the only thing that matters is whether YOU like your tattoo!
You can choose how much you are willing to share with people who ask. Does your tattoo have a story behind it? Great! It is still your decision whether you want to share that or not. That being said there doesn’t need to be some big story to it either! It just needs to be what YOU want to have with you, on your body, as an example of your own personality!
Every aspect is your choice – Do you want to show it off? Well then rock that tattoo proudly! Is it something that is more personal that you wish to keep for yourself? Then don’t feel like you have to be bold and revealing to be proud of it! Do what’s right for you, hold your head high and be proud!