Last-modified: May 31, 2002
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You can retrieve a copy of the FAQ via anonymous ftp from the MIT FTP
The FAQs are also available on thw World Wide Web at
The rec.arts.bodyart Tattoo FAQ is broken up into 9 parts:
2/9--Getting a tattoo <---YOU ARE READING THIS FILE
6/9--Care of new tattoos
WHAT THIS FILE CONTAINS
This file is structured as a traditional FAQ in the form of questions
and answers. Questions answered in this file:
Rec.arts.bodyart FAQ Part 2/9: Getting a tattoo
Does it hurt?
What about anaesthetics?
Should I get one at all?
*WHY* do I want one?
Where do I find a good artist, and what should I look for in a
How to look around in the shop
Asking to see their portfolio
What to look for in their portfolio
What kinds of questions to ask
What sorts of things to look for in a shop
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: What to ask from artists
How much does it cost to get a tattoo?
How should I act once I get in that chair?
Where on my body should I get a tattoo?
Under the Berne Convention, this document is Copyright (c) 1997 by Lani
Teshima-Miller, all rights reserved. Permission is granted for it to be
reproduced electronically on any system connected to the various
networks which make up the Internet, Usenet, and FidoNet so long as it
is reproduced in its entirety, unedited, and with this copyright notice
intact. Web sites are included. Individual copies may also be printed
for personal use.
Subject: GETTING A TATTOO
DOES IT HURT?
This is the first question in this FAQ because it's usually the first
question that people ask. The answer is yes. Having needles pierce your
skin *does* hurt. But what you *really* want to know is, "How MUCH does
it hurt, and can I handle it?"
It's not nearly as bad as what you might imagine. The pain comes from
the cluster of needles on the tattooing machine piercing your skin very
rapidly. This sensation, however, doesn't feel like the poking pain of
an injection--it's more of a constant vibration. You will be amazed at
how quickly your body releases endorphins, (pain killers), which dullens
the pain significantly.
The pain will also vary according to where on your body you get worked
on. Skin right above bones (collarbone, anklebone, etc.) tend to be more
painful than other areas. In addition, certain types of needles seem to
hurt more than others. I personally think the needles used for outlining
produce a sharper, more noticeable pain, while the needles used for
shading seem to be much more like an electrical buzz (nearly painless).
Remember, you are volunteering for the experience. The amount of pain
will depend on your psychological attitude.
NOTE: Do not drink alcohol or take illegal drugs for pain relief
purposes prior to your tattoo sessions. Both aspirin and alcohol thin
your blood and promote excessive bleeding. Aspirin also decreases the
clotting of blood, which will slow down your healing as well. In
addition, artists do not appreciate dealing with drunks and is illegal
in many states.
WHAT ABOUT ANAESTHETICS?
Some people say that taking a couple of over-the-counter analgesics
before tattooing can take the edge off the pain. Acetaminophen,
commonly sold under the brand name 'Tylenol' is generally recommended,
but not aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs, as they tend to inhibit
clotting. In short, you may find yourself bleeding like the
proverbial stuck pig.
There *are* actually topical anaesthetics available, even in the
stick-up-its-butt U.S. For instance, Bactine contains some
lidocaine, and it is possible to buy benzocaine preparations
over the counter. The drawback of these is that they do not
work on unbroken skin, but if they are applied after the first
pass with the needle, they *can* make a tremendous difference.
EMLA is reputed to be much better, and will work on unbroken
skin, but it is not generally available in the U.S.
SHOULD I GET A TATTOO IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Your reading this may mean you're already interested in getting a
tattoo, or may know someone who is. In a survey of 163 tattooed men and
women, a third of them had regretted their tattoos! While most of this
FAQ discusses the process once you've decided to get one, let's pause
for a moment.
*WHY* DO I WANT ONE?
People get tattoos for different reasons. Is it to please your partner?
Is it because you want to belong to a group that has tattoos? Do you
identify with a certain subculture known for tattoos? Do you want to
show your independence, individuality or uniqueness?
These are all valid reasons, and why many people get tattooed. However,
because of the permanency of your tattoo, try to look at yourself in
five, 10, or even 20 years. What will you be doing at that time? You
might be a free-spirited college student now, and a web of vines on your
wrist would look really lovely. However, are you planning to work in a
very conservative field after you graduate? Will others look at your
tattoo in a bad way? Will you have to hide it with long sleeve shirts?
Are you *willing* to wear long sleeve shirts if the environment is
Do you want a tattoo of a tiger because your partner's nickname is
"Tiger," and you love the way s/he scratches your skin? Do you think
you'll be with this person in five years? If not, how will you look at
that tattoo? With fond memories, symbolizing a special period in your
life? Or a shameful or painful reminder of somebody who hurt you and
didn't care for you?
You're a headbanger (or a nose-smasher, ear-bopper or whatever) and you
*REALLY* want a tattoo all over your arms just like Axl Rose, but you
can't afford a professional artist so you get your friend with the
mail-order tattooing machine to do those designs for you? Or perhaps you
get spider webs tattooed all over your hands (or your face, which has
happened) because you want to be "different" in school. What if you
decide to "straighten out" and get a real job; train as a chef or
something, and then no restaurant hires you?
*GETTING IT REMOVED* is *NOT* easy, and is *NOT* cheap. Expect to pay
$1,000 to remove even a fairly small-sized tattoo if you're looking at
laser surgery. Expect to have a noticeable ugly scar if you go with a
non-laser technique. Expect to pay for every penny out of your own
pocket because health insurance companies will not pay for tattoo
removal. There may not be a laser surgery specialist in your area. Then
think of all those laser-surgery doctors who are going to get rich off
of a person's foolishness or lack of careful thinking.
...Maybe tattooing isn't for you.
...Maybe you shouldn't get that $10 tattoo your friend's been telling
you he'll give you, in his garage.
...Maybe you shouldn't let your buddies tattoo your hand with India Ink
and a needle at this weekend's party.
...Maybe you should get a tattoo on your back instead of on your hand.
...Maybe you should get a tattoo on your left wrist so it can be covered
by your watch if you have to...
...And maybe after reading this FAQ and reading RAB, you'll think
carefully about it, and make some informed, wise decisions about what to
do with your body.
*Tattooing can be beautiful.*
*Tattooing can be exhilarating.*
*Tattooing can open a whole new world for you.*
...but make sure to do it *RIGHT*.
Subject: RELIGIOUS (CHRISTIAN) ARGUMENTS
Written by: Chris Wayne (email@example.com), originator of RAB and a
A word to the religious: In Leviticus 19:28, it says not to tattoo "I am
the Lord" on you (i.e. don't take the name of the Lord in vain). It does
NOT say you can't mark yourself at all, and it does NOT say there's
anything wrong about piercing. What it DOES say is that it prohibits
mutilating yourself for the dead, which was a senseless practice at that
time. But for Christians, they are no longer bound by the Law. Remember
that it's not what you do; it's what's in your heart when you do it. The
Talmud even mentions that it's not the tattooing that is wrong, but what
the tattoo is of (i.e. if the tattoo is an image of a 'false god' as
opposed to just a 'design').
There are probably many 'prim & proper' Christians out there that have
had the urge to be tattooed, but have repressed it because they believed
it was a sin. Well, if you really believe that it is a sin, then it is.
But is getting tattooed really a sin? If it draws you away from Christ
or causes someone else to stumble, then yes. But tattooing isn't any
more special than anything else we distract ourselves with.
Take things in moderation at your speed. We are to deny ourselves of
things if they cause us to lose sight of Jesus (for some, it could be
driving a car, getting married, having children, going to work, smoking,
abusing drugs & alcohol, disrespect, etc.). If you have good
discernment, you know what distracts you from Christ and what doesn't.
Tattooing isn't inherently evil; it got it's 'evil' status because
GOD-less heathens from places like the South Pacific were tattooed. Do
what pleases GOD; and one thing that pleases GOD is to be confident in
oneself (not overly prideful, but confidence tempered with discernment,
almost bordering on arrogance). Tattooing can bring out that confidence,
because to be tattooed requires commitment. And that's a conquering
power over fear and old ruts. GOD wants mature dynamic individuals that
fear him to fellowship with, not people cowering in fear from some rigid
set of laws. Note: fear of GOD is totally different from cowering in
Some Christians will claim that drinking any amount of alcohol is
sinful, but the medical community is saying that 2-3 drinks a day is
good for the heart. Drink responsibly. So, for those that have repressed
getting a tattoo because of family or religious upbringing, just do it.
If it's not for you, fine--but don't ruin it for the others.
Tattooing in no way marks who's saved and who's not. If you've seen the
trilogy "A Distant Thunder," the Mark of the Beast was tattooed on your
right hand or forehead. The tattoo was 666 in binary '6's (i.e. 1 0 11 0
11 0 1 Sort of like a UPC code), but this doesn't mean that every tattoo
is a Mark of the Beast.
People have stated that the credit card and the computer were tools of
the Devil. So what? Everybody depends on both today, even if the
Anti-Christ is to use the computer to control the population, it doesn't
mean that if you use a computer, you're a follower of the Devil.
I believe that religion, when improperly used, is a dangerous thing.
Christianity has wasted a lot of valuable time trying to influence
people in believing that unimportant things are evil instead of
spreading the word of GOD. Christianity (or those prideful, arrogant,
self righteous leaders) has looked down on tattooing far too long.
Subject: A TEMPORARY ALTERNATIVE?
A) For those who might not be ready for the plunge, but are seriously
considering what it would look/feel like to have a tattoo, Julian
(firstname.lastname@example.org) recommends a particular type of temporary
tattoo that uses very light Japanese rice paper. He says these are of
very high quality, and last about two weeks WITH CARE. I have had the
phone number confirmed recently so they are still in business. Note:
This will the only time I'll discuss *temporary* tattoos. :)
Don Ling's Removable Tattoos & Fantoos, 507/956-2024
P.O.Box 309 Butterfield, MN 56120
or 102 2nd ST. South Butterfield, MN 56120
Temptu now has a web page at http://www.temptu.com which describes
their products. The following is from Roy at Temptu:
"The rice paper temporary tattoo you...mention is made in New York by
Temptu studios. It is a cosmetic ink printed on an archival
cigarette-like tissue paper. Special cosmetic inks are then used to
paint in the 'tattoo.' The result is totally realistic, waterproof,
and longlasting (yep, up to 2 weeks!)
"This process was used in _Cape Fear_ on Robert de Niro, _Once Were
Warriors_, and currently on Sean Penn at the end of _Dead Man
Walking_. Also see Bruce Willis' Head in _The 12 Monkeys_. It was
invented by Dr. S. Zuckerman for the film _Tattoo_ (Bruce Dern/Maude
Adams in 1981.
"Often we are asked to create at temporary tattoo for someone who wants
to 'test drive a tattoo,' so they can decide on position, color,
before deciding what and where.
"Temptu primarily develops semi-permanent body art. Current interests
include working on a 'safe' and legal line of tattoo inks, airbrush
body art, and Indian Mehandi (henna). I work closely with the New York
Body Archive, a strange and wonderful place!"
Roy adds one of comment: "I'm frequently asked about the six-month
tattoo you mention in FAQ. East Coast people say it's available in
California. But this is bullsh*t. No such animal!"
B) For some, the easiest thing to do is to simply draw on the skin with
a non-toxic marker. In fact, many people who already have tattoos do
this to figure out placement and design. If you want it to wash off
right away, use something temporary. Crayola's washable markers work
well. I you wanna see if you can live with a design for a couple of
days, try a permanent marker such as the Sharpies. They come in basic
C) MEHENDI: In some countries such as India, brides are covered from head to
toe with intricate bridalwear (including the face). To try to show off as
much of what skin they can show, they paint their hands and forearms
with something called henna. Henna, when applied correctly, stains
the skin and can last several weeks. Mehendi has become popular with
the mainstream, with a number of mehendi tattoo shops cropping up in some
cities such as Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Part of the process of getting a tattoo is coming to terms with its
permanency. It's like losing your virginity. You lose it once, and you
can't get it back. You can neck and make out, but it's not intercourse.
If you're afraid of losing your virginity, you have to come to terms
with THAT before you can have sex.
But once you lose your virginity, you forget all about how you feared
its loss, and simply enjoy having sex! :)
*Debunking of urban folklore*
Someone asked to confirm a rumour about the possibility of temporary
tattoos obtainable by using a tattooing machine very shallowly on the
skin, to have the tattoo last only six months or so.
Several professional tattoo artists replied with a very strong *NO*.
There is no way to be able to prevent the needles from entering the
second layer of skin (the dermis), where tattoo inks normally go.
Further, even if the tattoo machine only enters the top layer of skin
(the epidermis), you will end up with too much scarring that the tattoo
will never really go away.
Considering the time, cost and pain factors, this is not an option--and
no professional tattoo artist will want to experiment on you.
A proprietor posted on RAB about a "new! discovery!" of a temporary
tattoo that was removable after a couple of years. All efforts by
various reviewers and professionals to confirm the validity of this
product have been unsuccessful--this product, whatever it is being
touted as, is *not* endorsable.
Subject: THE DECISION PROCESS--MAKING THE BIG PLUNGE: WHERE CAN I FIND
A GOOD ARTIST, AND WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A TATTOO ARTIST?
The bane of the tattoo world is the shadowy, unprofessional person
called the "scratcher." A scratcher is somebody who:
--Does not have the proper training in either tattoo art or of running
a professional operation;
--Does not know and/or care to use responsible sterilization methods;
--Promises to provide tattooing services for an incredibly low fee, for
free, or in exchange for drugs (ack!);
--Chooses not to apprentice through a legitimate tattoo shop because of
one excuse or another (but lacks the knowledge one needs to work in or
run a professional shop);
--Will hurt you because they don't know what they're doing;
--Will give you a permanent tattoo you will regret for the rest of your
--You should stay away with a ten-foot pole.
Never, never, never get work from a scratcher unless you are willing to
accept all the hazards listed above.
Of those in a study by Clinton Sanders who regretted their tattoos, more
than two-thirds of them regretted their tattoo because of poor quality!
Looking for an artist can be as easy as checking the Yellow Pages, or as
complex as checking references, magazine photos, and reading RAB. There
are a number of ways to find good artists, including (but certainly not
--Perusing tattoo magazines. While not all tattoo magazines are of the
National Geographic quality, the photos will speak for themselves. Some
issues highlight specific artists' works; a good way see the type of
work someone does. Use the photos in the magazines to compare with those
of the artist you are interested in. These magazines have done a lot to
show what is *possible*.
Some things to look for in magazines:
-Style (realistic, black & grey work, tribal, etc.)
-Placement on your body
-Ideas for images
-Size in proportion to your body
-Artists whose work you like.
--Reading RAB and this FAQ. It'll give you a base in which to start. If
you live in an area where an artist is not listed in the FAQ, you might
want to post a query. If you saw an artist whose work you liked in a
magazine, see if they're listed in the FAQ. If not, post a query.
Remember--the artist list FAQ is limited because we only take first-hand
recommendations from people who read RAB There are many artists who are
excellent, who have not worked on RAB participants.
--Attending a tattoo convention. Read the FAQ section on tattoo
conventions for more information.
You can approach this one of two ways. You can either go to a shop
because someone recommended the artist to you, or you can go in cold.
For obvious reasons, you will have a little more information with you if
you already know something about the artist. This may make you feel more
at ease when going into a shop for the first time.
Many of the top-notch artists recommended in this FAQ are very busy and
work on an appointment-only basis. Visit their shop anyway--you will
still learn about them even if it doesn't mean getting work done right
then and there.
Bodyart enthusiast Dr. Kai Kristensen <email@example.com>, a pathologist
and a recently retired lab director of an internationally prestigious
medical center in La Jolla (California), says the most important aspects
of a good result are to:
o Choose an experienced, knowledgeable performer who knows about
sterilization and avoidance of infection.
o Avoid infection during the healing process.
With both of those bases covered, healing of either should be
non-eventful and the desired appearance should be guaranteed.
WHAT KIND OF DESIGN SHOULD I GET?
What images do you think of when you think of a tattoo? Do you think of
anchors, of roses or of skulls? While these traditional images are still
available, you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety you will find
There are two basic types of tattoos: Flash, and custom. As you can
imagine, "custom" means you have a design you like that you take in with
you. "Flash" is the stock designs you see on the walls of the shop.
The main thing to remember is that you're not required to choose from
the selection of flash in a shop--You're NOT limited to just an anchor,
a rose or a skull. Remember however, that these smaller pieces of
pre-priced flash are the bread & butter of many shops, since they are
proportionately expensive ($75 for 20 minutes' work, for example where
an artist might charge $100 an hour for custom work). Also, the number
of customers who lay out the big bucks for large, elaborate custom
pieces is too small to keep a regular shop in business.
A few of the major styles of tattooing:
BIO-MECHANICAL: A style popularized by illustrator H.R. Giger, who
designed the creature from the _Alien_ movies. Bio-mechanical work
usually involves an anatomical flesh intertwined with some technical
drawings of machines. A close relative of this style involves just the
biological look of flesh without the mechanical parts.
BLACK & GREY: Refers to the colors used, this style requires the artist
to have advanced shading techniques for subtlety.
Celtic: Beautiful, intricate knotwork of the Celts (a hard "k", NOT a
soft "c" like the basketball team). These are much harder for artists
to do, and is best done by someone who specializes in it. Also usually
done in just black ink.
Oriental: Big, bold pieces of Oriental images (carp, clouds, dragons,
etc.) based on the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of 18th Century Edo-period
Japan. Note: It is fine to call this "Oriental" and not "Asian,"
because it references an object and not a person.
PORTRAIT: Images taken from photos, best done by someone who can render
realistic photographic images. Usually done in black and grey ink.
Sailor Jerry: Traditional sailor tattoo style made famous by Jerry
Collins in Honolulu.
Tribal: Usually bold simple lines, simple patterns. Almost always done
with just black ink.
With a good artist working for you, you can get practically any image
you'd like. Accomplished artists can render portraits, wildlife,
psychedelic and biomechanical styles with impressive results. Your main
challenge is to find the artist who can best do the design YOU want.
WHAT KIND OF COLORS CAN I GET?
Concerned that you'll end up with a greenish tattoo with little bits of
red or yellow? Worry no more! Today's inks run the entire gamut--and it
would not be terribly sarcastic to take a Pantone color chart with you!
Most tattoo inks are metal salt-based pigments that are not made
specifically to be used under the skin, and have not been approved by
the FDA for this purpose. The idea is that for most people, these
pigments are inert and cause no problems. Some people have been known to
have allergic reactions; any reputable artist should be willing to
provide you with a small "patch test" of the colors you desire. This is
required in the state of Arkansas.
Tattooist Uncle Bud Yates (Pikes Peak Tattooing) says some artists use
acrylic-based pigments, which he feels may be more troublesome than the
metal-based pigments for some with sensitive skin. Best to ask your
HOW TO LOOK AROUND IN THE SHOP
Don't let the shop intimidate you when you first walk in. For the
uninked, a tattoo shop is intimidating enough. Strange smells, strange
sounds. Some shops even try to look intimidating to create a tough-guy
feel. Just keep in mind that you're a potential customer. Consider it
The first thing you should do is to take a minute to look around.
Chances are, you'll encounter some flash (stock illustrations) stapled
on the walls. These will most likely lean toward the traditional. Skull
and crossbones, roses and the like.
You might also see some signs ("No minors; we ID," "We have sanitary
conditions" etc.). These signs will also be indicators of the
personality of the shop owner. If the signs seem overly intimidating,
patronizing or snobbish, they can be tip-offs of the shop's attitude.
Some are very friendly, with plants, aquarium fish, and signs like
"Tattooed people come in all colors."
Note: There is no national law regarding the legal age for tattooing.
Check with the shop to find out what the local statute regulates.
ASKING TO SEE THEIR PORTFOLIO
Do NOT be impressed by the flash on the wall. These illustrations are
usually purchased from other artists and do not represent the work of
your artist. Frankly, anyone with some experience can easily trace the
outlines of these illustrations and fill in the colors. What you really
need to look at is a book that contains a collection of photos of the
artist's work. Go to the counter and ask to see one. If they tell you
they don't have one, walk out immediately. You're visiting the shop to
commission a piece of art to be permanently illustrated on your skin;
for the artist to tell you s/he doesn't have samples in a portfolio is
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THEIR PORTFOLIO
When you do look in their portfolio, there are a few things to keep in
mind. Do you see any photos of pieces that you recognize in the flash
(on the wall, or in a flash book)? If so, how is it rendered in tattoo
format? Before anything else, check to see that the lines are clean. Are
they well-defined? Straight where they should be; not shaky or blurry?
Are the borders all uniform in width? Do the colors seem true? Are they
bright? Proportionately correct?
Look at the people in the book. This can be an indicator of the
clientele in the shop (besides looking at the ambiance of the shop). Is
there a fair mix of women and men in the book? Are they all sporting
"biker" tats, or any one particular genre/style?
Again, keep in mind that anyone can stencil an outline of an
illustration onto your skin. The skill in the artistry comes in the
shading, use of colors and other subtle things that set an artist apart
from a simple tattooist.
Do you see anything in the portfolio that is not in the flash? These are
the custom pieces that the artists have done, and they should be their
crowning glory. How do they look? Do you like what you see? If there is
more than one artist working in the shop, and you see some photos you
like, make sure to find out which artist did the work.
WHAT KINDS OF QUESTIONS TO ASK
Whenever you ask to see their collection of photos, the person in the
shop will hopefully immediately recognize you as someone who knows a
little more about tattoos--at least enough not to be satisfied by
looking at just the flash. If the shop is not too busy or if the artist
is not in the middle of working, they might stand on the other side of
the counter to have a conversation with you. This is a wonderful
opportunity to ask questions of the artist.
Some reasonable questions to ask in your conversation that shouldn't
take too much time for the artist to answer:
What is their favorite style?
If what *you* are looking to get done happens to be their specialty you
are in luck; be it tribal, wildlife or whatever.
Is there any one particular subject they like to do?
One artist, without hesitation, told me his favorite was skulls. I
would've jumped for joy had that been what I wanted.
How long has the shop been here?
This may be an indicator of the stability of their business. The tat
industry in itself fluctuates, but continuity implies business acumen,
responsible practices and that they are not a fly-by-night operation.
How long have they been at the shop?
The shop may have been there for 20 years, but the artist may only have
been there for a couple of months. If they have been there for what you
consider a short period, ask them where they were before.
How long have they been tattooing?
It might not matter so much that the artist has only been there for a
short while, if they've been tattooing for several years. They might
come from various backgrounds--anywhere from working on friends to
having a fine arts degree. This type of information will give you more
insight into the artist's attitude as well as aptitude.
Do they get to do much custom work?
This may depend on where the shop is located, but it also depends on
how good of an artist they are, and whether they have their own style
for which they are known for.
Do they use apprentices at the shop?
It is often difficult for new artists to break into the business, and
an apprenticeship is often a very good way to learn not only about
tattooing itself, but also about the day-to-day operation of a small
business. For artists to take apprenticeships means they're interested
in expanding the artform, in giving a new person a break (so to speak)
and feeling confident enough about their own skills that they feel they
can offer some insight and experience for the new person. This again
goes back to the attitude of the artist and the shop.
Don't let the looks of the artist intimidate you. Tattoo artists usually
have a lot of tattoos themselves. In fact, I would be somewhat leery of
an artist who has *NO* tattoos at all. The main thing is that you need
to talk with them and get a feel for what they are like. As you talk
with the artist and build a rapport, if you feel comfortable you may
want to broach the subject of what you're interested in getting done.
Bounce your idea off with the artist and see what they are willing to
help you with.
Remember however, that the artist is running a professional business! Be
polite--don't linger and overspend your welcome if you don't plan on
getting any work done at all.
[Note: Don't base your decision according to what tattoos you see on the
artist--they were not done by that person!]
If the design you choose contains *any* text at all, be sure to
proofread it and agree on it beforehand. If not, you might end up
like the gentleman in this story:
His tattoo ended up with a word misspelled. Definitely not the sort
of thing that one wants to wear for life.
WHAT SORTS OF THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A SHOP
Looking critically at the shop is as important as choosing your artist.
Make sure the place is very clean, make sure the artist uses disposable,
single-use needles (that are not re-used after one client), and uses an
autoclave for all other equipment. Don't be afraid to ask them, either.
A legitimate artist will be glad to show you.
What does the shop look like? What is its ambiance? Does it look like a
barber shop, a hair salon, dental office or an art gallery? If you are a
nonsmoker, will cigarette smoke bother you? Look for used ashtrays as
signs. Do the work areas offer you any privacy? Do they use shower
curtains, private booths or shoulder-high room dividers?
Try to go and visit and then come back another day. Don't feel pressured
into having to get one right then and there. Try and talk to some people
that have experience with the artist (and not the groupies that you'll
find hanging around the shop). You should feel comfortable with the
artist and you should like him/her. If you don't, then don't get a
Make sure the artist is willing to listen to you and respects what you
want. Don't go to an artist that has an agenda of what he/she wants to
do. The artist may make suggestions, but the final word is always yours.
Finally, make sure you take their business card with you. If the artist
you talk to does not have his/her own card, jot down the name on the
back, and perhaps some notes to yourself about the shop and the artist.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: WHAT TO ASK FROM ARTISTS?
It has been brought to my attention that some tattooists have an
attitude problem when it comes to potential customers. Tattooists (and
piercers!) need to realize that not every person who walks in has to
look like a grunged-out leather-wearing biker, or a raven-haired
cleopatra-eyed septum-pierced zombie. People from all walks of life may
be interested in bodyart.
A potential customer should *NOT* be made to feel out-of-place or
ashamed for walking in wearing a business suit, or an LL Bean dress. It
is amazing to think that someone with purple hair and eyebrow rings
could actually discriminate against someone, but apparently, this seems
to be happening.
Just as a customer should expect certain sanitation standards, they
should also expect an inviting atmosphere.
RE TATTOO SHOPS INSURED?
Most reputable tattoo shops are insured. The problem is, they're usually
insured against premises liability. This means that they have insurance
coverage if you fall and hit your head on their floor, but *NOT* if
you're unhappy with their work. In the past, the only insurer who would
cover the latter was Lloyd's of London, and their rates were apparently
This has changed recently, with the availability of a comprehensive
insurance package available from one agent based on the West Coast. Many
shops do have some form of insurance (this may be a requirement in their
rental lease). Just keep in mind that the insurance does not necessarily
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET A TATTOO?
This is an age-old debate, so the following is just a very basic
ballpark. You usually pay for work either by the piece, or by the hour.
The smaller pieces in the artist's flash book are "standard stock"
material that usually don't take the artist too long to do. For these,
you might find prices listed right next to the artwork. The artist may
have a "minimum" charge that might vary with each artist.
Larger (or custom) pieces will usually be charged by the hour (unless
you and the artist decide beforehand on the total price). If you get a
"stock" piece (probably about 2" x 2" in size), you will probably not
pay more than $100 and sit no longer than an hour in the chair. Your
mileage may vary.
If you bring your own design, the artist may charge anywhere from $50 to
a few hundred dollars an hour, depending on the artist. However, you may
want to work with someone who charges $100 or so an hour; after all, you
DO get what you pay for. Also, some artists charge for illustration time
prior to beginning tattoo work. If they do, this might increase your
price by an extra hour. If they tell you that your piece will be charged
by the hour, ask them how many hours they think it'll take. If you are
on a limited budget, tell them how much you can afford.
Price negotiation should be up front and straightforward, a part of your
initial discussion before work begins. Some shops take credit cards;
most don't. Out-of-towners may be asked to put down a deposit. Be
particularly wary of people willing to work "for cheap" or "for free."
They are often artists just starting out, who are still developing their
skills. Caveat emptor.
Warning: Once the artist quotes you a price, *DON'T DICKER WITH IT!* The
best way to get on the artist's bad side is to try to bargain with the
price. If you think the price is too high, renegotiate the scope of the
artwork--NOT the price. I usually do it this way: "Hi, I have X amount I
can spend on this design. What can we work out for that price?"
If you are very pleased with their work and service, you are strongly
encouraged to tip the artist, even if they own the shop. Even shop
owners don't pocket 100% of what they make (remember--it's a business!).
Tips can range from 10% to 20% of the piece, so be prepared with cash on
I personally recommend a tip for any work which you are pleased with, or
any custom work where the artist spent time drawing up your illustration
(since drawing time is usually not included in your price). Nothing
brightens up a day for the artist, or helps to build a friendly
relationship with your artist more than a generous tip. If you're very
happy with the artist and you think you might get more work from them
There have been heated discussions on rec.arts.bodyart in the past
regarding the appropriateness of tipping a shop OWNER. If you feel that
an owner does not deserve a tip on top of the price s/he charges you,
then A) do not give a tip at all, or B) bring some sort of offering, be
it food, flowers or whatever.
Many tattoo artists have told me that the BEST TIP is good word of
mouth. If you are happy with your tattoo, show it off to your friends
and tell them where you got it done!
HOW SHOULD I ACT WHEN I GET IN THAT CHAIR?
Once you have settled on a design and a price that you and your artist
agree on, the work will either begin right then, or you will be asked to
come back for a later appointment (e.g. if the artist has another client
coming in in 15 minutes).
Once you're in that chair, what can you expect? Most likely, the artist
will begin the long process of preparing for your work. This is
especially true if the artist is going to do a custom design that you
brought in. First, the design will have to be worked on. Most artists
will play around with the design on paper first, although some artists
will do it freehand. "Freehand" means the artist takes an ink pen to
hand and begins drawing a design on your skin without the use of a
stencil (NOT where the artist begins work with the tattooing machine
immediately--the artist, no matter how good, still needs to envision how
the work will look on your skin--proportion, placement, etc.).
When you and the artist are happy with the design, the artist might
outline the design with a piece of carbon paper, or use an old-fashioned
copy machine to get a working copy of it. This would be when the artist
would properly size the design. The artist will then clean your skin
where the work will be done (probably an alcohol or antiseptic rub), and
will swipe your skin with an "adhesive," which is usually Speed Stick
deodorant (for some reason *I* haven't seen any other brands). The
artist will then put the carbon side of the design directly on your
skin. When the paper is lifted, ta-da! A carbon line drawing of the
design should appear on your skin!
The artist will probably let you look in a mirror to make sure you are
happy with the design and the placement. Once this is agreed upon, the
artist will then begin putting the supplies out.
At this point, your artist should be doing things like dispensing
various colors of ink into little disposable wells, and rigging a new
set of needles into the tattoo machine. At this time, you will probably
try to look cool by looking around the studio walls or occasionally
looking to see what your artist is doing. Your artist might have a radio
playing, which will help distract you a little.
At this point, it is best for you to try and relax. You can ask the
artists about some things, like the colors of the ink. Depending on the
work you are getting, the artist will need to mix some colors, for
example. You're probably somewhat nervous, but excited at the same time
because you're actually gonna get a real tattoo! Whether you realize it
or not, your body is going through quite an adrenalin rush. Try to
remain calm and not too anxious. Your hyped-up condition and your
anxiety about the anticipated pain of your experience by themselves may
trigger a fainting spell. It will help if you are not there on an empty
stomach. Get a bite to eat about an hour or two before you go in for
your session. Having hard candy or some juice on hand during the session
is also recommended.
Just relax and try to stay calm. For women, the experience of anxious
anticipation is similar to a pelvic exam at an OB/GYN, where you are
more nervous about it while waiting for the doctor as you lie prone on
the examining table, feet in the stirrups. Just as most exams aren't
painful or really all that bad, neither is tattooing.
Bzzzzzttttt....The artist starts up the machine, dips the needle into
the ink and starts to work toward your skin! Aaaaaahhhhh!!! Will it
hurt? Will it hurt? Grit your teeth! Hang tight!...
Ooohhhhhhh! It *does* hurt! Ow! Ow! Ow! I'm okay, I'm okay, this is
fine, it's not that bad. I can grit my teeth. Grit, grit, grit. Try to
smile a bit. My teeth are gritting, anyway. Oh, I hope this pain doesn't
stay like this!! Breathe. Don't forget to breathe. Relax. Relax. Relax.
Okay there, that's better. Not so painful. I can handle it. Yeah--look
at all the tattoos HE's got on his arms. I can handle it, too. Yeah.
...The most painful part of the process will pass in a couple of
minutes, after which the area will feel abuzz with electricity and
warmth. Just try to relax and breathe deeply--enjoy the one-of-a-kind
experience that you're feeling. Oftentimes, you end up clenching your
jaws, grinding your teeth or grasping the chair with your white-knuckled
hands. But once you pass the first couple of minutes, you'll feel silly
for having worried about it so much. If you still feel uncomfortable
after a few minutes, it may be because you're sitting in an
uncomfortable position. See if you can get into a more comfortable,
reclining position--but make sure to ask the artist first before you try
Some people try to distract themselves by trying to talk with the
artist. This is kind of like with hair stylists--some stylists just love
to gab and gab (just ask them an open-ended question), while some
stylists would rather concentrate and not screw up your hairdo. Same
with tattoo artists. While some will like to "talk story" with you,
others would rather concentrate on the work you're paying them to do.
After all, their job, income, and reputation are on the line when they
have the tattooing machine to your skin. Often, they'll talk during easy
parts, and less during complex work. Just go with the flow and not worry
The only thing I don't particularly prefer is if there's a lot of
traffic walking around in the studio and the artist has to keep talking
to them (either potential clients or tattoo groupies). For this reason,
a cubicle or dividing partition is a nice option for privacy.
Most people can sit through over an hour of work, but if you get
uncomfortable, just ask your artist if you can take a break. If you feel
woozy, you might consider bringing some candy with you to give you a
little lift, or some water to drink.
Subject: WHERE ON MY BODY SHOULD I GET A TATTOO?
This may seem VERY trivial, since the answer can be "anywhere you
please!" The ONLY places you cannot technically get permanent tattoos
are your hair, teeth and nails (even the cornea used to be tattooed
years ago for medical purposes). Interestingly, women and men tend to
get tattoos in different locations. This, according to sociologist
Clinton Sanders, is because men and women get tattoos for different
reasons. Men, he says, get them to show others, while women get them for
the sake of decorating their body--and often place them where they can't
normally be seen, so that it doesn't prompt comments about her
"reputation." However for the sake of this FAQ, the following is a short
list of areas to get inked. I am included the statistics from Clinton
Sanders' study on the body location of the first tattoo for men and
women as well (there were 111 men in his survey group and 52 women).
Head: The "head" here refers mostly to the area where your hair grows.
You'll need to shave the area for the tat to be most visible. If you
need to hide your tat, you can grow your hair out. Areas more commonly
inked are the sides of the head (above the ears), and above the nape of
the neck in the back. There are people who have their entire heads
inked. I am told that the tattooing process vibrates your skull!
Sides of neck (nape).
Back of neck: I've seen some tribal pieces, and bats done on the back of
the neck. You'll need to keep your hair short or tied up to keep it
Face: Various areas possible. Facial tattoos could fall into the
cosmetic or standard categories. Cosmetic would include darkening of
eyebrows, eyelining, liplining, etc. Getting a tat on the face is
serious business and crosses a portal because people will never look
at you the same way.
Upper chest: One of the standard areas for tattoos for both men and
women. Allows lots of flat area in which to get a fairly large piece.
One of the areas where you can choose to get symmetrically inked on
both sides. (Men: 5%, women: 35%--chest & breast combined)
Breasts (women): Used to be trendy to get a tiny tat on the breast.
Women (particularly larger breasted ones) need to be careful about
eventual sagging of the skin in the area. Don't get a tat that will
look silly when it starts to stretch (like a round smiley face that'll
turn into an oblong frown).
Nipples: Usually the artist leaves the nipples alone--the omission of
ink tends not to be so noticeable. There HAS been work done with
tattooing a facsimile of a nipple onto a breast in reconstructive
surgery for those who have lost their nipples, tho--for aesthetic and
Rib cage: Can be rather painful because of all the ribs you work over.
However it offers a fairly large area, and can be incorporated into a
major back piece, wrapping around toward the front.
Stomach/Abdomen: Some people choose not to get work done on their
stomachs for a couple of reasons. Area is difficult to work on because
there's no solid backing to hold the skin down. It is a sensitive area
that may feel uncomfortable. The tat may look horrible after your
metabolism slows down and you develop a - er-- "beer gut." (Men: Less
than 5%, women: 14% Women concerned about the effect of pregnancy on a
stomach tattoo can read the section specifically devoted to this in the
Tattoo FAQ section 7.
Genitals: Yes, some people do get inked in their genital area. The
idea may sound very painful, but it's really not all that bad.
However, do consider that, due the to the stretchiness of the
skin and the amount of movement the area experiences, it's not
really possible to do anything with a lot of fine detail. And
no, the penis does not have to be erect during tattooing, although
a tattoo artist I know who has done several penis tattoos said that
he did have one customer who had a full erection the whole time. The
only female genital tattoo I've seen (inner labia, I think) was in
_Modern Primitives_, and it looked rather blurry. Note: Some artists
refuse to do genitals. (Men: 0%; women: 5 %)
Thighs/hips: A popular area for women to get larger pieces (often
extending from the hip area). Shows well with a bathing suit but easily
concealable in modest shorts. The entire area of skin around your
thighs is bigger than your back, so you can get quite a bit of work
done. (Men: 3%; women: 10%)
Calves: Nice area to get a standard size (2" x 2"). However if you have
very hairy legs, it may cut down on the visibility somewhat. (Men: 7%;
women: 8%. Category simply listed as leg/foot)
Ankles: Currently trendy. I think you have to have an ankle tat before
you can go to the Eileen Ford Agency with your modeling portfolio. :)
You can either get a spot piece on the inner or outer ankle, or get
something that goes around in a band. Vines and other vegetation seem
popular (pumpkins, anyone?)
Feet: I've seen some incredible footwork (pun intended) in some of the
tat magazines. Concealable with shoes. Probably don't have as much wear
and tear as hands so you might get less blurring and color loss. This
however, is the TOPS of your feet. You will have trouble retaining a
tattoo on the bottom of your feet.
Armpits: Usually reserved for those who want to get full coverage around
the arm and chest area, & need the armpits filled. Probably not
strongly recommended for the highly ticklish.
Upper arms: One of the most common areas for men, although I have seen
some nice work on women as well. If you decide to get a piece done on
your upper arm, consider how much sun it's going to get. Will you be
able to put sunblock on it regularly? Otherwise, expect some color loss
and blurring. If you want some serious work done and you wanna show it
off, you may want to consider getting a "half sleeve"--full tat
coverage throughout your upper arm. (Men: 70%; women: 18%. Category
simply states arm/hand)
Inner arms: A more unusual location than the outer upper arm area, this
area is often not easily visible. Be careful if your genes are prone to
"bat wing" flab, however.
Forearms: Popeye sported his anchor on his forearm. Probably not as
popular as the upper arm but common just the same. You can have your
upper arm "sleeve" extend down for a full sleeve. For an example, check
out the heavy metal veejay on MTV (who has a nose pierce, BTW).
Wrists: Janis Joplin had a dainty tat on her wrist...easily concealable
with a watch.
Hands (fingers and palms): RAB receives frequent queries about fingers,
palms and hands in general. Some artists don't do hands because the ink
will have a tendency to blur or fade easily. Consider that you probably
move your hands the most out of your entire body. A friend of mine had
a multi-colored tat on his finger by Ed Hardy (who cringed upon hearing
about where my friend wanted it), that is only several years old and is
now barely noticeable. Some people want to substitute their wedding
bands with tat bands. Your palm doesn't retain ink well--if you can
find an artist who will do it, you can expect it to be a rather basic
line, and that it will not last too long. Perhaps just matching tats
someplace else would be okay? There *IS* a photo of a tattoo on a palm
in Sandi Feldman's book on Japanese tattooing. This seems to be an
Shoulder blades: The back shoulder blade area is another popular spot
for women, who can show off the work with a bathing suit or tank top,
but cover it up with regular clothes. If this is the case, be
particularly careful with sun because you're not gonna be wearing that
unless it's warm & sunny. It's a "safe" place--but may get in the way
if you decide to commit yourself to a large back piece. (Men: 15%,
women: 15%. Category listed as backs/shoulder)
Back: You can get any part of your back done, or find yourself an artist
you really like, and save your money for a "back piece" that
encompasses your entire back. Expect to pay several thousand dollars
for a full back piece (not to mention many tat sessions).
--Buttocks: Again, beware of potential sagging in the area.
--==*-< >-*==--==*-< >-*==--==*-< >-*==--==*-< >-*==--==*-< >-*==--
This ends "rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 2/9--Getting a tattoo." This
should be followed by "rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 3/9--Sanitation."