Top Document: rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 2/9--Getting a tattoo
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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 life; --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 limited to): --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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>, 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 today. 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 artist first. 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 window shopping. 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 insulting. 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!] ANOTHER CONSIDERATION 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: http://www.injersey.com/news/app/story/0,2110,208595,00.html 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 tattoo. 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 very high. 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 cover QUALITY. 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 hand. 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 later, TIP!! 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 to move. 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 about it. 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.
Top Document: rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 2/9--Getting a tattoo
Previous Document: A TEMPORARY ALTERNATIVE?
Next Document: WHERE ON MY BODY SHOULD I GET A TATTOO?
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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM