First tattoo advices
One of the asks I get more often is about how to approach tattoos for the first time. What to have, where, from who, what to expect, how to deal with the artists and more, a lot of people are still a bit scared and confused from the whole tattoo thing. Most of the time their asks can have no answer, since things like subjects, placement, paint tolerance etc. are all pretty personal. But I’ll try to put down some guidelines, mixed with personal experiences, that will hopefully help makes things less stressfull and confused at least for someone.
(pic: Rodrigo Souto at work. Black outlines are usually tattooed first, then the black shading. Colors cames last. )
Is it the right time for it?
Usually, if you are underage, you can’t get tattooed without parents permission. I suppose it changes from one country to another, depending on the laws. Legal or not, getting a tattoo when you are still really young will reveal a bad idea most of the times. Even if you get tattooed from a pro, even if your tattoos looks good, there’s a high probability your taste will change soon, and so will your life priorities.
At 14 I was impressed from Clooney’s tattoos in From Dusk Till Dawn. I was convinced a tribal bodysuit was a badass option. Then, a few times later, I thought Tom Gugliotta’s (what was I thinking? He wasn’t even that good as a player… :D) barbed wire armband was really cool too. At eighteen I though that let an apprentice tattooer I knew doing both my arms in his kitchen for a hundred bucks was a great idea. None of that happened, lucky me. Times were different, there was no internet (I mean of course there was, but it wasn’t like it is now), the only chance to know something about tattoos were through the magazines. I had my first tattoo at 24. A bit late, I know, I’m not suggesting you to wait that much. But still, even if I had it from a really good artist and still looks good, it’s not in the style I’m into now.
Will your tattoos affect your social interactions and your career? Yes and no. The older you are, the more you know about how you’ll live your life. But being tattooed brings no more the prejudices it used to. People are slowly getting used to them. I mean, if you want to run a bank, a face tattoo will probably be still an obstacle. But if you live in a big city, probably no one will ever stare at you for a small tattoo on your arm. My first tattoo was on my shoulder/chest, it doesn’t show even if I’m wearing a t-shirt. I went for an easy to hide area mostly to show my parents how wise and focused on the future I was. It wasn’t true, of course, but it helped. ;)
Ok, so just pretend you are old and wise enough for a tattoo. Where do you start?
(pic: Portrait from Dan Molloy. If you want one, be sure to bring a reference pic that is big enough to show all the details your artist will need)
Chosing the right artist
What style are you into? It can be hard to decide at first, but the more you look at good tattoos, the more your taste for them will be defined. This can probably help too. And then you have to find the right artist.
If you want to get tattooed, no doubt this will be the biggest challenge, and probably the most important. This choice will affect not only the final result, but the whole experience. A good artist, in a safe, positive environment, will make the whole journey something you’ll like to remember.
How do you know an artist is the one? It’s hard to say. Your taste, your knowledge, needs to be trained, a lot, to be able to tell a good artist from a mediocre one. I’ve “studied” this things for years. my nerd side definitely helped, and now a few pics of someone’s works are enough for me to know if an artist is someone to consider o not. Drawing skills are a good start, but I look for someone with good taste for colors, compositions, visual art in general. Roses are usually a good test. Or woman faces. If you want to find someone good, be prepared to go through tons of crappy portfolios. Or you can drop me a line, it can be helpful too. ;)
(pic: Dane Mancini tattooing free hand. Sometime the artists can draw the whole design (or a few details of it) on the skin with a marker, following their ceativity)
The subjects and the placement
I get a lot of asks about what to get tattooed too. No one can tell you what you should wear on your skin. Look for good art, and just get inspired. And then a good artist will help you to turn your ideas into something pleasant to look and to wear.
Let’s skip fast the “should I bring the design?” part. The answer is a big no. Even if you are amazing at drawing. Even if it does have a deep meaning for you cause your best friend draws it. No. Tattoo designs are different from drawings for a ton of reasons. Let tattoo artists do their job.
When you are considering a subject, don’t fill the concept with too much stuff. I mean, you want a ship, and a lighthouse, and an anchor, and a rose. It’s already more than you need. Don’t ask the artist to add a dagger, and a dog, and your grandma’s name, and your first bike, all on the same design. The less you put into it, the more he/she will have the creative space to create something great. If you want a text, please reconsider it. And read this first.
And please, forget all the tv shows shit about how everything you
get tattooed must have a sad story, a deep meaning behind it, how
every detail must be symbolic and represent something.
Like if you want a rose, and you love your family, you don’t need a single petal for each brother/sister/cousin/dog. Just have a good looking, damn rose. The meaning behind it will be as strong as your intention, no matter what.
You have a sad/positive reason to get tattoed? Great. You don’t? Who cares. Tattoos looks great, and this is the only reason you need. ;)
(pic: Matt Adamson’s design. On the left, the stancil he used to have a trace of it on the skin.)
Book for it.
If the shop is close to you, go talk them in person. Someone will take care of you. A phone call is a good idea too. Or send the shop an email. Messages on facebook are usually a bad way to get in contact with them. If you still get no answer after a reasonable time, keep trying, don’t be afraid to insist.
Sooner or later, you’ll talk with the artist. Tell him/her what you want, the mood you want your piece to have, what you would like him/her to include, what you like from his/her past works. You can bring references, if you think it would help. Bringing pics of other people’s tattoos as a reference is ok, until you just use them to explain what you want. Asking to copy someone alse’s tattoo is wrong, unethical and pretty lame.
Be prepared to tell them about size and placement. It’s ok to have
clear in mind what you want, but when an artist suggest you to change
something, is usually for a reason, so try to be open minded about
it. Some tattoos can be completed on a single session, some will need
more. You need to heal completely, before the artist can continue to
work on it, so be prepared to wait at least a few weeks before you
can have a new session.
Some artist will send a sketch to you days before your appointment, to check if you are ok with it. But it’s not rare to see them finish it while you are already at the shop to get tattooed. Yes, even if you booked for it months before. If you don’t like the design, just ask the artist to change it. But don’t forget they are already working for you, and don’t forget to be respectful.
(pic: Stu Padgin’s print. Go through the artists’ sketchbook if you have the chance to. They usually have tons of great designs still available)
Be ready for it.
If you have done everything as you should, you have nothing to fear about. Protect your skin from sun, a tanned, burned skin can’t be tattooed. Eat something before to start, bring something to drink, but stay away from alcohol from 24h at least. It would cause your blood vessels to dilate, and the tattoo to bleed more. The blood would make harder for the artist to work and to get the ink going deep enough to stay. Bring a friend to the shop with you only if ou really need too (you won’t, trust me), and never more than one. You want your artist to be confortable and focused while is working on you. From now on, it’s up to him/her.
“Does it hurt?”
Yes, it does. How much? It’s impossible to say. Some areas are usually more painful than others, but it depends on your skin, your muscolar conformation, your pain tolerance. Usually, it’s always a pain you can tolerate. Try to focus on your breath, and keep your body relaxed. The less you shake, the easiest will be for the artist to do his/her job. If you need a break, just ask for it.
If the pain is a serious issue for you, just don’t let it be your only concern while you are considering the placement. Of course, starting from your ribs it’s probably not a great idea, but classics spot like arms, legs, or shoulders are good under both the aesthetical and pain aspects. Even if you want a sleeve, you don’t need to plan it from the beginning. If you are not sure of how your body will react, just start with something smaller, and on a less sensitive spot.
1 - Be sure a tattoo it’s what you want, Consider your lifestile, and the one you wish to have. Keep in mind you’ll need money for it, and it will be painful. Be aware of all the negative and the positive a tattoo will bring in your life. There is nothing to be ashamed of in starting with something small, or on a hidden area, if you need to.
2 - Don’t go for a cheap one. A tattoo it’s a life committment, and you deserve the best you can have, even if it will take time to find it. Search, get informed, define your taste. And then book with the best.
3 - Let the artist do his/her job, but still be part of the process. Talk to your artist, let him/her involve you in the creation of your piece. Your tattoo will be meaningful and unique.
4 - Be prepared to the pain, but don’t let it scare you. Be conscious but relaxed and confident. Trust your ability to overcome pain, understand that it’s part of the process, and enjoy the experience for what it is.
5 - Take care of your skin and tattoos! Follow your artist’s instruction, keep it clean, and don’t be afraid to ask the shop for help if you think something is not as it should.
And that’s it, I think. Don’t be afraid.It’s always worth it. ;)
(pic: Steve Moore’s backpiece)