On my neck I have a scorpion that I got on our third tour. Actually the band helped pay for it because I didn’t have enough money. We were at this venue sound checking, I fell asleep and had a dream: I didn’t ever want a come-back plan. I didn’t was to be able to go back home. We were working so hard and what we were doing was really rough and it looked like it might not happen for us. So I thought I might have to go back home and get a job but I didn’t want to give myself that option, so I woke up and I decided to get a tattoo on my neck. I wanted a scorpion as I am a Scorpio. I did it in a way so no collar can cover it. It was my first visible tattoo.
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
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
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. ;)