Choosing a tattoo artist is as difficult, if not more difficult at times than choosing what it is you want to actually get tattooed.
You know what you want but now you have to trust someone else to take what you want and put it on you forever.
As someone who's got a plethora of tattoos, here are six crucial things to keep in mind when choosing a tattoo artist.
Just like you don’t want a recent grad performing open heart surgery on you, you probably don’t want a tattoo artist without a proven track record. If you aren’t sure about an artist, or your friends have referred you too someone, even if you want to chat and see if it’s a good personality/style fit, book a consult. It gives you a chance to check out the shop, see their book of previous work and talk about price.
When looking to get tattooed, a consult is always the best place to start.
Quality of the Studio/Shop
You always hear the line “that looks like a tattoo you would get in someone’s basement” and that’s not a compliment. One thing to keep in mind is to never judge a book by its cover. I know some incredibly talented artists who tattoo out of their basement, and that basement is nicer and cleaner than a lot of shops you will ever be in. If you aren’t sure about how clean the studio is or if they follow proper health and safety procedures, ask to watch how the artist sets up. You should see them unwrap fresh needles, use new gloves, sanitize everything and dispose of anything that comes in contact with someone in a hazardous waste bucket.
If they give you attitude about the request, leave.
Nobody's got time for hepatitis!
Depending on the size of your tattoo, you could be spending hours upon hours with this person. You'll be sitting with them during good days and bad days while they stab you with a bunch of needles over and over again, so you don’t want them to be a jerk. During your consult you should have been able to figure out if they are a good personality fit for you. At the very least, they should be open to you using distractions during a long session. Are there TV’s? Can you watch movies while they work? Do they play music in the shop? If so is it music you like, if it isn’t, are they open to playing something more your style? The last thing you want is to sit down for a four hour session with screamo music playing like nails on a chalkboard, while Clint with the mutton chops just grunts next to you as he tattoos your ribs.
Artistic style of the tattoo artist
This is a big one. During your consult, look at the artist’s portfolio to see if their style matched yours. If you like shading without colour, don’t get tattooed by someone who only does water colour. Or if you are getting something happy and upbeat, don’t get tattooed by the guy who specializes in dark and twisted stuff. You will probably see the first examples of someone’s work upon visiting and or web research and know immediately if you can work with them or not. One thing to keep in mind is if they are heavy handed? This can make or break your experience. Just like some people press harder when they write than others, some artists do the same when they tattoo. If you know someone who has had work done by the artist, ask them about it. You don’t want someone who presses down so hard they snap pencils tattooing you for hours.
This is kind of a no brainer but the better the artist, typically the longer the wait time. If you are deadset on someone who is world renowned, you will have to wait sometimes a year or more for a booking. That being said, don’t be afraid to check out small shops in your area. You might be surprised by the talent working there.
There are some things in life you don’t want to cheap out on, tattoos and divorce attorneys jump to mind immediately. Just like the better artists have longer wait times, they also typically have higher prices. Some charge by the hour, some by the sitting. One thing to keep in the back of your mind is artists will jack up the price on pieces they really don’t want to do. So if you get quoted $1,000 for your barb wire tattoo that will really only take about an hour, now you know why.
We asked Ian for a bio but he was too busy writing this article to come up with one...stay tuned as we're sure he'll give us one at some point.