Choosing an Artist – Applying a tattoo involves a lot more than just creating a pretty picture. A professional artist is an artist, a technician and a craftsperson. It can’t be overstated how important choosing the right artist is.
There tends to be two different categories of artists. Those with formal training and an apprenticeship and those referred to as “Scratchers”.
- Scratchers are untrained tattooist who may have artistic talent but have little to no formal training and have not apprenticed under a professional artist. They may work from home, a basement or the back room of a bar but they may also work in less reputable tattoo shops. Ask your artist about their training, with whom they apprenticed and how many years they have doing professional tattoos.
- Somewhere in between professionals and scratchers are those that have little artistic talent and those weak in the application of the tattoo. It is fairly easy to see those that don’t have artistic talent. If you look closely you can tell if they are skilled in the application. Their tattoos are badly executed, the outlines uneven, the colors unattractive and/or their drawing perspective is out of proportion. Look for lines that appear shaky. Do the squares look like squares and the circles like circles? Look at the colors. Are they blended well and attractive? Is the shading even, dimensions and depth look appropriate? Ask to see samples of the artist’s work and ask for reference from other of his clients.
- Professional artist are those that trained, may have an art background and have apprenticed under a reputable artist. When you look at their completed work, you should see unique designs that are aesthetically pleasing to you. You will see shading that is uniform and lines that traverse the design flawlessly. The pieces will generally have depth, as if the tattoo is three dimensional. Most of all, the tattoo will be easily readable. You should understand what it is from a distance; detail will make the piece look realistic but not so much that the work appears “muddy”.
It’s critical that the artist follows appropriate protocols to ensure there is no cross contamination of bodily fluids and that the environment is sterile.
- Your first clue in this is the overall appearance of the shop and the people in it. Look for a shop that is brightly lit and clean. Ask the artist about what steps they take to ensure the environment is sterile and there’s no cross-contamination.
- Many artists use disposable equipment. Make sure they don’t reuse any of it. Upon using the ink from a cap the artist should not pour more ink into the same ink cap, which may result in contamination of the ink supply. They should open needles from sealed packages in front of you so you know they haven’t been reused. Needle packaging should have an unreached expiration date as well as some proof of sterilization.
- The artist should use disposable, nitrile gloves as latex gloves break down while using petroleum products. If they: use bare fingers to handle equipment; use their gloved hand to open non-sterile doors/drawers; apply ointment or Vaseline without gloves or a sterile wooden spreader then you should go somewhere else. Note: Some artist use non-disposable equipment. In this case, they must have an autoclave to sterilize their equipment and the artist should be trained in the proper use of the autoclave. Ask to see their Autoclave Certification.
Lastly, you and the artist should have good communication/rapport. The best tattoos come out of collaboration with you and your artist. You have the initial vision of what you want.
Here’s a quick summary:
- The shop should be as bright and clean as your doctor’s office
- Ask the artist about precautions to prevent cross contamination and foster a sterile environment
- Look at the artist work. Ask for references if you are unsure
- You and the artist should “click”. Choose someone who you feel understands what you are looking for and will work with you collaboratively to design something that you like
Choosing a Design – Besides choosing an artist, the next biggest step is choosing a design. Remember, tattoos are a permanent marking on your skin. Planning is important to a good design.
- Stay away from artist that use “Flash” – predesigned work displayed on a wall designed for rapid and repetitive application. Your artist should be skilled in the artistry of designing a tattoo as well as the application.
- Don’t make rash decisions, get your tattoo when your drunk or high, select tattoos because your friends are goading you on.
- Because tattoos are permanent, ensure yours is timeless. It’s generally a good idea not to choose anything that looks like genitalia, your current crush’s name or initials, anything that might upstage your wedding dress, honeymoon or give your children an odd impression of you. Stay away from fad tattoos, which may leave you cold when they fall out of fashion.
A reputable artist will help you in your selection and may advise you if they think you’ve chosen something you may regret later. If you’ve selected the right artist, they will do this with finesse and not manipulate you into something you did not want.
Setting an Appointment – After your initial consultation, the artist will spend a few days to a week drawing the initial design based on your collaborated effort.
- It’s common for the artist to ask for a non-refundable deposit before starting the drawing. The deposit will be returned to you in the form of a credit when the tattoo is complete.
- At some point prior to the tattoo (prior to or on the day of the tattoo), the artist will show you the design and ask for your input. It’s OK to suggest changes. Don’t feel goaded into a design for which you are not 100% happy. The artist may make the changes on the spot or they may require another appointment. Don’t worry, the artist should not charge for drawing.
- Work with the artist to select a time in which you are not rushed. The length of time to finish the tattoo can vary depending on the level of complexity, number of colors and your pain threshold. The artist will tell you approximately how long the tattoo will take but be sure that you are able to stay longer if required.
Prepare for Your Session - Listed below are some of the Do’s and Don’ts for the day of your tattoo. Some are fairly obvious. Some are not. To get the best result possible, please follow the guidance below.
- Take medication such as Aspirin. Medications such as aspirin thin your blood. This makes the job for your artist much more difficult because of the potential for excess bleeding.
- Drink beverages containing alcohol. The Artist relies upon your good judgment in terms of your choices and your response to the tattoo process. Most reputable artists will postpone the tattoo if you appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Drink caffeinated beverages.
- Wear excessive deodorant or cologne.
- Bring ID and form of payment.
- Show up early, or at least on time.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a full meal. You will be sitting in the chair for 2 – 3 hours or more. You don’t want to get hungry during the process. In addition, it takes a log of energy for your body to attempt to block out the pain. A majority of cases where a person blacks out or faints during a tattoo is because they didn’t have a good meal, aren’t hydrated and the body gets drained of energy.
- Take a shower, and keep the area to be tattooed clean just before the tattoo. Go easy on deodorant and cologne.
- Wear comfortable clothing and wear something making it easy to bare the area of the tattoo. Short sleeve shirts or tank tops work well for arm tattoos. For the back, be prepared to take off your shirt or pull up the shirt enough to provide the artist easy access to the area. Loose shorts work well for leg tattoos. Wear something that something on which you don’t mind getting a little blood or ink.
- Bring a friend for moral support.
- Shave the area to be tattooed if it is a hairy placement.
What to Expect – The process of getting the tattoo is fairly straight forward. The artist will apply a stencil on you that transfers the drawing to your skin (in some cases the artist may draw on you directly and skip the stencil). He/she will then ask you to look at the tattoo outline one last time to approve the placement and design. Do not hesitate to tell the artist what you think during any part of the tattoo process.
The artist will then use one or more tattoo machines to redraw the lines of the stencil on your skin with tattoo ink. He/she will then start to color in the tattoo applying different colors of ink and shading.
The pain involved with a tattoo varies by person and is influenced by your pain threshold, the placement of the tattoo and your preparation for the session. Some people find it helpful to listen to music or talk to the artist while working. Either is OK.
The artist will periodically ask you how you are doing. Be honest. Depending on you and the total length of the tattoo, the artist will take one or more breaks to allow you to rest. Upon request, he/she will spray you with Bactine and wrap the tattoo for a few minutes. Bactine contains Lidocaine, which will slightly numb the area. If you are allergic to lidocaine, advise your artist.
If needed, don’t hesitate to ask for a break. Ensure your drink plenty of water during the tattoo.
The tattoo itself may take more than one session. The artist will usually work this out with you prior to starting the tattoo but if your body becomes too traumatized by the tattoo showing an indication of swelling and redness, the artist may stop and schedule you for time to finish on another day.
Aftercare – Most artists have their own unique aftercare instructions, which with experience work best for healing their style of tattooing. Below are mine:
The artist will apply ointment and wrap the tattoo in plastic wrap before you leave.
- Approximately 3 to 5 hours after the tattoo, take a shower and wash the tattoo with unscented/dye free anti-bacterial soap.
- Rinse the tattoo with the hottest water you can stand.
- Pat the tattoo dry with unused paper towels. Do not use your regular towels or rub the tattoo.
- Apply non-scented and dye free ointment carefully to the tattoo such as A&D ointment or Aquaphor.
- Wrap the tattoo with plastic wrap and tape it so the wrap stays in place.
- Repeat these steps 3 to 5 times a day for 2 – 3 days.
- Afterwards, let the tattoo dry and peel.
- Keep your tattoo out of the sun for close to a month. After the outside has healed (1-2 weeks), you can start to use sunscreen on it.
- Do not immerse your tattoo in a bath, pool or Jacuzzi until the outside is completely healed.
If you cannot follow these prescribed steps, tell your artist so that they can come up with an aftercare instruction regimen that will work for you.
Never pick or scratch at your tattoo.
If your tattoo appears to be unusually red and it feels warmer than other parts of your skin, it may be infected. Contact your artist immediately or go to Urgent Care.
Ask your artist for recommendations regarding appropriate anti-bacterial soap and other products to help in healing your new tattoo