While it might not be as
widely accepted as getting your ears pierced — yet — more and more people are
taking the plunge when it comes to getting a tattoo. It can be a hugely
intimidating process — tattoos are forever, after all. Whether you’re a
seasoned pro at sitting through the pain, or you’re thinking about getting your
very first piece done, there’s an undeniable excitement that comes when you
first sit down in the chair.
I’ve spent countless hours in
that very spot — so many, that I’ve honestly lost count. Get a big enough piece
done, and you might be spending days with your artist. That all got me
thinking: what do tattoo artists really wish you knew the minute you walked
through their door?
be afraid to go bigger

A small tattoo might seem like
it’s all the commitment you’re ready to make, but Annie Motel of Little Annie
Motel Tattoo Parlor at Old Tradition Tattoo Shop in Hollywood, California, says
that she wishes clients knew that small isn’t always the best option.
“A lot of small tattoos
look cute at first, but with the passage of time, they lose the details that
make them special,” she says. “Therefore, I often suggest getting a
slightly bigger piece than the client’s first idea. The other day, my client
chose a design that I had drawn of a lovely mermaid who was covered in tattoos.
The sizing of the piece needed to be big enough to showcase the detail. After
the tattoo was finished, my client was totally in love with it, and I was
pleased to know that the quality of the tattoo will withstand the test of
time.” Artists know how ink ages, what kinds of things will fade and
distort, and how to keep tattoos looking fresh. Trust them!
fees may vary

Johnny Vampotna is an LA-based
artist and painter who’s traveled all over the world and whose work has been
featured in numerous art galleries and magazines. For him, one of the trickiest
parts of tattooing is a touchy subject: pricing. 
“There’s an old Sailor
Jerry saying,” he told me, “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap
tattoos aren’t good. I’ve had to stick to my guns over the years and train my
clients into understanding how I price a tattoo by the piece and not by the
hour, because I know more or less how fast or slow a piece will be. I don’t
think anyone wants to get paid half the amount for working efficiently,”
he says.
Some, like Vampotna, charge by
the piece. Some charge by the hour, and others make it up as they go. In each
case, they all have the experience to know what works best for them. Vampotna
aims to provide an awesome experience for his clients, no matter what. “I
always try to give my clients an overall fun, positive, personal, and memorable
experience,” he says.
tattoos might cost more than you think

If pricing is always tricky,
pricing smaller tattoos is even trickier. Annie Motel says that the price might
not be as low as you’re expecting, and there’s a good reason for that.
“Sometimes, clients think that because the piece is small, I wouldn’t need
to charge the same amount as for something bigger,” she says. “This
is true, but we do still have to charge a shop minimum to cover supplies for
each appointment.”
Set-up for each appointment is
the same no matter the size of the design — health and safety guidelines need
to be met, and there is set-up, prep, sterilization, and supplies that still
get used. Be confident in valuing your artist’s time and creativity. You get
what you pay for!
a creative collaboration

Becoming a working tattoo artist
is harder than it looks, and at its heart, it’s a creative occupation. Ask
anyone who creates for a living, and they’ll tell you that creativity on-demand
can be a physically and mentally draining venture. “The physical toll is
both a positive and negative at the same time,” says Gordo from One Truth
Tattoo in Northridge. “On one hand, clients push you to be creative and go
beyond your comfort zone. On the other side, clients don’t understand the time
and effort that goes into a tattoo…Patience is a virtue, and I have to remind
myself daily to be patient with everyone.”
If you’re getting a large,
custom piece, you’ll probably consult with your artist first, giving them some
ideas on what you want. Then, the artist will get in touch with you when the design
is ready for you to see. So, be patient and understanding that the process
takes time — it’s probably not the only piece that artist is working on.
micromanage your artist

Tattoo artists aren’t
mind-readers, so communicating exactly what you have in mind, is key. But it’s
important to strike a balance between telling your artist what you want, and
letting them do their job.
Oliver Kenton, a San
Francisco-based artist who specializes in geometric and blackwork tattooing,
says that it’s helpful for you to remember the reason you chose your artist in
the first place: something about their artwork spoke to you. And in order for
artists to do their best work, don’t micromanage. Share ideas, but let them do
their job when it comes to things like details, precise placement, and colors.
“Let your artist be an
artist,” Kenton says. “If you’ve done your research and picked your
artist out above all others, let them do their job and create a piece for you.
You should always feel free to say that something is not to your liking,”
Kenton clarifies, “But micromanaging the process is a sure-fire way to
lose your artist’s trust.” Trust goes both ways, and remember — they’re
creating art that you both will be proud of.

Christina Hock of The Dolorosa
Tattoo Company and Xinaxiii says that she hopes her clients always know that
they can speak up with any questions or concerns that they might have — there’s
no such thing as a stupid question.
“Part of my job as a
tattoo artist is to educate newcomers to tattooing, and build their trust by
answering any questions they may have, and reassuring them that I want them to
be happy with the design,” she says. “My clients have chosen me and
stuck with me throughout my 12 years of tattooing specifically for that reason.
If questions do arise about my artistic style or placement of the tattoo, I
make sure to answer and explain my reasons for design placement and color
choices, at which point the final decision is left to the client.”
Hock added. “At the end
of the day, I want my clients to be happy to wear whatever design they may
choose, even if that means a compromise.”
your artist

Sometimes tipping isn’t just
expected, it’s needed — and your tattoo shop is one of those places. Making a
living as a full-time tattoo artist likely means that that professional spent a
long time as an apprentice. And if they don’t own the shop at which you’re
getting tattooed, they’re probably paying rent for the use of that chair you’re
sitting in. And, like any other small business owner, when you tip them? You’re
helping them keep their doors open.
“Tip your artist,”
says Oliver Kenton. “Tattooing is a very personal and labor-intensive job,
and that little extra helps to form a lasting and positive experience with your
artist. You’ve just taken home a priceless and permanent work of art that is
yours forever, and a little extra at the end of your session is a small price
to pay for that.” How much should you tip? Tattoo shop etiquette
recommends 15 to 20 percent. But if your artist goes above and beyond, don’t
hesitate to show the love.
a long process to going pro

There’s no one set path to
becoming a tattoo artist, but clients often underestimate how difficult it can
be to get into the business — and then get good enough to make it your
full-time job. Even once you’re part of a shop, it’s a constant process of
building portfolios, creating new and innovative work, and putting yourself out
there in all sorts of different ways.
Many artists — like Annie
Motel — come from a fine art background and have degrees in art. (Hers is a BFA
from the University of Washington, where she specialized in drawing, painting,
and acting.) No matter the background, no one just jumps into a successful
tattoo business. Regulations for artists vary by state, and at the very least,
they’re required to take classes in things like blood borne pathogens. Artists,
shops, and shop owners must be licensed in accordance with local and state
health departments. There’s a good reason for all that paperwork you’ll likely
fill out before your session starts!
your common sense

When I reached out to a
handful of different artists, some similar themes appeared in their responses.
At the end of the day, most of the artists I spoke to wanted their clients —
and potential clients — to get a handle on the groundwork for basic tattoo shop
First, don’t ask for a spec
design, promising that if you like it, you’ll make an appointment. Second,
don’t come in drunk, or hungover — and definitely don’t come in sick. Also, try
not to schedule appointments for the days you’re going to have your period.
(Pain will be magnified tenfold. Even areas that aren’t especially sensitive to
needles will become agonizing, especially if you’re prone to aches, pains, and
cramps on even the best of days.) Don’t try to negotiate price. Don’t bring a
whole group of people with you, and definitely don’t bring kids. Be prepared
for the pain — you can handle it like a big kid. Lastly, don’t ignore your
artist’s advice, or what they tell you about aftercare. Remember: you picked
them for a reason.
your research, and pay it forward

Once you decide to get a
tattoo, it’s crucial to do your research and pick the right artist. Sometimes,
that means talking to friends that know someone, or have experience with a
particular shop. One time, I stopped someone on the street to ask him where
he’d gotten his work done, and when he referred me to Hyperion Tattoo in
Western New York, I made an appointment a few days later. You’ll know when you’ve
found the right artist. If there are doubts, keep looking. Remember that when
you get a piece done, it’s not only a representation of you, it also speaks for
your artist.
Artists also rely heavily on
word of mouth, and if you’re happy with your piece, don’t be afraid to refer
someone else to your artist. It’s a win-win, and it could result in a long-time
relationship. Tattoos are addicting, after all. Once you find your style,
there’s no going back!
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.