How To Not Be "That Guy" When Getting Your First Few Tattoos
So, you've finally decided to take the first step and talk to a tattoo artist about the tattoo design you've been dreaming up for the last few years! Fantastic! But, is there anything else you need to know to make the process as smooth as possible and to not fall victim to the most common mistakes of the new tattoo collector?? Of course!
We all have ideas about how a new process works, but until you see it first hand (or second or third) there isn't always a way to know exactly what you are getting into, and how to prepare. So, I'm going to let you in on some of the most common mistakes people make when they come in to get their first tattoos and you can feel like a seasoned veteran when you present your ideas to your favorite artist.
MISTAKE #1 "Small is going to look great right?! Because, my skin is roughly the size of paper and therefore can hold images the same size!"
NOPE! Believe it or not, your skin is THE LARGEST organ on your body. If you laid it all out flat (please don't), it would be closer to the size of your wall. Unless you are into decorating your walls with gumball machine stickers, I would follow the same logic with your skin. Like a grown man wearing a tiny beard, it just doesn't look right. (And babies with tiny beards just look silly)
Not only that, but your skin is made up of living, aging, regenerating skin cells and NOT PAPER! Whether you are wanting lettering, or an entire sleeve, tiny tattoos are the least likely to look good over longer periods of time and they have the least amount of visual impact. Yes, that cropped Pinterest picture made that micro tattoo look soooo adorbs in the close up!!! But, zoom out into reality and off your screen, and to the average bystander, or anyone whose head is more than two feet away from your ankle, it could be a weird birthmark or a mole you need to get checked out. Not to mention, the photo was probably taken right after the tattoo was done, and once your body does that amazing healing trick, the ink settles into the cells and the lines lose some of their initial crispness. The smallest lines are most vulnerable to fall out or blurring.
MISTAKE #2 20lbs of potatoes in a 5lb bag! "I have all of these great meaningful ideas I want to put into my one and only tattoo!"
For those of you planning your first medium to large piece, keep in mind, the more subjects you include, the smaller they have to be to fit the area you want, and then you're just making mistake #1 all over again! For larger pieces, it is best to give one subject at least one WHOLE ENTIRE side of one of your many body parts! This is not a concrete rule of course, but if you're planning a sleeve and think your are going to get 10 of your favorite characters in it, you might want to start seriously bulking up your arms or consider devoting your entire body, because it's just not going to fit. Some of the most amazing pieces I have ever seen are only one subject that takes up half of the person's body. NO, of course you don't have to get half of your body tattooed, but I would be super jealous of how awesome it looked if you did. An ideal rule of thumb is that each body part (ex foot, forearm, thigh, calf) should have one main subject and a few supporting elements. That's it!
If you want to include all of your deceased family members and your 2 daughters birth flowers and colors and one of them in there to represent you, along with an infinity symbol with some arrows crossed and your grandparents initials carved on your family tree that displays four seasons with bird silhouettes flying in the distance and turning into feathers, some more initials in there but this time hidden in the mandala inside the silhouette of the elephant and a star for each of your grand babies, you're going to have to consider getting more than one tattoo.
MISTAKE #3 This will be so cool to put on the side of my finger or foot!!
Please don't. Aside from making mistake #1, you are also wanting a tattoo on a part of your body that does not hold pigment well. That's why palms and bottoms of feet generally don't have much skin pigment in the first place. That type of skin is tougher and denser and does not hold ink consistently. It may look super cute when it's fresh, like the one you pinned earlier this week, but once again, your skin's healing process is going to have the last word.
MISTAKE #4 "So I've put a lot of thought into this tattoo and once my artist starts drawing it, it should be this collaborative experience where I'm the designer and my artist is the interpreter! They can't send me a bunch of sketches and I will micro manage the art until is is uniquely an expression of me in every way!!"
Okay wait, aren't you the one who just told me you can't even draw a stick figure? As an artist, I appreciate the desire to express one's self through art. However, if you commission an artist for work, you need realize that you have to have a level of trust in your artist to interpret your ideas in a way that works best for a tattoo. Just like in your profession, there are thousands of tiny, invisible nuances that go into the making of the finished product that the public sees. While it is important to give your artist the best description of what you have in mind, it is equally as important to let your artist have enough artistic freedom to create the best tattoo within their skill set. Before hiring an artist, you should look at their body of work and either decide that;
a)They know what they are doing and your trust them for the job. Or
b)You not sure so move along to the next portfolio until you can answer "a" in regards to your artist choice.
"But, wait! I'm sorry, I'm just super duper picky and I need it to look exactly how I am picturing it!!"
Sometimes what you are picturing in your head and what is doable as a tattoo are two very different things. If you are scared of the permanence of a tattoo and fear you may end up with something less than perfect on your body forever so you need absolute control just like everything else in your life, then maybe you should reconsider getting a tattoo. You might be taking this tattoo, and life in general, too seriously. Our bodies are no more permanent than the tattoos we put on them.
Of course, if you have knowledge in tattoo composition, value scale, color theory on skin, and a slew of other concepts your tattoo artist has been cultivating throughout their career, you can just draw it yourself and get it tattooed as such. But, I still wouldn't recommend it.
MISTAKE #5 "So, I have my ideas ready to go, now I just need to shop around for the cheapest tattoo!"
Ummm, ok. If you want a cheap looking tattoo, go ahead and shop around by price. However if you would like to invest in a beautifully done, high quality tattoo, take a look at artist portfolios and pick the one you feel the most excited about. Sometimes discounts are awesome! But discounted skills are usually not in the awesome category. They fall somewhere in the "underdeveloped" or "still learning" category. Just search Google for "bad tattoos" and you will see way more than you ever imagined possible. I'm sure they all got great deals from their cousin, who just picked up a new tat gun, because he's a REALLY good artist.
"But, I can't really tell what is good by a few photos."
You're right! You can't! So look at more! This decision is going to last as long as your body does, or in mummification scenarios, even longer! So do yourself a favor and do the research before hand. Most artists have their work all over the internet, especially on Instagram and Facebook, so you don't even have to get off your butt to see what's out there! Look up your local shops and check out their work.
That about sums up the list of the most common mistakes I still see in the shop on a daily basis. Let me know if I've missed anything!
Author: Chelsea Holloway, Tattoo Artist at Earth Alchemy Tattoo Collective