Tattoo Etiquette Part 2

Remember my first post on tattoo etiquette? Well, I’m back with another one, this time covering things that a first-time tattoo-ee (erm. recipient of a tattoo?) should know!

  • To start, try searching for local tattoo shops on Yelp, if your residence is in a big enough city. That should immediately help you weed out the icky places first. Or just ask around for recommendations from well-tattooed people - and while asking for the great places, also ask for places you should avoid at all costs.
  • Once you get down to two or three options, go check them out in person. A tattoo parlor should be spotless - think of a doctor’s office. There should be no smoking inside, no animals inside, no stains on the floor, etc. Go look in the bathroom - if the bathroom is filthy, you don’t want to get tattooed or pierced there. The importance of this cannot be understated - I believe tattoos are totally worth getting, but you are letting someone stick a needle in you. If a tattoo parlor is dirty, you can pick up such lovelies as hepatitis B or staph. Ask them if they use an autoclave (answer should be yes). Watch them tattoo or pierce someone - they should be wearing gloves, a mask, and be taking the needles out of sterilized packets. If the needle gets dropped, they should throw it away and take out a new one. These are just the basics as far as cleanliness goes - check out this FAQ at BMEzine for more.
  • Talk to the artist(s) at the shop. If the artist is a stuck-up prick (and unfortunately I’ve ran into my fair share), leave the shop. Some people will argue, but I refuse to pay someone a decent chunk of money when they’re being an asshole to me - whether they do good work or not. It’s not worth being more tense than you have to be while getting tattooed. Please, don’t get super upset with how they treat you! The first time I spoke to a tattoo artist over the phone, he was so rude to me he made me cry. Turns out, the guy’s just a jerk to everyone. Go figure.
  • Look at the portfolio(s) that should be near the front desk. Don’t get a tattoo at any place that doesn’t have a portfolio. Look for healed photos of tattoos - is the linework fuzzy? How’s the shading? Some tattoo artists have a speciality - Japanese style tattoos, old school Sailor Jerry style, etc. If someone has a strong speciality and you want a tattoo that’s at the opposite end of the spectrum, you might consider going to a different artist. A true artist should be able to do any style and do it well, but that’s doesn’t always work in practice.

  • It’s up to you, of course, but I wouldn’t get anything off the walls. The designs on the walls are referred to as “flash” and are basically designs bought out of a catalog. They’re something that a lot of other people have. Like I said - up to you! A flash tattoo can be very well done technically, but if I’m going to have permanent art I prefer to have something more unique.
  • In sort of the same vein, getting a tattoo in a foreign language is generally a bad idea unless you know the language. Check out this blog for reasons why.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT print out someone elses’ tattoo and have a tattoo artist copy it. This is the height of rudeness. Any tattoo artist worth his/her salt should know better than to do this, but still. Tattoos are usually very personal works of art that the client and the artist worked together to come up with, and copying that is just plain tacky. Bringing in a few examples for inspiration is a different matter entirely.

  • Do not get a tattoo while drunk! Not only does being drunk lead to impaired decision making skills, but according to Cory (my former tattoo artist), being drunk in and of itself can affect the quality of the tattoo. Something about the blood being thin and that not helping the skin retain ink well.
  • Please, please do not be a cheapskate. Yes - it is possible to have an overpriced tattoo (meaning - sometimes you’ll run into shops with similar levels of talent/cleanliness/etc., but one is higher priced than the other), but they are few and far between. This is going to be on your body the rest of your life. My hip tattoo cost $200, the skull tattoo was $200 (I think? If it was more than that, it wasn’t by much), and the sewing machine was like, $160. All of these are without the tip included - tipping is important! The artists at a tattoo shop usually have to pay for booth rent, and almost always, all of their supplies/tools. I always calculate in 20% for a tip. Another thing to remember is that if you stick with an artist long enough and you’re a good customer, there’s a good chance they’ll give you lower-than-normal prices - because they know you’ll tip that 20%.
  • And of course, you’ll want to think long and hard about the design. Gala Darling has more on that here.

The day of, you’ll want to eat a hearty breakfast and another meal before getting tattooed. The adrenaline rush can do funny things to your blood sugar, so that’s important (and I always bring along something to eat and drink during breaks, just in case). Bringing a hoodie is a good idea too, I always get too cold while being tattooed for some reason (see above!). I also take 2-3 ibuprofen before we start to help with the swelling, as I swell like mad after a tattoo. If you want to take pain killers ahead of time, just make sure they aren’t blood thinners!

Afterwards:

  • If you went to a reputable shop, they probably explained aftercare with you thoroughly and gave you a sheet. It varies slightly from artist to artist, but the general gist is: keep the area moisturized (with a non-scented moisturizer!) and clean (non-scented soap also!) for the first two weeks. No swimming in public pools or anything like that. And for the love of fluffy kittens, it will itch like the dickens sometimes, but don’t scratch it! Try slapping it instead. Don’t pick at any scabs that come up (which may or may not happen - I’ve never scabbed, but lots of people do). Leaking ink, for lack of a better term, is perfectly normal. I called my artist all freaked out because after my first tattoo, I woke up with an imprint of it on my sheets, and he assured me it’s very common.
  • You’ll want to make sure to put sunscreen on it, to keep the colors from fading. But you wear sunscreen already, right? A lot of times, when people see the old “sailor” tattoos that make them so biased, they don’t take into account that those tattoos have been through years of sun exposure and were probably done with subpar skills/tools in the first place. So slather it on, ladies and gents! Keep your tattoo bright!

After the healing process, which isn’t so bad, you’ve got your spankin’ new, itch-free tattoo. Enjoy it! They’re addictive!

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