4 TIPS TO PICKING A TATTOO ARTIST
1. Do solid research
This is the most important thing any tattoo client can do for themselves. Don’t just look at one shop or one artist’s portfolio. Research your city. Investigate all of the shops and all the artists within those shops. Take your time. A tattoo is something that you’re going to wear every single day for the rest of your life. It’s worth researching to ensure you aren’t going to end up with a bad tattoo that you then have to live with, cover, or laser remove. Find out what each shop and artist specializes in, whether or not their pricing is fair, and what their reputation says about them. Read their reviews, check out their social media, find all the information you can.
2. Investigate your artist
This is key. Just because they did one good piece on your cousin or say they’ve been tattooing for 20 years does not mean they do consistently good work, or good work at all for that matter. Some artists are only good at tattoos within their specialty. Some artists are what we tattoo artists call “hit or miss” artists; meaning they can do a great piece every now and then but don’t know enough to do high quality work consistently. Look at their portfolio. Check out their Facebook and look at the tattoo pictures that their customers tagged them in. This could save your skin if by chance their entire portfolio is actually someone else’s work. You’ll be able to see what they’ve really done by seeing their customer’s pictures of the work. Also, pay attention to whether or not the artist has done work similar to what you want. Even if they have a portfolio full of perfect lettering and amazing old school style tattoos that won’t help you if you want a portrait. Do not assume that artist’s with certificates are good or better than those who don’t have them. In order to get a framed certificate from the National Tattoo association all they need is a few dollars and to become a member. Which has no qualifications but a one person referral. I’ve seen people who’ve never apprenticed and do horrible work have pretty, framed certifications while a lot of old school amazing artists have nothing. Be picky. Investigate. Ask questions.
3. Watch the artist
Once you’ve chosen your artist and you’re about to get tattooed there are still certain things you should look out for. Did they open the needle and tube right in front of you with gloves on? If they did it before you got in the room or you didn’t see it with your own eyes, ask that they open new ones. If they pull loose, unpackaged needles or tubes out of a drawer, cabinet, or anywhere but a sealed package or sterilization bag then leave, immediately. Seriously, any professional artist will always use fresh needles. Needles are always sold in blister packs as pictured below. If it doesn’t come from the packaging mentioned then you don’t know where it’s been and there are plenty of artists you can go to who use sterile equipment. Leave. As for the tube, (the part that holds the needle during tattooing) it should either be metal and come directly out of a sterilization bag or latex and disposable in unopened packaging. If you see anything questionable either ask or leave.
Metal tube in sterilization pouch.
Also, make sure the artist is wearing gloves; the whole time they’re opening the tattoo equipment, tattooing you, and when they’re cleaning you off. Make sure they don’t touch anything but you and their sterile equipment. If they touch the trash can, their cell phone, a door handle, anything not sterile and then try to touch you, stop them and again, leave. The sterility of their gloves has been compromised once they touch dirty things and anything they touch afterwards is also now dirty. Now sometimes an artist may set up the equipment, move the trash can or touch a door handle, and then switch their gloves before they touch anything else. That’s fine. They’re making sure they switch gloves before they touch anything important. But if they dirty the gloves and then touch you or equipment, there’s a serious problem. So really pay attention. Staph infections, infected tattoos in general, are fucking awful. Do not fall victim to an artist’s lack of experience, laziness, or improper training. You’re the one who will pay for it. Remember that release form you signed before they started the tattoo? It releases them from all responsibility for the tattoo once it’s done. Rarely, an artist will really mess up or break a law and get sued. But 9 out of 10 times you’ll be left with a bad tattoo and a steep hospital bill.
4. Do not trust an artist just because you trust the shop.
A good shop does not always mean good artists. The shop itself may have a great reputation because of good artists they’ve had in the past or a select few currently but you never know when/if they switched artists or if the new guy is a fraud. So judge the artist personally. Sometimes bad artists hide in plain sight; they blame a bad tattoo on the customer, put other artist’s work in their portfolio, and manage to slide by shop owners and unsuspecting customers unnoticed. So research the artist. Don’t get lazy because the shop has worked hard to build their reputation. People slide through the cracks all the time.
That about covers it. The basic idea is to use critical thought and be picky. Pay attention. Don’t take one person’s word for it. Sure, if a lot of people all credit one artist for their good tattoos then they’re probably a good artist, but still research whether or not they’ve done what you want and watch to see if they perform a sterile set up and tattoo. Use discernment!! Do not ever rush into a tattoo or a tattoo artist. Take your time and get all the information you need. Waiting a few days or weeks will always be better than regretting a rush decision for a lifetime.
by Ashley Hebner
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