1. Research The Tattooing That Speaks To You
Currently, the medium of tattooing is being pushed in many different directions in many different styles. Be it traditional Americana, Japanese, Black and Grey, Photo Realism, New School, or whatever styles are emerging in the avante garde.
Be sure to take the time to do your homework when in the market for a tattoo.
One thing I used to enjoy was taking a trip to the local bookstore, grabbing all the tattoo publications and sifting through them. It was magical seeing all of the different styles of tattooing out there.
It seems that every few months there are great books being published on the topic of tattooing.
If you’re really interested in being an informed collector, I highly recommend investing in some books dedicated to the style or particular artists that you like.
Also, with the wealth of blogs dedicated to promoting knowledge on tattooing as well as endless streams of social media, you, as a client, have more access to tattoo culture now more than ever.
Your artist will appreciate your dedication and in turn you will likely get a much better tattoo than someone who just printed out a quick Google search.
2. Find The Right Artist
Once you narrow down the style that speaks to you. You are now faced with the task of finding an artist in your area who specializes in that style. If you are able to travel to get tattooed, this obviously opens up your options.
Be weary of websites like Yelp. I’ve seen some questionable establishments with high ratings. I would use these websites only to compile a list of shops in your area. Plan to visit each shop in person, get a feel for the place and the artists. It’s crucial that you feel comfortable in the environment that you will be getting tattooed in.
Take the time to look through the artists’ physical portfolios. They often spend a lot of time and money compiling their best work that represents the type of tattoos they are interested in doing. While I believe any tattooer worth their salt should be versatile, I wouldn’t suggest asking an artist to do a portrait if their portfolio is full of bold traditional tattooing.
3. Have Sufficient Reference Material
This goes back to the first task. Once you've narrowed down your idea it's a good idea to gather examples of the subject matter as well as styles you would like to see in execution.
4. Trust Your Design With The Artist
THIS IS IMPORTANT! You must be willing to trust that once you have selected an artist, that you have adequately explained your concept and are prepared to then sit back and let go of the wheel.
You chose your artist for a reason and if you have any doubts that they are capable to execute your idea to your liking then you are not ready to be tattooed. There are few things more annoying and hindering to the creative process than an anxious client who hits you up constantly asking to see the design when their appointment is weeks out. Or the client that has to micro-manage every aspect of the process. You need to be willing to GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!
“My kids birthday you can put?”
I don’t care if you can draw, there are rules in designing a tattoo and just because you saw a tattoo that had a whole scripture in a 5 inch book with a feather dissipating into bird silhouettes on a rib cage doesn’t mean that that pile of shit will look good once it heals, much less in the years to come.
Tattooing is a mutual endeavor between artist and collector. I know you have to wear it, but if you've done the proper homework and found an artist who has a good reputation and a solid portfolio, chances are they know what they are talking about and are only trying to give you a good tattoo.
So if you’re an anxious control freak, you’re probably going to be a terrible client and I wish you luck.
5. Have A Budget Prepared
Tattooing is not cheap. It's commissioning an artist to spend multiple hours of their life researching and compiling references in order to create a design that fulfills your expectations. This is all before the tattoo ever even begins.
Tattooers take their work home with them every day. After a full day tattooing, I go home and work on drawings for the next. I spend ample time working for my clients, as do many other artists.
For good work, prepare to spend anywhere from $100-250 an hour. This may sound like a lot, but you would be surprised what an experienced tattooer can get done in 2-3 hours. As a wise man once said "The sting of poor quality lasts long after the joy of low cost has faded."
6. Respect Time And Space
If your appointment is for noon, show up for noon. Plain and simple, not 11:55, not 12:05: noon.
Being early is almost worse than being late sometimes. I cherish the ritual of setting up for a tattoo… without a client breathing down my neck. It’s a necessary time to prepare for the job ahead. We make every effort to make the lobby as accommodating as possible with comfy chairs and reading material.
7. Bring Headphones And Keep Phone Silent
This one gets me every time; grown men playing on their phone with their obnoxious ring tones and horrible Snapchat feeds. Believe it or not bro, no one gives a shit what your friends are doing. If I were interested in seeing what your friends look like as puppies or big eyed ice princesses, I would get Snapchat and follow them.
I will say that it is so crucial to the process that you bring headphones and whatever movies or music you need to get in a good mindset. Don’t get distracted with constant texts and calls. Turn that bitch on airplane mode and get Zen. You’re gonna need it.
9. Don't Make It A Spectacle
Don't bring a group of friends with you to your appointment. There’s no pleasure in trying to pull a line with some obnoxious tag a long buddy standing over my shoulder asking questions. If you must have company, bring one person and let them know that while hanging out at a tattoo shop sounds fun, being a bystander for someone else's tattoo quickly gets boring.
Your artist needs to focus on the meticulous task at hand and it becomes difficult to focus with a crowd of people hovering around. Ultimately this goes back to respecting personal space, which is of the utmost importance.
8. Have A Good Meal Before
EAT BEFORE YOU GET TATTOOED!
Too many times I’ve been 5 minutes into a tattoo only to have someone get lightheaded on me or worse, pass out. If your blood sugar is low your body will go into shock.
The artists then has to assume the role of nurse and wait around for you to eat and feel good enough to get back in the chair, all the while pushing back their entire day.
Don't be that guy.
10. Be Patient And Committed
Be willing to show up in person for a consultation and wait for an appointment. With all the many channels of communication that potential clients choose to contact an artist these days, be it Instagram, Facebook, email, texts, or phone calls, sometimes it becomes difficult to stay on top of it all. Walking into the shop shows that you are committed to getting your tattoo and that you respect the process.
If you want a larger piece, be prepared to set up a future date where you and the artist sit down to discuss the direction of your design. Often times the artist will make a rough sketch of the tattoo directly on to your skin to ensure proper fit and composition.
From there, be prepared to put down a deposit to secure the start date of the tattoo.
Be patient and trust that your artist can execute a design that you will wear proudly. Don't bug them as to the progress of your design. Every day brings new deadlines to an artist. I draw at home all night for tattoos that I have to do the next day and for larger pieces, spend many hours compiling reference and many nights working on clients’ drawings leading up to the appointment.
The drawings are prioritized in the order of appointment dates. Ideally if you are this far along, you will have studied the artists portfolio and should trust that they are more than capable of conceptualizing your tattoo based of off your input. There is a line between your input and micro managing the tattoo. If you're not willing to relinquish control of the outcome of the final design then maybe you would be best served commissioning a painting instead of a tattoo.
If you take in this advice, I can promise you, not only will your artist appreciate you dearly as a client, but their appreciation will likely lead to a much better experience, and an overall top notch tattoo.