I hear some version of this story a lot:
It was Friday night and we were hanging out and I looked at my friend and said, ‘I want a tattoo.’ So we want to the shop down the street and I got the artist to do this. It looks like shit./It hurt like hell./They screwed it up./I paid too much.
People assume that all tattoo artists are the same. That all shops are the same.
If you go to a $10 in-and-out place to get your hair cut, you aren’t expecting to look like a celebrity. If you go to the super fancy car shop, you expect to get top of the line service. The same goes for tattoo parlors. Understand that quality work costs more than someone who can operate the tattoo gun and trace lines.
When you’re looking for a place to get your tattoo done, there are a few things you want to think about before you take the plunge. First, research what your state’s requirements are on the cleanliness of shops are. Different states have various regulations and standards. Be familiar with them. In Texas there is a rating system and a shop will have a certificate that tells you about their rating. Don’t hesitate to ask about this. I’ve asked shops before and in one instance the shop was not operating with a clean bill of health. Do you have any idea how bad that is?
In a tattoo shop you’re in an environment where bodily fluids and sharp objects abound. There are steps that should be taken to clean up and prevent conditions that would encourage infection and disease. An infected tattoo is a very bad thing. I’ve never had a tattoo infection, but I’ve seen the pictures and they hurt to look at.
Once you know the standards of what you should be looking for look up the local shops. A lot of shops have websites, Facebooks or even a MySpace page where you can go and see the basic shop information. Personally I’m an online shopper so I’ve always picked shops that had pictures and information on the websites as well as a sample book of the artists’ previous work. This was how I chose my first artist to work for. I wanted a woman who could do color work, liked to make original tattoos and a steady hand for long, smooth lines.
Before going into the shop with the intent to be tattooed, go in and just talk to the artists. They’re used to people coming in to shoot the breeze and the first time they might not pay you a lot of attention – believe me, lots of people come in to BS and waste time. Ask them questions, ask about the shop, what they like to do. If you’re wanting some original work it would be a good opportunity to go in and talk about it and maybe sketch some ideas with the artist. Ask for their input. I’ll talk more about picking and designing next week, but don’t hesitate to ask questions!
When you find a place you’re comfortable with, an artist you like, it’s a great feeling. Like the perfect pair of shoes, it’s a great fit. I cried when my first artist retired and stopped tattooing. My new artist is amazing and if he disappears it’ll be like loosing a limb. You might not become best friends with them, but it should be a good working relationship. So go forth and look!