start rough, then refine

working with landscape in tattooing, getting a natural look to a landscape

 

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also some extra things that have happened recently

 

 

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getting tattooed with scars from self-harm-answers to common questions.

I’m not going to include many photos in this post, to provide my clients with some privacy.

 

don hertzfeldt tattoo

 

I’ve got some scars from self harm. I know a lot of people do. it can be really embarrassing, or feel shameful to have them seen. if they’re in really visible areas, it’s even worse.

I’ve had mine covered with tattoos (I stopped cutting years ago, when I was still fairly young). I’ve gotten images that remind me of what I’ve been through and of what I’d like my future to look like. I want you to know you’re not alone with this, first of all. I also want you to know that not only are you not alone, I have seen and tattooed worse scars than yours- burn wounds, surgical scars, all of it. yes, you may have done serious damage to yourself, but no- it’s not impossible to tattoo over it.

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If you want to do this, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  • you have to stop cutting in that area and adjoining areas for at least a few months before we can start working on it. the skin can only heal so much at once, so nearby open wounds will mess up the healing process of the tattoo. if you can’t entirely stop SH/SI, try to go lighter and in a completely different area for a while before you come for a tattoo.
  • make a consultation time with me first. that way we can figure out the pattern and texture of your scars and skin, what areas are “ripe” for tattooing and which may need more time. scars should be a little bit settled in before we tattoo on them, so the ink will hold properly. a consultation gives us a chance to also meet up and discuss what your goal is with the tattoo itself.
  • it’s OK if your goal is ‘hide these’, it’s OK if your goal is ’emphasize these’, it’s OK if your goal is to stop SH/SI and it’s OK if your goal has nothing to do with stopping. I won’t judge. I won’t look down on you. I know that you have your own reasons, and you don’t have to explain that to me or go into detail. you don’t have to relive your troubles just so that I will tattoo you. my goal is to make you happy with your tattoo- that’s all. I’m just here to make something positive happen for you.
  • minimal, crisp, geometric, thin-lined, pale, wispy art doesn’t cover or hide scars. if your goal is to camouflage the scars, we will likely end up doing painterly, saturated, textured organic shapes of some kind. branches, trees, flowers, plants, animals. things that have volume and texture. if your goal is NOT to hide or cover the scars, let me know, so that we can work out what you do want to do.
  • scars that are fresh, still healing, or very livid usually don’t take ink very well. usually, moisturizing often with vitamin e and/or a good scar reducing lotion for a few months will fix this. this is yet another reason to stop harming the skin in the area you want tattooed and the surrounding area. we need to give your cell walls a chance to regenerate, to hold the ink in.
  • don’t be afraid to email me or contact me EVEN IF you aren’t coming to me for the tattoo. I’ve been through some shit and I know how intimidating it can be to walk in to strangers and talk about this stuff. I can always answer questions, possibly suggest understanding artists in your area, or even just listen. I think everyone deserves a good experience when getting tattooed, and I’m here for that if you need it.
  • you’re likely to get an endorphin high during or after the tattoo, similar to what you’d get from shallow cuts or abrasions. getting heavily tattooed was part of how I broke my cycle of self harm- I realized I could get that sensation in other ways. it’s almost the same chemicals released as a “runner’s high”- so just speaking from personal experience, running and getting tattooed are both good ways to get that little kick, without doing more damage.
  • come prepared to comfort yourself. your favorite blanket, pillow, headphones, dress in comfy clothes. self-soothing is totally welcomed in my space, I will never mock you for making sure you’re comfortable and feeling safe. bring a snack as well, or something you like to munch or drink (no booze!) you can bring a friend or come alone- whatever makes you feel safer.

 

yes, that's me

me getting my upper arms worked on.

if you need further information, email me, or, preferably, comment below. I’ll try to answer any comments I get here as quickly as I can.

 

it goes without saying that SH/SI is dangerous and you shouldn’t do it. we all know that. but I know, and you know, that sometimes it’s a thing we do to cope, and we can’t just stop until you find better ways to cope with all the bullshit life throws at us. I hope we all find better ways to cope, I hope everyone reading this is able to find things that help. I did-and if I can do a thing I am damn sure that you can do the thing.

I understand that it takes time and work so again-don’t feel ashamed. It’s just a thing some of us do. Be as safe as you can be.

 

(sterile saline wound wash, steri-strips, and clean hands help a lot)

 

xox

 

 

 

you just found the perfect tattoo idea online.

listen to me.

if you see tattoos and artwork online that you really like and would like to have tattooed on you, that’s totally a good thing. the next step is not to copy that thing exactly, but to find a tattoo artist whose work you like, bring them that thing, and say “I want something like this, and I like this piece because (reason you really like that idea)”

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the tattoo artist will tell you they can’t copy it, and will draw you your very own tattoo using your taste and that idea as a starting point. that’s what good tattoo artists do.

it’s OK if you printed it out, traced it, or saved it to your phone for us to look at. don’t panic. it’s OK. just tell us that you found it online and want something like it because (reasons you like it so much). seriously, it’s OK, bring it along and tell us why you like it.

it’s good when you find things you’d love to wear. showing us that stuff helps us figure out what your taste is, what qualities you want in the finished piece. it’s totally fine to want similar ideas to other people’s tattoos. it’s just not OK to try to copy exactly.

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find a good tattoo artist, then talk to them. show them things you like. show them that perfect tattoo and tell them why it’s perfect. they can make it fit YOU.

we get into tattooing because we like to draw. part of our job is to figure out how to draw a thing that fits you and nobody else.

the other part of our job is to be able to reproduce a thing exactly. so if you find tattoo flash, (it’ll be labeled “tattoo flash” and have the artist’s name attached) let us know!

because usually you, or we, can buy the rights to do that. cheaply. plenty of artists draw world that are designed to be sold as tattoos. if we know the source, we can often get permission. you can also ask us what we have drawn- most of us have flash, prepared art, ideas and sketches of things we’d like to do.

 

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keep in mind you don’t HAVE to find exactly what you want. find your tattoo artist first, then show them the things related to the tattoo you want. we can work from stick figures and bad explanations! it’s part of the job.

(also, if you lie and say you drew it, we know you’re lying. although the internet is big, the tattoo industry is small and we all know each other.)

 

 

 

No, the magic is not gone.

strength tattoo on women

(originally published 07/04/2012)

I was reading both a blog post, and some forum posts, about the state of tattooing this past week, and had a startling realization.

There are tattoo artists out there who have never worked in a studio without being asked about a TV show.

The demand for tattoos, good tattoos, and the number of people tattooing, makes this a completely different subculture than it was when I started out.

Does this mean the magic is gone? Am I no longer a wizard? Did reality TV really eat the soul of tattooing?

Maybe a year or two ago I would have said yes, and ranted for a while about it. But right now- No. I don’t think the soul is gone, we are still wizards, and the magic is still there, and as potent as ever.

(more…)

Getting your feet tattooed, and how to handle the aftermath.

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I really like foot tattoos. I think they can look great, and it’s a good place to get a smaller tattoo done. That said, there’s a few things you should think about when you decide to get tattooed on your feet. First of all, there’s not a whole lot of room, so you’ll have to pick one idea, and keep it pretty simple. Any more than that and the inevitable spreading and wear-and-tear on the ink will make it indecipherable very quickly.

 

foot rose tattoo

 

 

 

So next, make sure the image has a good amount of contrast. Edges! Soft stuff won’t hold up as well in the long run, and while you can get away with that in other areas, the feet aren’t the place to gamble with.

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The next thing to think about is healing. When you get your feet tattooed, you’ll have to go without socks, and wear only shoes that do not directly rub against the tattoo while it heals. So if that means you can’t work, wait until you have at least ten days off in a row, to allow for the skin to settle down. Also, feet can swell a lot, so be prepared to elevate your foot the next day, and maybe even ice it.

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Placement is super important too. It’s pretty obvious where the skin changes from regular skin to that wrinkled, shiny kind of skin that you find on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The areas that are very shiny or wrinkled won’t hold ink very well at all, at all. So plan to get the tattoo on the top of your foot, not out onto the sides very far. While you CAN tattoo back near the achilles tendon or off to the side a bit, it simply won’t hold as well as the normal skin on top of the foot does.


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To keep your foot tattoo looking good for a long while, after it’s healed (according to the aftercare your artist gives you) then be sure, in summer, to use plenty of sunscreen or wear closed/covered shoes over it. Feet get a lot of sun and you might not even think about it! Sun is the biggest destroyer of tattoos. So cover them up or give them a good layer of screening to protect them.

 


Using the internet to find your next tattoo? Read this.

The internet has so much imagery in it, it’s understandable why you’d want to use it to find good ideas for your next tattoo. But there are a few things to watch out for, and a few things you definitely shouldn’t do.

will bodnar, cicada tattoo, anji marth, high priestess tattoo, at tattoo convention

an artist using antique, copyright-free woodcuts as reference

When you have no idea what you might want, it’s really tempting to just start googling “tattoos” or “tattoos for girls” or something, and look around at what other people have. There’s nothing wrong with this; this is a great way to get ideas, seeds of ideas. You have to be careful though, because these tattoos belong to other people. Either they belong to the tattoo artist or the wearer, one or the other, no exceptions.

They own them.

So, yes, use the images online of other people’s work to get ideas for subject matter or placement- but not as an exact thing to get tattooed. There are reasons for this; ethically, it’s theft for the tattooer who ends up doing your tattoo. They don’t get to really do their best work, because you’ve instead asked them to steal art from someone else. Legally, it’s also theft. The original artist who drew and tattooed it owns the no-shit actual copyright to that tattoo. It’s plagiarism and is considered theft.

You can bring in these images as ideas, as things you like the style or subject of- but you shouldn’t try to get someone else’s tattoo exactly copied onto your own body. I think everyone is entitled to their very own tattoo, and I think artists are entitled to be paid for their work in drawing and designing the tattoos.

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The best way to use the internet for tattoo ideas is to follow the advice here, and use the internet to find the artist that did an awesome tattoo. That way you can go to them and tell them “I liked this piece you did and want something like it” and you will get exactly that, without any ethical problems. You find the artist you want first, then figure out the art with them, this is the very best way to get a very good tattoo done. (this applies to big or small, extensive or simple tattoos.)

big or small!

big or small!

If you bring in someone else’s tattoo and the artist is willing to steal it, they probably are not very skilled to begin with. Good artists won’t steal. Copying someone else’s tattoo is really, really a dick move. It makes you a thief, really and truly it does. I promise that if you find a tattoo artist whose work you love, they will do a MUCH better version of the idea for you, that will suit YOU and not some other random person you’ve never met. Find the tattoo artist you trust, whose work you love, and you won’t have to copy someone else’s tattoo to get something awesome.

ink travelers tattoo convention

Note that while this applies to other people’s tattoos online, it doesn’t work the same way for art in general. If you see a painting you love, and want tattooed, contact the artist who made it and tell them you want to get it tattooed on you. A large majority of artists will just say yes, go for it, or at most they will say “buy a print first please then go right ahead!”

There are very few artists in this world who object to people getting tattoos of their work- but you should always ASK first anyway, because the artist owns that art. They own it. They own the rights to it, and using without permission is stealing. This applies to paintings, photographs of flowers or wild animals, every image has an owner. There are exceptions (copyright-free websites, tattoo flash that your tattooer has paid for, etc) but things that you find on google are NOT NOT not free for the taking. Those images all belong to somebody. If you can’t figure out who the original artist is, ask your tattooer to help you out. A  lot of the time we can find out for you.

lyle tuttle tattooing.

If your tattoo artist has flash on the walls of their shop, or books of images for tattooing, it’s because they paid for the rights to tattoo those images. This means they’re not stolen, they’re totally fine to choose from.

For tattooers, take your photographs so that the tattoo is seen at an angle or so part of it is obscured. Use a strong watermark across the image to make theft more difficult. And rest assured that only assholes steal; your work being stolen is not any detriment to your reputation, but to theirs.

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A real asshole can and will use your tattoo image to make a stencil of sorts:

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But if the image is at an angle, their finished piece will never look quite right. Symmetry and details will look skewed and wrong. This helps a lot. Try it.

Further advice for tattooers on retaining copyright is available in my seminar.

 

The easiest, best place to get a tattoo.

I know that the real wise advice I could give you would be; “Get it where you want to see it.” Because after all, the pain is temporary, right? The tattoo is what lasts. But I get asked this question a lot, so I’ll give you my honest, true answer.

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actually, inner forearms are cool too. For all the same reasons. They’re just harder to hide when you visit grandma.

Get it on your outside calf, shin, or on the front or outside of the thigh.

These are the easiest areas to get tattooed. They hurt the least, look the best, and last the longest with clarity to the original. Even if you gain and lose weight, these areas won’t change much. Even when you get ancient, the wrinkles on the rest of you won’t really effect these areas so much.

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If you have to hide tattoos for work, high socks or knee-length skirts will cover one or the other of these. The areas are capable of being used in either a very soft, flowing and feminine way, or a blocked, solid masculine manner- so either way, the space can be used how YOU want it to turn out. It can emphasize the curves or obscure them. It can accent muscle or smooth it.

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A design with a strong s-curve looks great in either place.

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The skin structure is good and will be more solid and consistent than ANYWHERE AT ALL ON THE TORSO. Your torso twists, bends, and the skin changes all over it with every pound gained or lost, every gym day or potato chip, every pregnancy, every time you reach for a thing your torso skin gets stretched a tiny bit. Every wrinkle and sag is concentrated on your ribs, waist, and chest. It’s the worst possible area for a tattoo really.

watercolor landscape tattoo

Going back to the start of this whole thing- calves and thighs hurt less than any torso tattoo as well. AND they will last longer. It’s win-win.

sugar skull pinup tattoo

So, if you want my real advice, and not just the thing I am supposed to say, then listen to me and get your calf or thigh tattooed. It’ll look amazing there. Promise. Big or small, get it there.

flower tattoo

 

Small tattoos look great just above the ankle bone, or just below the hipbone on the thigh. Big tattoos look great all over the leg.

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The only “bad” leg areas are the knee, the foot, and the groin. All of these areas have odd skin and won’t last as long or hurt as little as the calf and thigh. Plus the nice, flat areas of the calf and thigh make the design less likely to get distorted with movement, making them a good place for geometric work, or images with faces or human figures in them.

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Get your legs tattooed. It’s awesome.

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so, you want a lot of words in your tattoo.

19505_10152948236462712_9141122821601630296_nTattoos of lettering are classic, of course. There’s nothing wrong with getting words tattooed on you. Sometimes, though, you can overdo it.

(This woman did not overdo it.)

 

For example, let’s say there’s a poem you really like. It’s four lines long. It goes like this:

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
(Emerson)

Or, another example:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Frost)

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sometimes you really do want to dedicate a lot of skin to words. that’s ok, too, but only if it’s a flatter area where curving muscle won’t impede the reading of it.

These are lovely sentiments. On skin, however, with the limitations due to cellular changes over time, they wil end up being about ten inches across and six inches tall. That’s a HUGE area dedicated to text alone. Let’s say you want a tattoo of a hammer and some clouds, with that Emerson poem. Or you want some trees and a path, with that Frost quotation. What’s going to happen is the text is going to completely overwhelm the imagery, and dilute it.

Tattooing is a visual medium. The whole point of a symbolic tattoo is to take a concept (words) and use the tattoo (image) to express it. Adding lines and lines of text to an image….it’s a bit redundant. Like getting a tattoo of a bird with the word “BIRD” on it- unnecessary and really odd to look at, in the end.

 

You have choices here, of course.

  • You can opt to get just the lettering, the text itself, alone. Well-done, large-enough text by itself is just fine. It will be bigger than you think, but it can look great. This is a good choice if the writing is from a friend or family member, a case in which the meaning of the words matters less than the exact words themselves. Or if you don’t want any images associated with the meaning on you, at all. In the first tattoo posted above, the client didn’t actually want Peter Pan or anything on her; she simply liked the text itself. Same with the Hobbit poem.
  • You can get just an image that sums up and represents the text. For the Frost poem, a landscape of snowy woods, or a waiting horse next to some trees, would be pretty accurate to the poetry. Done in a bleak color scheme it would represent the sentiment of the poetry really well, too. This is really the best choice if the poem is well-known, or if it’s just the feeling and meaning of the poetry that you love so much.
  • A third option is to narrow down the words you’ll add. For the Emerson poem, you could do a hammer and clouds with the words “Work, Courage” or something similar. Or use only one line of the poem, “Dare while others fly” as part of the design. (In a banner, or similar.) This gives you a bit of the poetry without losing the impact of the imagery as much. “miles to go before I sleep”, done in pale text, below a line of trees…that would be a good solution to using the Frost poem as a tattoo inspiration.
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this poem, in full, would have taken up her entire side, leaving no room for the drawing of a woman representing her mother. (the poem in its entirety is on her mother’s headstone.)

I usually suggest to my wordy clients that they go with the third option- I love poetry and books, and think that a snippet of text in a tattoo can actually add to its impact. It also serves as a reminder to the person of the entire written piece. I usually limit the amount of text to about five words, maximum, if there’s any images being tattooed along with it.

If someone wants a very, very long quotation I will do it- but I usually suggest treating the text block as an abstract shape, making it curve to fit the body area being tattooed. It helps a little, and allows you to get neighboring tattoos later in life without too much fuss. Having a lot of straight lines on a floating block can really limit your future options.

If you want one word or short phrase, though, it’s easy. We can treat the text itself as an image, and make it fit. Simple lettering is really fun, playing with text forms is enjoyable and placement becomes a breeze. You can be selective in your quotation and still carry the meaning of the entire text pretty well.
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can I get tattooed today?

1920333_10152487056127712_6697920045449669580_nThis depends on a lot of factors.

You want a tattoo! And you want a tattoo today, or tomorrow. Is it going to happen? Well, if your tattoo is small, simple, and in an easy area to work on, the chances are good that it will happen.

If your favorite shop or artist takes walk-ins or has empty time that day (hint: they’ll usually post on one of their social media sites if they have a cancellation or free time) then it’s even more likely to happen. If all of these things are true, and you call the shop to ask about getting worked on and the counter staff say “come on in, Joe has a few hours open today” then YES, you’re gonna get a tattoo today.

But do you need an appointment?

Usually, yes. Even on that magical day when all those things come together, there will be some things that make an appointment a good idea.

Let me explain what an appointment is, and what it isn’t.

A tattoo appointment is a set time during which your tattoo artist will be doing nothing but tattooing YOU. They will mark that time as “taken” in their schedule.

You will be the priority and that is the time during which you’ll get tattooed. A tattoo appointment is held with a deposit- some artists will take a deposit over the phone, by credit card, or online by paypal or some other means. Others will want you to come in person to leave a cash deposit. Deposits are usually nonrefundable; they ensure that even if you get hit by a meteor on your way to the appointment, the artist doesn’t lose money by telling other people to go away because they’re going to be busy with you. (deposits normally pay for part of your tattoo cost; part of the total you pay at the end)

Without a deposit, you don’t have an appointment. You probably have a consultation. That’s ok, too.

A consultation is a short meeting with a tattoo artist, which culminates in setting an appointment or getting a tattoo done that day.

Setting up a consultation is a good idea, so that the artist can give you a price estimate and figure out the artwork with you. In our original, awesome, everything-goes-right scenario, you’d likely get a consult – jotted into the schedule in pencil, it would mean one of two things.

  1. You will meet up with the artist for 15-30 minutes and discuss artwork, placement, cost, and all the rest. Then they will set up an appointment to do the tattoo at a later time.
  2. You’re next in line to get tattooed, and can wait until your turn to get tattooed that day.

If you have a consult, your artist will meet with you to discuss the tattoo right at that time, but you may have to wait a while to actually get the tattoo. It may need to be drawn differently, or they may need time to figure out technical details to apply it. Someone may have gotten their tattoo started before you arrived, and the artist will finish with them before it’s your turn.

If you’re on a tight schedule, make an appointment, not a consult. If you aren’t sure whether the artist can draw the tattoo on the spot, if it’s a bigger piece or in an odd place (ribs, hands, etc), if it has complicated elements or meanings, or if you know you might have to come back another day, make a consult and bring along your calendar and ideas so you can plan your future appointment. Hope for the best (getting tattooed today!), prepare for the worst (waiting until another day to get the tattoo done).

Here is what I am left with after I have a consultation with someone:

I'll mark placement on a copy of this so I know where it'll be

I’ll mark placement on a copy of this so I know where it’ll be

A rough doodle I made of the art while we were talking. (actually this is a painting by Cy Twombly, but its what all my preliminary sketches tend to look like)

A rough doodle I made of the art while we were talking.
(actually this is a painting by Cy Twombly, but its what all my preliminary sketches tend to look like)

a brilliant idea for what the finished tattoo will look like. (this is Buckminster Fuller, though)

a brilliant idea for what the finished tattoo will look like.
(this is Buckminster Fuller, though)

a bunch of notes in my terrible handwriting that seem to have nothing to do with the tattoo but actually are notes about your tastes, aesthetic, ideas, hopes, dreams, and how awesome your glasses were

a bunch of notes in my terrible handwriting that seem to have nothing to do with the tattoo but actually are notes about your tastes, aesthetic, ideas, hopes, dreams, and how awesome your glasses were, including a deadline by which I want to get the art finished.

lots of coffee, and time

lots of coffee, and time

a sketch finished after the coffee and time

a sketch finished after the coffee and time

resonanteye geometric mandala back tattoo in progress

finally the appointment day arrives and it begins.

Now, let’s talk about just walking in.

A walk-in is simply going to the shop, getting in line, and waiting your turn to get your tattoo that day.

Some shops and artists encourage this and others don’t like it. Best way to find out if it’s going to work? Just call the shop and ask- “do you take walk-ins?” or “does anyone have time for a walk-in today?” They will let you know. If your art is something that needs lots of drawing time,or if a bunch of other people show up at the shop before you, they may not be able to tattoo it that day. They may not have time. BUT! If your tattoo is pretty simple, or if it’s the kind of thing that particular artist likes to draw and can draw easily, then yes you will be able to walk in and wait your turn and get a tattoo, all in one day.

 

Here are some examples of things that I have done as walk-ins:
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You’ll notice that some are very simple, and some are more complex. The complex stuff? It’s all stuff I like to draw, and can draw very quickly and easily right then and there. If you wanted something I wasn’t proficient with, I’d have to make a date for later and really take time with the drawing. Some of these, I had drawn beforehand- in my sketchbook- and people walked in and chose them from my drawings, or asked for something similar and I could use that drawing to work from. So it really depends on the artist, your flexibility, and other factors.

Personally, I always leave free time on the weekends to take walk-ins. I love spontaneity, and I have a big collection of drawings of “stuff I wanna tattoo on people” for folks to look at and pick from. I also like to draw some subjects so much, that drawing  then tattooing them is easy for me (flowers, trees, plants). Usually my walk-in days get filled up by about halfway through, so anyone who runs in to the shop late hoping for time is SOL, though.

Now, I know that a lot of people think things are small and simple- and they’re not. I mean to you it may seem a simple design, but to us it may be a nightmare. There’s reasons for this- difficult placement, redrawing time, drawing time, planning out geometry or something. I can’t go into it too much because there are a million and one reasons why what seems a simple tattoo may in fact be a complex one to actually apply. In a lot of cases, people walk in wanting a thing that looks simple on paper, but then have to make an appointment to get it done later just so I have time to figure out that translation work and prepare the art correctly. Here are a few like that:

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they may look simple enough, but they took planning and redrawing to get right.
So to sum up:
  • Yes, some people take walk-ins. Call the shop and ask. Be prepared to wait in line for your turn.
  • Yes, consults are a good thing. You might get tattooed that day,or you might have to make an appointment. Nothing is guaranteed. You don’t need a deposit to talk to an artist and the consultation itself costs nothing.
  • Yes, appointments are the only way to be sure you will get tattooed at a specific time and day. Many times you’ll need to make one anyway, just because the artist needs to work on the concept to make it right. You’ll always leave a deposit to hold an appointment.

Good luck, and don’t be afraid to email or call the shop or the artist to find out how they handle each of these things. We have counter staff to handle that- we pay them to be nice to you and find a way for you to get tattooed. I like emails a lot, and I do a lot of online consultations too- some artists don’t, this is purely a matter of personal taste. If you have an artist who is responsive about emails, you can always email directly. Don’t be shy, though. We want you to get tattooed, today, or as soon as possible, because we love tattooing you.

bonus: a few tattoos that took consults AND appointments to get done.

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why that tattoo pain chart is meaningless.

I’m sure most of you have seen this image, or a similar one,  floating around the internet by now:
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I’d like to point out that these images aren’t really telling you the whole story. As I’ve posted about before, several times, placement is only one of many variables that will make a tattoo hurt more or less. I’ll begin here just by saying- your frame of mind, your health, and your general attitude about the tattoo matter more than anything. Tattoos, generally speaking, don’t hurt very much. If you have had waxing done, if you’ve ever broken a bone, if you’ve ever had road rash or a bad cut…you’ve been through worse than a tattoo. You can do this. It’s on the level of…a beesting, a cat scratch, an annoyance.

But let’s take this chart for a minute, at face value- and just talk about areas where tattoos may hurt more or less.

The first thing to think about is your own personal sensitivities. Are you ticklish? Do you have previous injuries (even long-healed ones) in an area? Do feet freak you out? If you have any kind of area-specific thing going on in your mind or body, that’s going to affect how you feel while getting tattooed.

Then, there’s the idea that joints and areas with thin skin will hurt more. This isn’t necessarily the case. A tattoo on the side of the neck seems like it should be the worst thing ever, by these rules. Hell, in the image it’s a red zone! But in the image the center of the neck, the throat, is the red zone too- and those two areas feel very different. See, the only areas where you really have a big cluster of extra nerves are the

  • hands
  • face
  • genitals
  • solar plexus
  • throat
  • nipples

Everywhere else on your body is pretty much the same, as far as the sensitivity of the skin itself. Now some areas also have bone or underlying structures without much padding of muscle or fat. For some people, these areas are EASIER, for others, HARDER to get tattooed. It all depends on what kind of pain you dislike the most. If a deep throbbing or any kind f pressure just slays you, then areas without bony structures are going to hurt more- areas like

  • stomach
  • sides (below the ribs)
  • side of the neck
  • inner arm and armpit
  • inner thigh

if, for you, a stingy sensation is the worst thing, but you don’t mind pressure very much, you’re going to have a hard time with areas that have muscle right under the skin. Areas such as

  • lower back
  • top of shoulder
  • deltoid/front of arm
  • tops of thighs
  • calves
  • buttocks

Now if you don’t mind stingy feelings, and throbbing and pressure are no big deal, but you don’t like the feeling of papercuts or slices or the like, you may dislike bony areas the most. It seems to me that most people feel this way. This means that to at least some degree, the image has a few areas properly labeled for someone like that. The areas that would hurt would be:

  • ankles
  • hands/wrists
  • feet
  • collarbones
  • center of chest
  • shoulderblades
  • spine near center of back
  • ribs
  • kneecaps/elbows

Your body’s size and shape and composition matters too. If you have a lot of fat deposits, your hips may not be such a bad spot. But areas underneath rolls might hurt more, as they’re less exposed to sensation and touch in general. If you’re big and muscular, areas with tightly-stretched skin might hurt more- meaning a calf, one of the places the chart says is EASY, would be more painful to you. If you are scrawny and bony, areas with visible tendons may be the worst.

All of this talk of pain is so variable that you almost can’t pin it down and make any sort of universal chart.

Now let’s talk about where this dumb and inaccurate chart actually came from.

 

Something you can do, though, is make a chart showing areas that are the hardest for the artist to work on. This chart looks almost exactly like that “pain” chart, and versions of it used to be used in shops to show which areas would cost more than others for the same design. I have a sneaking suspicion that some client, at some point, saw this pricing chart and assumed we charged more for “hurty stuff”. This is not the case.

In fact, in some shops, the pricing system was worked out by square inch and placement, not by time. In the Before Times many shops would have all the available designs and flash up on the walls with prices attached. Nearby would be a chart exactly like the “pain” chart, saying, “areas in red cost $20 more, areas in blue $50 more” or something to that effect. This was not done because of how much those areas hurt the client- it was done because those areas are harder for us to tattoo.

acetate with square inches marked off.

acetate with square inches marked off.

So you lay that clear sheet with the inches marked on it, over the tattoo design. Any square containing ANYTHING counts. You have your minimum price, then you add however much per inch. So a shop with a $50 minimum, 20 per inch, a tattoo that is 2″ costs 90 bucks, base price for the easy-to-tattoo zones. Now you go to the chart. You want it on your wrist? Price goes up by ten bucks. You want it on your ribs? Price goes up by thirty bucks. And so on…This is one of the old ways of pricing tattoos, and strangely enough it often works out almost exactly what a tattoo would cost hourly. Those expensive areas just take longer so the time is extended anyway. Also, some areas are risky to us so they cost more.

If I am working on an area that is difficult to reach, my chance of a needle stick goes up. Slippery, sweaty areas are especially scary this way. If I’m working on an area where the skin shifts in response to ANY movement by the client (like ribs and center chest, for example) then I’m going to have to work harder to pull a straight line, to get things even and perfect. This extra work translated to extra pay, based on a chart like this one.

It had and has nothing to do with how you, the client, feel during the tattoo. The original of this color body chart is simply a  pricing guide for tattooers, not anything to do with what you will feel during a tattoo.

 

handy pricing chart used in some older studios.

handy pricing chart used in some older studios.

If I were to make a chart about the actual pain? I’d simply put a blank body form and have people print it out and color it in.
Put red any place where you are sensitive to tickling or have any kind of weird feeling about being touched. Also any place that folds over, where the skin touches itself and is rarely exposed to air or touch.
Put blue on your genitals, hands, and face- AND on any area that has a previous injury, even a healed one.
Put yellow on any place that is often exposed to touch and friction, that has a lot of exposure to air and sun.
Put green everywhere else.

This is your personal, very own pain chart. Everyone will have a different one. Unlike the tattoo artist’s perspective, where all armpits are pretty much the same to work on, the perspective as a client will be totally individual and unique.

Here’s a few stock images you can color in.

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Oh yeah- you’ve probably seen this garbage floating around as well. It’s crap, and it’s demeaning to you guys who are my clients, and I hate this kind of shit. Strangely enough I don’t have too many clients who pay no taxes or go to prison. There’s some slut-shaming in there too. What a load of crap.

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(for a great article about pain and tattooing in general, my friend Deb wrote a great one here)
(for a chart to figure out how much of yourself is tattooed, you can look at matt gone’s awesome post about this here.)

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