Something Tattoo Clients Should Never Do! never, ever, ever.

this sea captain is actually a skilled tattoo artist

this sea captain is actually a skilled tattoo artist

Never get someone else,

who is not a tattoo artist,

to draw a

tattoo for you

(especially if you are paying a non-tattoo artist for it).

  • Tattoo artists can draw.

This is why we do tattoos. Not only can we draw, we enjoy it. Also, we gain through our work experience a feel for the engineering of the surfaces of the human body; this is a quality of good tattooing that most other artists will not understand r use to its best advantage. (I.e.- where do you put the focal point on a sleeve? how do you draw perspective lines on a column that twists every time someone moves? how do you make mountains look distant on a round but mobile surface?) We also have an understanding of the formula of the medium. Time is not kind to the human body; when using it as a canvas there are a lot of pitfalls, and most non-tattoo artists fall into these constantly.


Things you can do in the tattoo shop!

10155773_10152250490517712_7514931959268399540_nI don’t care if you are getting a “cool” tattoo. I don’t care if you know the etiquette or not.

All I care about is that you ask me the questions, I give you the answers, you know what you want and pay me to do it.
That’s my tattoo etiquette lesson. Just ask questions. I’ll answer them for you. I don’t mind, that’s the job.

I mean, if you smell, I might ask you to go home and wash up. If you argue about prices I might just tell you no thanks, find another artist. If I think the tattoo is a terrible idea I will just tell you that, and try to suggest ways to make it a better idea. If you start talking like you know a lot about tattooing, I might laugh at you a little. That’s it.

The only thing that really bugs me at work is people arguing about price. Tattoos aren’t groceries or brain surgery, you will not die without one. I can’t lose money just to tattoo you. The prices are pretty standard, you’re not paying much more or less than you would in any decent shop.

Other than that, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to phase me. I know a lot of people get nervous coming to the tattoo shop, and I know a lot of people get weird or awkward when they get nervous. So it’s ok if you feel nervous or have lots of questions. If you can’t get a sitter to leave your kids at home, just wait until another day. If you need more time to save up money, just let me know. If you have a budget just say so- I’m used to drawing things to the right size or level of detail to try to stay within budget. If you’re worried about pain, let me know so I can talk you down.

walkenI’m not a nurse or very good at babying people, but I’m willing to talk you through all the things you’re not sure about. I mean, I do have hard days or bad days. Of course, I’m human. But my worst day as a tattoo artist? Is better than my best day ever, before I was one. So I’m not going to freak out on you. I love my job and you are the job. You know?




(“walken from sleepy hollow’s severed head, with the horseman ghost behind him and some creepy trees. can you do that? I wanna be able to see the sharpened teeth.”

why does everything have those three lines and/or dots in it?

I always use three lines/three dots on anything I do. Sometimes they’re front and center, the focal point of the art, and Sometimes they’re obscured- hidden in the backdrop or repeated in a pattern so as to be less noticeable.

I began doing this because of the greek character Ξ, Xi. There’s a few layers of meaning there, and all of them combined made me interested in the symbol/shape, and that interest led to me using it as a part of my signature for a while. After that it migrated, getting further detached from my initials, and becoming more a part of the artwork. And from there it just sort of infiltrated every piece I make.

Back in the 80s-90s I was really interested in mindhacks and psychedelics and pTv and related art and music.

I did some work with sigils. I’m not a believer, not even agnostic, but I do know that our subconscious is a strong force, and that affecting it, changing it, tinkering in there, can bring some odd results. Working with visual symbols is one of my ongoing experiments- using an eye as the main focal point in a painting that is smaller and might be stolen from a gallery (even the most abstract eye affects the behavior of the people around it- see this study for details) or using hands, in various gestures, to suggest action to the viewer.

So while I have an abiding interest in all these things I am not any kind of believer. I do entertain the idea that Jung may have had a good point about how symbols and visual cues lead us, and have an impact on our lives, so it’s always been my effort to find ways to incorporate these things, at least subtly, into my work. The three lines/dots is a personal symbol, though, which I use in my art to influence MYSELF. So in the sense of it meaning something to the viewer, maybe- it’s done intentionally as a prompt to myself while working, though.


relax don't do it

Originally published 10/26/2007


working female tattoo artist
As a tattoo artist for many years, I’ve seen many people who are interested in learning the trade. I’ve also seen many make the mistake of trying to take a shortcut to becoming a tattoo artist at home, or as a hobby.

If you are planning to tattoo “for fun” or as a hobby, you should know that in most states this is illegal. The biggest, and most serious reason, is for the health and safety of your (potential) clients. Tattooing in a bacteria-ridden space, with unsterilized equipment, or even worse, non-disposable equipment, is extremely risky.

The risks associated with home tattooing start with minor Staph infections and end with septicemia (which can be fatal) and transmission of serious, life-threatening viruses. Also, using your home as a tattoo studio puts you and your family at extreme risk of infections and diseases. Simply put, this is not safe, and is most likely against the law.

When you decide to learn tattooing it’s best to be careful. There are unscrupulous people who will try to take advantage of your interest, and knowing the usual steps taken to become a tattoo artist can help you avoid them.

Having an interest in tattooing and being able to draw, while necessary, are not the only things you’ll need. You’ll also require a lot of dedication, patience, and sociability. It is hard to become a tattoo artist. A typical apprenticeship is tiring, demanding, and difficult. The process of apprenticeship is designed to weed out those who are not capable of dealing with the stress of the job, and those who are not patient enough to cope with its demands.

hourglass and candle tattooIf you apprentice, you will be granted the respect of your peers, and have more access to knowledge, equipment, and skills than if you try to muddle through (dangerously) on your own.

Artists the try to learn on their own do, rarely, become respected in the field- but this takes decades of hard work, rather than a few years.

Most will never achieve acceptance if they have not apprenticed properly.

If you’re the typical starving artist, tattooing can look very lucrative compared to where you’re at right now, but it’s not really a craft you can learn on your own (despite what those unscrupulous people might say).

If you can’t be patient and persistent, you won’t be a good tattooist anyway.

Dealing with clients is much more difficult than learning to tattoo, and without the barriers and obstacles to learning there would be no way to ensure the temperament of potential tattooists.


Creating your own photo reference

Originally published on 06/14/2008

PHOTOGRAPHYWe all know how boring it can get to see the same few poses, faces, or roses tattooed again and again. It’s a strange ethical question in some ways- is a still from a film, a figure model on the internet, or a flower you find on google, stolen property if you trace/redraw slightly, and tattoo it?

You can start fixing this by beginning to create your own photo reference library. If you have a relatively decent camera, whether or not it’s digital (although digital is easier, and what I’ll be discussing here) you can acquire a lot of reference that nobody else has access to.

Photograph everything. Get a big memory card- it’s a write-off- and start taking pictures of the flowers in your garden, ask your friends to pose for you. Have them stand and sit in different positions and make different faces, different emotions and moods. Just be sure to organize your pictures by sunject, not by date! That way you can always find “red rose bud” in the mass of pictures you will end up with.

This brings originality to your work, while allowing you to stay fairly true to life. If you plan to specialize in photorealistic or “color zombie portrait head” style work, you’d better start shooting now, because if I see another devil’s rejects stillframe #13892 again I will scream.

painting as work and play/the dichotomy of the studio

Originally published on 12/23/2008.

20062641819191On painting…

You must have music which is entirely familiar to you playing. Any new thoughts or sounds may intrude upon your own particular vision, worming their way in, showing themselves. You want to have something so familiar that even the unconcsious ignores it. Something with beat that you can waggle the brush to. Something that makes you dance at your work.

You must have no unfamiliar or new scents in the studio. Only the familiar, the comfortable, the usual. Turpentine, coffee, tea. The things that your mind sees as backdrop, not as important, nothing that your mind must process or worry over. Nothing to bring up memories, which will also invade the vision. The mind as blank screen. No alarm bells, either for good or bad.


password to the clubhouse.

Originally published on 07/28/2012

When I started tattooing, anyone I saw with large, visible work was very nearly guaranteed to be someone who was in my tribe. I don’t mean tribe in the sense that we shared every opinion, but that we shared the expectation of being considered somewhat beyond the margins of the common, outside the mainstream, someone who was not acceptable in mixed company. We were subversive. I could look at someone, see their work, and know they were on my side of that equation.

Because of this, I felt a connection to everyone I worked on. I could open up to them, exchange ideas and energy with them, and really bond. We both knew, after all, what it was like to be outcast, to be strange, to be the “Other”.

That has changed. Now, at work, I block energy. I try to keep things light, and a bit distant. I only can connect like this after I have worked on someone a few times and gotten to know them. There are exceptions, of course. But the exceptions are indeed exceptional.

I don’t think that my own approach to my work can change this. I can educate people about getting better tattoos, but the kind of life experience and wisdom that a tattoo used to signify is NOT something that can be bought, or sold.

You have to earn it in your own life, with your own bitter tears. Nobody can give it to you in a few hours for a few hundred dollars. Not even me.

I don’t advertise myself as a “shaman” or healer of any kind. I am aware that at times I am performing healing work, that for some, the process itself is ritual and meaningful. Tattoos are incredibly meaningful and important- but they’re not necessary. I don’t think I could live up to the responsibility implied by the word “healer”. I’m not an actual priestess. But I try very hard to let that energy exist in my work when I feel that it’s possible.

It’s just possible a lot less often these days.

I think this shift in expectations, from then til now, has made me more withdrawn, more reclusive. I know that I am harder to reach for tattoos now than I ever have been before. That the process of getting me to tattoo you is more difficult, more drawn-out. That I no longer am in a hurry.

I think it is a good thing. I think I do better at the tattoos that I make now, than I have before. And I think it makes me more able to connect with my clients than I had been recently.

Just rambling. xox

A secret formula every artist should know



ignore the text on it-
it’s about 80% high saturation and medium value,
about 20% black or white (low chroma, high and low value)
I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece but it works for this as an example.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

This rule is not exact- it could be 70/30 or 90/10. But the basic meaning- that a large majority of effects stem from a small minority of causes, holds true in every field- including art and tattooing.

In making a picture, you can apply this rule at every stage of the process. 20% of the canvas will attract 80% of the attention, so finding your focal point and putting your best work right there is a good idea. Leaving the other 80% a bit more loose can help with this. Most people look at faces or figures first in any piece of art-so spending more time on these than on the wall behind them is best. In a landscape, the feature of interest should get most of your working time. If you do that part right, and the rest has some harmony with it, you’re golden. Abstract art is this principle, standing alone.

I have been told to make my values work this way too. 80% of the piece should have similar values, with 20% having either high brightness or low dark, whichever is stronger against the rest. So a daytime snow scene might be in high key throughout, but then has shadows or rocks which are very dark against it, and which account for about 20% of the scene. You could do this with color, or a particular level of detail or contrast, too.

You probably make 80% of your paintings and drawings, with only 20% of the colors you have, with 20% of the brushes you use.

Then there’s the boring marketing part, too.

  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products


Things your tattoo artist doesn’t tell you. (Part Two)

hourglass and candle tattoo

hourglass and burnt candle. two things.

Part one is here.

You can only get one tattoo at a time. I can only do one tattoo at a time. I know you have ten things you want to put into a tattoo- but that’s ten tattoos. And we can only do one thing at a time. Each important concept should have its own singular tattoo.

Most of  the time, you can pick two things. One object and one word or phrase. Two objects. And a color or mood for the background. That’s the limit, pretty much, for coherent, cohesive art on the skin. How big or small the tattoo is doesn’t really matter too much, with this. Good tattoos have flow, and are good to look at. Adding too much subject matter to any one space usually ends up terrible.

You have six siblings and you want to get a tattoo that represents ALL of them. So you think of six tattoos, and then ask us to somehow make that into one tattoo.


You can only get one tattoo at a time! If you need a tattoo for each of your siblings, I am sorry but you will either need to pick one thing that represents all of them, or get six tattoos.


Stop, Thief! How to keep your art safe online

CAM02557Short answer? Pretty safe, with some exceptions.

It also depends what you call “theft”. For this essay, I consider theft to mean several things.

  • saving the image file and using it on another site without attribution or source info
  • printing out a work rather than buying a print of it from the artist
  • using the art for a commercial purpose without permission (album covers, crafts for sale, shirts, ipod cases, etc), by tracing and copying the art and selling the copy

I’ll take these point-by-point.

First of all, I don’t consider someone linking to your work theft in ANY way. People who like your work are going to want to share it with other people, and this is good! You post your work online so others can see it. Someone linking to your site is a good thing. Someone sharing your work is good.

However, they may save the actual image file and repost it to their own site or page, giving you no link back, no credit for your work. And that is theft, in a way. To avoid this, you can watermark all your images.

A watermark is great, but it puts a lot of people off, if it takes up large areas of the image or interferes with the image content.



Unobtrusive but inside the image in a way that’s difficult to crop out.

There’s the first issue dealt with, mostly. You can also use google image search once in a while, to check and see who’s using your images. If you’ve watermarked them well, those uses will lead back to your site anyway. If the people using them are ethical, they’ll also give you credit and link back to your work.

setting up. well, actually, working.

The second problem- people printing out your work instead of buying it. The easiest solution here is to never upload print-resolution images online. This is simple enough until you want to use a print-on-demand service to sell prints or shirts, that requires your upload of large files. I use redbubble for this- because they keep the large-format file hidden from the net, and only show a smaller version of it to customers. Basically, don’t post large files online for public view. Only post images that are too small to print out.

The biggest problem, the worst, is people stealing your work and using it by tracing, or copying it, then printing it onto things they’ll sell. It happens pretty often, and it’s really upsetting. The only real solution for this is again, only post small images, too small to print. You can also be vigilant and search google images for your work, but that takes a lot of time away from making stuff.

I still have not solved this problem, if you have suggestions, leave me a comment! I would love to know how other people handle this.

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