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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
A real asshole can and will use your tattoo image to make a stencil of sorts:
Further advice for tattooers on retaining copyright is available in my seminar.
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.
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.
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.
A design with a strong s-curve looks great in either place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get your legs tattooed. It’s awesome.