1. Putting the cart before the horse (trying to get art together instead of finding an artist first)
Your most important decision isn’t going to be the art itself, but the artist you choose to apply it. Before you even start putting together any images, you should start looking for an artist to do the tattoo. Most people assume they have to come in with some kind of finished piece and then hand that to just any artist, and they will get a good tattoo. This is pretty much backwards!
Look for a tattoo artist whose work you like, who works in a shop with a decent reputation, and who shows interest in your idea. The best way to do that is to simply search online, plugging in the name of your area or region and “tattoo artist”. Or, alternately, ask people you have met who have tattoos that you really like. Word of mouth is a good thing!
Choose the artist by their work. If they are doing tattoos that you think look awesome, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same subject you’re looking for. For example, if you want a bird on you, you don’t have to look for someone who can tattoo a bird. Every tattoo artist can and will tattoo a bird- it’s the WAY they will tattoo it, that you need to think about. Look at their STYLE. Do you like it? Not your mom, your partner, your friends. YOU. This will be your tattoo. So if you like their style, that’s what matters.
You can usually send an email to an artist or contact them online and present your subject matter to them, and see how interested they are. Sometimes your idea is fine but not exciting, and that’s ok…but sometimes you get lucky and the idea you have is one that THAT particular artist would really love to work on, and that’s always a good thing.
Once you’ve picked out a tattoo artist, go have a consult with them. They will make the art for you, as part of the tattoo process. Seriously. Finding an artist whose vision you trust means you don’t have to pay anyone else to draw for you.
2. Comparison shopping for price
Yes, you need to comparison shop for quality, and to see if you can find an artist who appeals to your personal style and tastes. But if you start price-shopping, you’re cheating yourself. You should get the tattoo you want, from the artist you want. That might mean saving more money, or asking friends for gift certificates for a birthday (many shops sell those). It’s ok to wait a while to get the right tattoo.
Coverups cost twice as much, take twice as long, and laser removal hurts and costs twice as much too. GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.
Cheap tattoos are not good, and good tattoos are not cheap. Besides, most tattoo shops and artists in any given region will run about the same price anyway. Any professional will cost pretty damn close to the same as any other.
If you have a budget set aside for your piece, tell the artist. Sometimes they can explain ways you’d be able to get what you want while still staying within your means (moving the tattoo to an easier area on the body, eliminating or simplifying it, etc) or they can set you up with multiple sittings instead of doing it all at once.
3. Not thinking about placement carefully, but imitating things they’ve seen online
Look, yeah I know that you saw a picture of a really cool tattoo on your friend or online. I know. It looked AWESOME.
But you’re not that person. You are YOU. Where YOU should get your tattoo is totally an individual thing. The ribs hurt and unless you can be certain you’re not flinchy about the tattoo process, it’s a bad place to start. Just for example.
Some areas hurt less or more- but the pain isn’t the thing. You’re going to be in pain for a short time- but you are going to be wearing that tattoo for YEARS, DECADES. Where do you want to see the tattoo later on? DO you want to see it, or do you want it in a place only other people can see, like your back or side? Do you want to have it visible often, or hidable? Do you want to tease people with a tiny bit poking out of a sleeve or a pair of shorts, or do you want it right out in pain sight?
If you do want it hidden, think about what you wear to work. A huge part of your body is covered at work, right? (unless you are in a more interesting profession) so you still have plenty of spots to pick from. Keep in mind that getting your feet tattooed means you’ll have to keep the tattoo exposed in sandals, no socks, for a week or so…
Instead of just getting a tattoo where you have seen them on others, consider your own body, your own wants and needs.
4. Being skimpy about size and scope of the tattoo
A lot of people getting tattooed want to limit the size of the tattoo, thinking of the pain, or of visibility.
This is not a good idea. Get the tattoo as large as you have to in order for it to LOOK RIGHT. Trust me, over the years, as that tattoo ages, every space that was too small to begin with will be smeared, and will not look right if you have crowded it in there.
The scope of the tattoo matters, too. Is this just because you want a cool tattoo? Because if the tattoo has little or no meaning, you can make it small for sure. Or is this some deeply meaningful, important thing you’re setting in stone? f this tattoo means a lot to you, give it room. Make it bigger, make it IMPORTANT.
5. Trying to fit more than one idea into a tattoo
A tattoo only works well if it is a tattoo (singular). If you want a memorial for your mother, a bunch of birthdates and names, a tree, some birds, and a symbol that means your family…you actually want four or five tattoos. Each of these ideas is one tattoo.
The standard is- two things, one background. So a symbol and a tree? Do-able. A name and a date? Do able. A tree and some birds? Yeah, sure.
Pick one or two things at a time for each tattoo. You will be getting more than one, I promise- especially if you have so many ideas that you’re having trouble imagining how they will all fit together.
This goes for any size tattoo, as well. A full sleeve or a backpiece should still be- one or two things, and a background. Taking up more space as one tattoo doesn’t change the amount of stuff you can stuff into it. In some rare cases your artist can make multiple objects into one image, but it’s rare and they’ll tell you right away if it’s one of those cases, usually with some excitement.
Getting four tattoos on your arm is just that- four tattoos on your arm. It’s not a sleeve.
In short, think about your tattoos when planning them. Think about the artist, the placement, your budget. Enlarge your scope and limit your subjects. Do it right the first time.