Beggars cant be choosers

Its 1 am and I really ought to be in bed.

Clearly im not so lets recap the day. i did zero tattoos today and it actually feels pretty good. The first one was something i didnt feel very good about doing and the second the customer didnt really get moved enough by the art to tattoo.

Ive been really trying to be more selective, to take on the kind of work that i will be extra excited about. its funny because there is always this feeling of doing something wrong when i think about this. there is a bit of the old school blue collar tattooist guy in me that says “just do it, its just fucking drawings, stop being such a pansy and do whatever walks in the door.” and that voice has been the way ive done it for my whole tattooing career. Someone comes in and unless its blatantly impossible i say “ok”. If its one of those pieces I know I can do but just doesnt excite me, or if its one of those things that i think will come out “ok but not amazing” I immediately begin worrying and dreading it. Sometimes i end up being wrong and having a really good time with pieces like that, but generally experience has taught me that its just not going to be all that fun to do.

Thats where the dilemma comes in. I realise that I have a pretty good job (ok a fucking amazing job im lucky enough to have stumbled into) but The feeling i get when im working on a really fun piece is even more awesome, so i wonder if I cant dispense with the worst of the “bad” stuff and just focus more on what i really enjoy doing and think I can do my best work on? Its not entirely selfish either, I know that on the kind of bold graphic work i enjoy that I can do my best work. I try to tell myself that turning down stuff i can do at an average level in favor of stuff i can rock out on benefits the customer as well as me, but i just cant shake the feeling that i would be being self-indulgent or “bad” to tell someone i cant do their tattoo just because i dont think it would be very fun.

Ive read some interviews with guys like Uncle Allen, Mike giant, and Steve byrne all of whom basically pick and choose their clients and it does sound attractive to me, but perhaps my low self esteem cant wrap my head around telling someone “nope”. I mean, they are going to want to know why and i just dont lie to people anymore. What kind of reputation would I have if i straight up told people “I dont want to do this tattoo because i dont think its very interesting.”? Does that make me a prick? it feels like it would.

I do know that Ive been on a bit of a plateau lately and would like to push myself a little further, maybe thats the benefit of doing anything that comes in, its more likely to be a challenge if I dont always pick stuff to tattoo thats in my comfort zone.


Categories: Tattoo stuff | 4 Comments

Post navigation

4 thoughts on “Beggars cant be choosers

  1. Mike

    Come on man, with as many average to below average tattooers in the burgh, you and the other guys and girls putting out nice clean work gotta tattoo everyone you can.
    It is no better here in LA, or my standards have gotten really high.
    Glad things are going well for you. Post some pictures of the new shop one of these days.

  2. Jackie

    This is life’s dialectic: walking that fine line between discomfort and acceptance. I imagine that it is difficult in your line of work not to become attached to a piece of art. I think you know by now that attachment creates suffering in our lives. I guess the tough part is figuring out what “right livelihood” means for you. Yours is a service-related job though, not just artistic, so you’re trying to put aside your own attachments to give the client what he/she desires. This is an interesting thing you’re observing in yourself. There’s obviously no easy answer.
    I personally think that the best tats I’ve had done were performed by artists that I have felt some kind of connection with. My first two were flash art—needless to say, one has been covered up with a fantastic piece by Lane Turowski, and the other I’m currently thinking about covering up. As a client, I think I would actually respect an artist for speaking up and expressing his reluctance to do the work, and perhaps directing me to another artist who he/she felt could do the work well. Your work is amazing. You don’t need to explain or justify it—it speaks for itself. If you are in a position to pick and choose your work, I would examine the thoughts you might be attaching to regarding it. I don’t think it’s a question of self-esteem, but instead a matter of accepting yourself where and as you are.
    Just one beginner’s opinion. A lotus to you.

  3. I often struggle with this issue. I try to do the best tattoo I can even when I am not bowled over with inspiration on a particular design. I keep the client in mind and although many clients don’t have the same high standards I do for a design, ultimately if they are stoked on their tattoo then I’ve done my job well. And they will most likely return and hopefully their artistic sensibility will continue to evolve.
    I think the only danger in being super selective is possibly creating an environment where you might no longer be challenged. Where you’ll go to work and find you have created a clientele with an almost predictable range of tattoo ideas. In this capacity I am always inspired by folks like Juan Puente, Scott Sylvia and Jeff Raiser who can handle anything thrown their way and aren’t too proud to put a tribal sleeve, celtic or something similarly outside of the “cool” box in their portfolios.

  4. I dont have a cool box.Ive been doing anything that walked in the door for 15 years, im ready to try being a little more concious of what Im good at vs what im doing just to stay busy.

    the whole pseudo blue-collar “imma hard workin tattooer so i do any tattoo with no preference” leads to the kind of attitudes our art is already lousy with, namely the idea that a customer is nothing klore than a canvas with a wallet. It means you cant get truly excited about 50% of what you tattoo and that means that 50% of the tattoos are more or less “phoned in”

    I just worked on a guys backpiece koi and I was fucking psyched. Every second I felt like I was learning and trying to get closer and closer to that mystical perfect tattoo in my head. Thats when i am challenged, thats when i grow. When i take what I now know I am good at and refine that shit. Id rather sharpen the 5 tools I use all the time to a razors edge of perfection than sharpen half-assedly 500 tools just so i can say i have 500 tools.

    Im not talking about elietism, im talking about perfecting my craft.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: