Dont feed the A-holes

Cara and I have been traveling a LOT in the last 3 years, from Seattle to Reno, to Philly to Baltimore and more and more we have been to a ton of shops and met more tattoo people in the past few years than in my entire tattoo career up to that point. We have been to a ton of conventions, we have visited a ton of tattoo shops. We have been tattooed or done tattoos on dozens of tattooers and artists in general. We have also owned our own shop for the past 3 years and  our clients runs the gamut from custom sleeves and backs to walk-in names and stars on ankles. I have read hundreds of interviews with people whose work I admire and found that someone who is a great artist is not always a great person.

It turns out that many of my former tattoo heroes are, in fact, fucking assholes. Tattooing, to no ones surprise is actually filled with people just as neurotic and insecure as any other pile of folks in the world, the problem is that in tattooing these people can still be sought after and lauded even as their behavior would earn them a punch in the mouth in just about any other profession. Unfortunately, the general public has been sold the idea that in order to get a good tattoo they must often put up with a dilettante attitude, sometimes even stroke the ego of someone who is being clearly a dick to them.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t.

Perhaps many years ago the pickings were pretty slim when it came to quality work, there might have been just a handful of tattooers in your town and if the one good guy in your area was a prick then you just had to suck it up and deal with him (and they were mostly men in those days) or get crappy tattoos. In the past decade however the bar for good work has been raised and raised and there are tons of great tattooers around, many (if not most) of whom are willing to treat you as they themselves would like to be treated. For better or for worse the experience you have during the tattoo can and will color you opinion of that tattoo for a long time after its done and a great tattoo can feel a little less awesome if you had to deal with an asshole getting it.

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his monumental “Origin of Species” which, among many other things, posited the idea that traits which benefited a species were passed on while those which were harmful were weeded out as the “unfit” members of a species failed to pass their genes on in the form of a new generation. I believe that it is time for the “unfit” tattooers (i.e. the dicks) to be starved out of existence. The survival of the fittest in tattooing can and should exclude those who believe that they are superior to the people they are tattooing. This can be accomplished quite easily of tattoo customers do the following.

1. on first contacting your tattooer are you able to get basic information easily? Is the contact person or artist helpful and up front about the reality of the artists work load (i.e. do they tell you the wait list length or do they just say “keep calling back”?)

2. Are you able to schedule a consultation with your artist in person?

3. If the artist is into your idea does he or she listen to your ideas and if they disagree do they give you reasons for their contrary opinion. (i.e “that idea is dumb” or “that wont work” with no explanation of why it wont work?) If they can’t do your idea do they tell you its silly or impossible or do they refer you to someone who might be able to do the work?

4. Are they late to your appointment? Do they change the price dramatically mid-tattoo? do they come in bitching about their bad day, how drunk they got the night before, or how they just really don’t feel like tattooing that day/part of your body/ subject matter?

5. Do they take the time to make sure you are as comfortable as possible during the tattoo? We know that tattoos hurt, but if the artist doesn’t bother to make sure the position they put you in is comfortable or if they blast you with shitty loud music then an already painful tattoo can become intolerable.

6. Do they engage you as a person? ask your name? your job? do they spend the entire tattoo talking to other artists or douchy hang out guys in the shop while ignoring your presence?Do you feel like the shop is filled with people “too cool” to talk to you?

7. do they recommend how to care for your tattoo and seem genuinely interested in how it heals or do they wrap you up haphazardly and send you out the door with no information or recommendation for aftercare?

If any of these sounds like the shop you are in then your tattoo is supporting a douche-bag. Regardless of the quality of work I can guarantee that there is someone else in tattooing who can do the same or better without treating you like a piece of meat with a wallet. The fact is that the vast majority of great tattooers are humble, honest, and interested in their work representing them in a positive light, give one of them your business.

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Categories: Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Dont feed the A-holes

  1. steve bradford

    I agree 100%!
    A few years back I added to my existing tattoo by going to an artist who I had never been to before but one which had been recommended by a coworker who has more needle work than I. I supplied a sketch to the artist several weeks prior to my appointment with the instruction for them to use it as a reference but to make it better as they are the artist and I am not. This tattoo addition was being placed on the back side of my arm where I could not witness the work in progress. When completed, the artist had me get out of the chair and go to the mirror where I discovered that they had 100% duplicated my sketch. To make matters worse, a key element was done improperly which changed the meaning of the design. While I was stoked to have new work I was disappointed that they chose the easy route by copying my sketch entirely.
    While I was still getting cleaned up the tattooist yelled to the “manager” to send the next one up in 15 minutes. That’s when I realized that this artist had become so popular and booked-up that they had developed an attitude of superiority or some damn thing. After several weeks of being bothered by the mistake they had made within the tattoo I confronted them with the possibility of fixing it when they told me it is as good as it gets and no-one can do it better (essentially).
    Long story short, I quickly found another artist who took the time to show me how they could in fact fix it and I’ve been with him for the last 5 years now.
    Attitude’s can be a strong thing and in the wrong hands can become very dangerous.
    Don’t feed the A-Holes indeed!!!

  2. s.bradford

    In re-reading my above comment posting it occurred to me that I forgot to state the obvious and that is this: The experience of getting tattooed should be one of a positive nature and if it’s not, you need to determine what element prevented that from happening. Was it the demeanor of the tattooist?, the shop surroundings??
    For me one of the things I value about the tattoo session is the one on one time. When I’m in that chair; it’s all about me. The attention to detail, the focus of the artist, even the pain. It’s all mine and I place a high personal value on that. After all as a husband and father, once home, my attention is focused on my family and no longer on myself. I dig the whole tattoo experience now that I’ve found an artist whose personality and work ethics agree with my values. I only regret that I cannot afford to experience it more often!

  3. I agree. Arrogance should not be encouraged.
    There are assholes in all industries and tattooing is no different.

    In the shop I always ask potential clients to not only look through the portfolios, but also to try to speak with the artists in person whenever possible. Even people who are not assholes will sometimes rub someone the wrong way…. and if all other factors are even – go with the artist who you feel that you “click” with.

    All that being said I also feel in necessary to stand up for the assholes.

    I have personally been in a position where I was booked almost a year solid in advance. In the earlier years of my life that would have seemed like a dream come true (actually it was… I remember very clearly the first time I was booked two weeks ahead and how excited I was about it). It is far too easy to let one’s career get too far ahead and become an out of control entity. When I was booked that far out I missed huge events in my loved ones lives – weddings, births, parties, funerals…. There were days that I had clients flying in and I was sick as a dog and went to work – suited up and showed up anyhow.
    What was I going to do? Cancel the same day on someone who had flown into town just to get tattooed?
    There were days when loved ones had died and I was filled with sorrow and I went to work anyhow and tried to hide it. I tried to make the very best tattoo I possible could and tried to hide my hurt from my client.

    It sucked.

    The money was not worth it.
    I am sure some of the people that I tattooed during that time period think that I am an asshole and will never know what I was going through that day.

    Now I make every attempt to limit my clients. To only take on select projects and keep my schedule much lighter. This keep me sane and allows me to devote more time to each client and their particular design.

    Potential clients don’t understand why I am turning them away or how their email could have possibly gotten lost in the shuffle. I have been called all sorts of nasty names by some of these people. Some of them have turned to “frothy emotional appeals” to try and guilt me into making their tattoo for them anyhow.

    In some ways this sucks too.

    For right now I can live with it. When I can’t anymore I will walk away from tattooing completely. Not because I don’t still love it with every inch of my being – but because I can no longer take being pulled in so many directions by so many people. I will retreat to a world of canvas and brushes because I won’t want to deal with it anymore.

    My name is TeeJay and I am an asshole. (at least that is what they tell me)

    • Teejay i think we both know that this is not what Im talking about when i describe tattooers being an asshole. I also had to come up with a system for scheduling folks that means that every two month i have to tell folks who have been waiting months that yet again they didnt make it onto the appointment book. However it is the way i tell these folks is what makes me an asshole or not. You can tell someone anything if you are considerate and compassionate without coming off like an asshole.

      Life is seldom, if ever an “either/or” proposition, you dont have to be a gruff thug OR a pushover doormat, there is a middle ground in there somewhere and while its not as exciting as the extremes, it usually turns out that that is the right place to be to create the least amount of suffering for others OR ourselves.

  4. Well stated, sir.

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