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.