Every time I see one of those links to some article about “how not to piss off your tattoo artist” or “10 things you need to know to not be an asshole at the tattoo shop” it gets on my fucking nerves. Yes, ive had annoying customers and yes some folks act like the tattoo shop is a place to show how tough, wacky, or horny you are, but for the most part people behave themselves properly and when they do commit some “faux pas” it is usually out of ignorance, not malice. There are a lot of tattooers out there who act like cry babies when some customer acts in a way the tattoo “artiste” doesnt expect, and while some things are common sense behaviors for any place, not just a tattoo shop (dont show up drunk, do show up showered, etc), tattoo shops often have some special customs and rules that someone may not know if they are new to the world of tattooing.
It is in the spirit of assuming that “people will do the right thing if they know what it is” that I present this list of things that will make your visit to the tattoo shop more pleasant and will no doubt fill the heart of your crabby artist with joy if you come in already armed with this knowledge.
1) Wear a tank top and bring a flannel (or other warm long sleeved shirt) with you. Yes even if its July and 400 degrees outside. You never know how your body will react to tattooing on a given day and you never know if you will be sitting right in front of a heater or air conditioner to get your tattoo. Many times I have gone to get tattooed in the dead of winter only to walk into a shop that felt like an oven! If all i have on is a wool shirt then im going to be sweating my ass off in addition to dealing with the pain of a tattoo. If you start to get hot you can strip down to the tank top and if you start shivering you can use the flannel like a blanket, if you are particularily prone to getting hot/cold bring shorts or extra thick socks with you. Peoples reactions to tattoos vary greatly and Ive been sweating my face off while tattooing a client who is shivering with cold, be prepared for a costume change no matter the weather!
2) Bring food and water. I know, you are too nervous to eat, you dont want to get up to pee every two minutes, and you worry that they wont allow food near the tattoo station. Trust me on this one. Bring a snack (something neat and not smelly; bring something like a granola bar, jerky, or shelled nuts. Leave the Limberger and sardines at home. . .) and a bottle of water. Getting tattooed is stressful, and even if the stress is very minor (which it usually is) that discomfort can cause your body to eat up its stores of energy and the sweating can dehydrate you as well, particularly on long sessions. Having a snack and some water can recharge the batteries before you bonk. (bonking is what runners/bicyclists call the state where your body begins using fuel more rapidly than you can recharge it with food/drink. Bonking can lead to feeling light headed or even “passing out”) If your tattoo shop has strict rules about food/drink then take a bathroom break and eat away from the work area. The more energy you have the greater your tolerance and ability to hold still during the tattoo process.
3) You might want to bring a friend, maybe. Many of my repeat customers began by bringing a freind(s) and after a few sessions stopped. If you have a chatty tattooer a friend can actually be annoying as you try to pay attention to both (or all) the people talking to you. Besides, we all tend to want to make sure our friends are having fun, when getting tattooed this extra stress can make the tattoo (and their presence) do more harm than good. Also, be sure the person you bring is the kind of person who makes you feel more relaxed, dont bring your wild ass wacko friend who makes kooky noises and likes to bust your balls because their shenanigans will quicky go from amusing and distracting to annoying and distressing. In general the environment you want to create with your companion(s) is closer to a comfortable coffeeshop hangout than a party.
4) If possible, bring cash. This is like tipping your tattooer before you even begin. Credit cards, even where accepted are an additional hassle for the unique business model that most tattoo shops are. In most shops the artists pay the owner a percentage instead of the other way around so if the cards are run through a shop machine (some artists have their own individual services like Square or Paypal) then the artist has to wait until he gets paid out by the shop, Ive been places where this can take up to a month! Add to this the fact that all credit card processors take a cut of the money means that your artist is paying out on every transaction. If a card is all you have and the shop takes them, then by all means use it, but if you can get cash and you dont mind stopping at the ATM then your artist will certainly appreciate it.
5) Some tattooers like to talk, some don’t. Many tattooers feel that they cant properly focus if they are talking or being talked to while they work, this doesn’t equal that they are mean or unfriendly. Some like to chat and use the dialog to check up on how you are holding up or to tease out details which might add to the tattoo, this doesnt mean that they want to hear about your dramatic break up or gory car accident. Touching and being touched automatically makes us feel connected to the person but sometimes this can lead to over sharing or feeling awkward when the tattooer isnt reciprocationg the conversation. Start by keeping it light and follow the artists lead, if they dont talk then dont take it personally. Think of it as their way of giving your tattoo all the attention they need to do a good job. I have have had some deep conversations with customers, but even if you get talkative tattooer its good form to not start right off talking about who you hate, how bad you have it, or how so-and-so sucks at tattooing.
6) There are some ways that you can accidently insult your tattooer if you are not aware of them. One of the most common i have encountered is the insinuation that tattoos are not “art” or that your tattooer is not an “artist”. When you talk about other forms of art by referring to them as “real art” you are implying (however unintentionally) that tattooing isnt real art to you, and when you mention that your friend who paint is a “real artist” or that you cant “find anyone to draw my tattoo” you are tacitly saying that you think of your tattooer as someone who “just” tattoos. These days most tattooers can draw what you want, and paint, and sculpt, they have simply chosen tattooing to be their “real art”.
Another no-no is being openly jealous of your tattooer in the sense of saying “you guys must make a lot of money” or “I wish i had a job where I could dress how i want/listen to metal/ touch pretty girls / come in at noon/ draw for a living/ kick out people i dont like/ etc”. Beside sounding like an accusation this also implies that your tattooer has not earned what he has. The customer sounds to us like he or she is saying “My life is not as good as I project yours to be, and I dont think you deserve/earned it”. I can assure you that if your artist is busy and talented then they have put in weeks, months, and years of struggle to get where they are now, nothing has even been handed to an artist who is good at what they do no matter how effortless they make it seem now. It is rude in general to discuss someones wages, and particularly if they are about to offer your a service and then expect payment.
In short; dont make it weird.
7) Tipping. Almost every tattooer will gladly accept a tip, but most of us dont expect it. There is no standard, and I am leery of giving a “rule of thumb” since each person has their own rule in this regard. Personally I don’t expect a tip and don’t think anything less of a customer who doesn’t, I appreciate that tattoos are not cheap and I am grateful for anything over the amount I quoted initially. Tipping is nice, but dont break the bank or stress over it too much.
That’s all for now, as you can see Tattooing has its own customs and to quote the old saying ” When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, meaning each shop will have a preferred way of doing things, but in general some of the tips above should help you and your artist feel more comfortable walking into a shop for the first time.