by Marie Gerber
For many people, getting a tattoo is a big decision and one that shouldn't be rushed. Despite advances in laser technology, a tattoo is generally still thought of as a permanent alteration to your body and you will most likely regret a rushed decision in the years to come. There are many things to consider before getting inked, such as choosing a design that is meaningful to you and that you will continue to appreciate through all the different phases of your life. The location of the tattoo is also important, especially depending on the nature of the design and your future career goals. A tattoo that is highly visible even in everyday clothing or work wear may hinder your success in many career fields, especially if the design could be interpreted as offensive or inappropriate. This is unfortunate and does not hold true for everyone or every career, but it is a very real concern.
However, probably the most important factor in your decision to get a tattoo is your choice of tattoo artist. Not every tattoo artist is the same and you want to do your research before its too late. So, you might ask, what makes a good tattoo artist?
A good tattoo artist
is an experienced tattoo artist. Experience is one of the most important factors in what makes a good tattoo artist. Learning to operate a tattoo machine isn't easy and you want someone who has mastered the art, not someone who is just beginning. There are many tattoo artists out there who are extremely talented when it comes to pen and paper or paint and canvas, but drawing on human flesh with a tattoo machine is an entirely different skill, one which takes time to master. Of course, on the other hand, there are people who are masters at operating a tattoo machine, but who aren't necessarily talented artists.
When checking out potential tattoo artists, the most important thing that you can do is to ask to view an artist's portfolio. In my experience, most tattoo studies will typically have the artists' portfolios on display in the lobby area, or even online, but if not, don't be afraid to ask for examples of their work. By examples, I mean photographs of actual tattoos that they have applied onto skin, not artwork done on paper or other surfaces. And you can't make an educated decision from looking at just a few photographs. If the artist doesn't have a large body of work for you to review, then they are probably inexperienced and you should take this as a sign to move on to the next shop.
You should also ask them how long they have been tattooing. If they have just completed their apprenticeship or are still in the process of completing it, they most likely aren't going to give you a high quality tattoo. Some people will opt to have their ink done by an apprentice because it is usually significantly cheaper than what an experienced artist would charge. However, in this case, you need to remember that a tattoo is permanent and it is well worth the extra cash to have a design that you can be proud of for many years to come.
Also, every tattoo artist will have their own unique style and you should base your choice on whether their style will work well with your design. This is another reason that it is so important to check out various portfolios before making your decision. Does the artist work primarily in black and white or color? Does the artist have a realistic style or more of a cartoon/comic book style? Does the artist tend to work big or small and detailed? Some artists are better at lettering than others. Ask them whether they work from stencils or draw free-hand. Some very experienced artists can create amazing results drawing free-hand, but most artists need a stencil as a guideline.
is a clean tattoo artist. A good tattoo artist will strictly follow all the appropriate safety guidelines and will keep their shop clean and their equipment sanitized at all times. You wouldn't let a surgeon operate on you with a dirty scalpel and you shouldn't let a tattoo artist anywhere near you with an unsanitized needle. The tattooing process involves penetrating one of your body's main protective barriers your skin. There are very real risks involved, including bacterial infections and the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV. Allergic reactions and skin disorders are also possible risks, but are more likely to result from your bodies reaction to the ink than from unsanitized equipment.
So, how do you know if a tattoo studio is a sterile environment? First, pay attention. The general cleanliness of the shop, including the condition of the waiting area can be a good indication of the artists' regard for cleanliness and sanitation in their work area.
While some studios do have enclosed rooms or booths, in many establishments the artists work out in the open where you can observe their safety habits. Watch to see if the artist washes their hands and puts on a fresh pair of latex gloves for each procedure. If the artist is
interrupted during the tattooing process and handles any other object, such as a telephone, they should put on a fresh pair of gloves before continuing the tattoo.
Also, watch to see that the artist removes the needle and tubes from a sealed package, so that you know for a fact the needle is sterile. All inks, trays and other containers should also be unused.
You should also ask the artist whether or not they use an autoclave machine. An autoclave is a machine that uses heat to sterilize all equipment that isn't disposed of after each customer. Any instruments or surfaces that can't be sterilized using an autoclave, such as drawer handles or sinks should be thoroughly cleaned with a commercial disinfectant. If the owner or artist seems annoyed by your questions, then it's time to say good-bye. An owner/artist should take pride in the cleanliness and safety-habits of their shop and should be more than willing to discuss any of your concerns. Finally, while being observant and asking lots of questions is important, you should also pay attention to your gut. If the shop appears clean and the artist answers all of your questions satisfactorily, but you still have a bad feeling about the place, don't feel guilty that you've wasted the artist's time. If it doesn't feel right, it's not the right place for you.
is an honest tattoo artist. Unfortunately, some tattoo artists are only interested in your money, and will keep their mouth shut if they think that the design or the body part you have chosen will not look good or will not hold up well over time. A good tattoo artist takes pride in their work and wants you to leave their shop with the best possible result. After all, tattoo artists obtain much of their business via word of mouth and they can't afford to have unsatisfied customers. A good tattoo artist can also sense when a tattoo is a spur of the moment decision which a customer might regret even a few hours later and will ask you to come back in a few days if you still want to get inked. Finally, a good tattoo artist will not ink someone who is intoxicated.
is a reputable tattoo artist. As I mentioned before, a tattoo artist obtains much of their business via word of mouth, so reputation is very important. Ask your friends or acquaintances where they got their tattoos and what they have heard about specific artists or shops. If you hear even one horror story about a particular shop, you have reason to be weary. However, word of mouth is no substitute for your own thorough research.