Tattoo culture in the mainstream is a fairly new when you think about how long tattoo shops have been around. Until recently there were no reality TV shows that showed the inner workings of tattoo shops. People wandering into tattoo shop to have ‘a look around’ was of unheard of, if you weren’t getting a tattoo, you weren’t welcome. The days of tattoo shops being run almost exclusively by bikers and rough necks, have given way to apps that will design tattoos in minutes and celebrity tattooers that are booked out indefinitely. Unfortunately, most the dramatized glimpses that the tattoo novice have been afforded by the mainstream media has resulted in unrealistic expectations from tattoo artists. Combined with the adrenaline that accompanies a permanent (and usually painful) decision can result in disaster.
There is somewhat of a gray area when it comes to professionalism in tattoo shops. Of course no one wants to get tattooed by, let alone pay someone that is rude to them, but there is no HR department, no customer service representatives, and the client is not always right. In fact, most of the time the client is usually wrong, which isn’t their fault. Tattooers have a deep rooted respect for their trade, the knowledge has been passed down from the forefathers of tattooing and is considered sacred. So unless you have a lot of tattoos, you probably don’t know dick.
The Dentist Office Analogy
The easiest and most relatable example for your own behavior in a tattoo shop would be a visit to the dentist. Are you going to be nervous? Yes. Is it going to hurt? Maybe. Will there be blood? Probably a little. Should I get so drunk that I might vomit on myself or my dentist? Please don’t. And for the love of Owen Jensen, stop putting your feet on our furniture!
The actual act of tattooing is really hard, as would be extracting a tooth or making an oral incision. Could you image if your friend that you brought for moral support loudly carried on a personal conversation on speaker phone while your dentist drilled a hole into your tooth. That can’t be safe, one slip and… you get the picture.
The artists feel that each tattoo is a representation of the skill they have dedicated their lives’ to. They must take ideas from a client’s vision, render said ideas, while accounting for aging, visual impact, placement, and longevity. Then they must apply it using a fairly painful method, to permanently become a part of the individual’s body forever and ever. No pressure, right?
Ok, so we’re not actually like a Dentist Office
Alright, so maybe dentists don’t playfully yell insults at each other from across the room, or set off fart bombs while open for business, or hide tofu wieiners in each other’s supplies, or loudly plan mock trials to disprove a co-workers’ skydiving accident. Yes, all of these antics have occurred in our shop.
How should I prepare?
Getting a tattoo can be traumatic to the nervous system and the healing process will require a healthy immune system. Show up to your appointment well-rested, hydrated and nourished. If your sick, cancel. If you’re emotional, reschedule. Most tattooers understand that life happens, but if you’ve made a habit of flaking expect to lose your deposit.
Remember that you’re going to be sitting in close proximity to another person while sweating (yup it happens almost every time) so please shower and brush your teeth. If you’re a smoker, wash your hands and bring some gum along. Save that stanky joint and pint of whiskey for after the tattoo. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, someone takes a little pill, or a little hit, or a couple shots and the next thing I know they’re on the floor because the artist wasn’t able to catch them when they passed out. It’s best to have high blood-sugar and steady footing if you’re looking to get tattooed.
If you’re sending reference to a tattooer after the consultation be sure to do so in a timely manner, artists will usually begin preparing a design a few days before the appointment. If you’ve decided to make any changes be sure to clearly communicate the changes BEFORE the tattoo artist could be potentially starting your drawing. You could even ask, “If I wanted you to do something a little different how long before my appointment should I let you know?”Any small changes or tweaks can usually be done on the spot. But you show me a client that submits new artwork hours before a tattoo appointment, and I’ll show you a frustrated and annoyed tattoo artist.
All tattoo shops accept cash and will need to see a state issued ID so be sure to bring both with you to the tattoo shop. Also, we get it, tattoos are expensive, so while the artists don’t usually expect tips (unless they’ve gone above and beyond by staying late or redrawing a design 4 times for an indecisive client) they do appriciate them. The artists are providing a service, so 20% is a completely appropriate tipping amount.
Does It Really Need a Touch-up?
Your tattoo will change over your lifespan. I’m always shocked when this is news to people. They will often come into the shop a few weeks after being tattooed saying that their tattoo has faded and needs to be touched up. They will proceed to show me a beautifully healed and settled tattoo and start nit-picking inconsistencies that only they can see. It’s ink under layers of your skin, people! It will never and can never be perfect. I’ve heard some artists say that tattoos can be touched up every 5-10 years and other artists say that if you can’t see any flaws from 5 ft away then it doesn’t need to be touched up. I’m a believer in the latter school of thought, once I get an area of my body tattooed I never want to get it tattooed again. We did it. It’s done. Just because we offer free touch-ups doesn’t mean you should get your tattoo touched up.
In conclusion, to maximize your tattoo experience, remain calm, take some deep breaths, and focus on relaxing while staying still. In the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, be cool like the Fonz and you might actually have a good time.