So you’re going to get your first—or next—tattoo! Woo! You’re all pumped, excited for the event. You’ve told all your friends and family, you’ve posted about it on social media, and that’s great! Your tattoo artist wants you to be excited as it helps add to the mood of the affair. But, while it’s a wonderful thing to be excited, there are still certain ways in which you are expected to behave.
While a tattoo shop can be an entertaining and stimulating environment, it is still a place of business. Yes, there are probably some kick ass pictures hanging on the wall, and there’s probably some killer music pumping through the speakers inside the shop, but it is still a business establishment and should be treated as such.
You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and act a fool (at least, we hope), so you shouldn’t conduct yourself any differently when you go to get your ink. Your artist will behave in a particular, professional manner and will expect the same professional courtesy from you in order to give you the best experience possible. Keep in mind, as with most businesses, your artist does have the right to refuse service at any time, and, of course, it’s probably best not to annoy or piss off the guy (or gal) holding a needle to your skin, anyway.
So, let’s review a quick Do and Do Not list of things to keep in mind when visiting a tattoo shop.
Do try to have an idea of what you’re looking for before you walk in. While it’s fine to go in and ask questions, opinions, and suggestions from the artist—they are the professional, after all—you don’t want to waste their time. Most artists aren’t paid by the hour, so every minute they are spending working with you to find a design is time spent not tattooing someone else (and therefore making money). Try to at least have an idea that you can verbalize to them before you walk through the door. It is perfectly acceptable to have a selection of images with you to give your artist a clearer picture of what you’re after.
Do not ask for your artist’s professional opinion and then request the exact opposite. For example, if your artist suggests that a certain placement might be a bad idea because it will force the image to be crowded, listen. They know what they’re talking about. You wouldn’t tell your doctor to place a surgical opening somewhere other than where he places the pre-op markings, would you? So, why would you argue with the guy who tattoos day in and day out when you haven’t ever picked up a machine? In the same breath, don’t get upset or angry with your artist when they tell you their tried and true opinion. If they tell something won’t work or that something won’t look right, don’t get pissed. Just listen to what they have to say and be open to their suggestions. This is what they do—and they don’t want your tattoo looking crappy anymore than you do, as it is essentially their walking business card.
Do tip your artist at the end of a session! I will say this again, tattoo artists DO NOT GET PAID AN HOURLY WAGE. If they’re not tattooing, they’re not making a cent. You wouldn’t walk out of a restaurant or hair salon without tipping your service person, so why would you leave a tattoo parlor without tipping your artist? Not only is this a profession that requires many, many years of skilled practice and work, but it is an art. . . literally. Your artist just poured their heart and soul into the piece that is inked upon your skin. Be nice, leave them a tip. In case you’re wondering, it’s customary to leave AT MINIMUM 10% of your tattoo cost, with 15-20% being the normal.
If you’ve been drinking or are under the influence of any other substance—steer clear of your local tattoo shop. Not only is it disrespectful to your artist, but you could end up with a tattoo you’re not comfortable with when sober. In addition to making bad decisions regarding your ink, alcohol can make you bleed profusely, which can actually affect the coloring of your tattoo. Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll make it to that point, as most reputable tattoo shops will refuse to service anyone who is clearly under the influence, so you’re really just wasting everybody’s time.
Do practice good physical hygiene before heading into the shop. If you cannot believe I’m saying this, then you clearly haven’t spent time in a tattoo shop. Yes, it needs to be said. Shower, bathe, wear clean clothes, put on deodorant. Your artist is about to spend a profuse amount of time bent over your body. They do want to inhale nasty B.O. and you don’t want them rushing through a tattoo because you smell bad. It’s also best to avoid eating anything that may cause you to have, uh, awkward bodily functions. So just keep in mind that the gas station burrito might not be the best thing to eat thirty minutes before heading into the tattoo shop.
Do tell keep an open line of communication with your artist. If you feel sick to your stomach, tell your artist. If you feel like you’re going to pass out, tell your artist. While it’s great to try to suck up the pain, the last thing your artist (or you) wants is for you to pass out mid-tattoo.
Do not bring five of your closest (and most obnoxious) friends or family members to the studio with you. Most artists like to work in peace. It is a fine art which requires severe concentration and a steady hand. They do not want to have a cheering section over their shoulder watching and documenting their every move. Some states actually have laws which prohibit anyone other than the artist and client to be in the tattoo area, and in some cases, the artist or shop may have a policy against it simply to avoid any additional distractions. This includes children. Get a sitter—no child wants to sit in a tattoo shop for several hours and your artist doesn’t want you to have to keep stopping to deal with your little one, either.
Do not try to haggle with your artist on price. It’s not a flea market. Each shop has their own method for setting prices and each artist has their own idea of how long and complicated each piece will be. Not only is it rude and tacky to argue with your artist, especially if there are other clients present, but it will most likely set a tone for the remainder of your interaction with your artist. This is something that will be on your skin for life. Remember, there is an old saying that couldn’t be truer in this situation: “Good Tattoos aren’t Cheap and Cheap Tattoos aren’t Good.” You do get what you pay for, and you really don’t want to end up with a bad tattoo all because you didn’t want to spend an extra $10.
In general, don’t forget that the tattoo shop, although it is an energetic, exciting establishment is still a business. In order to walk away with the best tattoo and the best experience, just use your head. Behave as you would in any other respected business environment, and expect the same behavior from your artist. It’s all common sense, people. Think before you act, and you’re bound to end up with a great experience.