Secret Red Flags When Getting a Tattoo

I am a person, like many, who has tattoos.

I am also very, very critical of tattoos and of what goes in or on my body.

So when I went to get my first tattoo, it was after a year of researching places, artists, styles, etc. I wanted to plan the whole thing out, and I did. I looked into multiple shops in the area surrounding my school, and even around my hometown. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right. I had my tattoo idea for years and I thought about it every day the week before I got it. I had it drawn up using many reference pictures and I was scrutinizing of the sizing and details. 

Same with my second tattoo. Except the process was much quicker because I knew the shop and trusted the artist. I love my second tattoo more than I love the first.

Things got rocky when I went to get my third tattoo. I looked into the artist by seeing work he had done on a friend and I didn’t back out when I saw the following red flags, which I had no way of knowing there even were red flags at the time. Hindsight is 20/20.

I had planned to get a non-conspicuous tattoo a lot smaller and a lot less traditional from the two I already had. I wanted small, open, thin lined, stars in the formation of the aquarius constellation on my arm. I called to make an appointment, and I was excited the whole time. I knew the artist was technically great—no shakey lines on his other pieces I had seen, the place was clean and not shady. I was excited, like I should have been.

But here’s where it went wrong, when I walked into the shop I started explaining and showing my design ideas to the man at the front desk. He gave me some other options, claiming my idea was not possible, I looked at them and I didn’t hate it. My priority was that the lines were thin and I even showed him lines on my other tattoo for reference. He drew up the design and, like I should have, I tweaked it a bunch of times before it felt right.

The issue is that this man I was talking to was not my tattooer. I was tattooed by someone else, the same guy who did my friends beautiful magnolias, but not the guy I was just discussing my permanent ink with.

It is worth noting that tattooers want to tattoo, some are artists first and tattooers second. Some, the opposite way around. But in either case, they’re most likely going for longevity in my experience. They want you to have a good looking tattoo for years to come, and because of this some are heavy handed (mine was).

But besides really drilling that ink into my arm, he didn’t listen to my thin line requirement, going over the lines two or three times, thus making them very think and prominent which is not what I wanted.

There were clearer signs of miscommunication between the shop owner and the tattooer, too. The most obvious being that the owner said I couldn’t have the stars open, and that they needed to be filled in, I agreed as long as the lines were thin. But the tattooer said I could leave them open, when I said “I thought it wasn’t possible,” he looked at me and said “nah, they just might close up in five or so years,” again, something I was okay with.

But here’s another thing that makes this situation so bad, my tattoo is black and I wanted it in gray, as not to be as noticeable. I have two huge tattoos and I wanted something meaningful but more subtle, and he just started tattooing me in black. I’m not blaming him for not asking, that part I will take full responsibility for, but as soon as that needle went in I knew there was no way to get that part of what I wanted back.

So here’s the thing:

  • Don’t get cocky when you’re getting tattoos.
  • Treat each one with the same diligence as the first.
  • Specify everything special you want, don’t assume they will ask.
  • When switching artists, meet with them at least once before they tattoo you, don’t just make the appointment and go.
  • Never be afraid to back out.
  • Always discuss your tattoo with your tattooer.
  • Be skeptical when anyone tells you what you want is impossible.

Go forth and get inked!

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