It’s pretty natural to develop some semblance of an emotional connection with someone that does your tattoos. Through the act of a simple service, they’re helping to shape part of your personal history. The marks they leave on you will last a lifetime. That’s significant. That relationship has meaning.
Let’s face the facts though–the level of significance you assign to the relationship is likely more than the level of significance it holds for the artist. That’s important to keep in mind, and clients seem to forget that “all the goddamn time” according to some artists.
Every single tattooer we talked to when writing this piece had nearly universally positive things to say about the relationships they have developed with their clients, citing the social aspect of tattooing as being very appealing – but not without some qualifiers.
We got some straight talk from some of our favorite artists to learn how they view the relationship between client and tattooer, and some pet peeves that come up far too often. We’ve cherry picked some quotes and kept everything anonymous at the requests of the artists.
“At this stage in my career, my books are almost always closed. If I take on new clients, it’s through referrals from existing clients or other tattooers. Almost everything I do at this point is large scale, and that means spending a lot of time with a client. Lately, that means often having that person in my private studio, which is linked to my home.
So that consultation I do before I book you an appointment? That’s as much for me to see if I can stand spending a few days with you as it is to make sure that you like my vision for the piece.”
“I do black and grey. Realism. Lots of portraits. That means lots of tattoos to honor friends and family members that have passed. That’s heavy shit sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t want to deal with that shit, with those stories. I do care, and I put that love into every portrait I do, but it’s a lot to carry. I wish people would just chill on the stories a little, but I know it’s part of the job now. Fucking Miami Ink, man.”
“Not too long after the election, I got my first Trump supporter. That was pretty hard because a lot of what he’s said really rubs me the wrong way, and now I’ve got some guy I’m supposed to tattoo for three or four sessions parroting that stuff at me. I’ve known this guy for a while, it caught me off guard.
I don’t talk politics with friends or family. Don’t assume that I’m willing to talk about it with a client either–especially in such a divisive time in American politics.” Note: This tattooer wanted us to say that he still did the best possible tattoo he could, politics withstanding.
“If you see me in public, do not come up to me and talk business. I’m not going to try to sell you on getting a new tattoo, and I don’t want to hear about your ideas for your next one. If you want to book an appointment, just come to the shop. You want to chat? I’d love to, but let me leave work at work.”
“You think saying ‘you’re the artist, just do what you want,’ is exciting for me? Piss off. This is a tattoo on your body. I don’t want that bloody responsibility even if I’ve done a ton of work on you. I’m not some high artist, I’m a tattooer. I’m a tradesman. Pick something from my sheets or tell me what you want. Fuck off back to where you came from until you have an idea.”
“Just because you’ve been a long-time customer does not mean we’re friends. It certainly does not mean you get ‘the hook up’. My real friends would never ask me to tattoo them for free, and even if I volunteered, there would be an argument where they’d inevitably find some way to pay me. If you’re expecting a free or cheap tattoo from me, I guarantee you’re not someone I consider a friend.”
“I’m not your fucking friend.”
Look, there’s not reason to overthink this stuff. Tattoo artists are just like everyone else. Stop making it weird and just treat them like normal people. Remember this is what they do for a living, it’s not necessarily the entirety of their existence. Don’t act overly familiar. Don’t talk business in public. Don’t act like they’re your therapist. Don’t ask or expect a discount.