Sometimes you know exactly what you want your tattoo to be...you just have a feeling inside your head and heart, a genius idea, but you aren’t quite sure how to even express what you want it to look like. But even if you know exactly what you want and regardless of how you come to your tattoo idea, there’s going to be some conversation and negotiation with your artist about what is possible.
DO: Think a lot of your tattoo before you set up an appointment
Invariably, your tattoo artist will ask you things like “How big do you want your tattoo?” “Do you want color or black and grey?” “Where do you want the tattoo to be on your body?”...all of which are good questions that you should definitely know the answer to right off the bat. It’s okay to be flexible about these things, but that’s also good to know. We’re just saying...know as much as you possibly can when asking for a custom tattoo. The more you communicate with your artist, the better off you’ll be. Obviously...moderation is key. 60 emails or DM’s to your tattooist is a bit overboard!
DO: Bring references of what you’re picturing.
We recommend bringing or emailing photos of the objects or themes you want in your new tattoo to your tattooist. Google image search is perfect for this, as are the Tattoodo inspo archive! You can bring images from other tattoo artists, but only to explain what sort of style or aesthetic you’re going for.
DON’T: Ask your artist to directly copy someone else’s work or photo!
Unless you’re going for a realistic portrait of your newborn nephew, don’t ask your artist to copy something directly onto your skin, especially someone else’s artwork! You came to them for a reason, so let their personal artistic abilities shine.
That being said, if you’re going for a pop culture portrait or a still from a movie, that’s totally cool as long as the artist is up for it! Some tattooists actually specialize in recreating film stills or famous paintings! It may be smart to share a few options of the character, film or celebrity you want on your skin. Directly recreating a shot from a movie is totally doable, but sometimes it’s nice to give your artist some options to work with. They’ll be able to tell you what works best depending on placement, lighting, and a multitude of other things that affect a good Realism tattoo.
DO: Ask for what you want.
This is going to be on your body forever. While it can be hard to use words to express what can happen artistically, try, and if you don’t like the direction of the art, that’s okay. As long as you’re respectful, you can meet your artist in the middle, and both of you can properly collaborate on your tattoo!
DON’T: Demand tiny changes over and over.
Don’t overly art direct your tattoo artist. Changing sizes a million times, moving the stencil ¼” several times around your body, freaking out about insignificant details just to stall or make sure, just one more time, that it’ll be perfect...all of this can be so stressful for your artist.
Please also keep in mind that if your tattoo artist has made some changes to your original idea: ask why they made certain choices, rather than take issue with them immediately, and you’ll be able to understand the work better. Skin isn’t paper — there are logistical, practical decisions your artist is making as well as artistic ones.
Really though, you should also contemplate why you’re making tons of tiny changes in the first place. If you’re not sure about a tattoo, or not ready to commit, then go back to #1 on this list. This is why thinking about your piece, and committing to what you want, is so important! As is choosing the right artist for your idea, which brings us to our next point…
DO: Trust your artist, and their ability.
If you’re getting a custom tattoo made, we hope you’ve done your research and found a tattoo artist that perfectly matches your style, aesthetic, and conceptual ideas. There are so many tattooists out there, and each one is pretty unique! If you want a Neo Traditional tattoo of birds, find a tattoo artist who specializes in that. If you want a Tribal Blackwork piece, find a tattooist who does that! You wouldn’t go to a Traditional tattooist and ask for New School, right?
Once you’ve found your dream artist for your dream tattoo, you need to trust their ability to take your references and meet your vision. We promise that if you’ve chosen wisely, you can 100% count on the tattoo artist to make the most amazing tattoo. They’ve devoted their lives to this craft, so just let them shine.
DO: Remember that time is money.
You can make changes and you can ask for redraws — but expect to pay for them. The time your artist spends drawing before they tattoo you is a valuable part of the process. The time they put into your tattoo is exactly what will make it something you can cherish forever, so make sure to budget properly for potential redraws, and remember to tip.
This is more than just an exchange of money for goods. You’re not buying a coffee from your local coffee shop — you’re getting original, beautiful art permanently inscribed on your body. The creative process is going to be more intimate and should be more respectful than your usual customer service experience, for both the client and the artist. Be the best client you can be by doing your research up front, gathering references before your initial consultation, and being a good listener when your artist explains their work. Do your part, and trust the artist to do theirs. We promise that all these things will help make your experience the best it could be.