For many patrons, especially those getting their early tattoos, transacting at a tattoo shop is like drinking a heady cocktail of stigma-induced confusion and culture shock. It doesn't have to be that way. I know, I know, there's tons of crazy shit on the walls and the machines are buzzing super loud and you can smell iron in the air and the girl behind the counter looks hot and scary at the same time, but seriously... just relax. For the most part, this is like any other place of business where you purchase a service. Don't be a weirdo. Don't be a dick. You'll be fine.
This is the second installment in my series on Tattoos Do's and Tattoos Don'ts; or, how not to piss off the guy who's going to mark your body permanently.
1. Show up a few minutes early.
Simple enough, right? The truth is, your artist is probably not going to be ready on time. His last appointment ran over a few minutes, or he wanted to ask you a couple more questions about the drawing, etc etc. But it won't kill you to show up 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule just in case. Even if you end up chilling in the lobby and perusing other artists' portfolios, you'll come off as a considerate customer. Which goes a long way in an industry where many customers tend to not show up at all.
2. CHECK YOUR TATTOO DESIGN. NOW CHECK IT AGAIN. AND... ONE MORE TIME.
Upon arrival, once your artist is ready to go, he or she'll print out the stencil for your design. You'll wear the stencil in front of the mirror to make sure you don't want it larger, smaller, re-oriented, flipped upside-down, whatever. This is where millions people make the regrettable mistake of approving a design with an error in it. There will be other stages in this process where you'll have seen the design, or the loose idea which will later become your design, but THIS. Well, this is your very last chance to amend your request.
A good tattooer will catch him or herself on an obvious mistake, ala typos in their native language. But many seminal tattooers are set up for failure when tasked with designing tattoos which feature languages, codes, or art forms that they aren't familiar with. If you are a musician and you ask your tattooer to design something with musical notes in it, check to make sure they are the right notes, with their heads and flags facing the exact direction you intended. If you are fascinated by Asiatic languages, but aren't a native speaker, make damn sure that Chinese symbol means what you think it means. Because when you realize later that you just had the sheet music for John Lennon's "Imagine" tattooed on your arm backwards, you have no one to blame but yourself. Additional Pro Tip: Don't let the mirror trick you.
3. Sit still.
This one can be tough. Sometimes you overestimate your own mettle and choose a part of your anatomy that doesn't take well to needles. Or you didn't expect your artist to keep going without a break for a full three hours and nicotine withdrawals are steadily creeping up your spine. Whatever the problem, find your safe place (Eddie Norton's in Fight Club was a solace-filled polar cave, maybe try that one), concentrate on your breathing, and try like Hell to sit still. As a witness in the lobby, it's very hard to feel bad for the sweaty, pouting guy who keeps convulsing while he gets tattooed ahead of you in line. And as a tattooer, it's very easy to have a "full schedule for the next 89 months" when you return to book another appointment.
Fact of the matter is, that chair you just bled all over ain't cheap. And I don't mean that it's expensive to order from a special salon supplier. I mean that the artist who tattoos you while you sit in that chair is paying on average 40% of his or her income back to the shop where they work. Few artists own their own shops, much like how few hair stylists own their own salons or barber shops. The way it usually works is the tattooer charges you $200 per hour for a 3 hour session. That works out to $600, but you might get a small break for being an easy customer who makes good conversation. So now you only owe $550. Out of that, $220 gets paid to the tattoo shop to cover things like needles, tubes, rubber gloves, A&D ointment, rent and property taxes, saran wrap, printer paper, sketchpads, reference books, janitorial services, you name it. But now you're thinking, "Well that still leaves $330 left for the artist who just did 3 hours worth of work," right? Well, not quite. Let's not forget about setup, tear-down, and sanitization of the tattoo station in between appointments, which averages another half hour. And that your tattoo design took 2 - 3 hours of drawing outside of the shop to perfect. And then when you showed up, you decided that you needed part of the design changed. Oh and then Uncle Sam still showed up to eat another 40% of what was owed because your artist works on cash and doesn't have the luxury of having his taxes deducted from his paycheck.
Basically, it all adds up quickly. That extra 15 - 20% on top goes a long way, and reputable tattoo shops leave tips in their entirety to the artist.