As a casual student of the arts for the last 20+ years, and an avid tattoo collector for the past nine years, I prefer to think of tattooing as if it were an extension of the humanities. In many ways, tattoos (especially traditionally styled ones) retain the essence of Paleolithic cave drawings, of which the oldest known to man are presumed to be dated over 35,000 years. And while it's impossible to know exactly the finer details behind what communication purposes the cave drawings served, it's painfully clear that humans have always carried an innate need to share stories with one another about our surroundings, our rituals and ceremonies, our backgrounds, and our journeys. If I've learned anything at all along the way, it's that a narrative this old needs to be met with respect. This is the first 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. Choose Your Artist Carefully
No one ever asked Kurt Cobain to write a rap song (or at least I really hope no ever did). Stan Lee was never commissioned to paint a nature scene. And in a perfect world Kid Cudi would have stayed in the studio and completely avoided the silver screen. Before you try to book an appointment, consider the style and preferences of your artist. Look through his or her portfolio. Lurk them like you'd lurk a first date with a hot Tinder match. Because if you arrive at your consultation with Anderson Luna and ask for a Disney princesses chest piece, you're going to be as sorely disappointed as you would be if you'd just been catfished.
2. Patience Is Key
If the artist you choose is worth his/her salt, there is unfortunately a good chance that you'll have to bare a waiting list. It's not a hard and fast rule, mind you, there are always those diamonds in the rough who either haven't reached critical mass yet, or who just prefer not to maintain long waiting lists for personal reasons. But for your Scott Campbells, or even the Oliver Pecks of the world, calendars can be booked ahead anywhere from a handful of a weeks to more than a year. Don't get annoyed or frustrated at this small roadblock. Be zen. After all, once you get the piece in one or three or six months, you'll be able to enjoy it for two or four or eight decades. What's the rush?
3. Don't Haggle
Again, if you artist is worth his/her salt, then they're worth the asking price of their work. This should go without saying since, as is explained above, most artists keep waiting lists. But, if the tattoo consumer market as a whole had an issue with Artist X's $200/hour rate, Artist X wouldn't be booked out 6 weeks in advance. Never, EVER say to an artist, "Well, I talked to Artist Y and they said they could do the tattoo for $150/hour." Even if they don't have a full calendar, their response will inevitably be, "Dope, then go get tattooed over there."
4. Be Flexible
Good tattooers have developed a strong eye for composition, skin tone, placement, and other things that will affect the outcome of your tattoo. A lot of tattoo customers become extremely attached to their vision without understanding the logistics required to facilitate the picture in their heads. As an example, the lines in a palm tattoo are known to "blow out" as they heal. It's nearly guaranteed, thus going in with a bold design that has little or no fine details will make for a better healed image. Similarly, dark skin tones won't reflect yellow or white ink clearly, or sometimes at all. Remember that in order to give you the best tattoo possible adjustments to your design or placement on your body may be necessary.
5. Cash Is King
For extra brownie points with your artist, drop your deposit and pay the full balance of your tattoo in cash whenever possible. Specifically in regard to deposits, don't take these personally. Even if you've been able to develop a good relationship with your artist, it's still industry-standard for them to require $100 down every time you book. This is an easy way of holding customers accountable. Plus, when you make your payment in cash, you save them the credit card processing fees that plague small businesses.