So You Want to Get a Tattoo

I’ve been assisting Cyn over at Cirque du Rouge for almost a year and a half now.  She’s an amazing tattoo artist and local business owner here in DC.
What does it mean, that I assist her?  It means I manage her email.  Primarily, I read all her incoming email and handle her new clients.  I started a wait list for her so she can actually keep track of people who want tattoos from her and I make sure these people eventually get scheduled.  She is so in demand that we are turning people away.  No new clients to the wait list at this time, until we are no longer scheduling people who got on the wait list seven months ago.  Because that is how long her wait list is.  And she’s worth the wait.
I also prod her with a hot iron when she doesn’t respond to emails that she needs to respond to, but mostly I’m a gatekeeper.  I funnel down the emails so she can prioritize other things until I schedule the next batch of consults.  After doing this for about a year, I have a few Dos and Don’ts about getting a tattoo, interacting with a tattoo artist or studio, and perhaps just a general approach to life.  This is largely me venting my spleen and does not in anyway represent the views of Cyn or the artists at Cirque du Rouge.

1. Your tattoo artist is not a Xerox Machine.  He or she is an artist.  They might be a bad or good artist (see #2), but bringing in a picture and saying “I want this exact thing” is setting yourself up for disappointment.  ESPECIALLY if this is an artist who does custom work and you signed up for a consult, etc.  If that is the case, you need to think of this as commissioning a work of art.  You chose this artist because you like their work/style/etc., (see #2) so come to them with ideas and concepts and let them do their job.  IF this is a walk-in appointment that is different, but you still need to understand that it is not going to translate exactly to your skin.

2. Look at their portfolios before making an appointment.  Do you like their style?  Are there several pieces that make you gasp and say ooh that is beautiful? If you want a flower, do they do flowers well?  If you want a person, do they do people well?  If you want a portrait, do you see other portrait pieces in their portfolio?  Artists tend to specialize, especially if they’ve been around for awhile.  There’s things they’re really good at, and things they’re less good at.  And think about their style:  If you commission a tree and the tree they design is more in the woodblock style than the whispy water color style you had in mind and all of the rest of the work in their portfolio is woodblock, it is really your own fault for any dissatisfaction (see #1).

3. Treat your tattoo artist with the same respect you would treat any other professional.  That means coherent, concise email messages and communications.  That means prompt responses to inquiries about scheduling.  That means showing up to appointments or giving notice if you can’t make them.  That means treating them like a person and not a xerox machine.
Oh, and hey, this respect-the-artist-as-a-professional thing includes tipping.  They make only a percentage of what you paid, but not all of it – and this is their livelihood.   If you liked the work, don’t forget about that tip.

4. Listen to the tattoo artist.  If he or she says things like “That piece is too small and will not age well” or “This concept is too detailed and won’t age well,” I promise you they know tattoos and the changing canvas of skin more than you.  Again, see #1 and #3.

5. Be flexible.  There are two kinds of flexibility – one is artistically, one is practically.  Artistically, reference #1 and #4.  Be open to any ideas or comments the artist has and open to their design not being a xeroxed copy of what you wanted.
Practically, be flexible when it comes to scheduling.  Everyone wants a Saturday and there are only 52 of them in a year, so don’t be cranky if the only Saturday I can give you is four months from now.  You could come in next Tuesday if only it was worth taking an hour off early from your 9-5 like you would for a hair/doctor appointment, so I don’t have any sympathy for you when you’re upset about the wait yet insist on a Saturday.  The more flexible you can be, the sooner we can get you in.

6. Do Not Bring Other People With You To Your Appointment.  Most tattoo parlors are small and the space the artist has is just big enough for the person being tattooed and the artist itself.  Maybe bring one person, especially if you’re driving (long tattoo sessions can result in a woozy person afterward).  I want to hit my head against the desk every time someone tries to bring six people with them for a three hour appointment.  First off, if I was one of these six people I’d be bored as hell watching someone get inked for three hours.  Secondly, there’s probably no space, either logistically or under fire code.  They are going to be in the way.  Thirdly, this is a great time to chat with your artist.  They’re generally cool people.  Get to know them!
As a sub category to this one, Do Not Bring Your Kids.  Seriously?  This is a tattoo parlor.  It is pretty solidly in the realm of “adults only.”  Hire a damn baby sitter.

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2 Responses to So You Want to Get a Tattoo

  1. Really good set of guidelines. I’ve always wondered what is considered a good tip though.

  2. Christina Shaffer says:

    Well stated!! Amen!!

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