First tattoo? Been a while since your last piece? One way or another, if you’re trying to get a handle on what to expect from the process of getting tattooed, here’s my two cents on how it works:
Will it hurt?
Yes, but you’ll survive. Odds are good that you’ve been through way tougher stuff! I myself don’t have a spectacular pain tolerance and I can take most tattoos just fine. Pain varies depending on the area getting tattooed, the individual’s body chemistry, and even where you are in your hormonal cycle. As a VERY general rule, skin that faces outward on the body is an easier experience than skin that isn’t exposed (ie: the outside of the arm is much more comfortable than the inner bicep), and pain gets worse around joints, but it’s tough to predict. If it’s your first tattoo and you’re concerned about the pain, I suggest getting something small from a walk-in shop or linework artist just to familiarize yourself with what to expect. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.
Is there anything I can do to make it more comfortable?
Yes! While I try to make the process as comfortable as possible, there are lidocaine products that can make it even moreso. My favorite is Zensa anesthetic gel (available on Amazon); you are welcome to purchase this on your own and apply it before your appointment per the manufacturer's instructions. During your procedure with me, lidocaine spray will be available as well, but is only effective after the skin has been broken. (Not all artists offer this, so if you’re getting tattooed by someone else and this is important to you, ask.) These products likely won't get you completely numb, but will help considerably. Think scratching a sunburn. If you need to tap out during the appointment and come back in another session to finish, that is usually an option, so please don't hesitate to let your artist know.
What should I expect from this process?
Each artist works differently, so check out your artist’s social media or website to find out specific details about working with them! (Check out the FAQ-Working with Me page to find out about my specifics.) Most specialty artists like myself will work something like this:
You’ll submit a project proposal form, and this will ask you to describe your design, placement, budget, and maybe some other details. In most cases, this form acts as your consult, so fill it out intentionally!
If your artist is able to take on your project, they’ll contact you with more info
You’ll pay a deposit and choose an appointment date and time
You’ll be asked to submit any references you may have, or you may be invited in for an in-person consult
You’ll come in for your appointment, at which point you’ll see your design and work with the artist to get it sized and fitted. Small changes to the design are very doable day-of (ie: if you’d like that jasmine flower to be just a bit bigger), but please let your artist know beforehand if you have specific thoughts about your piece.
You’ll fill out a consent form
Get bandaged and go over aftercare
Pay your artist
Again, every artist is different, so if you have questions, check out your artist’s social media/website and if you can’t find answers there, ask! Your artist should ALWAYS treat you with respect and dignity, and should always ask permission to touch you. Derogatory language, any kind of shaming, and sexual misconduct are NEVER “just the way it is,” so if a particular artist or environment makes you uncomfortable, get outta there! There are plenty of empathetic, respectful tattooers out there who would love to work with you.
How do I choose an artist?
GREAT question! One of the most important ones you’ll ask. As a general rule, find an artist whose work resonates with you (social media is great for this, but remember that follower count doesn’t necessarily correlate to quality!) and whom you’d trust to work out the details of your design. The most magical pieces happen with clients who have a loose idea of what they’re looking for and trust their artist to know what’s best for them and their piece (most of us take our jobs VERY seriously and we do this every day). This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t chime in if you’ve got a thought or idea, just approach your interactions with your artist the way you would a doctor: ask questions if you have them, but defer to their professional judgment. When you’re looking at artists, keep an eye out for photos of healed work to make sure it’ll last. If you’re exploring different styles, keep your eyes peeled in real life for examples! Many styles that look great fresh on Instagram have a different impact healed and in three dimensions, and some styles that won’t light up the internet with likes are stunning in real time.
Artists work very differently and clients have very different expectations of the process, so it’s important to be honest about what you’re looking for and make sure that what you want is consistent with how your artist works. If you’re flexible on the particulars and just want a rad piece of art from an artist whose work you love, great! Submit a proposal and just follow the instructions. But, if you have specific expectations, be clear about those going in and make sure you select an artist whose process is conducive to those. For example, if you like the idea of a private environment for your procedure, choose an artist with a private studio. Many specialty artists don’t do in-person consults or show drawings before the appointment, so if those things are non-negotiable for you, find an artist who can accommodate you.
It’s so hard to get in with some artists! Should I email/DM/follow up more to make sure I get in?
Please don’t! Social media has us conditioned to expect instant gratification, but tattoos, especially larger color pieces, are a labor of love and time, and they don’t happen overnight. Most artists are only looking to talk about new projects when their books are open, so BE PATIENT, follow the artist’s instructions, and don’t get offended if you don’t hear back. Most of us are abysmally bad at admin and aren’t able to get back to everyone who submits. This doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate you, though! It just means we didn’t have time this time around (many artists, especially those of us who do color, don’t have many available spots to begin with, and loads of folks want them), but odds are good that we DO want to work with you and it’s nothing personal. So, if you haven’t had any luck, keep at it! A non-response doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist isn’t interested; I often end up picking proposals at random because the “yes” list is so much bigger than the space I have in my calendar. I am infinitely grateful to my clients who are patient and continue to submit when books are open, and I DO notice who keeps submitting and following instructions. I also notice who’s active and nice on social media! Your patient persistence will ensure that you get a good piece from the right artist that you can treasure forever.
How can I improve my chances of getting in with a busy artist?
READ FAQ’S AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! Artists generally want to work with folks who are low-maintenance on the admin side of things so we can spend as much time as possible focusing on drawing and tattooing.
Be clear and decisive with your proposals, and trust your artist’s interpretation of the details.
Respect the artist’s boundaries and workflow.
Be ready to pay a deposit and commit to an appointment date.
Be prompt and reliable with scheduling, and be open to a weekday time slot.
Be respectful and have an open mind!
Contact an artist with questions that are already answered in their FAQs or Instagram bio
Be offended if it takes a while to get in! Believe me, it breaks our hearts that we can’t accommodate everyone whose ideas we’re into every time books open.
Be offended if you don’t hear back, or if it takes longer to hear back than you’d like. We are individuals, not big companies with dedicated customer service staff. We’re doing our best, and we DO appreciate you!
DM or email when books are closed
Ask an artist to make an exception to their rules for you. This includes asking them to work on their days off, asking for a nonrefundable deposit back, and asking for multiple reschedule accommodations.
Be rude, ever. The client-artist relationship is an inherently intimate one, and no one wants to be permanently tethered to an asshole.
Can I see my design before the appointment?
For most artists, the answer is a resounding NO for custom pieces. This prevents intellectual property theft, and ensures that design decisions are only between the artist and the client. Art is art; there is no binary “right” and “wrong” way to do it, and inviting the opinions of lots of friends and family only complicates the process. The only opinion that matters is the client’s, and I can tell by how folks react upon seeing their pieces if they really love it, or if there are some things they want to talk about. Technology is amazing and has made making small changes like resizing, moving parts of the design around, or adding/subtracting minor elements VERY quick and easy, so if small changes are necessary, those will happen on the day of your piece.
If you’re uncomfortable booking a piece without knowing exactly what it looks like, choose a predrawn piece that resonates with you! Though in the minority, some artists will show you drafts of your piece, so if it’s a blue chip for you, ask around and find one that will. If you’re looking to have a LOT of control over the design process (like if you expect to see multiple drafts for your approval far in advance of your piece), especially for smaller pieces, your best bet is to hire an illustrator to draw up a piece for you and then take it to a walk-in shop (most specialty artists won’t do this, sorry!). Tattoo artists generally aren’t going to draw anything for other artists to tattoo, so if you’re going to do this, seek out someone who doesn’t tattoo, though I’d still recommend trusting the artist who will be tattooing you to interpret the specifics of your design.
I have darker skin! Can I still get color tattoos?
Heck yes! You’ll find no racist bs here. If you’re getting a color piece, the colors I (and other artists) choose will be based on what will keep your tattoo looking readable and fierce on your specific skin for years to come, no matter how much melanin the canvas has. As long as you’re flexible with letting your artist choose colors suited to your individual pigmentation, you’re a candidate for a lovely color piece, regardless of skin tone. If you’re a POC and would like a color swatch test, please contact me! I’m happy to do these for free.
I saw a tattoo online that I love! Can I get that exact one?
Nope. Copying other artists’ work is pretty taboo in the tattooing industry. It’s unfair to the artist who put the work into designing the piece, and it’s unfair to the client who got that piece as an original. If there are pieces that you love, try to figure out what it is that you love about them: is it the composition? Placement? Color palette? If you can find a common thread in the pieces that resonate with you, you can find an artist who does that kind of work, and let your artist use these pieces as references in creating something uniquely for you in the same vein. You’ll end up with a one-of-a-kind piece, and your piece will be better because your artist designs it for your specific body and skin!
I found an artist that I like, but they’re far away! Can they draw me something to get tattooed by someone close to me?
Nope. You can ask, but 99.9% of the time the answer is going to be no, unless it’s traditional flash, which is designed to be easily replicated. It’s ALWAYS best to have the tattooer draw their own designs. Tattooing is an art, not a product, and everyone tattoos a bit differently, just like everyone draws a little differently. Here’s an experiment to illustrate why this is: find an image, trace it, and then have your friend trace it. Then, each of you try to color and/or shade it. They look totally different, right? Someone else’s interpretation of a design won’t be exactly the same, and a piece designed by one person and tattooed by another won’t really resonate with either artist. I’ve had people get my designs tattooed by other artists, and the end product looks nothing like either my work or theirs. It’s not quite as simple as just tracing someone else’s design. If traveling isn’t an option, I recommend finding an artist near you who works in a similar style and working with them. You can show them the work you like as references and trust them to interpret it into a unique piece for you.
I love your work and want to let you tattoo anything on me! Can we do that?
That’s so flattering, and I’m so grateful that folks feel this way! However, it’s tough to work with absolutely no guidelines, and most artists don’t have the time for extensive dialogue to develop an idea with no starting point. (I would if I could!) If you truly don’t care what you get, choose a predrawn project that resonates with you! These are our passion projects that we want to give a home to, and will make sure that it’s fit to your specific body regardless.
How much will it cost?
Ahh, yes, everyone’s favorite question! The very helpful answer is: it varies A LOT. Most artists work with an hourly rate, and many factors will affect how long a piece takes:
Style (color realism takes the longest, outline-only is the shortest)
Level of detail (more detail takes longer than less)
Placement. Some body parts take longer to tattoo than others just due to the texture of the skin. (if you ask me, ribs take the longest and forearms and calves are the fastest)
Your artist! Folks just work at varying speeds.
To an extent, size, but it’s not as big of a determinant as you’d think. Smaller isn’t necessarily cheaper, so don’t be afraid if your artist recommends sizing it up a little!
Some artists who work on a smaller scale charge by the piece. Hourly artists will probably be able to give you a ballpark estimate of how long your piece will take, but it’s impossible to give an exact quote. Everyone’s skin behaves a little differently, and it’s impossible to know how someone’s skin will saturate until you’re actually in there tattooing. Some styles take longer than others and thus will cost more. For example, full color pieces will take the longest and will often require multiple sessions to complete, while linework is much faster. If you’re looking for larger work (bigger than a hand) and/or custom work from artists who specialize in a certain style, it’s best to have a bit of wiggle room in your budget. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how much it costs in the end, but nobody wants to feel rushed during the process. If you’re working with a tight budget, walk-in shops will be your best bet for getting something solid, small, and affordable. Or, seek out flash artists who do prix-fixe flash so that you can plan.
Regardless of your financial situation, be honest with your artist about your budget upfront! It’s not true that artists only take “no budget” pieces, and it’s important to make sure that your vision is feasible to complete in the time frame that your budget allows for. If your artist is working within your budget constraints, please be mindful of your expectations and understand that some things may be compromised to fit within a tight budget, ie: less detail, less color.
What’s up with tipping?
Traditionally, folks have tipped tattooers, and while it’s not expected, it’s certainly appreciated! Cash tips are always a winner, and it’ll make my day if clients bring me plants, vegan food, or handmade things. If you request a free touch-up and your artist accommodates you (which they are not obligated to do), PLEASE tip.
What can I do to prepare for my appointment?
Stay hydrated, get a good night's sleep, and eat breakfast! You're welcome to bring a book, music, games, whatever will make you feel comfortable during your session. Plan to take it easy for the rest of the day after your piece, and don't make plans for intense physical activity for at least a week following.
What should I wear to my appointment?
You’ll want to wear something you’ll be comfortable sitting in for a few hours. We’ll need to be able to expose the skin up to about 2” on all sides around the area being tattooed, so wear something stretchy and loose around that area. For example, if we’re doing a shoulder cap, a stretchy tank top that you can pull over your head and a bra strap that you can drop down under your arm are ideal. Though it doesn’t happen often, there is always the possibility of ink getting on your clothes, so darker colors and items that are easily washable are best. Bonus points if you wear solid, neutral colors for photos.
Any tips on client etiquette?
Approach your piece with an open mind and a full heart, and you should be golden! Do your research, communicate clearly if you have specific ideas or expectations, and trust your artist’s professional opinion. Only submit ideas that you’re serious about and committed to following through with, and if you’ve secured an appointment, be as reliable as you can with scheduling. Most importantly, have fun! Tattooing is inherently magical: it marks a place, time, and usually an intention, and you’ll likely always remember the process of getting tattooed. Self-care however you need surrounding your piece, clarify your intentions beforehand to solidify the magic of the process for you, and make the memory a good one!
What's the healing process like?
It depends heavily on the piece. Certain styles heal easier than others (ie: linework heals faster and easier than a full color tattoo) and certain areas of the body heal easier than others. For example, forearms usually heal very well, but fingers and hands will likely need a second pass and may never hold the ink perfectly. If you have questions about what to expect from your specific piece, ask your artist! They’ll know best what to expect from your particular piece and style. On the day of your piece, you’ll be bandaged according to your specific piece and sent home with aftercare instructions. Your piece will go through phases of scabbing, itching, and appearing very light for a time. It takes about a month for your piece to settle in, so if it looks a little funky before the month mark, don't panic. It's probably normal, but if you have a question about how your tattoo is healing, don't hesitate to ask your artist. Head on over to the "aftercare" tab for more detailed aftercare instructions. Please keep in mind that color pieces will take longer to heal than linework, will be a bit messier for a few days after your appointment, and you’ll need to refrain from physical activity for longer. It’s normal for full color pieces to be a bit swollen and sore for a couple of days after the appointment. If you have a full color/black fill tattoo, it is VERY important that you do not rebandage your piece or work out in the week or so following your tattoo.
What can I do to make sure my piece heals well?
First and foremost, listen to what your artist tells you for aftercare. Different styles heal differently, and your artist knows best what yours will require. Many of the factors that affect how your piece heals are under your control. To make sure your piece heals as well as possible, stay hydrated and well-nourished, don’t work out until it’s healed, NEVER pick the scabs, and stay out of the sun! NEVER WORK OUT WITH A FRESH TATTOO. Sweat, sun exposure, and dehydration are all enemies of a well-healed tattoo, especially for color pieces. For the first week or so, you’ll want to make sure the tattooed skin is stretched + pulled as little as possible.
What can I expect as my tattoo ages?
Your tattoo will live many lives throughout your lifetime. Nothing else about our bodies stays completely the same over time, an tattoos are no exception. Your piece will look different in 40 years than it does today, and that’s something to be embraced! Skin is a constantly changing organ, one that sheds and regenerates very quickly. The best things you can do to keep your piece looking great for years to come are to pay attention to your internal health (eat well, stay hydrated) and protect your piece from the sun (ideally by staying out of it or keeping your piece covered, but use sunscreen if you’re going to be exposed). Take care of your piece the way you’d take care of your face. Details may become less sharp over very long periods of time, but I design each piece to remain readable even in the absence of some of the finer details. Certain color pigments are more lightfast than others, so some colors will stay truer than others over time. If you’re fastidious about sun exposure, though, you’ll keep your piece looking its best for years to come. And if you’re worried about what your piece will look like in 40 years, don’t be. It’ll probably still look rad, and you can always have it updated, either with the original color scheme, or you can use it as an opportunity to try something new!