The Tattoo Process: Everything Before the Ink

So, you’ve decided you want some ink on your body for the rest of your life, that’s a good place to start. You don’t even need a concept, an idea, or even a meaning at this stage. Many people pick a tattoo artist they admire and are an “open canvas” to allow the artist free will over the design. Or maybe you have an idea but no artist, this is also a common place to start. Whichever route you’re taking, just please do not plagiarize another artist’s work. Don’t go into a shop with a Pinterest tattoo and want it exactly like that. It’s okay to use tattoos as reference photos and communicate the elements you like about it, but copy-and-pasting tattoos is a huge no-no (obviously, if it’s just a simple heart outline, that’s fine. This is more applicable to tattoos that required unique creativity and artistry to design). 

For a few of my tattoos, I already knew exactly what I wanted and there was relatively little uniqueness or artistic spin, so it was simple to find an artist who did strictly clean work tailored to my idea. On the contrary, my half sleeve was merely an idea (a fruit bat with at least blueberries and pomegranates) but I needed an artist with artwork that tailored to my style. My half sleeve required more of an artistic spin than say the triangle on my ankle or the simple cursive down my forearm (although, I am not degrading either artists who did my smaller tattoos because the line work is phenomenal on both). In essence, finding an artist you trust is ultimately the first step to make sure they can fulfill what you need for your tattoo and for you to be pleased with the result. 

(Photo by James Discombe on Unsplash)

There are multiple styles of tattooing to pick from and having an artist who specializes in the style you want is important. American Traditional is very different from black and gray realism which is very different from New School. Although artists can have a plethora of strengths, it’s best to confirm via their portfolio that their personal style matches your own. When planning my half sleeve, I knew I wanted it to have bold black outlines with softer gray shading. I had this idea in my head for months, but it took that long to research different artists in a few different locations before I found one I really connected with on an artistic level. Additionally, it can be frustrating when you finally find an artist you really want to get tattooed by and then their books are closed. Although this puts a damper on getting tattooed as soon as possible, it’s oddly reassuring to know they have a robust clientele pool.  

Depending on the tattoo and if you had a consultation, the artist may have the drawing ready to go when you come in for your appointment, especially for larger tattoos that take a few hours. Some time is spent finalizing the design and getting the stencil ready. Your artist will disinfect and shave the area of the body prior to placing the stencil. Sometimes stencils require a few tries to get the placement perfect. Even if it’s the most beautiful tattoo design in the world, incorrect placement or fitting of the body can throw the whole thing off. Plus, once the stencil is on, the artist may adjust some components or sketch on extra elements with a marker. For my half sleeve, my artist adjusted the size of some leaves to avoid my armpit creases, and she added a few more background leaves so the design better fit the shape of my shoulder and arm. These fine details and extra attention given by an artist are very important from a client standpoint. It really demonstrates they truly care about their craft and aren’t interested in just sticking any design anywhere on the body without paying attention to the finer aspects of tattooing.

And after all that time of planning and waiting for appointment day, you get to sit or lay down for a few hours while tiny needles stab you for a few hours. The whole time you’re thinking, “Wow, I forgot how much this hurts”, but you can’t complain too much. After all, especially for a quality artist, you’re shelling out a good amount of change to be able to sit there with those needles. So sit back, relax, and enjoy some sugary snacks, because the best is yet to come as you look forward to the itchy, flaky phase of healing.