1. Know what you want.
Tattoo artists are very talented people, but they can’t figure out what you want permanently on your body without your help. Tattoos look cool and sometimes you just want one, but for their sake and yours, decide what you’re looking for before you make a consultation. It doesn’t have to be exact — I often come in with a general theme or elements that I know I want in my tattoo and my charming and talented artist Virginia Elwood designs something for me.
I knew I wanted my most recent tattoo to have a cosmetics theme, so I brought in several images of vintage lipsticks and makeup compacts, along with ideas of the kind of flowers and colors I was looking for. Virginia figured out how to incorporate it all together and make it look cool.
Don’t bring in a picture and expect your tattoo artist to copy it — instead look for things that inspire you. For my left arm sleeve, I brought in a floral-patterned vintage dress as representative of the kind of “spirit” I wanted the tattoo to have.
Look for prints or iconography you gravitate toward — I was always buying stuff with bow prints, so I got little bows tattooed on the backs of my ankles. What makes you happy to look at? What are some things that define you and how can you represent them graphically? (I’m a reader and writer — I have a stack of books on my arm and a vintage typewriter on my leg.) That said, your tattoo doesn’t have to be deeply meaningful or have an epic backstory. It can just be something you think is pretty or cool looking. Once you’ve thought of the right design, you’ll hardly be able to wait to get your new tattoo. Don’t go until you’re FULLY ENTHUSED.
2. That said, be flexible.
While it’s important to come in with an idea of what you want, you shouldn’t come in with a RIGID idea of what you want. Some things look awesome on the page and not on the skin and your tattoo artist knows that because of their years of experience. If they tell you that you shouldn’t tattoo something in the specific size or color scheme you want, listen to them, and figure out how to fix your design together. They are just trying to help you end up with something that looks as good as you want it to.
My motto with Virginia is “You’re the professional,” because let’s be honest, I don’t know jackshit about tattooing. This is why it’s also important to have an artist you trust. If you don’t fully trust the artist you’re working with to give you a tattoo that looks great, get a new tattoo artist! Check out artist’s “books” online or in the shop and look for someone whose work speaks to you. This person is marking you for life and you should believe in their vision.
3. Don’t haggle about the price.
Good tattoos are expensive. Along with razors, they’re one of the few items in life you should never skimp on. Don’t argue, complain about the price, or go on about how much cheaper you could get the tattoo somewhere else. Your artist is putting a piece of custom art permanently on your body. It costs what it costs. If you can’t afford a tattoo, don’t get a tattoo.
4. Be clean/smell good/eat/don’t be drunk.
You’ll be in ultra-close proximity to your tattoo artist for several hours. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Don’t wear perfume or cologne that may irritate your tattooer. Prepare yourself for the physically demanding process of getting tattooed by eating. Don’t be drunk or be on drugs — most shops won’t tattoo you if you are, as it can fuck up your blood flow as well as your judgment.
5. Don’t bring an entourage.
Some shops allow you to bring a friend with you to your tattoo appointment, which is fine. Don’t bring your entire sorority. It’s annoying and distracting.
Tip your artist. I tip 20 to 30% on the cost of the session, because my tattoo artist is a special person and our relationship is important to me. Again, if you can’t afford a tattoo, WITH a respectable tip, don’t get one.