At this point, I'd like to think I have enough tattoos that I never have any questions when I’m in the chair. However, I can remember getting tatted without knowing everything you should know before you get a tattoo. For instance, it wasn’t until my fourth tat that I actually bled during a session. My first reaction was something like, “Why is my blood on your hands, you monster?” My patient artist kindly reminded me that he was opening my flesh with a needle and yes, open flesh bleeds. Now that I’m used to the blood and all the whacky things that tats do while their healing, I wonder what else we should know before we saddle up into the chair for a permanent work of art.
To get the best info, I chatted with a couple of different NY based artists with extensive industry experience for all the tattoo virgins that may be in the dark about their future tattoo experience. Of course, no matter how many tats you have, you should always feel comfortable discussing concerns or ideas with your artist. Brittany Thornton of Armageddon Ink Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and celebrity tattoo artist, Keith (Bang Bang) McCurdy gave me the details on what everyone should know before they get in the chair. Oh, and don't worry, I threw in my 2 cents too.
1. Don't Expect It To Be Painless
If you've never had a tattoo before, it's hard to really know what your pain tolerance is and Bang Bang couldn't agree more. "There isn't a general grid of [which area of the body] hurts more. The longer you are tattooed the more it will hurt [and] the longer you are tattooed the more it will hurt," Bang Bang says. However, if you generally have a low pain tolerance or have no idea what your tolerance is, Thornton suggests not jumping into that large sleeve you've been dreaming up in your mind. Start off small because unfinished business isn't always cute on your skin.
2. Beware Of The Sun's Beaming Rays
"There are some drawbacks to getting tattooed in the summer [especially] if the body part [being tattooed] is going to be exposed to extreme sun," Bang Bang explains. Yes, the sun damage is very real. Thornton couldn't agree more that sun damage can bake your fresh ink. Personally, if the mood strikes me in July, I'm getting a tattoo and keeping it covered, no matter how freakin' hot it is.
3. Know That Money Can Be A Touchy Subject
I've written about this topic before, but I had to include it again because so many people seem to think prices can be negotiated after you've been inked. But a tattoo shop isn't a flea market. While Bang Bang agrees that putting a dollar amount on your work is hard because artists tend to be critical of themselves, he is fortunate to not have to deal with haggling customers because the managers set the price. For most artists, it's a total slap in the face to try to negotiate, "Tattoos are a luxury not a necessity. If you don't have the money, save it and come back the correct way," Thornton says.
4. Remember That Your Work Isn't Finished When You Walk Out The Door
A large part of the tattoo experience is contingent upon your aftercare, while you may have your own aftercare regimens that work best for you, Bang Bang explains, "If you're inexperienced about how your body heals from a tattoo, take your artists recommendation". Since your bod will be in healing mode, buy the tools for your new tat immediately, like, before you Instagram a pic.
5. Ask Questions & Communicate During Consultation
"No idea is stupid, it just needs to be further developed." Thornton explains. Both her and Bang Bang agree that the tattoo experience is a collaborative process and the artist and client need to be on the same page. Bang Bang believes that you don't need to walk into a tattoo shop knowing exactly what you want. In some cases ideas are expanded into something greater than you imagined. Don't be shy or assume your artist in a mind-reader, bring visuals, be clear, and have some fun building a piece you won't regret with your artist — create a lasting memory...on your skin.
6. You Can't Always Expect A Touch Up
According to Bang Bang, in the tattoo industry, touching up another artist's work is frowned upon unless it's a cover-up. Thornton explains " Depending on the situation, the artist may have mercy and help you. But if it’s a fresh tattoo and your nitpicking about small tedious things to someone who didn’t create it on you… definite NO." Touch-ups are generally free, but many places including Bang Bang don't guarantee touch-ups on certain areas like the mouth, palms, or inside of feet.
7. Famous Artists Will Have A Wait List
Any renowned artist with a high volume of clients/followers on social media will have a pretty big wait list and sometimes if it's too long, you'll have to try your luck next time. For instance, Bang Bang's shop books as a policy 3 months in advance, but not all artists want to have their next few months planned out, so don't be surprised if you don't see any bookings for several months. Consider it time to save more cash your dream tat.
8. There Will Be Scabs & You Can't Mess With Them
"Your body is healing so if you are irritating and if you reopen a wound, you are re-traumatizing an area. Your tattoo will not heal properly if you pick at it." According to Bang Bang. While no one likes for there skin to start flaking off like a sunburn it really will affect the outcome of your tat.
Hopefully our brilliant ink gods have replaced any nerves about your next tattoo appointment with knowledge and inspiration.