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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: WHAT TO ASK FROM ARTISTS?

size=+1>R-E-S-P-E-C-T: WHAT TO ASK FROM ARTISTS?

It has been brought to my attention that some tattooists have an attitude problem when it comes to potential customers. Tattooists (and piercers!) need to realize that not every person who walks in has to look like a grunged-out leather-wearing biker, or a raven-haired cleopatra-eyed septum-pierced zombie. People from all walks of life may be interested in bodyart.

A potential customer should NOT be made to feel out-of-place or ashamed for walking in wearing a business suit, or an LL Bean dress. It is amazing to think that someone with purple hair and eyebrow rings could actually discriminate against someone, but apparently, this seems to be happening.

Just as a customer should expect certain sanitation standards, they should also expect an inviting atmosphere.

RE TATTOO SHOPS INSURED?

Most reputable tattoo shops are insured. The problem is, they're usually insured against premises liability. This means that they have insurance coverage if you fall and hit your head on their floor, but NOT if you're unhappy with their work. In the past, the only insurer who would cover the latter was Lloyd's of London, and their rates were apparently very high.

This has changed recently, with the availability of a comprehensive insurance package available from one agent based on the West Coast. Many shops do have some form of insurance (this may be a requirement in their rental lease). Just keep in mind that the insurance does not necessarily cover QUALITY.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET A TATTOO?

This is an age-old debate, so the following is just a very basic ballpark. You usually pay for work either by the piece, or by the hour. The smaller pieces in the artist's flash book are "standard stock" material that usually don't take the artist too long to do. For these, you might find prices listed right next to the artwork. The artist may have a "minimum" charge that might vary with each artist.

Larger (or custom) pieces will usually be charged by the hour (unless you and the artist decide beforehand on the total price). If you get a "stock" piece (probably about 2" x 2" in size), you will probably not pay more than $100 and sit no longer than an hour in the chair. Your mileage may vary.

If you bring your own design, the artist may charge anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars an hour, depending on the artist. However, you may want to work with someone who charges $100 or so an hour; after all, you DO get what you pay for. Also, some artists charge for illustration time prior to beginning tattoo work. If they do, this might increase your price by an extra hour. If they tell you that your piece will be charged by the hour, ask them how many hours they think it'll take. If you are on a limited budget, tell them how much you can afford.

Price negotiation should be up front and straightforward, a part of your initial discussion before work begins. Some shops take credit cards; most don't. Out-of-towners may be asked to put down a deposit. Be particularly wary of people willing to work "for cheap" or "for free." They are often artists just starting out, who are still developing their skills. Caveat emptor.

Warning: Once the artist quotes you a price, DON'T DICKER WITH IT! The best way to get on the artist's bad side is to try to bargain with the price. If you think the price is too high, renegotiate the scope of the artwork--NOT the price. I usually do it this way: "Hi, I have X amount I can spend on this design. What can we work out for that price?"

If you are very pleased with their work and service, you are strongly encouraged to tip the artist, even if they own the shop. Even shop owners don't pocket 100% of what they make (remember--it's a business!). Tips can range from 10% to 20% of the piece, so be prepared with cash on hand.

I personally recommend a tip for any work which you are pleased with, or any custom work where the artist spent time drawing up your illustration (since drawing time is usually not included in your price). Nothing brightens up a day for the artist, or helps to build a friendly relationship with your artist more than a generous tip. If you're very happy with the artist and you think you might get more work from them later, TIP!!

There have been heated discussions on rec.arts.bodyart in the past regarding the appropriateness of tipping a shop OWNER. If you feel that an owner does not deserve a tip on top of the price s/he charges you, then A) do not give a tip at all, or B) bring some sort of offering, be it food, flowers or whatever.

Many tattoo artists have told me that the BEST TIP is good word of mouth. If you are happy with your tattoo, show it off to your friends and tell them where you got it done!

HOW SHOULD I ACT WHEN I GET IN THAT CHAIR?

Once you have settled on a design and a price that you and your artist agree on, the work will either begin right then, or you will be asked to come back for a later appointment (e.g. if the artist has another client coming in in 15 minutes).

Once you're in that chair, what can you expect? Most likely, the artist will begin the long process of preparing for your work. This is especially true if the artist is going to do a custom design that you brought in. First, the design will have to be worked on. Most artists will play around with the design on paper first, although some artists will do it freehand. "Freehand" means the artist takes an ink pen to hand and begins drawing a design on your skin without the use of a stencil (NOT where the artist begins work with the tattoo gun immediately--the artist, no matter how good, still needs to envision how the work will look on your skin--proportion, placement, etc.).

When you and the artist are happy with the design, the artist might outline the design with a piece of carbon paper, or use an old-fashioned copy machine to get a working copy of it. This would be when the artist would properly size the design. The artist will then clean your skin where the work will be done (probably an alcohol or antiseptic rub), and will swipe your skin with an "adhesive," which is usually Speed Stick deodorant (for some reason I haven't seen any other brands). The artist will then put the carbon side of the design directly on your skin. When the paper is lifted, ta-da! A carbon line drawing of the design should appear on your skin!

The artist will probably let you look in a mirror to make sure you are happy with the design and the placement. Once this is agreed upon, the artist will then begin putting the supplies out.

At this point, your artist should be doing things like dispensing various colors of ink into little disposable wells, and rigging a new set of needles into the tattoo machine. At this time, you will probably try to look cool by looking around the studio walls or occasionally looking to see what your artist is doing. Your artist might have a radio playing, which will help distract you a little.

At this point, it is best for you to try and relax. You can ask the artists about some things, like the colors of the ink. Depending on the work you are getting, the artist will need to mix some colors, for example. You're probably somewhat nervous, but excited at the same time because you're actually gonna get a real tattoo! Whether you realize it or not, your body is going through quite an adrenalin rush. Try to remain calm and not too anxious. Your hyped-up condition and your anxiety about the anticipated pain of your experience by themselves may trigger a fainting spell. It will help if you are not there on an empty stomach. Get a bite to eat about an hour or two before you go in for your session. Having hard candy or some juice on hand during the session is also recommended.

Just relax and try to stay calm. For women, the experience of anxious anticipation is similar to a pelvic exam at an OB/GYN, where you are more nervous about it while waiting for the doctor as you lie prone on the examining table, feet in the stirrups. Just as most exams aren't painful or really all that bad, neither is tattooing.

Bzzzzzttttt....The artist starts up the machine, dips the needle into the ink and starts to work toward your skin! Aaaaaahhhhh!!! Will it hurt? Will it hurt? Grit your teeth! Hang tight!...

Ooohhhhhhh! It does hurt! Ow! Ow! Ow! I'm okay, I'm okay, this is fine, it's not that bad. I can grit my teeth. Grit, grit, grit. Try to smile a bit. My teeth are gritting, anyway. Oh, I hope this pain doesn't stay like this!! Breathe. Don't forget to breathe. Relax. Relax. Relax. Okay there, that's better. Not so painful. I can handle it. Yeah--look at all the tattoos HE's got on his arms. I can handle it, too. Yeah.

...The most painful part of the process will pass in a couple of minutes, after which the area will feel abuzz with electricity and warmth. Just try to relax and breathe deeply--enjoy the one-of-a-kind experience that you're feeling. Oftentimes, you end up clenching your jaws, grinding your teeth or grasping the chair with your white-knuckled hands. But once you pass the first couple of minutes, you'll feel silly for having worried about it so much. If you still feel uncomfortable after a few minutes, it may be because you're sitting in an uncomfortable position. See if you can get into a more comfortable, reclining position--but make sure to ask the artist first before you try to move.

Some people try to distract themselves by trying to talk with the artist. This is kind of like with hair stylists--some stylists just love to gab and gab (just ask them an open-ended question), while some stylists would rather concentrate and not screw up your hairdo. Same with tattoo artists. While some will like to "talk story" with you, others would rather concentrate on the work you're paying them to do. After all, their job, income, and reputation are on the line when they have the tattoo gun to your skin. Often, they'll talk during easy parts, and less during complex work. Just go with the flow and not worry about it.

The only thing I don't particularly prefer is if there's a lot of traffic walking around in the studio and the artist has to keep talking to them (either potential clients or tattoo groupies). For this reason, a cubicle or dividing partition is a nice option for privacy.

Most people can sit through over an hour of work, but if you get uncomfortable, just ask your artist if you can take a break. If you feel woozy, you might consider bringing some candy with you to give you a little lift, or some water to drink.

Subject: WHERE ON MY BODY SHOULD I GET A TATTOO?

This may seem VERY trivial, since the answer can be "anywhere you please!" The ONLY places you cannot technically get permanent tattoos are your hair, teeth and nails (even the cornea used to be tattooed years ago for medical purposes). Interestingly, women and men tend to get tattoos in different locations. This, according to sociologist Clinton Sanders, is because men and women get tattoos for different reasons. Men, he says, get them to show others, while women get them for the sake of decorating their body--and often place them where they can't normally be seen, so that it doesn't prompt comments about her "reputation." However for the sake of this FAQ, the following is a short list of areas to get inked. I am included the statistics from Clinton Sanders' study on the body location of the first tattoo for men and women as well (there were 111 men in his survey group and 52 women).

Head: The "head" here refers mostly to the area where your hair grows. You'll need to shave the area for the tat to be most visible. If you need to hide your tat, you can grow your hair out. Areas more commonly inked are the sides of the head (above the ears), and above the nape of the neck in the back. There are people who have their entire heads inked. I am told that the tattooing process vibrates your skull!

Sides of neck (nape).

Back of neck: I've seen some tribal pieces, and bats done on the back of the neck. You'll need to keep your hair short or tied up to keep it visible.

Face: Various areas possible. Facial tattoos could fall into the cosmetic, prison, or standard categories. Cosmetic would include darkening of eyebrows, eyelining, liplining, etc. Prison tattoos (which are actually in their own category) often include tat of a single tear near the eye to signify time served. Getting a tat on the face is serious business and crosses a portal because people will never look at you the same way. Can we say "Circus," boys & girls?

Upper chest: One of the standard areas for tattoos for both men and women. Allows lots of flat area in which to get a fairly large piece. One of the areas where you can choose to get symmetrically inked on both sides. (Men: 5%, women: 35%--chest & breast combined)

Breasts (women): Used to be trendy to get a tiny tat on the breast. Women (particularly larger breasted ones) need to be careful about eventual sagging of the skin in the area. Don't get a tat that will look silly when it starts to stretch (like a round smiley face that'll turn into an oblong frown).

Nipples: Usually the artist leaves the nipples alone--the omission of ink tends not to be so noticeable. There HAS been work done with tattooing a facsimile of a nipple onto a breast in reconstructive surgery for those who have lost their nipples, tho--for aesthetic and self-esteem purposes.

Rib cage: Can be rather painful because of all the ribs you work over. However it offers a fairly large area, and can be incorporated into a major back piece, wrapping around toward the front.

Stomach/Abdomen: Some people choose not to get work done on their stomachs for a couple of reasons. Area is difficult to work on because there's no solid backing to hold the skin down. It is a sensitive area that may feel uncomfortable. The tat may look horrible after your metabolism slows down and you develop a - er-- "beer gut." (Men: Less than 5%, women: 14% Women concerned about the effect of pregnancy on a stomach tattoo can read the section specifically devoted to this in the Tattoo FAQ section 7.

Genitals: The matron nurse: "Did you see the patient in #409? His penis has a tattoo that says 'SWAN' on it!" "Oh no it didn't," says the younger nurse. "It said "SASKACHEWAN'!" All kidding aside, people DO get inked in their genital area. The idea may sound very painful, but a friend of mine said it wasn't any worse than any other spot. However, do consider that there will probably be some blurring in the area because of --er-- shall we say, the amount of movement the skin experiences (kind of like hands)? A thread in RAB discussed whether penises are flaccid or erect during tattooing--some are, some aren't (how one can maintain one during the process is a wonder to me). The only female genital tattoo I've seen (inner labia, I think) was in Modern Primitives, and it looked rather blurry. Note: Many artists refuse to do genitals. (Men: 0%; women: 5 %)

Thighs/hips: A popular area for women to get larger pieces (often extending from the hip area). Shows well with a bathing suit but easily concealable in modest shorts. The entire area of skin around your thighs is bigger than your back, so you can get quite a bit of work done. (Men: 3%; women: 10%)

Calves: Nice area to get a standard size (2" x 2"). However if you have very hairy legs, it may cut down on the visibility somewhat. (Men: 7%; women: 8%. Category simply listed as leg/foot)

Ankles: Currently trendy. I think you have to have an ankle tat before you can go to the Eileen Ford Agency with your modeling portfolio. :) You can either get a spot piece on the inner or outer ankle, or get something that goes around in a band. Vines and other vegetation seem popular (pumpkins, anyone?)

Feet: I've seen some incredible footwork (pun intended) in some of the tat magazines. Concealable with shoes. Probably don't have as much wear and tear as hands so you might get less blurring and color loss. This however, is the TOPS of your feet. You will have trouble retaining a tattoo on the bottom of your feet.

Armpits: Usually reserved for those who want to get full coverage around the arm and chest area, & need the armpits filled. Probably not strongly recommended for the highly ticklish.

Upper arms: One of the most common areas for men, although I have seen some nice work on women as well. If you decide to get a piece done on your upper arm, consider how much sun it's going to get. Will you be able to put sunblock on it regularly? Otherwise, expect some color loss and blurring. If you want some serious work done and you wanna show it off, you may want to consider getting a "half sleeve"--full tat coverage throughout your upper arm. (Men: 70%; women: 18%. Category simply states arm/hand)

Inner arms: A more unusual location than the outer upper arm area, this area is often not easily visible. Be careful if your genes are prone to "bat wing" flab, however.

Forearms: Popeye sported his anchor on his forearm. Probably not as popular as the upper arm but common just the same. You can have your upper arm "sleeve" extend down for a full sleeve. For an example, check out the heavy metal veejay on MTV (who has a nose pierce, BTW).

Wrists: Janis Joplin had a dainty tat on her wrist...easily concealable with a watch.

Hands (fingers and palms): RAB receives frequent queries about fingers, palms and hands in general. Some artists don't do hands because the ink will have a tendency to blur or fade easily. Consider that you probably move your hands the most out of your entire body. A friend of mine had a multi-colored tat on his finger by Ed Hardy (who cringed upon hearing about where my friend wanted it), that is only several years old and is now barely noticeable. Some people want to substitute their wedding bands with tat bands. Your palm doesn't retain ink well--if you can find an artist who will do it, you can expect it to be a rather basic line, and that it will not last too long. Perhaps just matching tats someplace else would be okay? There IS a photo of a tattoo on a palm in Sandi Feldman's book on Japanese tattooing. This seems to be an exception.

Shoulder blades: The back shoulder blade area is another popular spot for women, who can show off the work with a bathing suit or tank top, but cover it up with regular clothes. If this is the case, be particularly careful with sun because you're not gonna be wearing that unless it's warm & sunny. It's a "safe" place--but may get in the way if you decide to commit yourself to a large back piece. (Men: 15%, women: 15%. Category listed as backs/shoulder)

Back: You can get any part of your back done, or find yourself an artist you really like, and save your money for a "back piece" that encompasses your entire back. Expect to pay several thousand dollars for a full back piece (not to mention many tat sessions).

Buttocks: Again, beware of potential sagging in the area.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 June 1998
in Tattoos

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