I got my first tattoo about a year ago, after a few years of figuring out if tattooing was right for me and what I would actually want permanently etched into my skin. After throwing out a bunch of sketches, I began working on my own design for two years, a simple tribal wolf. I couldn't ever seem to get it exactly how I wanted it. Finally, last year I was working on it one day and all the pieces fell into place; it was complete. I went to Chameleon Tattoo in Cambridge, MA and had and available artist tattoo it on my right shoulder blade so that it would always be watching over my back. It looks great and I love it every time I look at it because of the time and thought I put into the design.
Fast forward several months Boston Tattoo Convention 2007. Since getting my first tattoo with such good results I had been throwing around more ideas of what I might want to get inked in the future. When I heard that the convention was coming to town, I jumped on the chance to check it out. Even though I had no intention to be inked, I felt that by seeing the works of many different artists from all over the globe I could get some inspiration to fine tune my design concepts. One of the ideas I went in with was a tattoo of a dragon. Ever since I was little, I have been enamored by dragons and their mythology. I discovered that dragons were a common theme in a handful of the artists' portfolios. Right there, I decided that I was going to have a dragon done on my arm. After talking to artists from various studios I found two with designs that I really liked for their unique style; one from New Jersey and one from Illinois. The artist from Jersey was taking a smoke break, so I decided to go with the guy from Illinois who was available. His portfolio contained some very beautiful dragons with great line work and subtle shading. He and I discussed a simple dragon which emphasized accented line work and highlights of color. The artist quickly drew a thumbnail sketch to make sure he and I were on the same wavelength. I made an appointment with him for the next evening so that he could complete the drawing.
When I went back the next day, the design was finished and looked really good. The design was transferred on to my arm and the artist started tattooing. He was rather slow and the outlining he was doing was starting to look a bit cartoonish, and it worried me that the initial design was not really shining through. He started working on the shading and the color, and I got even more worried that he started saying things like: "Wow, these color highlights are hard." By that point I just wanted him to be done. The $400 end result of my snap decision to get a dragon tattoo was cartoon on my arm with bad shading and muddy colors... Nothing like the design, and nowhere near the quality of work that was in the artist's portfolio.
After trying to figure out what, if anything, I could do about my new botched tattoo, I went back to Chameleon Tattoo where my first tattoo was applied. There, I spoke with artist Rueben Kayden who does great work with color and Japanese style panels. He looked at my dragon and I made an appointment for him to rework the tattoo. We decided to take the dragon and turn it into as much a traditional Japanese piece as possible with what he had to work with. A week later I was under the needle and Rueben added a considerable amount of detail to the dragon, including full and rich colors.
The entire thing looked so much better than what the artist from Illinois had left me with. However, now with the color and added detail, the dragon stood out and seemed a bit out of place on my arm. Pleased with Rueben's work, I made more appointments with him to have him do a full custom panel that would include a background and extend to the left half of my chest. To complement the dragon we added a tiger and a lotus blossom. Five more tattooing sessions and the panel was complete. Rueben did an awesome job with the entire piece and tied all the components together very well. The dragon, tiger, and lotus are all in full color with a rich background scene shaded in black.
I credit Rueben for taking a cruddy tattoo convention tattoo and really turning it into something that looks good. Though, it is now very far from the original tattoo I wanted. My wolf tattoo is special and perfectly suited for me partially due to the considerable time that I put into choosing and designing it. The dragon/Japanese panel is the result of a sudden decision at a convention that took a turn for the worst and ended up taking a couple thousand dollars and an additional 10-12 hours of tattooing to rectify. That is what it will always remind me of, and because of the bumpy road I had to take to get the tattoo to a point where it looks good, it will not be able to instill the same sense of satisfaction that the wolf does.
So what did I learn from this whole ordeal, and what do I want people reading this to take from it? A well thought out and planned tattoo will make you much happier than one that is a result of the heat of the moment. Do yourself a favor and do as much research on your ideas, designs, and artists as possible. Work closely with an artist that has a good reputation and you trust. I found that in a situation like a convention, there are many artists with skills beyond my wildest imagination. However, not knowing as much about the reputation or work performed the artist from Illinois, I was at a disadvantage. Spur of the moment, I unwittingly made a bad choice that could have been avoided had I devoted much more time to the idea and picking an artist than just one day. With more thought on my dragon, I would have seen that the artist at the convention and his design were not for me.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 26 March 2008