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Finding the Right Artist

At the age of sixteen all I could think about was tattoos. I've always loved them and always wanted them. Being a minor I could not legally get a tattoo from a shop, but a friend of my mothers agreed to do the tattoo in his house. Keep in mind this is around the time when tribal and tramp stamps were popular. I was so excited that my mother agreed to let me get a tattoo and that someone agreed to do the tattoo that I didn't put much thought into the long term; or the tattoo itself for that matter. First mistake.

I ended up with a very basic unoriginal butterfly and tribal tramp stamp. Almost immediately after it was finished I knew it wasn't something I wanted my entire life. I waited a few years, until I was legal and got a new tattoo artist who was pretty good. He ended up covering it up with some really awesome stars. I continued getting mediocre tattoos; ending up with a pink skull on my hip, a broken heart on my shoulder, a star on my ankle and a skull on my wrist. By that time I had smartened up and decided to get tattoos that meant something to me. I took a break from tattoos for a year or two, got married, moved to Fayetteville NC.

Up until that point all my tattoos had been small basic tattoos with not much detail to them. A few months after I moved to Fayetteville my husband decided he wanted to work on his sleeve. We had gone to a shop or two, by now I knew what was and wasn't supposed to happen at a shop. Lastly we stopped at Smoking Gun Tattoos [on Yakin Rd]. We looked through the artist books and two tattoos from a particular artist stood out. One was an amazingly colored statue of liberty, the other was a chest piece with gorgeous green clouds. It was right then I found the tattoo artist I knew had to do a tattoo for me. That chest piece is ultimately what brought me from small basic tattoos to large detailed ones.

I waited a year, and really thought about what I wanted. Not much before my 22nd birthday I called to make an appointment. At the time I was living two hours from the shop and made two separate trips to discuss the design and to have it done. I sat six hours, getting the full chest piece done. Line work, shading color. It was a reasonable price for a days worth of work, but I was more than happy to pay it. That was my first tattoo by Big Al, and was not my last. In the end I got an amazing chest piece including hearts, guns, and the quote " Accept No Ones Definition; Define Yourself". He has also done a black and white portrait of my grandmother at age two and a cartoon pin up of my mom complete with heart and star pasties and knee high socks. He now has his own shop in Wilmington called Family First Tattoos, and I will happily drive an hour each way to get more work from him.

The point of me sharing my story is that I want people considering getting a tattoo to not make the same mistakes I did. Wait until your of age. Don't settle for an artist that is cheaply priced because as cliché as it sounds you get what you pay for. Take your time, think about what design you want and search however long need be to find your perfect artist. And try not to fall into fads, you'll regret you did. I honestly regret allowing someone to put mediocre tattoos on my body. When you find that artist make sure you remember, you're not doing them a favor by getting their tattoos. They're doing you a favor by putting great art work on your body. Take care of your artist and they will take care of you.

Al is the person that I will have fix up my previous tattoos, do my future tattoos, and when I have children he will also be the artist I choose to finish my sleeve with portraits of my children. If you live in Wilmington or within driving distance he is the man for the job. I get asked at least four times a day who did my tattoos, and after seeing his work I haven't had a single person flinch at the thought of a one hour drive.

Seeing as how my husband is active duty in the military there is good chance we won't be stationed at Fort Bragg too much longer. You can bet I will definitely make the trip to have Al do my work.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 30 June 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: Allen
Studio: Smoking+Gun+%40+The+Time%2C+Now+Family+First+Tattoos
Location: Fayetteville%2FWilmington+NC

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