Questions and Queries
To start with, this page is more like a "what to expext" than
a FAQ sheet. Browse the whole page or pick a topic below. I hope
this answers some questions you may have.
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.
ARE 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
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
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, as is my practice).
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 depending on artist and local economy.
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
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
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 15 minutes or is a appointment only shop).
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 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. For long sessions, having a friend that can make a
store run for you is a good idea.
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. Moving without telling the tattooist can be painful and
disastrous to your tattoo. For more info see *OOPS.
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 others
need to concentrate so as not to screw up your hairdo. Same
with tattoo artists. While some tattooist’s have the ability to do more
than one thing at a time and will "talk shop" 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. In either case try to relax. Your comfort
and the comfort of the artist is a 2 way street. 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. If you have
extra people with you, let them know that milling around the studio will
undoubtedly irritate the tattooist. If s/he is distracted then you are being
Most people can sit through over an hour of work, but if you get
uncomfortable, just ask your tattooist if you can take a break. If you feel
woozy, tell the tattooist so you can have some candy, a drink, or a brief
rest. This can give you that little lift so you may continue.
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. Included are the statistics from the Clinton
Sanders' study on the body location of the first tattoo for men and
women (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
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? It is my practice
to NEVER tattoo anywhere near the eye’s (personal choice).
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
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 %) Please do NOT ask me to tattoo
your nether regions for there isn’t cash enough to make me.(maybe a mil…).
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
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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