Making Tattoos Personal by Designing a Custom Tattoo

By | January 22, 2014

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In an earlier article, I walked readers through the basics of finding a quality tattoo artist in whatever area of the country they may be in. Those were the first steps. Once you’ve followed the hunting, you still need to ensure there is no doubt in your mind, particularly if you intend to get multiple inkings. Here comes the part where you get more personal with your selection(s):

1) Make the tattoo personal and get input from the artist. I touched on this point a little in my previous post on this top, but it’s worth repeating. If the artist goes to the books and tries to sell you on a pre-done tattoo without asking several questions, then bail. Immediately. If the artist says things like: “Well, it’s up to you” as you describe what you are thinking, then bail. Immediately. That is code for “I don’t care; I’ll do whatever you want. I just want your money.” If they look at you like you’re idea is crazy or begin to ask a bunch of questions, then you probably have the right one. As I mentioned in my previous article on this topic, a tattooist who takes their job personally will tell you if your idea is ludicrous, or will talk to you about modifications that would fit you or the pattern better (my serpentine dragon tattoo discussion is a perfect example of what I am talking about). They will offer design alternatives, but not from a flipbook necessarily. They might show you some ideas and how certain aspects of your design can be blended together based on the designs found in the stand flipbooks, but they won’t just agree; nor will they push a book design on you. If they work with your design, you’ve found a keeper.

2) Test them: One test for finding the best artist is to ask them to draw what I call a “10-minute sketch.” Describe what you want and ask the artist to draw up a quick sketch right in front of you. However, this only works if there isn’t anyone else in the shop waiting to get helped. I haven’t had to try this trick, but two friends of mine have. Both were glad they asked. The artists, while personable and well-versed in their art, were horrible first drafters. Both artists struggled with initial conceptualizations. That isn’t always a good sign of things to come. It’s unfair to assume they will create a “perfect” design off the top of their head in 10 minutes, but if they can’t grasp the initial design concept, then there’s a problem. And that’s what this type of test will show.

3) Final Exam: Once you believe you have found the right fit, make sure the artist presents you with multiple sketches of your design idea. I’ve had my work go through 3-4 drafts with at least two options at each go-around, and I know others who have had their work go through even more. A professional artist-a.k.a., one with art experience or years of experience and a great reputation-will always present you with multiple sketches (unless the artist you are seeing is one of the legends in the business; in that case you might be happy with anything they put on you.). My latest tattoo is in its third revision and the last two sketches I saw next to one another clarified my overall conception; I want the body from one and the head from the other. My tattooist had the general conception in his “10-minute sketch” so was able to more accurately sketch the designs; he even doodled them in his free time on a public scratch pad at the front of the shop in order to more completely grasp the variations that might work. As anyone who reads up on tattoo artistry or interviews and articles by those who are tattooists themselves, quality artists are happy to do this because it showcases their work; it is a matter of pride for them. Kat VonD discusses this very fact in a couple interviews. If someone does come to you and ask about it, you are bound to tell them it’s a custom design, and custom designs are for those who are in for making statements and showing their passion and respect for certain people, things or ideas. A quality tattooist will always have that thought in the back of their mind.

Remember: Once you get the ink, it’s pretty much permanent (although there is new ink-on the market for about three years now-that is more easily lasered off than the standard stuff (1-2 sittings versus 3-15), but there is significant debate as to its quality). Regardless of the new ink, the fact that most ink used is absolutely permanent makes finding the right tattoo artist all the more important. And make sure he or she guides you to the best fitting tattoo. If all you are after are random tattoos with no particular meaning (or want something relatively common like a heart with “Mom” across it or barbed wire or stars), then you can go to anyone, but if you are looking to make the art personal (like most tattoo artists and tattoo lovers, I recommend you do), then find the artist who is most qualified and best educated in art and willing to give you a piece of their mind if they feel it prudent. Body art should be a statement about you; nearly all tattos should have a story. And the right artist knows that.

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