So, you've decided to take the plunge and get a tattoo. Hooray! As I always say, and as a lot of the commentors here cannot seem to comprehend, the decision to get tattooed is always the right one from where I sit. Your best bet is to stop in at the shop to see your artist. Bring any photos or references you have so we can get an idea of where you're at. We can get an idea of how much time we need to block out so we can take our time and do a nice job on you. You can check out the shop, see if the place is clean and comfortable, if the people are cool and if you get a good vibe. From our end, we can check out the surface area we'll be working on and make sure we're clear on what your ideas and concerns are. Then, when the big day comes and it's time to put needle to skin, everyone is on the same page and it will be a pleasant experience all around.
I have noticed, though, in the excitement to get in the chair, people sometimes do some goofy stuff. If I may, I'd like to give you some suggestions of what you might want to avoid when trying to make an appointment.
Email: Friend Or Foe?
I know a lot of artists who refuse to do business by email. I will, to a point, but there are limits to what can be conveyed in an email. If I'm not clear on what's being asked of me, or if I need to take your measurements, I'll ask you to come in. As long as what I'm getting from you is clear and concise, I'm okay with talking things over by email first. But for crying in a bucket, do not send us stuff like this:
"hey u did my tribal tatt last year plz can u put me down for fri at 5 txs"
For starters, I'm getting old. I can't understand stuff like this. This is an actual email I just got and I had to reread it three times before I understood it. If I were twenty years old, I might be adept at reading this stuff, but as I am a graying middle-ager, this might as well be hieroglyphics. Once I deciphered the message, I replied. If this had been a phone message we'd both be shit outta luck. I had no idea who this person was, I didn't know their name, I had no phone number to call. I did not recall the 'tribal tatt' I did last year, in fact, I do not recall the tattoo I did before lunch today. I had no idea how much time I would need to book because I had no idea what I'd even be tattooing, and this person presumed I would free Friday at five, which I was not. I got back to him and we straightened it out. But you can't just send us a vague message telling us you'll be arriving at said date and time. We need some information from you, and we may not have that time slot available. And please try to be as clear as possible about what you want. Write in full sentences and use full words. A lot of people my age don't get that texty-abbreviated stuff. Pretend you're sending an email to your grandma, because a lot of us are on that level.
No Bullshit, Please
I've had more people than I can count dash into the shop or call all in a huff and say, "Can I come in Friday at 5? That is the ONLY time I can do it. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT do it any other time." More often than not, I'm booked for the time they want. And, oddly enough, after they've asked me more than once if there is ANY WAY WHATSOEVER that I can get them in at that time, and I have told them 'no' more than once, magically they decide they can, in fact, come in Wednesday at 3. Or Sunday at noon. Or Thursday at 7:30. Holy shit, all of a sudden they have all kinds of free time!
It's like this: If someone has the foresight and planning to contact me on the First of the month and make an appointment for the 30th, I'm not going to bump them off because someone came screaming in here on the 27th demanding that spot. The early bird gets the worm, first come-first serve, and a hundred other old saws about timeliness apply here. It's really bad for business for me to call people up and tell them they can't come in when they wanted to because some Johnny-come-lately wants that spot. Unless I have been in a fiery car wreck or there's been a death in the family, I'm not cancelling appointments made in good faith. I've had my best regulars ask for a spot that was taken by someone I had never laid eyes on, and I didn't budge on that position. Fair is fair, and that's just the way it works. On top of that, expressing urgency about a certain time frame is not going to magically clear my schedule. Nobody is 'more important'. There are no stick-on flags that say "EXPEDITE" like this is an office. Feeding me a line of shit that there is exactly one hour on one day in your entire life that you can be here is not going to work. I'm not booting anyone off the schedule for you, and I can usually tell you're lying. I understand you would PREFER Friday at 5, but you don't always get first pick of another person's time. I have a customer who has nine children. NINE. She and her husband both work full time. They manage to wriggle their obligations around and get in at various days and times. Anyone else's argument about being insanely, impossibly pressed for time is invalid.
I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Tattoo Today
The worst way to go about getting an appointment for a tattoo is to tell me right up front that you don't have any money. I don't expect that everyone who walks in the door is in search of a sleeve or a backpiece. Frankly, I'm glad they don't. I get just as much satisfaction out of a small, well-done tattoo as I do a large one. I don't mind at all that someone walks in with a set budget. What kills me is this: "Can you draw this tattoo for me, and when I have the money, I'll get it?"
Here's the deal: At any given point, I have several drawings that need to be done for people who are slated to get tattooed within the next week or so. In between doing those drawings, I am doing actual tattoos, both appointments and walk-ins. Between those tattoos, I have emails to answer, once I have deciphered what the hell it is the email says, I have phone calls to return and hopefully I can steal five minutes to shove a sandwich into my face-hole. I do not have time to draw stuff for peoples' hypothetical, someday, fantasy tattoos. I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm not trying to turn people away or shit on their dreams or act like an elitist asshat. It's simply a matter of only having so many hours in the day to do my job. I often take work home in the form of drawings and responding to emails just to keep on top of things. I really would love to tattoo every single person who walks in the door asking for me, and to have them all singing my praises because I am a depraved, warped, self-loathing artist who needs affirmation. However, I have come to realize by way of my body breaking down, that there is only so much I can do. And what I do must be done for the people who are actually committed to paying me to do it.
Yes, I know, take a deposit for the drawing. However, said individual announced right off the bat that they cannot pay for an actual tattoo any time soon. So, should I spend an hour drawing for a twenty dollar deposit, or should I spend an hour drawing for a twenty dollar deposit and the $300 tattoo that follows? It's not just a question of an economy of time and effort, but of dollars and cents (sense?). On top of that, what do I do with said drawing while I wait for said dreamer to come up with the money? I don't have endless filing cabinets to store this suff. I pretty much have four drawers for my personal use, and most of it is taken up with the actual implements of tattooing. I can barely keep track of three weeks' worth of drawings and references for my actual booked appointments. I would lose my mind if I had to create some kind of system for storing artwork for a year, or two, or forever. Again, I'm not trying to be a dick. But does it make sense to walk into a restaurant, ask the chef to prepare and season a steak, then hold onto it because someday you'll have the money to come in and eat?
A Slap In The Face
Once I had a visitor who sang the praises of my work after seeing it on the web and she said she just knew I was her dream artist. She presented me with a few images and I assented with her choices most vigorously. She then asked if she could send me some images of "what she was afraid would happen". I asked her what she meant, and she explained that she had some images of shitty tattoos, and wanted me to see them so I wasn't going to do the same thing to her. I took a second to think about how to phrase my reply in a mostly diplomatic manner. I asked her if she liked my work, and she said yes. I pointed out that she had come all the way across town to talk to me based on what she had seen. She acknowledged that. I then asked her why she thought I would suddenly do shitty work on her, and why she felt she had to warn me that I was not to do shitty work on her. She didn't really have a good answer for that.
You should always become familiar with your artist's work. Look online or go in and see their book. Most of my tattoos are from co-workers past and present, so I was already familiar with what they do. But when travelling, I always do homework on who I'd like to see for my touristy tattoo adventures. If the artist works in a reputable shop, has an expansive, consistent portfolio and you like what you see, you can rest assured that you'll be getting the same quality when it's your turn. I don't forget everything I ever learned in my career on account of one customer. It's hugely insulting to insinuate that I have no idea what I'm doing, AFTER you just told me that you loved my work. I understand, people get nervous and nervous people say goofy things. But there is a fine line between being a nervous goof, and being a condescending prick. I know the difference because it's part of my job to be kind and reassuring to the former, and to put the latter in their place. She didn't follow up on our visit that day, and I'm glad. I have no interest in spending time trying to please someone who, within five minutes of meeting me expressed absolute mistrust, doubt of my abilities and had the notion that she somehow needed to coach me, despite her being only two years old when I got my first job at a tattoo shop.
Dickering For Dollars
I understand fully that not everyone is walking around with wads of cash falling out of every pocket. The entire world economy is in the shitter right now. I am slobberingly grateful that people still have the money to pay for frivolous things like tattoos. I have no real marketable skills at this point, so I'm damn lucky that I can still do what I do and make a good living while other people are out of work and being forced from their homes. I reiterate that not eveyrone comes in with money for sleeves and I'm fine with that. To tell you the truth, I just looked at my online portfolio, and tried to pick out what I think are my ten best pieces. All of them except one were completed in five hours or less. I don't pooh-pooh at work because it's small. Sometimes people come in, and they have dreams of getting huge work, but they find out that it's just financially out of their reach. Some of them settle for something smaller, and I'm happy to help people get something within their reach that they will enjoy forever.
If you want a full sleeve but you only plan on spening 200 bucks, you're out of luck. But, if the sleeve is focused around a tiger motif, I can help you find a tiger that's going to be around $200, and I will do the best I am able to trick that shit right out. Remember, I'm an egomaniac artist and I want that photo online and I want to be told by strangers that I'm awesome. We're both going to get satisfaction if we're both willing to collaborate within the set parameters. I'm not going to boot you out the door if the tattoo you want is $250 and you only have $200. I can make it a little smaller, or take out some of the background, make a little tweak to get it in your price range and still give you a piece of art that you're going to love forever. That is part of my job, and I don't at all mind doing that little dance. I don't get paid to sit in the shop, twiddling my thumbs and turning business away. If I can figure out something that's fair for both of us and that will get you a tattoo, I'm going to do it.
However, I keep drawing out these people who treat the shop like a Turkish street bazaar. "Come on, do it for 50 bucks, be a good guy, come on, hook me up, you can do it, come on, I'll bring all my friends...." There is a difference between trying to get within your budget and aggressively, wildly haggling with me. Actually, more often than not, it's the person telling me that they want a certain tattoo at a certain price, and they're going to repeat that fact over and over until I relent. Guess what: That works on a car lot, it doesnt work here. See above about an economy of time. I have neither the time nor the inclination to haggle for my pay. I know what my work is worth and I have a full appointment book to substantiate that. I don't mind cutting people a little slack on the price if it means I get the work. But if you think I will give shit away just because I cannot help but be intimdated by a demanding prick, or because you think you're going to aggravate me so much that I will cave in just to shut you up, you are sorely mistaken. And the caveat always is, "Come on, I'll send all my friends here, I'll bring you lots of business." Oh, hooray! You're going to flood the shop with people that are as cheap and as big a pain in the ass as you are! Don't do me any favors. Be realistic about what you can spend on a tattoo. Be realistic that we put a lot into what we do, and the price you pay today breaks down into fractions of pennies a day over the course of your lifetime. Be willing to be flexible on what you're getting if you're of limited means. But to barrel in and demand twice the work for half the money, well, expect nothing but a not-so-fond farewell. I don't mind setting the precident that I'll be flexible and helpful with the budget of potential clients. I refuse to set the precident that anyone can come in, run roughshod over me and get top work for bottom dollar.
Throw A Hissy Fit
I could write a hundred entries about people coming in and throwing tantrums. In fact, when I have the time, I will. But for now, let me be clear that throwing a fit is not going to get you much of anything. Getting a new tattoo is exciting, it's fun and I understand that people have a lot of emotional buildup to the big day. However, most people who are getting tattooed feel the same way, so you're not unique. Everyone wants the soonest available time slot. I do the best I can, but realize that at any time you go into a shop to make an appointment, chances are really good that there are thirty other people who had the same idea you did, and they got out of bed a lot earlier than you. So when the artist of your choice tells you they don't have anything available for two weeks or a month, or a year, having a nuclear meltdown is not going to help you. I see it all the time, and I'm not some big hotshot with a year-long waiting list, believe me. The most I'm ever booked out is three weeks or so. I'm pretty good about loading up, I'll get as many in in one day as is feasible without rushing it. I like to keep busy, but I'm done with cranking out tattoos like I'm in a sweatshop. I want everything that I do to be beautiful, partly because I want you to be happy, but the ego boost of a job well done is very important to me, and I am my own worst critic.
When you come in and request a specific artist, it's because you like their work, you trust them and you may have heard good things about the artist from your friends or online reviews. When you decide that this person is the one you want to put something on your body forever, you're going to have to hold out for whenever they're available. People come in and ask for me, I'll flip through the book and say, "Well, I can get you in two weeks from today." Then they make this face and screech "TWO WEEKS? THAT IS RIDICULOUS!" You know what is ridiculous? An adult not being capable of waiting two weeks for something as frivolous as a tattoo. I'm not your employer witholding your pay, I'm not a doctor witholding a life-saving blood transfusion. I'm a wingnut tattoo artist who's going to give you something that's not essential for your survival, now put on your big kid pants and wait your turn. If you simply cannot wait that long, well, there are many other artists out there who have no appointments at all and they can get you in whenever the hell you want. They're possibly desperate for work and possibly not very good. Even if that's not the case and they're awesome, mind-blowing artistic geniuses, they're still not your first choice. You're just going to settle for whoever will do it now. In the end, if you're happy with what you get, that's good news. But if you like someone so much that you ask them to tattoo you, is it not worth the time you have to wait for it? The tattoo is going to be on you in the year 2025 and 2050 and maybe 2075. Two weeks is very small in the frame of fifty years.
I've stood at the counter looking rather amused, watching someone foam at the mouth about having to wait a week, going on and on about the insanity of it all, and how dare I inconvenience people like that, and what a shit way to do business, and on and on. Sometimes they cool down and wipe all the spittle flecks off their chin, and I put them in the book. Sometimes they keep going and going and then I invite them to go to one of the chop shops nearby, where they can get it right now. Sometimes they do leave in a huff, sometimes they cool down and wipe all the spittle flecks off their chin, and I put them in the book. I used to feel really guilty about not getting people in whenever they want. But I shouldn't. I do the best I can, and if anyone wants to shit their Pull-Ups about it, I'm probably better off not even dealing with them. I'd imagine these are the same kind of people who bust a blood vessel over the time it takes to foam the milk for their lattes and they get a hard-on over making the kid at the coffee shop cry. I hate to reward those fuckers.
Don't Have A Clue
This is one that blows my mind and it is happeing with such astonishing frequency, I cannot single out one episode.... Somebody walks in and asks me if they can make an appointment. I ask what they want to get. They say, "I have no idea." So, I'm supposed to block out time for their tattoo when I have no idea what I'll be doing, hopefully when they show up for the appointment they'll have come up with something, and I'll just wave my magic wand and make shit happen. I'm not talking about people who come in and say, "Well, I want a tiger, but I really don't know how to make it look cool...." Have no fear, this is where I step in to help. Ah, yes, a tiger. Now I can show you a zillion tigers and narrow it down to what you like. How about black and gray? Japanese or tribal? A tiger's face or the whole body? I have a very basic concept to work with and we can both collaborate to form that basic concept into the tattoo of your dreams. You can't walk in and say, "I want a tattoo but I don't know what." I have absolutely nothing to work with there.
I ask, "Well, what do you like? Do you like tigers? Do you like dragons? You want a portrait of your mom? How about some stars?" And the answer is always a pained look and a wan, "Nah, no, nah, nope, no...." Let me once more iterate about the economy of time. I don't have all day to play 'Guess My Personal Tastes' with you. It's one thing for someone to say, "I'm gonna let you do whatever you want," In which case I will kiss that person on every exposed part of their body because those are the kind of customers that come along once every hundred years. No, when people come in and ask what I'd suggest, they actually do know what they want. They just want to see if I can guess.
Now, if I posted photos of some of the tattoos I actually have on my body, you all would be utterly convinced that I am batshit insane, if my ranting here has not already done so. I have some of the stupidest tattoos you can even imagine. If I could pick out any kind of tattoos that I would like to do on people, I would do stuff like this and like this and like this*. Why? I'm out of my fucking mind. I've done hundreds of tribals and tigers and butterflies. I like doing those kind of things things and they certainly pay my bills. But, in the interest of excitement and variety, I'd like to do something I've never done before, something crazy, something that's going to go viral and have everybody going, "WHY?!?!" I'm just that way. So, trust me, asking me "What do you suggest" is going to get you a list of stuff you are very, very unlikely to want. Come in with an idea. I can help you shape that idea, refine it, pull it from your brain, put it on paper, and then onto your skin. You don't want the raw ideas that are forming in my brain. I promise you, unless you're as wacko as I am, you'll like your ideas better.
*Very special thanks to Jeff Ensminger, the man behind the fantastic toilet tattoo. I was unable to find who did the Unicorn and the Chark Week tattoos. if anyone knows, please leave it in the comments. Such hilarity and awesomeness needs to be recognized. I will also add that I am insanely jealous that I didn't get to do any of those tattoos...