What does one do while getting a tattoo?
August 27, 2008 8:29 PM   Subscribe

What does one do while getting a tattoo?

I'm getting my first tattoo soon. The tattooist scheduled me for two appointments, each two hours long. I'm curious about the etiquette of getting a tattoo. Do you chat with the tattooist, like you do with a hairdresser? Do you tip? Is it okay to bring a book? An iPod? Any other suggestions for what to do during the actual appointment?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
it depends on how you react to pain and how the tattooist like to work—some people wince the entire time, some people enjoy a pleasant chat with the artist to keep their mind off of what's going on. i doubt you'd actually be able to read a book and it would be pretty rude to listen to an ipod. it's your first tattoo! you should be paying attention to what's being done to your body! ask questions, make comments, keep your eyes and ears open.
posted by lia at 8:44 PM on August 27, 2008

The chatting depends on that tattoo artist..some will, some prefer to silently concentrate. I just sit back and relax, personally, but I'm generally a fairly quiet person anyway.

Having a book on hand wouldn't be a bad idea, then you can just get a feel for the situation, or better yet ~ ask your artist. Same for the iPod.

And yes to tipping, unless your particular shop has a rule against it (but I haven't run into one that did).
posted by kattyann at 8:46 PM on August 27, 2008

I usually bring a friend with me to chat/distract me from the pain/keep an eye on the tattoo if it is out of my eyesight.

Also, yes, tip well!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:49 PM on August 27, 2008

Yes, you tip.

I've always brought a friend. Or two. Chatting WITH the artist, generally hasn't happened except for the occasional comment or two. My three hour tattoo had my friends going in shifts at holding my hands (so I could squeeze my hands and tense THOSE muscles and not the ones in my back where the needle was), talking to me about random stuff to distract me - and the tattoo artist isn't going to be good for THAT because he's the guy with the needle you're trying not to think about! - and later, in what I like to call the "song of the humpback whale" portion of the program, wiping snot and tears off of my face.

Bring a friend. It's an INTENSE process. Even if you're up for the physical pain, two hours of being under a needle is UNBELIEVABLY draining. Depending on where (on your body) you're getting inked, it can start off easy and end excruciating. (Mine was like that - on my lower back extending up my side - once it got to the ribs, OUCH.) It's really, really a good idea to have some moral support in addition to the distraction.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:15 PM on August 27, 2008

Talk, listen to music, etc. I have some large ink on each upper arm and I found that it didn't hurt at all after the first fifteen second of the needle because of a sort of numbing effect - think bee sting fading to dull buzz. YMMV. Wear easily removeable/moveable clothes if applicable. You may save some time if you shave the area to be tattooed if necessary. Your artist will have all the necessary gauze/plastic coverings for immediate aftercare and make sure to get a recommendation (if not a sample) for a good moisturizer.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:25 PM on August 27, 2008

Definitely tip.

As far as what to do while getting tattooed, well, I usually say ow nonstop and bite my fingers while my tattoo artist friend calls me a pussy, but from visiting him while he's working on other people, I would say all of the possibilities you mentioned are totally normal.

I've seen people bring ipods, not many books, but it wouldn't be out of the ordinary, it's definitely a good plan to bring a friend if you can (but make sure they won't get nervous/faint). A lot of people just sort of chill quietly (I've even seen people fall asleep). If you're the sort of person who gets bored easily you definitely shouldn't feel bad about wanting to bring a book or an ipod. But most importantly, concentrate on breathing evenly and deeply.
posted by nerdcore at 9:31 PM on August 27, 2008

bring a friend. certainly tip.
posted by nadawi at 9:56 PM on August 27, 2008

So, what percentage does one tip? I've got three from around 20 years ago & it never even occurred to me, but I've been thinking about going back for something a little larger for the past decade or so. Is it like restaurant tips at 15-20%? I don't do the manicure/pedicure/waxing thing so I don't have a service scale set in my head that might be comparable.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:17 PM on August 27, 2008

tattoo studio etiquette, including tipping advice.
posted by nadawi at 10:27 PM on August 27, 2008 [6 favorites]

Ah -- excellent. Noted for future reference. Thank you!
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:06 PM on August 27, 2008

When I used to hang out at my dad's shop, almost everyone brought a friend to chat with. I can't imagine being able to read a book, but if it's on your leg or something, perhaps. I think bringing an iPod isn't a bad thing, but the artist may want you to be responsive, at least at first, to make sure you're not phishing out?

I think tips are appreciated, but not always expected, depending on the kind of place you're going. If it's a one-man shop, it seems less necessary unless you negotiated down the price or are really impressed with the work. Larger places, certainly tip as they're getting a smaller cut of the pay.

I settled into a very zen, otherworldly state an hour into my first session and about 10 minutes into my second session and I didn't speak much at all (but that may have been related to the video wall showing CNN, a Gwar concert and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.)
posted by Gucky at 11:09 PM on August 27, 2008

While many shops are used to clients bringing friends along, I know that many artists prefer not to have a whole crowd of onlookers gawking around for hours, especially if space in the studio is limited. If you are going to bring someone I would surely keep it to one.
I read every time I get work done. I find it takes your mind away from concentrating entirely on the pain, plus it's great time to get some reading in.
I would also suggest not grimacing, wincing, and saying "ow" the whole time, for your own sake. The more you concentrate and react to the pain the more it's going to hurt. Instead, concentrate on your breathing rate and how the rest of your body is feeling.
Bring something sugary to eat/drink as well. My longest session ever was nine hours with a thirty-minute break in the middle and a few five-minutes here and there. I went through a big bag of pecans and a six-pack of redbull in that time and still fell asleep in the car on the way home. In a two-hour session your adrenalin levels will exhaust quickly so take a soda or two to keep from passing out. Especially since you don't know yet how your body will react.

When I got the backside of my leg done I laid on my stomach for about three hours and ended up dozing off for about an hour, so there's always that option as well.

Good luck!
posted by ws at 11:59 PM on August 27, 2008

I recently had my first tattoo, too (congratulations, btw!). I didn't bring an iPod, a book, or a friend and I'm pretty glad I didn't. At first I was talking a bit with the tattoo artist about how I was managing with the pain and the general situation of being tattooed for the first time. After a while we went quiet. He was concentrating on the work and I was concentrating on managing my breathing. After a while we began chatting again about music, tattooing, and lots of other stuff. It was definitely a good experience and I wouldn't want to do it any other way if I had the chance.
posted by sveskemus at 2:57 AM on August 28, 2008

I've had similar experiences to that which svekemus describes during all my tattoo sessions. A nice few minutes of chat will help you and the artist feel comfortable with each other and then you each go about your own business-- yours is to hold still and be the best canvas you can be, and his or hers is to put art on your body. I usually get as comfortable as I can and zone out and I have come close to napping on occasion.

During one session, I would sometimes experience quite a bit of pain due to the tat's location and I asked the artist to please let me know when he was going to pass over bone again so I wouldn't be surprised by it. Apart from that, it's always been very pleasant for me to concentrate--meditate-- on the experience and how my body responds to the needle. I'm not particularly pain-tolerant, but I've always found being tattooed to be rather relaxing. I've never had a friend present, as being tattooed is a very personal event to me. Of course, YMMV.

Congratulations and good luck!
posted by Heretic at 6:15 AM on August 28, 2008

I usually go alone and meditate during the process - concentrate on my breathing.
posted by All.star at 7:02 AM on August 28, 2008

I have four tattoos, all from different shops. I chatted with the artists from time to time but mostly I let them concentrate and I just daydreamed. I'm kind of a masochist though so I didn't mind the pain and didn't need a distraction like a book. I wouldn't bring an iPod; you don't want to mess with their concentration if there's any sound leakage. It's their working environment that they've made comfortable for themselves; let them do their thing so they can focus.

A two hour appointment is not an insignificant amount of work and will probably leave you feeling exhausted afterwards. Get a good night's sleep before, arrange for a ride home, and plan on a nap after. Follow the tattooist's instructions about staying out of the sun and applying anti-bacterial stuff. Don't go showing off your scabbed-over tattoo to Grandma; wait til it heals and looks nice to avoid OMG freakouts. Oh, and bring loose clothing. Plan on wearing loose clothing for at least a week.
posted by desjardins at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2008

I've only been inked once, but I apply "haircut rules" to situations like this: shut up and let the person concentrate on their work. (then again, consider my username) Just lie or sit still and let them do their best for you.

Tip well. Follow the aftercare instructions. Enjoy your new ink!
posted by Quietgal at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2008

It's unfortunate that you didn't state where on your body you are getting your work done. That makes a big difference.

I've had over 35 hours of tattoo work, over 5 sittings (yes, that's 7+ hours a sitting). You go through phases of pain and toleration. You really don't know how you're going to react, so be prepared. I thankfully found that I can deal with it, and so can my artist (it's hard for them to sit for long periods too!)

What helps is communicating with the artist, telling him your concerns and taking his advice. Mainly, breathing. You will forget to breath every 10 seconds. But consistent deep breathing will be your best ally. Also, take a few advil before you go in. Eat a substantial amount of healthy food. Don't be hungover. And do not get stoned or drunk before you go in. You might think that will "numb" you out, but really, it will just make you more sensitive and ruin your buzz. Save it for after.

I would bring CDs and an iPod (for playing on their stereo), but be prepared to listen to the artists music. You will probably talk to him for the two hours, which will fly by either way. The second appt. will be much easier, because you'll know what to do. Oh, and bring all sorts of music...you may surprise yourself by wanting to listen to Eagles of Death Metal over Mazzy Starr, you just don't know!

And definitely tip. You can even ask him about it...what's customary, etc. You should feel comfortable asking these types of questions, because you are trusting him with your skin, and he is trusting you with his ability to place permanent art on your body that you will like. The process goes both ways on a lot of aspects.

Also, somebody above mentioned the pain of being tattooed over bony areas. I think this varies from person to person. Overall, I would much prefer to be tattooed on a bony area versus a fleshy one (some of the bonier areas felt, dare I say...good...like a massage. The fatty ones = excruciating!) You will get to learn a lot about yourself during this entire experience...how you heal, cope, deal with stress, handle pain while talking to a stranger in a very intimate setting. It's interesting and you'll have a beautiful reminder to show for it.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk about specifics, like where (on your body) you are getting your tat, and how to prepare for that.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:42 AM on August 28, 2008

Definitely chat up the artist. Like others in body service professions (like hair styles, etc.) most of them are very good at small talk-type conversations and if you get to know them beyond that cursory level are very interesting people. Just try not to make them laugh.
posted by baphomet at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2008

I'm the opposite of iamkimian so it really does vary. I found fleshy areas much more doable than bony areas, the inch or so at the base of the sternum was particularly excruciating, elsewhere was fine if there was some padding -- relatively speaking, as I'm very skinny. Like a lot of people I mostly just concentrate on breathing properly.

One thing you might not be prepared for is the after effects. I normally get hit by a big surge of adrenalin/endorphins immediately after a session, it feels great but I have to check the desire to run around like a mad thing on occasions.
posted by tallus at 9:29 AM on August 28, 2008

With both of my larger tattoos (10+ hours of work combined), the artists had DVD players in their studio to watch movies. I've usually brought a friend, but I can't imagine how, physically, reading a book would work in this situation. Depending on the placement, you'll likely be moving around quite a bit and physically uncomfortable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:57 AM on August 28, 2008

My favorite shop out here in LA is run by two biker guys who are just the coolest thing since sliced bread. They've been doing it for several decades now and are very good at sensing when you're in serious pain. Their method is to engage in conversation with everyone in your party (yourself and whoever you bring along, if any). I have been able to chill out a little and hear some of the funniest stories I've ever heard this way.

They also have me signal if I'm at a point where I can't quite take it anymore and they'll stop for a breather. That's only happened once when I got a medium sized piece on my wrist.
posted by arishaun at 9:15 PM on August 28, 2008

I chat with the artist (and, since I've been going to this guy for a few years now, I can ask him about his kids, how the new apprentice is doing, etc.), but there are usually some long silences in there. An iPod is pretty much untenable--there will almost certainly be music playing in the shop, and you'll need to hear occasional questions and instructions and whatnot.

And yeah, tip. As with all tipping, this is especially important if you ever plan on returning to the place.
posted by box at 6:49 PM on September 6, 2008

when I went in for my tattoo, I had 3 sittings, each over 2 hours. I would make the occasional comment or question when she took a break from tattooing, but other than that I tried to focus on other things. I was on my stomach for my tattoo, so reading a book was out of the question, and I think it would be a bit out of place. For my first tattoo I had my Ipod with me, because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to handle the noise. But most places have music our wouldn't mind if you had it to a low volume setting so that you can still hear them if they need to tell you something. And yes, tip! Not like you would in a restaurant, but tip nicely. 20-40 bucks would be a good price for a large piece and 10-20 for a medium/small one.
posted by bluerain11907 at 10:50 PM on October 26, 2008

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