Newbie-friendly South SF Bay area tattoo shop recommendations?
March 13, 2013 3:10 PM   Subscribe

OK, so I've been mulling over the notion of getting a tattoo for nearly a decade now, and as of this week I'm finally sure of the design I want. I live in the South San Francisco Bay Area (San Jose/Santa Clara) and am finding myself a bit overwhelmed by all the Yelp reviews, etc., of local tattoo parlors. Specific shop recommendations and/or tips on identifying the most newbie-friendly establishment would be greatly appreciated.

I've determined that I'd be quite happy to have this cat graphic I drew (or some minor variation thereof, per artist input) on my upper left arm area pretty much forever. I'm planning on keeping the size no larger than about 1.5" x 2.5" overall, and also on sticking to black ink only (as that way it's unlikely to clash with any of my shirts!).

That aside, I'm 34 and have zero experience even walking into a tattoo parlor, let alone actually having work done there. I have read plenty online already along the lines of "make sure the shop you pick is hygenic" and "make sure you eat an hour before the session so you don't pass out", so really what I'm after is specific local recommendations for good places to go, particularly if you're a raw newbie to this sort of thing.

Especially awesome would be recommendations from folks who've actually been to shops in the general San Jose/Santa Clara/Sunnyvale/etc. locale. The only real dealbreaker I have as far as shop recommendations go (well, other than cleanliness and a lack of blasting noisy music-I-didn't-pick in the background) is that it absolutely must be a SOUTH Bay establishment. In other words, it cannot be something that would entail traveling to San Francisco or Oakland, etc. I just really don't want to deal with being in a vehicle of any kind for possibly an hour-plus following an experience that I have no clue how my body will react to.

Also welcome would be advice on what to look for in an establishment when you have zero experience as a tattoo-ee.

I definitely want to, for instance, be able to bring my own drawing and not have the artist try and re-do the whole thing in 80s-airbrushed style (for instance), but rather be willing to make suggestions and have me approve the final design. And I want to be able to ask questions, etc., during the process without that being considered annoying (though of course I want the artist to be able to concentrate so I'll endeavor to keep the blithering to a minimum). And so on. Which means it'd be good if I had a way to figure out in advance if a given place is likely to be cool with whatever level of (polite) n00bness I may end up displaying, and I am currently not sure what to look for.

posted by aecorwin to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My neighbor has full sleeves and most of both legs done. She's worked with both Humble Beginnings and State of Grace in San Jose. I live in the area but haven't had any ink done in town (or in over a decade) but everything she has is gorgeous and much of it is self-designed. I'd recommend setting up a consultation. Bring your art, feel out how you like the place. If you're going for something as small as you've indicated, it should be pretty straightforward. Think of what you'd like to ask in advance (write it down or take notes in your phone?). As a rule of thumb, if I like someone's art and feel comfortable chatting with them, I trust them to spend an hour or so putting ink on me.
posted by komlord at 3:25 PM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: You should go in person to check out a few shops.

I, personally, have had great luck choosing my shop based on the artist, and choosing my artist based on looking at their portfolio. While a lot of tattoo artists have portfolios online (and this can help you narrow down a shop), visiting a few shops in person will help you get comfortable with tattoo shops and probably help you feel more comfortable in general, which will help your relaxation level when you actually get your tattoo.

It's always great if the artist in question can meet with you casually or chat about what you're thinking in a low key no-commitment sort of way. My last tattoo, it turned out the artist I was interested in was hanging around between clients, so we shot the shit for a bit about what I wanted, what her upcoming availability was like, etc. This really helped me feel confident and relaxed about working with her and spending time in her shop.

(Conversely, my first tattoo was by a really sought-after artist who was impossible to meet with in any capacity without paying a consult fee. The work was great and I'm very happy with the finished piece, but it was hard to feel relaxed about being around this dude who was apparently So Fucking Important that it costs $50 just to talk to him.)

Yelp is a great starting point for shops in your area, what the general consensus about them is (especially look for references to different artists), links to portfolio sites, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 4:30 PM on March 13, 2013

Oh, uh, sorry, I realize I left out an important detail. The reason I say to stop into shops to look at portfolios rather than online is that shops will have physical books for each artist with examples of their work.

I would not get tattooed at any shop that did not have this -- I mean, sometimes it's just a binder with color copies in plastic sleeves, but if you can't see examples of actual tattoos that specific artists who currently work at the shop have done, it's probably not a very good tattoo shop.
posted by Sara C. at 4:34 PM on March 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers to so far! I will definitely be checking out shops in person before choosing one. The binder tip is much appreciated, I'll be sure to look for those...
posted by aecorwin at 3:21 PM on March 14, 2013

Response by poster: ...and not to threadsit but I would like to note that I have now at least visited Humble Beginnings. Thanks to komlord for the tip! I still haven't made any final decisions, but FWIW, it was not nearly as intimidating as I was imagining it would be. Very chill shop, very bright and clean, and the staff were extremely helpful (someone saw me almost as soon as I walked in and directed me to the portfolios, etc., and then gave me a bunch more useful info after I'd been there a few minutes). IMO, that is pretty much exactly what I'd consider "newbie friendly", so yay!
posted by aecorwin at 9:49 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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