Tattoo artist who are particularly good at clean, dramatic text?
January 18, 2015 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to get a simple, black text tattoo in a book typeface across my shoulder. I particularly love tattoos that are stark and geometric and that talk to (or better yet, intentionally fight with) the soft curvy shapes of the human body. Who's particularly good at that?

I'm thinking things like this and (placement) this and this and this and this. I realize that's a hard style to maintain over time, and I'm realistic about the lifetime of it but I figure I'll get the most wear out if I start with someone who knows what they're doing. I'm trying to avoid the soft, blurry, wobbly text you see in a lot of text tattoos by folks who don't specialize in linework. And ideally it'd be great if the artist knew something about typography and typesetting, though I can probably competently take care of that part myself if need be.

I'm willing to travel to see an artist who specializes in this kind of thing, but I'm having a hard time tracking stuff down online. it's easiest for me to get to NYC, Los Angeles, or Chicago, but I'd consider going somewhere else in the US if necessary.
posted by you're a kitty! to Media & Arts (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hey there, past me!

I have a text tattoo.

I learned a lot about how text tattoos work in the course of getting this tattoo.

Your main obstacle here isn't going to be finding a tattoo artist on the planet who can do this (more about which later), but finding a tattoo artist who is honest with you about what is actually possible.

In my experience of doing research online, I found a lot of tattoos like the ones you link. When I brought them to my tattoo artist, she immediately pointed out how many of them might look OK when they were first done but would smudge to unreadable shit over the years. The second example of your link is exactly one of those types of tattoos (also that CALM/CALM/CALM one), so I thought I'd just throw out there that a lot of what you see around the internet is either tattoo artists giving their customers tattoos that won't last, or even blatant fakes with photoshop (the one with the girl getting out of the bath is an example of that, though I think a tattoo like that could work in theory).

So you're going to want to frame any conversations you have with your tattoo artist about longevity and how actually achievable the look you want will be. When I got mine, I was set on using a particular book-style typeface. My tattoo artist stressed to me that the tattoo as proposed was just not going to work in that typeface, in the long term. So we compromised on something that would achieve the result I wanted but also look great for decades to come. You're looking for a tattoo artist who has those communication and collaboration skills, not necessarily someone who is just super good at text.

Note that any artist worth their salt is not going to want to put a finely lined tattoo anywhere near an area where your body bends or creases regularly. My text tattoo is on my wrist, with plenty of real estate between the crease of my wrist and the bend of my elbow. A lot of those tattoo inspiration photos that go around the internet have text suspiciously close to those areas, which either implies that they're photoshop or done by an artist who doesn't care that it's going to look like garbage in a few years.

(Also, know that a lot of tattoo artists think text tattoos are kind of dumb/not that fun to execute. Ultimately it's not their decision, but they have kind of a reputation in the tattoo artist community.)

OK, but you asked about how to find someone.

The reality is that unless you live in a tiny town in a remote area, it's not really that hard to find artists who can achieve the results you want in text tattoos. Ultimately the tattoo is going to be printed out on a sort of temporary tattoo/stain transfer sheet, and then the artist uses that as a guide to get the permanent image into your skin. Anyone with a steady hand who isn't a meth head or something is going to be able to trace the stencil onto your body in a careful manner without fucking it up.

Assuming you live in or near a city, I would just check out shops your area. Look through portfolios (either online or in the shop), specifically for people who have examples of text tattoos. When you find someone who has work you like in their portfolio, have a chat with them about what you want to do. As above, listen to what concerns they have and note how good a communicator they are in terms of finding a balance between the tattoo you want and what is actually possible. You are especially looking for someone who has a sense of how the work will age and what will help it look its best long term. Don't be scared off by someone who thinks the font you picked isn't going to work, or the placement needs to be tweaked. You're looking for honesty, here, not just someone who says "yeah great lets do it" without a thought.

Since text tattoos are not generally that exciting to tattoo artists, traveling to see a particular artist is not really worth doing. It's like commissioning Picasso to stencil a butterfly on your bedroom wall. You want someone good, but you don't really need like the best artist on the planet or anything.

I got my text tattoo from Patricia Mazza at Brooklyn Tattoo in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. She did an amazing job, and the shop vibe is much more laid back than the usual suspect studios people tend to recommend if you're traveling to have a tattoo done. Also, there was no wait (my first tattoo is from a much more renowned artist and I had to wait months just to have a consult with him), and it was very affordable.

(My tattoo is the "waiting for a door..." one in Pat's portfolio, if you click the link. Almost three years later, people still marvel at how clear and perfect it is, and to be honest the linework has really settled in a way that actually looks better than that picture.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on January 18, 2015 [12 favorites]

I agree with Sara C. about how to talk to an artist and what questions to ask them. My specific tattoo artist recommendations are Stephanie Tamez at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn and Kim Durham at Brewery Ink in Los Angeles. Both of them do fantastic lettering tattoos that age well. (Note: my husband and I have been tattooed by both, but not with text tattoos, though we have friends who have text tattoos from both that have aged very well.)
posted by bedhead at 3:45 PM on January 18, 2015

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