Tattoo Design Etiquette
February 10, 2020 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Sometime in the next 2 weeks I'm going to be meeting with the tattoo artist of my choice for a consultation to get my first tattoo. The design is an original character of mine, in a style that's a bit different from their own work. Is this a bad idea?

I don't want to make an ass of myself and show up and be a clueless asshole. Here are some things that I think might make me look rude:
-Deviating from the artist's style - They say they are a "custom tattoo artist that wants to produce naturally flowing images which are bright, bold, high in contrast and richly saturated". This is, on paper, exactly what I want. And her colors truly are amazing - that's why I picked her. But they also involve a lot of line work, and I don't want any line work. Is it a faux pas to ask the artist to step out of their comfort zone?
-How much detail/reference/facts should I give her? I'm an artist myself and could easily just draw the entire tattoo, but I want to see her take on it. Instead I've compiled a stack of artwork by various people to show the kinds of shapes, textures, and colors I want incorporated in, along with a very rough sketch of what i want. How much is too much input?
-This is an original character of mine with significant sentimental value. The character is a monster/human hybrid (think of a centaur). I can say with near %100 certainty that this specific monster has not been done before. I'm not worried the artist will recopy the idea, I'm worried that if she shares it on social media that other artists will. Can I ask for her to add a disclaimer? What should it say?

All other advice about general tattoo etiquette is welcome! sticking this under human relations because it's a question of how to interact in a professional environment rather than about the art itself.
posted by FirstMateKate to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. If the artist doesn't think their style will work with what you are looking for they will refer you to another artist.
2. As much reference and detail as possible while still being respectful of their skills.
3. Just ask them to not post it on social media.

General tattoo etiquette: The artist will be up in your business for quite a while, depending upon the size of the piece. Make sure you smell good. Also, tip well, though I've never quite understood how much one is supposed to tip in this case.
posted by sacrifix at 8:09 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

There are generally two kinds of tattoo artists. The first kind are those who do more or less whatever you want and are guided mostly by your vision. The second kind are artists first- you go to them to get THEIR art on your body, maybe with some general suggestions or prompts from you, but not a ton of nitty-gritty involvement in the design. A lot of the people with huge instagram followings these days are the second kind. I don't think it's a faux pas either way, but she might just tell you it's out of her style and send you elsewhere.

Copying tattoos is a big no-no, especially among the second kind of tattoo artists, but it happens a lot and is hard to prevent once something's shared on social media. People who do it are already kind of violating a taboo, so I doubt they'd be stopped by a disclaimer. The only way to prevent it is if she doesn't share it.

A lot of tattoo shops only accept cash, so that might be a thing to check before you go.
posted by quiet coyote at 8:32 AM on February 10

Others have the right answer, which was also my experience. Went to a well regarded shop with a printout of what I wanted. Several of the artists had no interest in doing it, one was interested and excited about it once I explained it to him.

Cash + a good tip.
posted by booooooze at 8:54 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Does any of her existing work appeal to you? Parts of some of those tattoos? When I met my artist, I had printed out photos of her work (from her Instagram) and circled and otherwise highlighted the parts that appealed to me, while also stating "I am looking for XYZ in the style you did here, here and here." So that made it easy for her to interpret what I was looking for and design a tattoo using the parts of her skills I was very into.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:23 AM on February 10

But they also involve a lot of line work, and I don't want any line work. Is it a faux pas to ask the artist to step out of their comfort zone?

A lot of artists feel that line work is necessary for the tattoo to age well and not fade and blur with time. "Watercolor" style tattoos have been controversial for this reason. If this artist's professional opinion is that they include lines in their work for the integrity of the tattoo, then it might not so much be asking them to step out of their comfort zone stylistically as it is asking them to do something that they feel will result in something that's not up to their standards. You can see if they're willing to work up a design without lines, but if they really don't do it that often I personally would much rather look for someone else who routinely tattoos without linework.

All this to say - if this is your first tattoo, be open to their professional advice about what makes a tattoo work and at least consider their suggestions. I have mercifully been talked out of bad placement and stylistic choices by professionals who knew much more about tattoo design than I do, and have been grateful for their expertise.
posted by marshmallow peep at 11:00 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]

Think of it this way - you are an artist yourself, and you know that different things work in different mediums, yes? Even if you were portraying the same subject, the route you take for a charcoal sketch vs an oil painting vs a fresco vs a sculpture are really different. Tattoo artists work in possibly the trickiest medium of all - human skin and needles and ink. An experienced tattoo artist will know how tattoos age, how the natural flexibility of the body affects how they look, all those things.

Tattoos tend to get fainter and fuzzier as they get older. A good tattoo artist knows how that works and can help you choose a design that will stand up well over time. I would approach your tattoo artist as an artistic collaborator. Explain, as specifically as you can, the things in this artist's style that resonate most with you, and the things that are most important about the design to you. Your statement that you don't want line work gave me some pause - do you mean you don't want any outlines on your tattoo at all? I'd worry that you'd end up with a colorful blob in 20 years. But the person to ask is your artist.

In terms of input, I'd say it's fine to give multiple sources, but I would be specific about what PART of each source you really like.

Also, I have never had a bad reaction to sort of front-loading things that I worry might be awkward by just coming out and saying so. "I'm am artist but I don't know tattoos, so please tell me if any of these ideas won't work on the skin the way they do on the page/in my mind" or "I have a bunch of stuff but I don't want to overwhelm you, what's the best way to share my ideas?" or whatever.

Source: I have five tattoos. The oldest two were based on standard designs/flash, but the recent, big ones were my ideas, developed in collaboration with my artists.

(Man, it's getting time for a new one... talking about it is giving me the bug again.)
posted by oblique red at 10:23 AM on February 13

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