Tattoo advice.
August 19, 2007 11:08 AM   Subscribe

My First Sony Tattoo: Help me get my tattoo the right way.

OK, I've never had a tattoo before, and I'm considering getting my first one, so I have some questions, many of which may be stupid.

1) I want to get a tattoo of the Magritte painting The Son Of Man (just the central guy, not the background). Will this look good? That is, can tattoo artists get the kind of subtleties of these colors and the texture of the clothing? If they can't will it just look like shit?

2) I'm thinking of getting it on my back (say, upper left shoulder area) because that's a relatively hairless area of my body (at least until I get older and start looking like Ron Jeremy). How big will this need to be, and how painful of an area to get tattooed is that? If it matters, I'm a 6'1" 170lb male, darkish tan skin, although the skin on my back is much paler.

3) I assume that I will need to find a good tattoo artist, and that the average Joe Schmo biker tattooist who does tribal armbands and tramp stamps will not have the requisite skill to make this look really good. Maybe I'm wrong about that ... but what do I look for in an artist? How do I find someone who is going to be good? (If you have recommendations for a specific artist in Tucson or even Phoenix, bonus points for you.)

4) How much is this thing gonna cost me?

and finally

5) Anything else I should keep in mind, re: maintaining the look. Will this tattoo be particularly prone to getting stretch marks or the like if I gain weight or muscle mass? Healing time for the skin? etc. etc.
posted by papakwanz to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The upper back isn't that painful of a spot. But because of the shading, the artist is going to have to tear through your skin a couple times.

Just like there are artists who primarily do oil paintings, or airbrush, there are tattoo artists who mainly do tribal tattoos, Japanese-style tattooos, and portrait tattoos. Most ( the good ones) tattoo artists publish their previous work on their personal or shop website. Browse through them and choose the artist you think will be the best man or woman for the job.

Because of color, shading, and size, it'll be a hefty chunk out of your bank account. Not sure exactly what size tattoo you want, and how much of Magritte you want on your back, I'd say around $650-$750.
posted by lain at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2007

1) Most of it depends on your artist. How far are you willing to travel? LA has a TON of great artists - you should look for someone who does really good color portraits. If you're willing to make more of a drive, I'd go withPat Fisch, but she is in Santa Barbara. BME will help with some artist's portfolios across the world.

2) To get the proper detail, I'd say I wouldn't go smaller than five inches. I've got tattoos on both shoulders and middle back (bra strap area) and they weren't nearly as painful as the one on my hip. I would say if you get it near the nape of your neck it'll hurt, but not terribly. The worst "pain" about tattoos is the ichy as hell healing process.

3) Visit the parlor and ask if you can see their portfolio. Ask how recent the pieces are, ask if they do touch-ups for free. Look for a clean place, and up to date (and very full) portfolio. Bonus, once you've selected your artist, ask if you can watch them tattoo someone (at least for a few minutes) so you can see how they work.

4) This is something you're going to have for the rest of your life. I hope you are going to pay at least $300 for it.

5) Put sunscreen on it every single time you're going to be shirtless and it will be exposed. Post-headling, follow your artist's advise, don't go swimming for two weeks, and use unscented lotion for the healing process. I like Aveda's Botanical Kinetic's Moisturizing Lotion. Treat it well. In that area it won't be prone to too many stretch marks. Also, don't forget that by the time your body is old and ragged, will you really care what your tattoo looks like?
posted by banannafish at 11:32 AM on August 19, 2007

1. A good artist can make it look good, but a lot will depend on your skin texture. Keep in mind that subtle details in a tattoo don't always age well.

2. Bigger is better when it comes to holding details and subtleties. It'll probably hurt more because areas with less fat/muscle almost always hurt more. The feeling of the needle going across bone (i.e. your shoulder blade) is...yeah, it hurts. It looks like there's be a fair amount of heavy inking required for the coat and hat; I have some blackwork (much denser than what your art looks like it could/should be) on my shoulder/upper arm, and it fuckin' hurt.

3. Yes, you want a good artist. Visit as many shops as you can, and look through all the binders of the artists' work. Pay attention to tattoos of people you see on the street; if you see one you like, you can ask the person where they got it (most people with ink love to talk about it, where they got it, who did it, etc.). If you find some artists whose work you like, meet with them, talk with them, show them what you want tattooed on you. They will be the most qualified to offer opinions about how good a piece like this will look on skin. This process will probably take some time, and it should. Why rush? The "canvas" isn't going anywhere.

4. Depends. Depends on size, depends on how long the artist thinks it will take. It's a fairly uncomplicated piece, but with some extensive inking required, and that just takes the time it takes.

5. Keep it out of the sun. Talk to tattoo artists about healing time, likelihood of stretching, etc. They're the most qualified to answer, once they've seen your body and skin.
posted by rtha at 11:34 AM on August 19, 2007

That is, can tattoo artists get the kind of subtleties of these colors and the texture of the clothing? If they can't will it just look like shit?

On the one hand, yes, some can.

On the other hand, you might want to think about stylizing it some — getting a line drawing, sketch or cartoon of the original painting. More stylization will help if you want to make it smaller, and may help if you want to make it cheaper. Some people also just like the stylized look better. (I'm one of them, FWIW; realistic photo-reference tattoos of people's kids creep me right out. Some kind of Uncanny Valley thing.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2007

Good artists will have portfolios on their waiting room tables for you to look at. You'll want to look for artists who have portfolios that reflect their experience doing good semi-photo realistic art. You'll also want to look at their color choices to see if you can find an artist that has a good blend of skills and an eye for color quality.

In terms of making your tattoo last, you'll want an artist who tattoos pretty deeply. Colors fade more than black ink, and can be a little harder to touch up without it being obvious, so the harder your artist tattoos, the deeper the color pigment. As for after care, my tattoo artist swears by this nutribiotic non-soap cleanser it promotes healing, doesn't pull out the color, and is super gentle, I've used it on my latest tattoos and have definitely noticed a quicker healing time. Things to absolutely avoid are neosporin (which can cause color loss) and any lotion or soap with a fragrance in it. Lots of artists recommend A&D ointment too.

If you really want to get the detailing in your tattoo will need to be fairly large, You might want to break it into shifts if your artist recommends that. Cost-wise, it's not unreasonable to expect your artist to charge somewhere in the $120/hour range. When you bring in your art for a consultation you'll want to ask how much time the artist thinks it will take and how much that would cost you.
posted by nerdcore at 12:51 PM on August 19, 2007

1) Yes, a good tattoo artist can do this. I got a detail from this Dali painting (just the pomegranate-fish-tiger, no naked lady tattoos for me, thanks) done about fifteen years ago and it was great-- textures, shading, every thing.

2) That's a good place for that sort of tattoo-- in fact, it's exactly where I got the Dali piece. My only regret, and it's a slight one, is that to really see it well I have to look in a mirror. It was not particularly painful. If the long dimension of your tattoo is + / - 6" or so, that should be plenty large enough to get a level of detail with which you will be happy.

3) Portfolio portfolio portfolio. Preferably one who's got pieces that aren't totally dissimilar to what you want. I don't know anything about the Tucson area, I'm sorry to say.

4) A very good artist can charge up to $150 / hour, although most are somewhat less. Please note, however, that NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BARGAIN SHOP. If you find a quality artist, be willing to pay for him or her, rather than looking for someone cheaper. A tattoo like that, in the size I suggested above, would probably take two or three hours to outline and two or three hours to color, although that's based solely on my single experience with that sort of thing. You should be able to get an estimate from your artist. The artist might also cut you a break on the total if he or she really likes the tattoo and hopes to include it in a portfolio. This happened to me.

5) It's not a stretch-marky area, particularly. Keep it moisturized, though, and don't forget sunscreen to keep the colors from fading. Your artist will probably give you full after-care instructions. If he or she doesn't, you have chosen the wrong artist.
posted by dersins at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2007

Thanks for all the advice. The cost question was not so much a bargain hunting thing as just a practical question: I have no idea what tattoos cost, so I need to figure out how long I have to save up or if it is really something I'm willing to spend that kind of money on. The remarks about the deepness of the colors were also very helpful, and not something I'd thought about at all, so I may need to reconsider the tattoo and go with one of my other ideas if I can't afford the Magritte just yet: perhaps this line drawing of James Joyce (in black, though).
posted by papakwanz at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2007

Oh, dersins: That's my favorite Dali, and if I were to ever get a Dali tat, that would be it.
posted by papakwanz at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2007

If you are into a little tattoo tourism, you might stop by NYC and visit Anil Gupta -- take a look at the fine art section of his portfolio. His miniatures are also pretty freakin' amazing.
posted by jennyjenny at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2007

1. Yes, a very good artist can replicate that amount of detail. Just be discerning. Many artists actually specialize in fine art reproductions -- you may be lucky enough to find someone in your area! Look for someone who enjoys working with textures and fine details.

2. Upper back on the shoulder is easy as pie. You can handle it fo' sho'.

As for size, banannafish has the right idea with five inches -- at the bare minimum. That's larger than a softball. Yes, that seems huge, but what most people do not realize when they're getting their first piece is that tattoos age by spreading out in the skin. The work loses definition as your skin loses collagen. This really disappoints eighteen-year-old freshman girls competing for the title of World's Teeniest and Cutest Tattoo (That Dad Won't Ever Find Out About and Thus Disown Me For).

And a lot of unethical artists will do work too small, without any thought toward the longevity of the tattoo. This should be a serious concern of anyone looking to get a piece with any amount of detail.

3. As mentioned above, look for an artist who does excellent fine detail work BUT who realizes the limitations of the craft and does not attempt to cram (and I'm quoting one of my former coworkers at the shop here) "ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag." (Anil Gupta's miniature work is incredible, but I believe even he is aware that it's not going to age well at all. It's for the ephemeral awesomeness, and not for the long haul. His fine arts work, on the other hand, is right up your alley!)

Someone who enjoys fine art reproductions would probably dig the hell out of this. Seek, sir, and ye shall fine. These artists are less common than those who do tribal for the paycheck, but they do exist in most large cities.

4. Listen to the wise words above! Don't go price-hunting; find the right artist and pay what he or she asks! It sounds like you've got a pretty good head on your shoulders for this.

Reasonable hourly price ranges are $125–$300/hr. for this level work. I'd estimate between three and seven hours would be necessary, depending on the artist. If we had an artist at my old shop who could pull this off, for instance, the shop would charge around five hundred dollars.

5. As for maintaining the beauty? Treat it niiiiiice. Like I said, sun is the enemy. From now on, sunscreen is your best friend at the beach. You're definitely not going to find stretch marks to be an issue on this part of the body, even if you get jacked and gain fifty pounds of muscle! (Areas of concern are the pelvic zones and stomachs of women who plan to get pregnant.)

There are a thousand different ways to heal a tattoo; your artist will no doubt tell you how he healed his own. (Antibacterial ointment is generally no longer recommended, though, as many people have icky allergic reactions to the antibiotic or the petroleum base. But YMMV.) Any artist worth his salt will offer free touch-ups on his work, so don't worry too much if you find a bit of color falls out in the healing process. Do realize, however, that the color usually doesn't look as vibrant and gorgeous after the first two weeks or so after the tattoo. That's because your skin grows back over the pigment, which is a Very Good Thing!

In summary: You've got a super sweet idea for a first tattoo, and you're doing some impressive research before going in. This makes you awesome!
posted by weatherworn at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2007

I'm the very proud owner of an Anil Gupta tat, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is nothing less than the best tattoo artist in the world (and I spent years researching this before committing to my own ink). As far as his miniatures withstanding the test of time, when I visited him the very first time to talk about what I was looking for (soft, overlapping shades of color without blackline outlines, which every single tat artist I spoke to informed me would be impossible), there was someone in the studio who had one of those miniatures, and was going on something like 10 years with it. It looked no more than a month old - there's something about Anil's technique, inks or mojo that makes his miniatures last. It doesn't make any sense, but it's true, and my own piece of his looks like it's a couple of months old, and I got it over 5 years ago.
posted by dbiedny at 4:23 PM on August 19, 2007

Sweet, dbiedny! I thought I'd remembered a quote from Mr. Gupta or someone in his shop about the potentially ephemeral nature of the miniatures, but I'm very glad to hear they hold up well.

I suspect magic. And I would like to see pics of your work!
posted by weatherworn at 4:28 PM on August 19, 2007

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