5 Things NOT to do: Tattoos

This blog is written by Gabrielle Giannone from Leaninginblog

You’re probably thinking, what on earth does this girl know about tattoos? Is she even a heavily tattooed person? The answer is no, as of now I only have what I would consider a few, but I have worked the front desk of tattoo shops since early 2019. With over three years under my belt, I have a wealth of industry standard advice for anyone looking to get a tattoo that I think is well-founded and hopefully helpful. If you’re already a regularly tattooed human being, you probably know all of this already, so if you choose to continue reading, consider this a test to see if your tattoo etiquette is up to par.

A photo of my most recent addition, an illustrative black and grey sparrow on my left forearm by Vincent Riquier, or @deathwitch on Instagram.

Here are 5 things NOT to do when getting a tattoo.


1. Do not get tattooed on an empty stomach.

I can’t tell you how many times, no matter how small the tattoo, or how big and tough the client, someone has gotten light-headed, nauseous, or even passed out by going into a tattoo without taking care to feed and hydrate themselves first. Tattooing is literally artful wound-making. When you are being tattooed, there are tiny needles stabbing your skin very quickly, over and over again. (Welcome to the salty spitoon, how tough are ya? Lol). Regardless of an outward announcement that “this doesn’t hurt at all!”, your body will produce an adrenaline rush, increase your heart rate, and release endorphins all at once to help relieve the pain. Just think–is there any other time in your life that when you feel sudden inflicted physical pain, you naturally sit and take it? No. That is why for millennia across various cultures, tattoos represented anything ranging from social signifiers, rites of passage, accomplishments, or were simply a form of bodily decoration earned through stamina. Getting tattooed requires fighting your body’s natural instinct to protect itself, to escape from the harm. If you are running on a dehydrated and underfed system, your body will expel a LOT of energy fighting the pain over an extended period of time, which can very quickly cause people to feel faint or sick. Half a poptart eight hours before your appointment doesn’t count as a meal. Please for the love of your own well being, eat and hydrate before (and during particularly long) tattoo appointments.


2. Do not skip research.

Not every tattoo artist at every tattoo shop does every style of tattoo. If you are looking for something specific, niche, or nontraditional, it is usually best to first do some research. Typical examples of specialized styles are single needle tattoos, anime, Japanese Traditional tattoos, or hyperrealism tattoos. Not every artist can or will do these techniques or styles, so it’s best to find the best person for the job! It is the same exact way with a nail tech, a hair stylist, a barber, etc. You do not go to the old man high-and-tight buzz cut barber asking for a triple dye job pixie shag mullet, you go to the hair stylist that specializes in that instead. Research! Get your eyes on portfolios first, or just call ahead to ask.

3. Do not try to incorporate 5+ ideas into one tattoo.

Typically, the only tattoos that can incorporate 5+ ideas into one cohesive piece are arm/leg sleeves, or torso/back pieces, and even then they are typically separate parts of a whole. If you have a ton of ideas, Yay! We love that for you, but it is very hard for an artist to incorporate roman numeral dates, four names, two dogs (one memorialized with wings), three different birth flowers, a goddess with your mom’s face and a map of your hometown into ONE tattoo. One piece at a time, baby. Heed the advice from the professionals when they say it won’t work or retain clarity over time.

4. Being unwilling to wait.

Tattooing is an optional cosmetic procedure. You do not need tattoos, you are not entitled to them, and tattoo artists are independent contractors that make their own schedules. You don’t need tattoos as soon as possible, you don’t need them for a specific event that’s coming up, or five hours after a fresh loss to memorialize a loved one. A sense of urgency is unnecessary and may end up backfiring. It is one thing to say you’ve got the “itch” and be willing to wait a couple days or a week, and another thing to barrel through the door demanding someone put a needle in your skin and become disrespectful when they do not have time for you. Patience is a virtue. Well established artists that have a large clientele can sometimes have upwards of 6+ month waitlists. This is the reality of tattooing, as it is an art, and becoming a human canvas to receive a beautiful cosmetic stabbing is–dare I say–a privilege like many other service industry experiences. 


5. Don’t compare artists.

If you show an artist a photo of a tattoo you’re looking to get done and they, in kind, give you their rate or general estimate, do not be insulted if it’s more than you expected and begin haggling and comparing all of the tattoos you’ve gotten by other artists for less. If it’s more than you expected or you simply have a budget, kindly let them know and most artists are happy to accommodate what you had in mind and adjust the idea to have it fit your needs! There are many factors for pricing, the overarching factor being good old supply and demand. All tattoo artists are different. Most charge roughly by the hour, some charge by the size, some charge differently for different areas of the body depending on how challenging they are to tattoo, and so on. You are not getting a quote at a tire repair shop, you are getting a quote for a piece of art, something with innately flexible, subjective, and compounding value.

As an on and off front desk assistant, and a current remote tattoo booking assistant, typically answering calls and emails or speaking to everyone who walks through the door, these tend to be the things I would kindly advise clients not to do. I love tattoos and tattooing, and I respect the hard working tattoo artists I’ve worked with over the years, and want more people to realize that tattoos are a service experience just like any other personal cosmetic enhancements, many of which are also art! Tattooing is a professionally licensed occupation, an artistic-spiritual skill, and a growing industry that continues to expand in representation, acceptance, and accessibility.

“Tattooing is basically anti-repressive. I think people’s main subconscious motivation is to clarify something about themselves to themselves, and only incidentally…to show other people.” – Don Ed Hardy, Modern Primitives

I hope this blog post leaves you with either a fresh perspective or a renewed sense that you’ve been a kind and understanding client of the tattoo world, and for that I am sure you are appreciated. 

Thank you for reading!

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