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Designing the Perfect Tattoo With Your Artist

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I like to write on many different topics, some of which include tattoo art, health, wellness, recipes, promoting sustainability, and sewing.

The perfect tattoo is both meaningful and beautiful to you. Get some advice on how to choose the right design.

The perfect tattoo is both meaningful and beautiful to you. Get some advice on how to choose the right design.

Do I Need to Do Homework Before Getting a Tattoo?

Yes. Your assignment is to have a solid idea of what kind of tattoo you want—something to start the conversation. One of the best ways to ensure you will get the tattoo you want is to bring in a picture, but as long as you have a solid idea, your artist can help you choose the style and placement.

What If I Don’t Know What I Want?

No matter how good your artist is, they will not tell you which tattoo would be best for you. Any tattoo artist’s pet peeve is having to design a tattoo for a customer that doesn’t know what they want. This is a tattoo that you will have for the rest of your life! If you are stuck for ideas, you need to put more thought into it before approaching your artist. There is more info on how to choose a tattoo here.

But There Are So Many Cool Ideas, and I Can’t Decide!

Yes, that is true—hence the reason some of us have so many tattoos! Sometimes it is appropriate to play it by ear and go with the flow, especially for something small or friendship tattoos. But, for a collaboration between you and your artist, you both will be much happier if the basis for your design comes from you.

"A rose is a rose is a rose." —Gertrude Stein

"A rose is a rose is a rose." —Gertrude Stein

Now That You Have an Idea, What Do You Like About It?

Say you saw a beautiful black and grey rose that was placed perfectly on a hip. You like the piece, but you don’t want to copy it. Roses are nice and all, but maybe they don’t mean anything to you. Sometimes that is enough, and people will stop there. They end up with a nice tattoo, but not something that they are thrilled with.

If you are lucky, your artist will take it the rest of the way, but you should not depend on your artist to do this for you. Like you, artists have 365 days a year that could be good, bad, or busy. They are often running their own business as well as tattooing and struggling to make time for their families. They have multiple clients each day, and it can be challenging to connect with all of them.

So, using the rose example, ask yourself some questions. You know that you like the placement above all, but you want it to be different in some way.

Different styles of bloody roses.

Different styles of bloody roses.

A yellow rose with twining leaves on the shoulder.

A yellow rose with twining leaves on the shoulder.

Time for a Brainstorming Session!

  • Should you use color instead?
  • Or a different drawing of your rose, such as emphasizing the thorns or adding a dagger?
  • Hmmm, that sounds cool, but maybe that image would be too rigid. In order to have the flow you are looking for, it will need ribbons or something around it.
  • Maybe you happen to be studying marine biology and the ribbons make you think of the tentacles of an octopus, and you wonder if that would work.

You approach your artist with the picture in hand and your ideas. In the end, you leave the shop with a stunning eight-armed cephalopod mollusk gracefully posed on your hip. Win!

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Read More from Tatring

It is possible to achieve the same look with your personal touch.

It is possible to achieve the same look with your personal touch.

A Note About Communicating

Good communication is the only way to make sure you will end up with the tattoo that you are thinking of. You want to make sure that the picture in your mind is the same as the picture in your artist’s mind—or at least very similar.

Remember that we all have a unique frame of reference with which we view things. As you can see in the photos, something as simple as a rose can have a lot of differences. You may be thinking of a delicate pink garden rose in a watercolor look, and your artist may be thinking of a bright colorful rose with a traditional hard outline.

Talk to Your Artist in Person

The best piece of advice I can give you is to stop by and talk to your artist in person. You can tell them that you are thinking of a new tattoo idea and are looking for input. If you want the artist to draw something for you ahead of time, you should offer to pay them for their time. If you want to spend an hour of the artist’s time going through books and discussing your piece (if they have time for this), you should expect to make an appointment and pay them according to their hourly rate.

Which leads to another question: How do you pick a tattoo artist anyway?


Brandon Hart from The Game on December 07, 2016:

If you're just starting out, would you get something small and meaningful or go with something bigger and, perhaps, more significant?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 27, 2016:

Excellent article. I have a few tattoos, the largest of which is on my back. It started with a flash option on my right shoulder blade. I changed the colors so I wouldn't have the same tattoo as everyone else who goes into a tattoo studio and chooses items from the "coloring book".

Two of the additional pieces I had put on my back were drawn by artist friends. But having three tattoos on strategic parts of my back, did not a design make. Then I met a champion tattooist who was the friend of a guy I was dating at the time. He took an ink pen and tied the three tattoos together to create a cohesive design.

It's beautiful and I haven't regretted it for one minute.

It took a few years to complete the "mural" on my back (I could only withstand and pay for an hour at a time), but each time I went back, the artist knew the original design and carried on. He never made a stencil. He simply re-drew the design and went from there. That's a true tattoo artist. No flash needed. No outline stenciled onto the surface.

Tattoos are forever and need to make a statement. Make sure it's the right one. As you age, your body changes and so does what's important to you. Think about that before you embark on the body art journey.

My back mural is over 30 years old now and the only thing I regret is the rolls I've developed with age. I still love the design and what it says about me.

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