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How to Pick a Tattoo Artist

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How to pick the right tattoo artist.

How to pick the right tattoo artist.

How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist for You

  1. Ask friends for recommendations (if you like their tattoos, of course).
  2. Research and connect on social media (most reputable artists have an online presence).
  3. Know exactly what you're looking for, since not all tattoo shops or artists are the same.
  4. Ask the right questions (see list below).
  5. Compare artists and prioritize your desires to narrow down your decision.

Each of these steps is outlined fully below.

1. Is Your Friend's Tattoo Artist Right for You?

Maybe! You should definitely ask people to whom they go to get tattooed and ask how their experience was. People are usually happy to refer their artist and may even have a number or address to pass on to you!

If you get the chance, go along when your friend gets tattooed. Talk to the artist and watch them work. Use this time to look at their portfolios and talk shop with them and anyone else around. Don't be afraid to ask questions: Tattoo shops are typically open, friendly places where everyone feels welcome.

If you see a tattoo you like, ask for the artist's name and how the experience was.

If you see a tattoo you like, ask for the artist's name and how the experience was.

2. Connect on Social Media

If you don’t know anybody who got a good tattoo at your local places, you might need to expand your search to the websites of the shops in your area.

Tattoo Shop Websites. Most websites will list the shop's location and hours, artist bios, and post pictures of the work they have done. Artists will usually post photos of the work they are most proud of. If you are not impressed, you should probably rule them out and keep searching.

Instagram and Facebook are also excellent places for comparing artists. Most shops have a page and many artists have their own pages, as well. Like and follow them!

3. Know What You're Looking For

All tattoo shops are not the same. Every tattoo shop has a personality of its own, depending on the artists there, the location, and the type of customer they attract. A shop located on a beach could have a completely different feel from a parlor in a historic building downtown. The reason for this is that they attract different kinds of customers. The beach shop may cater more to spontaneous tourists and will always have time for walk-ins. The downtown shop may not get walk-ins as often, so they build a clientele by working on custom pieces. Their clients often set up their next appointment when they are getting tattooed, and these artists may be booked out a month in advance—or more. Waiting a year to see a popular tattooist is not unheard of.

Simpler tattoo projects: Do you want a not-too-difficult design? Are you willing to pick a flash tattoo off the shop wall? Are you looking for an easy and spontaneous tattooing experience? Do you want a tattoo right away? Then you probably don't need to worry so much—you'll have a wider array of artists and appointment times to choose from.

Complicated tattoo projects: Do you want a complicated or large tattoo? Do you have a very clear, specific idea about what you want? Do you want an artist to sit down with you to create a unique design? Are you willing to wait and pay extra to get exactly what you want? Then you'll probably want to take more time to carefully choose and book an appointment with your favorite chosen artist.

It's important to know what style the artist specializes in.

It's important to know what style the artist specializes in.

4. Ask the Right Questions

What do you need to know about the artist?

  • Where did you learn and how long have you been tattooing? Knowing the history will help determine the level of expertise.
  • What style do you specialize in? Which tattoo was your favorite, and why? This will give you an idea of what they do best.
  • What is your artistic process? In other words, do they design ahead of time or work more spontaneously? Do they use stencils?
  • Are there any tattoos, styles, or placements you just won't do?
  • How much do you charge? Find out if they have a minimum or if they charge by the hour.

A note about style: A good artist can tattoo in any style you choose, but they almost always have a style that they specialize in. If you have a particular idea in mind, you should compare the styles and techniques of different artists. Some are more comfortable doing old-school, traditional tattoos while others may enjoy doing more contemporary tattoos. If your idea is in an unusual style, seek out an artist who displays work done in that style.

I heard a story about somebody who had a preference for an obscure and specific style. His method for finding an artist was to print out a picture of the style of tattoo he was looking for and ask the artist if they recognized it. If they said yes, he would continue the conversation. Very effective! Here's an introduction to the various different tattoo styles you might choose from.

5. Comparing and Choosing Tattoo Artists

Once you have narrowed your many choices to a few, you can bring your idea in to each of them individually for a short interview. But before you talk to them, think about the most important factor in your decision.

  • Are you looking for somebody who is confident that they can pull off that style or that level of detail? Consider their previous work and the length and quality of their experience.
  • Or do you really want somebody who seems enthusiastic about your idea? If it comes down to two artists of equal capability, enthusiasm for your project might make all the difference.
  • Maybe you're really looking for somebody who can enhance or develop your idea? Some artists are good at designing, while others' skills may be more technical. Find out how much of their own individual style and creativity goes into the designs they produce.
  • Do you want a custom piece? Or do you just want the person that can get you in the soonest?

Defining what is most important to you will help you make your choice.

How Do You Begin the Conversation?

Start by telling them that you are looking for an artist to do a tattoo of [whatever it is] on your [chosen body part] and mention [your most important factor].

Many people interview artists before a tattoo, so artists are accustomed to and comfortable with these discussions. Tattoo artists are also salespeople. They may say, “Great! Let’s set up an appointment!” However, it is always okay to say that you are shopping around as long as you are respectful of the artist’s time.

After you have chosen an artist, you might want to read Designing the Perfect Tattoo With Your Artist.


Victoria M. on July 29, 2019:

I'm looking to get my first tattoo, and I generally know what I want, so I'm at the point of needing to find an artist. My question is, is there anything I should/should not do while shopping around so I don't offend the artists?

I'm so afraid of irritating them by taking up their time and then not getting ink from them. I don't want them to think I'm one of those cheap deal-seeking gremlins just looking for the lowest price. But I also don't want to insult them by asking too many questions, or have them think I'm an idiot for not knowing things.

Is there a book called "How to Find A Tattoo Artist When You Have Social Anxiety" haha...

Cindy Tesler on November 09, 2016:

I agree that you should ask people (that have gotten a tattoo) about their experience at that particular tattoo shop. You also mention that people may even have their artist's business card on them for you. I think it's important to choose a tattoo shop that goes above and beyond to have a clean environment which promotes professionalism.