Deciding to get a tattoo is a huge commitment. After all, you're choosing a piece of artwork that will, at least in theory, adorn your body for the rest of your life. It's important to have all the details in place – which image you want, where on your body it's going to go and, perhaps most importantly, which artist will perform the tattoo.
Tattoo artists are called that for a reason – what they do takes skill, training and experience. Just like you wouldn't trust an amateur to build your house or compose a concerto for you, you certainly don't want an unskilled tatooist coming anywhere near you with that needle and ink. A subpar artist is one of the fastest routes to tattoo regret – here are a few ways you can make an informed decision.
A tattoo artist's portfolio is akin to his or her business card – it's a way to share samples of their work with potential interested clients. More than that, these portfolios give them a chance to show off the work they're most proud of – unlike art galleries, tattoo artists' canvasses walk out when the appointment is over. From a client perspective, the portfolio is the first line of defense against ending up with a bad artist and, by extension, bad tattoos. An artist's portfolio is a great way to get a sense of his or her preferred style, but savvy tattooees can peruse the images to get an idea of the artist's skill and quality as well. As Slate noted, pay particularly close attention to things like lines – shaky, blurry or inconsistent linework is a huge red flag in terms of the overall quality of the tattoo you can inspect. Also inspect the quality of the shading, the vibrancy of the colors and even the overall condition of the skin. While tattooing irritates skin to some degree, overly red or scabby pictures should set off alarm bells.
Often, the difference between a good artist and a great one comes down to range. Even in Hollywood, certain celebrities are well-known typecasts in particular roles, but struggle when playing a different sort of character. The same is true for tattoo artists. Almost every professional will have a preferred style he or she likes to focus on – some like traditional art, others prefer tribal and others still are very adept at Japanese or other cultural images and scripts. Regardless of the tattooist's specialty, however, a good artist should be able to perform whatever design you bring forward. If you present a design and the artist tells you it's out of his or her area of expertise, consider going with someone else.
You've sat through countless job interviews, so you understand the importance of finding the right fit. When choosing a tattoo artist, you should go through a similar process. Especially if you're requesting a custom design, how well your tatooist listens to what you want can be a huge indicator of the final product. As XO Jane pointed out, a good artist will be an excellent listener, taking into account your requests as much as possible. The job of the artist isn't to control the show, but it's also important that if there are any potential issues or limitations with your idea they're honest about that. A skilled professional is one who will listen to what you want, and if there's a potential complication, will offer alternatives that take your overall concept into account rather than simply doing his or her own thing.
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