The cast of Tattoo Nightmares (new season starts tonight on Spike TV, with back-to-back premiere episodes at 11:00 and 11:30 PM, ET/PT) helps us answer the really tough question of “Should one get tattooed by a friend?” It sounds simple, right? Of course you should have a rapport with your artist but as Big Gus, Tommy Helm and Jasmine Rodriguez help us work through this quandary you’ll see how complicated the relationship can make your tattoos and how your tattoos can complicate your friendship.
INKED: What are the pros and cons of tattooing friends?
RODRIGUEZ: The pros are you can pretty much do it whenever you want. But most of the time it never gets finished and they’re constantly asking ‘When can you finish my tattoo?’ You’re not going to charge your friends, so obviously they’re like last on the list; there’s a lot of bitching and complaining going on.
INKED: Do you other guys have a “friends rate” or let them jump the waiting list?
GUS: My assistant handles all that. You know it makes it a lot easier to pay somebody to judge that.
HELM: I can’t say I have a different rate or price for different folks. But I am certainly gracious to the people who have been with me since the day I started. To this day I still tattoo people who have my first, third and fifth tattoo. Back then I made a promise to those people that we were investing in something together and now I definitely feel like I owe them.
INKED: Were your friends some of the first clients that you tattooed?
RODRIGUEZ: When I first started learning to tattoo there was no fake tattoo skin. You tattooed your friends. That’s how you learned. Now, people are walking around with shitty tattoos I did 18 years ago and complaining that they want me to fix them.
HELM: Of course there are tattoos I think to myself I could have done better… I am a self-taught artist from a time when the internet was not so readily available and artists held on tight to the knowledge they had, so a lot of my earlier work was trial and error. I was once asked in an interview, what was the worst tattoo I’ve seen and my answer was from my first five years. When people come in with my work and it didn’t make the mark, my first thought is not can we touch it up, but why hasn’t this person moved to Siberia. But I do love working on old work and bringing it up to par for the client. A lot of my friends say they love to wearing a piece that shows my progression and say they are very proud of it.
INKED: When you tattoo your friends do you feel more or less pressure?
GUS: More pressure. Only because of the fact that they know me more on a personal level so I feel like I must give it my all and don’t let them down!
INKED: Are there any tattoos that you have done on your friends that you look at now and think, Damn I could have done better, I should touch that up?
GUS: Yes all of them, ha! I always want to go over my tattoos again. I feel that they get better every time I do a pass on them with a fresh start of imagination.
INKED: Is it easier for you to talk one of your friends out of a bad tattoo idea?
HELM: I don’t find it easier to talk a friend out of getting a piece I don’t feel is right for them. But it is easier to make fun of a friend for having a stupid idea. Ha!
INKED: Have you ever had friends disagree with your sketch or the final product?
RODRIGUEZ: It happens. I’m not a robot and your friends are going to tell you the fucking truth.
INKED: Have you done a tribute/memorial piece on someone that you knew better than most clients and it made the process more special for you and the client?
GUS: Big time. The connection for me and the client was above anything I ever experienced. I tattooed my lil brother Luis with a portrait of our mother who passed away. It was one of the hardest emotional roller coaster tattoos I ever went through, but in the end tears turned to joy and his tattoo was a reminder of how much we loved her.
INKED: Jasmine, have you tattooed anyone in your family?
RODRIGUEZ: I tattooed my sister, which was a challenge because she’s quick to yell at me because I’m her baby sister. But I was quick to yell at her that day because I was the one in charge at that moment. I was like Alright this is my arena, and she’s like, “Bitch, I am your older sister!”
INKED: Have you ever been jealous when one of your friends went to another tattoo artist?
HELM: I am not a jealous person, so the idea of anybody that I have tattooed getting tattooed by someone else doesn’t bother me at all. I always tell people to collect tattoos, there are so many great artists and styles out there it wouldn’t be right of me to be upset at someone for collecting art. I cannot choose what the person wants to wear, it is there body.
GUS: In my early career I (got jealous). But now that I’m older I actually feel honored when my pieces are added to or surrounded by great artists.
INKED: Have you ever had one of your tattoos covered up by another tattooer?
HELM: I have had plenty of my pieces covered by friends and fellow tattoo artists. I find no politics in it because I truly feel that the person wearing the tattoo owns it and can do whatever they want with it. It also is not my body—friend or not—they have every right to alter the tattoo any way they want.
INKED: Have you ever had to cover-up a piece done by a friend of yours and if so what are the politics in that?
GUS: I plead the 5th! That’s all I’m going to say about that.
The cast of Tattoo Nightmares (new season starts tonight on Spike TV, with back-to-back premiere episodes at 11:00 and 11:30 PM, ET/PT) helps us answer the really tough question of “Should one get tattooed by a […]