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Part 2 of Getting Your First Tattoo: Choosing a Shop and Artist

Now that you have chosen a design for your tattoo and decided that you are committed enough to have that art inked into your skin for eternity we move on to the second step in getting your first tattoo—choosing a shop and an artist.

With so many tattoo shops out there, one may assume that you can just walk into any one of them and walk out with an excellent tattoo; unfortunately that’s not the case. Tattooing is an art carried out by hand so the quality of the tattoo will vary wildly based on who is behind the machine. Tattooing also involves piercing your skin thousands of times with needles so one must be wary about the cleanliness of the shop in which they are getting tattooed. We’re going to break this down into two steps for you: Picking a shop. Then picking an artist.

Picking a Shop

There are all sorts of ways to find a tattoo shop but the best way is to ask tattooed friends of yours where they got their work done. People love to talk about their ink and often will rave about artists who have done right by them. A friend is also likely to be completely honest and steer you away from a shop if they had a bad experience there.

If you don’t know anyone who can give you a good recommendation, the internet is a good place to start your search. Most tattoo parlors have websites where you can see pictures of the shop as well as go through the portfolios of the artists working there. As you browse through websites here are the things you should be looking for.

  1. Cleanliness – Infections can damage a tattoo, cause a great deal of pain, and ultimately lead to a hospital visit or worse. It’s important to find a shop that is hygienic and licensed. It may seem romantic to have a buddy give you a stick and poke tattoo in their garage but that notion will disappear when you are in the emergency room.
  2. Reputation – Like all businesses tattoo shops will build a reputation over the years. If you hear a lot of negative things about a shop it’s likely that you will walk out disappointed. We recommend getting an overall impression about a shop from either people you know or through online reviews prior to deciding on one.
  3. Location – This is a very important thing to consider that you may overlook. If you are getting a complicated design that requires multiple sittings you don’t want to have to make a four-hour drive to reach the shop. Though it may be worth it.

Picking an Artist

Picking an artist to do your tattoo goes hand-in-hand with choosing a shop. A lot of artists excel at doing certain types of artwork but may not be as skilled in other styles so it is key to find the artist that is perfect for you. Here are some tips that should help you in your search.

  1. Call the shop – Give the shop a call to discuss your tattoo and set up a consultation. They should be able to direct you to the artist that would be most suited for the work that you want done.
  2. Check out the artist’s portfolio – Every tattoo artist worth his salt has a portfolio of tattoos that they have done. Look through it and make sure that you are impressed by the work and feel confident that the artist is up to the task. In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo John Reardon suggests that the most important things to look for in a portfolio are the quality of photos, artist originality, and good line work.
  3. Talk to the artist – By talking to the artist you can learn a lot of things; are you comfortable with the artist? Is the artist comfortable with the tattoo you have chosen? You can also ask any questions you may have about getting a tattoo.
  4. If you like the artist but he is booked for months, wait. A few months is nothing compared to the lifetime you will have the tattoo.

Once you have decided upon a shop and an artist you are ready to schedule an appointment and finally go in to get your first tattoo. We’ll cover all of the things that you need to do on the day of the tattoo to be completely ready in the next edition of Getting Your First Tattoo.