Dear Tattooist: How can I find a good tattoo artist?

Java asked:

How can I find a good tattoo artist? How will I know he or she is good? To me, “good” means someone who uses quality ink, needles, etc. Generally, excellence in the safety and quality of the process. I also want an artist who makes good art, spells words correctly in tattoos, etc. How can I be sure before getting a tattoo?

One would think for something that is a permanent alteration to your body, more people would ask this question. Most don’t seem to. I’m glad you have.

Do people you know have tattoos you like? Word-of-mouth is an excellent way to find a great tattooist. What studio and to what tattooist did they go? Did they have a good experience while at the studio?

If you see someone in public with tattoos that you like, politely ask who their tattooist is. Many people with tattoos are happy to promote their tattooist(s).

Most studios and tattooists should have websites with portfolios of their work and pictures of the studio, like my studio does. These will give you an idea of the studio and artist without having to go to each studio.

But please do physically visit different tattoo studios. Do you feel comfortable walking into that studio? Listen to your senses. Does it “look” clean, or is dark and dingy? Does it smell clean, or not-so-fresh? I know this sounds odd, but go visit the restroom. It’s appearance and condition is usually an accurate reflection of the establishment as a whole.

Obviously, the studio is not the same as each tattooist who works in it, but many facets mirror each other.

Ask about the sanitation and sterilization procedures the studio and tattooist follows. Are new sterile needles used with each client? Are all other tools that are involved in the tattooing process either sterilized or disposed of after each client? Non-disposable equipment should be sterilized with an autoclave (an apparatus that uses superheated steam under high pressure to sterilize instruments).

Are studios and tattooists regulated and licensed by your state’s Health Department? If so, you can contact the Health Department about infractions and complaints.

Tattooists should have a photo portfolio of their tattoo work. The portfolio will contain a biased sampling, as a tattooist is obviously only going to put good examples of their work in said portfolio. Also, it’s not possible to know that the tattooist actually did the work in said portfolio. I’ve actually heard of cases where a dishonest tattooist was using other tattooist’s pictures.

What is the style of tattoo you are wanting? Think of all the different styles of art by all the different artists over time. The same is true of tattooists. Not all tattooists tattoo all styles and subject matter. Are there examples of the style of tattoo you want in the tattooist’s portfolio?

What are your impressions of the tattooist? Does he or she “look” clean? Does he or she smell clean, or not-so-fresh? Do you feel comfortable with the tattooist?

How long has the tattooist been tattooing? What styles of tattoo do they enjoy doing? If a tattooist is annoyed because of, or does not have solid answers to any of your questions, that should tell you a few things about the compatibility between you and the tattooist.

You don’t have to be buddies with your tattooist, but you do have to communicate what you want and expect. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your tattooist, it’s not likely that you will get what you want.

There’s a book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo. I hate, hate, hate the title! It’s a great resource, and I keep a copy at the studio. You can also Google for “getting my first tattoo“. There are plenty of good resources out there as well.

Hopefully this information will assist you in finding the tattooist that is right for you.

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...

7 thoughts on “Dear Tattooist: How can I find a good tattoo artist?

  1. Thanks for the information. I got lucky on my getting my first tattoo, I had walked into a place and it didn’t ‘feel’ right so I left and went down the street. The guy at this place was GREAT! I do recommend Cat Tattoo in Addison, TX to anyone who asks.

  2. I think it’s important to pick an artist that is good in the style you want. Asian, color, b&w, portraiture, biker, etc

  3. I found my artist by word of mouth – of course when I got them, tattoos were illegal here in Massachusetts, so it was completely underground. But when it’s underground an artists rep is everything, and I like the work he did on my friend who recommended him.

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