Tag Archives: Dear Tattooist

Questions answered… Let’s talk about tattoos.

I received quite a few questions, both in the comments on the post and some in email form as people didn’t want to sound like cheeky monkeys.

I noticed several different categories of questions asked, so I’ve group them as such.

This round up is concerning all the tattoo-related questions I was asked.

Have you ever given someone a tattoo that was a total mess (either because of their decision or your mistake), but you kept a straight face and instead just reassured them about how good it was? My barber has great stories on this subject, so I guess you might as well.

That probably depends on how we define “total mess”.

I’ve had a few clients come in and want me to replicate something that a child or friend drew for them, which would be the equivalent of Comic Sans compared to Times New Roman. Or they wanted something rather hideous and I couldn’t persuade them into something better. For those I just have to bite my tongue and remind myself I’m giving them exactly what they want.

I can think of one tattoo in particular a long, long time ago that was attempted that shouldn’t have been done. Mostly because the subject matter wouldn’t translate well into a tattoo. And also because it was the first time I allowed a customer to rush me through the process. Neither of us were happy with the end result, and I definitely learned a few things from it.

As for the straight face, I’ve never had one of those. 😉

How does one become a tattoo artist? Is there state boards to get accredited?

I can only answer for the state in which I live, Arkansas. Tattooing and body piercing is regulated by the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services. (If you want, you can read a complete list of the rules here.)

The legal jargon:
“Tattoo, permanent cosmetic, and body piercing artists are required to be certified in Arkansas. Certification requirements include a minimum of six-month artist in training program with an artist who has been certified in Arkansas for a minimum of three years. The training facility must be approved by the Board of Private Career Education. An application for apprenticeship must be completed as well as a written exam which is based on the Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Permanent Cosmetic and Tattoo Establishments. A practical exam is conducted near the end of the training period.”

Which boils down to say that a prospective tattooist apprentices under a master artist to learn the craft. The apprentice is then tested by the Department of Health and Human Services. A license is then renewed yearly through the Department.

We have all seen posters that have been in the sun so long that only the cyan print is left. I’m curious as to whether there are any tattoo ink colors that fade faster than others.

Just like anything that’s left out in the sun eventually UV exposure takes its toll on tattoo pigment. Lighter colors like whites and yellows and pastel shades tend to blend into skin tones faster than colors that are darker. But even darker colors will fade over time when exposed to UV radiation.

Sunblock or wear protective clothing to extend the life of your artwork!

Did you have any angst before you got your first tattoo? Is there advice you give to clients who have angst?


Oddly enough, I don’t remember any angst. Or much of anything about the experience. I think I was 20 when I got it. I don’t even remember the reason I got it either. I know alcohol wasn’t involved, as I wasn’t old enough to drink yet. That, and I lived in a dry county and went to a religious college. I don’t remember the tattoo hurting. I think I may have actually fallen asleep during the procedure. I’m a little odd. 😉

As far as advice to clients. If I can tell someone is nervous or they say they are, I tell them the truth: it doesn’t hurt as bad as they think it’s going to, or as their friends have led them to believe. Granted, I’m a somewhat light-handed tattooist, so that makes a difference in the experience.

What is the funniest tattoo you’ve seen or one that you’ve done on someone?


Funny is definitely in the eye of the beholder. There’s been a few that stand out. But probably the funniest one was on a client. She was easily in her 60s. She wanted a rose tattoo, with a stem and thorn. But with a man making up the stem. And as for the thorn….

Do you get aroused when you tattoo someone?


I have not. Yet. I’ve had several very, very drool-worthy clients to be sure. But I’ve always been extremely professional when it comes to my business. That, and my brain isn’t quite wired in the typical sexual way.

Have you ever pierced another human?


I have not. The piercing procedure makes me both squeamish and nervous. And it’s not something I have a desire to do, nor have I been trained or licensed to pierce anyone.

What made you want to become a tattoo artist?

It was a suggestion from someone else, actually. I grew up doing all types of art things. It was always encouraged as a hobby by the parental units, but not something a respectable member of society would do. So I did the college thing. And then the working in IT for 15 years. Then the light came when the suggestion was made, and here I am now getting to use that art “hobby”.

What type of tattoos do you most like? What type do you most dislike?

I LOVE cartoon/manga/anime-style tattoos. My favorite thing on the planet to do. I dislike most typical, solid black, tribal tattoos. Meh.

Until next time...

Dear Tattooist: Location, location, location?

It’s been a while since I had one of these, although I do have 2 more in the queue to answer.

Jake asked:

I’ve heard conflicting reports:

I am currently tattoo-less, but have wanted one for years. I have a couple ideas of what I want, but the big question is location. My question is: “Which areas of the body do you think tattoos look the freshest/best for the longest amount of time? That is, will a tattoo on the middle of my back, for example, look better when I’m 70 than a tattoo on my forearm or ankle?”

Just like with a brick-and-mortar business, location is important for a tattoo. Up to a point.

Oddly enough, as I was finalizing this post I read an article yesterday about scientists developing a mathematical model on how tattoos age. Finally. I like seeing scientists actually taking an interest in the field of tattooing. I need to go buy the journal so I can see what he says, but I’m betting it will mirror observations tattooists have seen firsthand over the years.

How quickly a tattoo will change depends on many factors such as the size of the tattoo, the amount and type of detail, it’s location and exposure to the sun. Skin type, age, and tattoo pigment type will also influence how a tattoo looks over time.

The answer somewhat mirrors some items in two posts I did previously: here and here.

UV exposure, or the lack thereof, is a large factor. Like most forms of radiation exposure, the effect is cumulative on the body. Keeping your tattoos away from UV light will keep them looking better longer.

Also know that not all tattoo pigment is created equally. Some pigments are not of the best quality materials, some being down-right horrible. And the insertion of any tattoo pigment itself also has a lot to do with what happens to the tattoo: too deep is bad; too shallow is bad. The ink has to be at just the right level. Which is why you should definitely research the tattooist you’re going to have tattoo you.

Changes in the shape of our skin also is a factor. Our skin is in a constant state of flux. And some places “flux” more than others. Tattoos will expand and contract when the skin stretches and shrinks. So that nice firm skin you have today may not stay that way. And with it also goes your tattoo. As we age, our skin typically looses that freshness and thins out. This also has an effect on tattoos. A good skin care regimen will help keep your skin healthy, and as a side-effect your tattoos will look healthy too.

All that said, the best place for a tattoo is exactly where you want it.


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

You can see other questions I’ve answered by viewing the tag “Dear Tattooist“.

Until next time...

Dear Tattooist: When did you know?

This post was prompted from a question asked by John in my last post:

When did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist?

Only about 5 years ago, actually. And it was more because of something that resulted as a question from someone to me along the lines of “Why aren’t you a tattooist?” rather than a “Hey, I want to be a tattooist when I grow up!” sort of thing.

Time for an Erik history lesson.

I used to do a lot of art-related stuffs when I was younger, but it was more a creative hobby than something I thought anyone could ever make money to live. I would build extremely detailed plastic models; oil painting; pen and ink drawing; modeling and firing clay; random collages made from all sorts of stuffs; photography; and all sorts of other bizarre stuff that one might attribute to “art”.

My parents my art talents, but only as a hobby and not something I should do as a career. So when it came time for college, I put my art stuff aside. I ended up with a BA in Social Science and was going to teach History to high school students. After I graduated, I realized I no longer wanted to be in school. I eventually ended up in the computer field.

I left the computer field the first time to help the Husbear run the hair and tanning salon we had opened. When we could finally afford to hire employees, I went to school to become a massage therapist. After getting my license, I did that for about a year before I became completely bored with it. Mind numbing for me it was.

So I went back into the computer field. In that time, I had started getting more tattoo work done (after nearly 10 years since my first one!). People who knew me knew I was artistic. It took someone asking me why I wasn’t a tattooist before I got the notion to do it.

“Huh!”, I thought.

So I looked into what it would take in the great state of Arkansas to become a tattooist. The main route involved apprenticing under a tattooist at a shop, which required a whole lot of money to do. (Shops at that time were charging roughly $10,000 to apprentice, and all your tattoo income went to the shop. And no guarantee that you would be allowed to complete your apprenticeship!) So I went a different route: With the help of the [She Who Shall Not Be Named, At Her Request], I opened up a tattoo studio first. In exchange for her mastering me in the tattoo arts, I would give her free booth rent for a duration.

I earned my license in June 2006. I tattooed part-time in the evenings after my 45+ hours-a-week day job, and on the weekends. That got… old. So finally in June 2009, I left the security of my computer gig to tattoo full-time, and I haven’t looked back since.

I love it. I get to meet the full gamut of the population, AND they pay me to inflict pain on them! And I get to create art. Permanent art.

Me at work, which really isn’t “work”, tattooing Joseph.

Updated 2012.04.02

Until next time...

Dear Tattooist: Copyright, Copyright, Copyright

the replicant asked:

This may be kind of a dull subject, but how does copyright affect tattoo art? Whether that be factors into the decision whether to reproduce a trademarked character, or how it affects your own creations? I have occasionally remarked that if I were to get a tattoo, I’d ask for the “USDA Inspected” seal, but that seems like it would somehow be illegal.

There’s actually three different copyright issues involved in the tattoo industry: tattooing a copyright/registered trademark or other work of art; using flash that hasn’t been payed for; and one tattooist copying another tattooist’s work.

I’m weaseling out of doing a big write-up on this, as all are discussed here and here in a lot of detail, and by an attorney no less. (Marisa DiMattia Kakoulas also blogs here.)

As for your “USDA Inspected” tattoo idea, I don’t have a problem tattooing trademarked symbols on clients. If someone wants to provide “free advertising” to that corporation/entity for the rest of their life, then so be it. I haven’t heard of any litigation around someone being sued because they had a company’s logo tattooed on their person, at least in the United States.

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just 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...

Dear Tattooist: What happens to my tattoo when my weight changes?

DrRuss asked:

I’ve heard conflicting reports:

What happens to the tattoo image when you gain or lose weight? I am thinking about getting a new tattoo on the side of my torso (rib cage). I am planning on losing weight and want to know if I should get the tattoo now or wait until I lose the weight? Does the stretching of the skin when gaining weight affect the tattoo in any noticeable way?

This is one of those questions that gets the “It depends” answer. Genetics, elasticity of your skin, your age, quantity of weight change, and the location and subject matter of the tattoo all have a big part to play with what will happen to your tattoo in either gaining or losing weight. Areas of skin that are prone to stretching when you gain weight or shrinking when you lose weight may not be in the configuration you want when you achieve that new weight.

Some lucky people’s skin and their tattoos go back to the exact same place after dramatic weight changes. Some.

Just yesterday I saw a client who had stars tattooed across her lower abdomen just a few years ago. Then she got pregnant. Her body figure went back to “normal” after the pregnancy, but her skin did not. Now most of the stars no longer look like stars. They looked more like starfish. All wavy.

I’ve seen guys who had crosses tattooed on their deltoid. One lost weight, the other gained weight. Neither cross tattoo was no longer “straight” after the weight change.

If you are planning on changing weight dramatically, then I would suggest holding off until you are close to the weight target you are looking to hit. This is just my recommendation based on seeing people who have experienced dramatic weight changes and their tattoos.

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...

Dear Tattooist: Covering a fresh tattoo?

fermat69 asked:

I’ve heard conflicting reports:

Immediately after a tattoo, does one need to keep it covered with plastic wrap for 24 hours? Or should the skin be allowed to breathe?

I will first tell you to take care of your tattoo exactly as your tattoo artist tells you.

Much scientific study in collaboration with trained medical professionals in skin care is something I would like to see more of in this field. Every artist seems to have a different way they recommend to take care of a tattoo, either due to personal experience or training.

That said, I can tell you how we teach our clients to take care of their new tattoo at our studio:

30 minutes after your tattoo is finished, remove the bandage your tattoo artist put over your new tattoo. Wash your tattoo thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water. Be sure to rinse away any and all secretions, and be sure that all soap residues are rinsed off. Lightly pat dry your tattoo with a clean paper towel.

After washing and drying your new tattoo, apply a small amount of Curel Unscented or Gold Bond Chamomile lotion and massage it into your tattoo. DO NOT apply a thick coat.

Your new tattoo will develop a layer of dry skin over the next few days. DO NOT PICK this off. Wash and apply lotion three times daily until the layer falls of on its own. After the dry skin has fallen off, there will be a period of adjustment for your skin. It is advisable to continue to use the lotion during this time, which is usually around two weeks for most people.

For some tattoos—depending on the size and location—we recommend to clients that instead of applying lotion, they instead wrap/cover the tattoo with Saran Wrap during certain times. This is usually for large tattoos that a client may fall asleep on and risk sticking to their clothes and sheets, or if the tattoo needs special protection from some hazard the client may be around. (For example, when I get a new tattoo and will be working with clients, I cover it with Saran Wrap to protect it from any aerated blood-borne pathogens, etc.)

The same cleaning and reapplication process applies as mentioned above.

As I said previously, scientific study in collaboration with trained medical professionals in skin care is something I would like to see more of. I should look into that. Then again, I’d also like to find a dermatologist who doesn’t get all weird on you because you have a tattoo.

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...