You’ve decided you want a tattoo, you’ve got your sister’s best friend’s uncle to draw it for you and you’re about to head out of the door to your local tattoo studio and get it done. Or maybe you’re planning to just head down there and pick something from the flash posters on the walls. 

HOLD UP.

Now, I know you know this, but that thing is for life. That spur of the moment decision is something that won’t ever leave you, except perhaps with the use of expensive and painful lasers that don’t guarantee you fresh, scar-free skin afterwards. Obviously I’m not condemning tattoos; at current count I have ten, with a billion more in the planning. But, speaking from experience, if you don’t put some good thought into your tattoos, you’re likely to regret them further down the line. 

I only regret one of my tattoos, and it’s the only one that I rushed into; I’d had my first one, got the bug, drawn something up in a hurry and gone to get it that weekend at a Saturday walk-in day at the local studio. Luckily the artist was good and so the tattoo itself is fine, but I wish I’d actually thought about the design more. I now spend an awkward amount of time explaining to interested people what it says/means (part of it is script) and I’m always embarrassed and trying to cover it up. 

Finding a tattoo artist
Wing walker on a biplane – tattooed by Becca at Jayne Doe, Hornchurch.

These days, I tend to find an artist I like, get on their waiting list and ask them to draw something for me. The artist usually has a waiting list of at least a few months, giving me plenty of time to make sure that I definitely want that tattoo, and on that part of my body. If I were to draw something myself that I wanted to get tattooed, I’d stick it on my wall for a month or two to make sure that I definitely liked it, and I’d find someone great to tattoo it for me.

Here’s the part where I sound like a mum trying to be cool: tattoos have definitely become fashionable recently. They’re creeping their way into TV adverts, magazines and of course, all over the bodies of celebrities. Most fashion decisions are throwaway and reversible, tattoos are not. And you owe your skin a little more thought than that new fox print blouse you’ve had your eye on.

Finding a good artist can be a slippery slope: after all that research, you’re going to have seen a lot of great tattoos, and by the end of it you might have a few more planned than you’d intended. But you’ll have probably also seen a lot of bad tattoos, which will give you some idea of the range of styles and abilities that are available. Just going to a tattoo shop does not guarantee you a good tattoo. I won’t warn you about the dangers of having a stranger come to your house to tattoo you, you’ve all seen the story of the girl who had Marilyn Monroe tattooed for £50 in her living room, right? But suffice to say, you won’t get a tattoo you’re happy with from just anyone with a tattoo machine.

Make sure to do your research. At the very least, take a look at the portfolio of the artist you’re thinking of booking with, to make sure the quality of their previous pieces is good. Word of mouth recommendations are also useful – ask your tattooed friends who they had their pieces tattooed by. There are also plenty of great tattoo magazines that feature artists work, such as Skin Deep and Total Tattoo. Bear in mind that some tattoo artists will only work with their own custom designs, but if you love the style of their work then you’d probably prefer to be tattooed with their designs anyway. 

Finding a tattoo artist
Storm in a teacup – Guen Douglas, Salon Serpent. Heart locket and key – Becca, Jayne Doe. Fan and feather – Will, Tattoo Art.

Be prepared for a wait. As I mentioned before, most good artists have a waiting list and with good reason. Also be prepared to pay: depending on your location, most reputable (and popular) artists charge around £60-100 or more per hour, and when you think of how long you’re going to have your tattoo, it’s a worthy investment.

Pop down to the tattoo studio before you book – you might not get to speak to the artist, but you can speak to the receptionist and scope out the studio. You want somewhere nice and clean, with portfolio books of the artists dotted about for you to have a browse through.

When you’re comfortable, speak to the receptionist about booking. They’ll take care of everything, and you’ll pay them a deposit to cover the artist a little bit should you bail on your appointment. (Don’t do that – it wastes appointment time, drawing time, and any hope you had of ever getting tattooed by that artist, or even in that studio.)

Finally, once you’ve chosen your artist, booked in, and eventually had your appointment, consider tipping your artist for a job well done. They’ll appreciate it, and it’s always good to have an artist that looks upon you favourably and might bump you forward on their waiting lists if they have a cancellation in the future. 

And finally… enjoy! Ultimately, you’ve just added something awesome to your body. Look after it, and cherish it for many, many years to come.

Have you ever rushed into a tattoo and regretted it?

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