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Good etiquette vs. good "service" - or bad chemistry


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Ok, I'd love to get some feedback from tattoo artists and collectors alike on this, after seeing a lot of threads on how customers should behave.

I'll try to keep it short and simple.

I'm white guy living in Beijing, China. I started getting tattooed this summer (still in progress). I had a very positive experience with my first artist. I'd like a second piece now and was looking into another guy's work.

I went to see him some time ago.

Boy were we not hitting it off.

It went like this: I arrive and his assistant tells me I have to take my shoes off. I do that and sit on the couch, as invited.

Another Chinese couple is there. The assistant, as per common Chinese custom, brings me a glass of water and the guy's portfolio, which I go through again. For the trillionth time. He's excellent at his style and I already know that. He's not there yet. Two other employees are sitting at tables and drawing. There is no music, it's total silence and neon lights. Cozy as fuck.

About five minutes into my wait, the couple orders a plum juice and pays for it.

Now, I don't have any social disorders, but I am a person that can obsess over a single sentence or detail and construct an elaborate idea on it. The plum juice thing did that for me and it all went downhill from here: Shouldn't you worry about inking people and leave the soft drink business to others? I mean, I get having sugary stuff for people who faint etc., I get offering a free soft drink, considering that you charge like a motherfucker, but this was something off a freaking menu... Is that normal in other places? I'm OK with merchandise and stuff that has an inhouse-creative process behind it. I have nothing but love and respect for plum juice.. but selling it at a tattoo place?

Anyway, I keep waiting. After twenty or-so minutes the boss finally arrives. He says hi to the couple and something like "just a minute". He turns to where I'm sitting and we shake hands. He's smiling and stuff, but I don't know, he comes off as pretty smug. I start remembering his Instagram pics about him smoking Cuban cigars and a table with 10 bottles of Dom Perignon.

He asks me "What do you want?" in English. The rough wording of his question is due to the language barrier, but well, if anything, it certainly didn't exactly help.

The couple and all his employees gather around me to hear what I'm saying. My Chinese is OK, but all the attention towards what the white guy can say and what Asian stuff he wants on his skin makes it very uncomfortable for me to explain in their language how I want my dragon done, to basically everybody there, with him not even sitting down to listen. It's basically the monkey-at-a-zoo feeling that foreigners in China often experience when drawing the locals' attention. You can get stopped on the road for a pic of you here, just because you're Caucasian. Some people are OK with it. I'm not really.

Also, I won't jerk off here on how tattooing is a private, intimate experience, but well, I think taking a fucking second to sit down with me and maybe not have everyone gathering around is written somewhere in the "stuff you do to make a customer feel at ease"-manual.

I start explaining that I'd like design X on part of body Y with background Z. He says "Ok, cool." At this point, he was basically done and ready for the couple.

I get that his life won't revolve around my tattoo, but again, as other top-tier artists in Beijing, he charges considerable sums, and we're talking about a rather large project, so I was expecting some feedback, some criticism, some options, some "no"s.

With this in mind, I ask him if he thinks my idea and some of its details will work. He goes "I can draw whatever you want." Ok, but to my humble knowledge, this one element is not very common, do you think it will work? "It's your tattoo, your call.".

Fuck, ok. How much do you charge per hour? "I don't charge per hour, I charge per project." That's ok with me, but now the whole meeting had exactly cleared 0 doubts.

By now I was really bummed and disappointed. Out of pure small talk I asked how long it would take him to tattoo that. I was asking for a rough hour estimate. He must have understood it for "How many sessions". He snickered, and said "How do I know, that depends on you." At this, the girl from the couple laughed with a knowing grin. I'm pretty sure she was there for her first tattoo. I hope he'll tattoo an elbow inside her knee ditch.

In China it's not uncommon for well respected tattoo artists to operate out of rented apartments, with close to no advertisement.

There are shops in bar streets and amusement areas, but the main business there is alcohol-fueled souvenir flash. The really big guys are custom-only and don't have shops. It's more like a gallery, where they keep their paintings and drawings and have their tattoo equipment and tattoo all day, and live from it. You just won't find them by accident. My first sessions took place in such an environment by a guy that I have massive respect and admiration for, be it for his style, be it for his incredibly humble attitude. He recently had an expo with Ed Hardy here and had Ed at his place for visits multiple times. When you meet him, he has the attitude of a polite and serious plumber who came to fix your sink so that you're fucking happy again. He's expensive as shit and has people running his door in.

This is just to say that he has all you need to start losing touch with the ground. He doesn't, though.

When I went to him with my first idea, he listened, told me right away what would work, what would not, he encouraged me to be bolder with some things and made me turn it down a notch with others.

That was what I was expecting from the other guy. I have a girlfriend to tell me that my ideas are awesome. I don't know shit about doing tattoos. I can say precisely why I like something when I see it, but I'm very bad at the creative part. He didn't give me any personal artistic opinion, even after being presented with options, after I asked for it (politely). It was like asking a high-class hooker is she prefers me to wear a blue or a red condom: It was all up to me and the faster the better.

So. Am I being a little bitch here?

He doesn't need me, he's very popular and enough people are getting tattooed by him. And that's exactly the vibe I got today.

Ok, I'm done, I just felt like writing this. I guess it pissed me off to some extent, and I really can't see any blame on my part.

I'm going to buy a pack of tampons and cry myself to sleep now.

- - - Updated - - -

That "short and simple" thing worked out great.

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What matters is if you're comfortable. Make your communications clear and to the point, at the risk of sounding rude. "What will this cost?"

The tattoo shop I go to sells soda. It's never phased me. This is a problem with two non-Native speakers and a business transaction. You either have to trust him enough to get the tattoo, or not. It doesn't require liking him. However, if you really find him so distasteful, don't spend your hard-earned money there.

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Regardless of what you hear about a tattooer and how much you love their work, if you feel uncomfortable with them, then definitely do not get a big, multiple session piece with them. Not only will the actual sessions be stressful, but if you're anything like me, you will worry every day until your first appointment and in between each subsequent session if the tattoo will be what you want or if this guy will ease up and offer any artistic input.

I had a similar situation, but in the US. We finished the outline and then started talking about colors. The artist had briefly talked about what colors would work before we got started. (Also important to mention, is that when I came in for my consult I said I wanted black and white, but he was adamant about doing it in color. Looking back, I think that was the guy at the desk's fault because he recommended this artist based on what I told him and the artists is heavy into bright colorful floral tattoos). So after the outline was finished, he literally opened his cabinet with his ink bottles and asked me to choose what I wanted. I said flat out, he should use his judgement since he was the tattooer. By then, we had already narrowed it down to red roses, so it was a matter of choosing the red and a highlight color, like pink. He had all different values of red and pink and greens and wanted ME to choose each one. I kept trying to refuse, but he really wanted me to decide. It was my first tattoo and I felt extremely uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Long story short, I left without getting the color and 6 years later still have an unfinished tattoo.

In my opinion, with my experience it was more bad "service" to expect a newcomer to tattooing to know how to choose inks, because we did vibe very well at the consult and leading right up to the outline finishing. But I think you're situation was a combination of bad chemistry/bad service. If you ever feel uncomfortable, just run! Tattoos are a commitment, and to me, the experience is part of the package. If you have a negative experience with a tattoo, then you will have a reminder forever. I know I do.

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I think this is your call in the end.

I've had a one or two pieces done on me by tattooers that I didn't really like as persons and that came off as uninterested/rude/arrogant and to me that puts a bad layer over the tattoo and I think it is something I will always think of when I look at them. Hopefully it the bad memories will fade faster than the tattoos.

If you think that you won't feel too uneasy about the memories, have been looking at his work for a long time and will love the art enough then just go for it. But as someone pointed out, maybe get a smaller piece first to "try him out". Maybe he eases up. It's quite a commitment to start something big with someone that you don't get that connection with.

A tattooer I know told me about how he nowadays mainly get tattooed by friends, instead of seeking out the best tattooers. This guy is really a nerd and knows so many names. He got a visible spot done by one of the top names in the culture and this tattooer was apparently very unpleasant and kind of ruined my friends whole experience of getting the tattoo.

I have a feeling that some tattooers, especially those who travel a lot, are older, go to the conventions, and are in high demand have a more "clinical" approach to new clients. They simply can't be bothered to become friends with all their clients, it takes a lot of energy. You will have to prove your self a bit in order to make it worth it for them. Sometimes having some good work by reputable tattooers can help. They can still make a wonderful tattoo which you will love, but that personal involvement might not be there.

It can also be some cultural thing or you being too sensitive in this nervous setting ;)

I wish you all the luck with your decision and the tattoo!

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A little humility goes a long way. . . Sounds like a rough experience.

The "vibe" an artist has essentially ends up in you, from just sitting and getting tattooed, the "experience" is important, it should be a comfortable, and pleasant one, "a good time", cause shit hurts...

There are plenty of tattooers out there, it's hard finding good ones, just go with what your gut says, because it would suck to hate yourself, if the artwork is just as unpleasant as the artist.

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All tattoo artists I've met tended to be a tad flaky, it goes with the trade and you have to respect that. It may be that artist thing perhaps.

I had one very good artist do some work on me years ago, he was weird but the work was good. I didn't have a rapport with him. The shop I use now, the ladies are great and I'm very much at home there. I get what I want but listen and heed most of their suggestions. So I will take the relationship over better work.

I have also walked out of shops if the vibe was negative or I didn't feel it was the right place for me.


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@WideOcean, can't you just go back to the polite and serious plumber? I think humility and sensitivity go an awful long way. If your chinese is terrible, maybe he could speak with you in private instead of in front of other customers? I also expect my tattooers to know which elements will and won't work. My husband (who won't tattoo me 'cause I'm a pain in the ass) will be the first person to tell me if I'm "trying to shove 3 lb. of shit in a 2 lb. bag." Or he'll ask "How big do you think your arm is?" when I'm telling him my ideas. I'm sure the tattooer meant no harm, maybe it was a culture/language thing, maybe he misunderstood what you were asking about the added element? Either way, I'm not sure it matters if he's pompous or you're paranoid, you need to be comfortable. Customer service matters. I've never gotten a tattoo from someone I didn't like, enjoying someone's company and conversation make the time go faster. (Unless you're married, then dinner and a movie will go much better than a tattoo.)

I say go back to the plumber or find another plumber. You don't need a souvenir of an unpleasant experience covering valuable real estate. That's like hanging a picture on your wall that you don't like from someone you don't like just in case they visit your house. How about just not letting them in? Go get the positive experience you deserve.

- - - Updated - - -

@HaydenRose, that color thing would've made me insane. Mr. Color Guy should know what looks good. I made a tattooer back out some lime green on something and replace it with pink, and you know what? The lime would've been cooler. If my dentist asked me to pick the shade on a fake tooth to match the others, I'd find another dentist. Of course I'll ask for certain colors/ color themes, but it's their job to know their stuff, my job is to shower, brush my teeth, and not jump around all over the place.

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One other thing, Richard read you entry... He said FUCK EM.

He has an amazing portrait tattoo of his son on his leg, the tattoo is 20 years old, looks amazing, and done by an ELITE European tattooer, and even though it still looks great. He really doesn't like the tattoo, due to the experience... Just his two cents.

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I think research goes along way! Meeting them in person (consultation) . I've been lucky with all my artist because I've got some really nice tattoos. All these tattooers know each other and love to see great tattoos. You have to look at it like everyone has days where they aren't feeling 100 percent friendly and just want to give you a tattoo. That's what matters at the end. Unless they are completely arrogant and an ass that is another story. Being that you're in China you have to understand the cultural thing.

One of my saying is "if you don't like it don't eat it'

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At the risk of sounding like a savvy turd, I've been living here for enough years to know that this is not a "cultural thing" that I have to understand. Chinese are, in principle, much more worried about keeping up a standard of formalities and a strict customer-service provider relationship. This also goes for tattooing (and I had this experience the first time) where the collector respects the artist for his craft, and the artist respects the customer for the flattery of his trust. And, absolutely, for his money, that he wants and deserves.

Despite accomplished tattoo artists actually being called "master", by employees as well as customers, they are fully aware that they're selling a service and that a forthcoming and polite service attitude is of the utmost importance. If you're selling something in this country, you need to be convincing people that it's amazing, always, or potential income is out of your door before you know it. In principle.

For example, my first tattoo artist gave his apprentice a massive amount of shit for not answering the phone politely enough, when I was there. This is not Japan or Korea, but relationships and formalities still can have a very artificial look to the Western eye.

My grasp of the Chinese language is far from terrible, but the fact that I was speaking Chinese with him actually made it worse, because it's not common for an expat to speak it. I should have actually stuck to English, but then again his English wasn't competent enough to understand something like "I don't like water splashes too pointy and transparent." Me speaking Chinese made everyone more curious about the words coming out of my mouth.

You know, screw it, maybe he was having a bad day, maybe I was having a bad day. It just didn't work. He's a fine artist and I'm sure he's going to make a lot of people look better.

Someone earlier said I don't have to like someone to get tattooed by them. I couldn't disagree more. He's not my nurse, he's not my doctor. It works both ways: I don't need his tattoo. I just don't feel like making someone richer with my money, if I don't like them.

That story with the roses... speechless. Thanks for sharing.

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The way I put it simply after dealing with a so so guy getting a tattoo is don't do it. If they suck up front don't think it's going to get better with time. There are tons of awesome tattooers that are cool people. While they are people and people have their personality quirks sometimes these cannot be overlooked. Out of the 4 people that have tattooed me only one sucked; Stewart, Matt and Regino were awesome from the get go, the other dude not so much.

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Reading the original and follow-up posts I don't quite read anything that suggests the artist was flat-out rude or a 'wankstain'.

That said, it sounds like for whatever reason the OP is not a good fit with this artist, or vice versa.

A bad day all round, some clash of personalities, maybe the unfortunate presence of the other customers... Sounds like there were a few things feeding into it?

Either way I think go elsewhere: It's fair to say that for whatever reason he and his studio rub you up the wrong way. It doesn't need to be a big thing, just go elsewhere.

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