Micky Vansittart

Money is a vulgar topic, but...

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... why do I feel that it's the most awkward subject to approach when talking tattoos?

Surely I can't be the only one?

I'm by no means suggesting that tattoos should be cheap, and I'm certainly aware that you pay for what you get. Totally. I'm willing to pay fair-coin for good work. I will never haggle with prices. If I couldn't afford, I'd wait and save until I could.

It's just that the topic of how much a tattoo is going to end up costing seems 'taboo'.

For my first ever tattoo, a walk in with a specific design, I was quoted one price. After the design was printed on that fancy carbon paper stuff, his colleague told him the price should in fact be X amount. After reviewing the stencil again, my artist then added MORE onto the cost. Doubling my very first quote. Already set up, and it being my first time, I went with it feeling held to ransom.

For my other smaller tattoo's, after consultation on design, size, placement I apologetically raised the awkward question of "umm, so how much do you think that will be?" and was met with a vague "well it could be this, could be that. depends on how long... hmm, but then it could well be this". I understand that variables have to be taken into account, but why are we not met with "my hourly rate is XXX, I think it'll probably take around X amount of hours...", so I can get a decent idea of the end cost?

When consulting for my bigger piece, I never broached the subject of price seeing as my first few encounters were telling me this is not a topic you bring up. I was going to be tattooed by a well known artist in a well known shop, and in all honesty I felt a tiny bit embarrassed about bringing it up knowing it would be far more expensive than my previous - Almost feeling like I could be met with "well if you have to ask, you can't afford me".

I put down a £200 deposit and just guessed the excess amount to bring with me on the day - working off the higher hourly rates I'd seen in comments online for London. Luckily I brought enough, but the final cost was whispered into the ear of the receptionist who then told me the final amount to pay.

So forgive me if i've got the etiquette all wrong here. I'm not a frequent flyer. Perhaps it's a bumbling British thing. "sorry how much do y... oh right yes, sorry. vulgar topic... yes... of course yes... i'll just pay all the money... yes, naturally. Silly me."

But I'd be really interested to hear some advice on this.

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"I have XXXX to spend on this, can it be done fully and correctly for it? If not, could you give me a percentage of it that could be completed for that?" - should be acceptable. Actually, my favorite artist has an hourly rate, doesn't charge extra for design, and emails me her rough sketches. Maybe she is just super-nice, but this kind of customer service just won her best tattoo artist in our city. It is a business. If they treat customers poorly (and price-jacking is as bad as customer price-shopping) they had better be GREAT. And even at that, there are many great tattoo artists around you.

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I am from Holland. You know how we are with money ;). Personally, I just ask. I dont give a crap. You dont go to the baker either with no prices on the pieces of loaf and you just hope you brought enough money for it. Just say you are serious and want to bring enough money with you. Artist should meet the client I believe. Just say how much you cost. People who say you cost to much propably didnt want a tattoo from you in the first place.

You only make it awkward if you feel its awkward.

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I don't think it's awkward to ask that at all. Definitely good to just straight up ask the hourly and the amount of time expected, which imo is a bit more graceful than asking for a $ amount. If someone can't answer that for you, they are probably extremely stuck up or shady.

The "if you have to ask then you can't afford me" attitude is bullshit, tattooers need to understand that tattoos are a luxury and there are lots of other expenses in life that take priority to getting tattooed. Also how are you supposed to build a returning clientele if your clients leave feeling like their business wasn't handled with full transparency?

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I guess I'm lucky, every artist I've worked with has been more a "per piece" than "per hour" artist, so for stuff they're excited to do, you end up getting a good deal. Plus I was grossly undercharged for a lot of my work, and felt the need to leave huge tips to make up for it! I think if you're on a strict budget, it's important to tell the artist your limits and figure something out together. Worst case scenario, the artist will just have to break it up into sessions and you would pay what you could afford as you go. I think most artists are more than willing to make adjustments for people's budget if it's something they're excited to finish; it's way better to make accommodations than to not get any work at all, or have a client go to someone else to finish it. (And I always bring way more than I think I'll need anyway, just in case.)

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Further to what @cltattooing said:

It's incredibly important to discuss price beforehand.

Many people have a specific budget and cannot afford more at that time, maybe ever.

We are professionals, offering a professional service. Payment is one aspect of that service.

Part of the consultation for any tattoo, be it a backpiece or a small walk-in design, is to discuss the price. Then you can decide if you will get the tattoo today, or at a later date.

If you are not told a price for your tattoo, you should ask. (at my shop we make sure that every client knows the maximum amount they will be expected to pay for their tattoo session, before they book an appointment or agree to get tattooed - sometimes it works out to be less)

Yes, we're also in London. Not mentioning the cost of goods and services is certainly not a cultural thing here.

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I would venture to say this query doesn't fall into what we consider the "DON'T TALK ABOUT MONEY" rule we have here, but falls more into an etiquette category. I love seeing thoughtful conversation round these parts.

The advice already given has been sound (including from two tattooers I really really dig). It's ok to ask the hardline questions of "How much should I bring?" because otherwise, you just don't know.

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I would venture to say this query doesn't fall into what we consider the "DON'T TALK ABOUT MONEY" rule we have here, but falls more into an etiquette category. I love seeing thoughtful conversation round these parts.

The advice already given has been sound (including from two tattooers I really really dig). It's ok to ask the hardline questions of "How much should I bring?" because otherwise, you just don't know.

Thank you, yes! Absolutely not poaching for specific rates, and this is entirely about the etiquette of a world I've only dipped my toes in.

I suppose I'm viewing tattoo artists as being members of an elite club, and I'm the awkward kid knocking on the door asking "can I play too?".

I'm aware that I'm probably pushing my own awkwardness into the situation of pricing, but awkward people want tattoos too.

As I've gone through a few different artist pricing dramas now, I guess I was reaching out asking for the 'norm' - as a code of practice (if you will) do most artists typically make sure all these boxes have been checked before applying needle to skin? Is it possible that because they do this everyday, it's assumed we know what the deal is?

Thanks for all the answers so far. Much appreciated.

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My code of practice is to inquire with the shop staff what a certain artist's rate is when booking a consult, then decide if I can live with that (so far, I've been lucky and able to manage it). Then, during the consult if all is full-steam ahead, we discuss the length of the session. Result: Rate x number of hours for the appointment session = ballpark figure cost. I always figure in an extra hour's worth of money, plus funds for tipping. With that all figured out, I'll then decide when I can afford to get the tattoo and book from there. This means, for me, that I get tattooed much less frequently than I'd like, but I have gotten all the tattoos I want, the size I wanted, and all that jazz, up until this point.

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For one session pieces, I just ask for the hourly shop rate and then figure "eh, this piece should take 2-3 ish hours" and go from there. Almost always overestimate and bring too much, but I figure that's better than having to run to the ATM post session. Any bigger piece I get a more concrete range from the artist.

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I suppose I'm viewing tattoo artists as being members of an elite club, and I'm the awkward kid knocking on the door asking "can I play too?".

I know it's hard to not think like this especially if you are new to getting tattooed or prone to getting star-struck (me), but you shouldn't! Tattooers are just people with a specialized skill set. We owe our lives to the clients and have no valid reason to think that we are better than you. Don't get tattooed by people who think that you owe them something, can't stress that enough. You will find that the more you get tattooed, the experience is just as important as the art. Get tattooed by people who not only do awesome work, but who are friendly and humble people that you will want to spend however many hours in close proximity with. If you aren't comfortable in your tattooer's presence, you probably shouldn't get tattooed by that person. Hope that helps :)

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I think it's really good, as some people all ready have said, to always write your budget in the e-mail you send to set up appointments (or if you do it over phone/irl) It helps everyone to be clear from the begining. Usually I give a range, for example 300-450 euro and then the tattooer knows he/she can make the tattoo in different sizes or levels of detail depending what they think is best. If you give a set amount, maybe some people will want to size up or over-fancyfy your tattoo in order to do as much work, while a smaller, more simple tattoo could have been better.

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This has always been awkward for me as well.

The first time, I got a sketch and a price. I said the sketch and the price were fine. I got a tattoo.

The second time, I got a sketch and was asked, "How much do you think this should be?" I was totally unprepared for this question.

The third time, I was asked if I had a budget. I mean, yeah, like under $1,000, but I want you to tell me how much it it going to cost. You're a visiting artist and I want X tattoo from YOU TODAY. I'm here to pay for it. Let's go!

The fourth time, I got a sketch, then a tattoo, then a price when it was all done.

I can handle getting a price, and if I think it may be too much based on the work I already have, I am ok with saying, "Hey, you only charged me $xxx for this one..." In any other situation, asking about my budget or how much I think it should be is an open invitation to haggle, which I'm told is not really ok with tattoo artists. So I'm confused when it happens, and I'm not sure what I'm really supposed to say.

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I have had varied experiences myself, similar to @Tornado6. I've had sketches emailed and essentially free consults online, others who won't use email at all except to say "give the shop a call," and once I had a consult, a rough quote and an appointment a month ahead, but a couple of days later got a call to say he had a cancellation that afternoon and if I could get my butt over there for the time slot he'd cut my price by 20%, no matter how long it took! It wound up being a great tattoo at a very reasonable price, so I overtipped, so he'd know I appreciated his work.

This is really no different than any other aspect of getting a tattoo, when you break it down. If you walk in and the place seems iffy, the vibe is off, they misunderstand you or you misunderstand them, you have trouble "connecting," etc., you need to find another shop/artist. If you walk in and you are made to feel awkward about the cost then that might not be the shop for you. When it is right, all of the pieces seem to just fall into place, including how to work out the money issue.

I know of an artist who is of the "if you need to ask, you can't afford me," type. Some artists are just that - purely artists - and consider every tattoo a commissioned piece that has their name on it, and won't do the tattoo if they don't want it in their portfolio, or on the wall of their personal gallery. If they don't like the design themselves they won't do it. Other tattoo artists are willing to do whatever you, the customer, want done. They have a talent and they make a living doing it, and that's all there is to it. There are all types of tattoo artists and you need to find the one that you're comfortable with in every aspect, including how they charge for their work.

Most of us have a specific tattoo budget, so it is absolutely critical that you are not blindsided when it comes time to pay, and you shouldn't apologize for that.

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i feel the same way, but I realized I have to just be upfront about it now, because worrying if i took out enough cash at the atm beforehand is just unnecessary stress before a tattoo appointment, fucking with my head game.

I also only get tattooed by artists who are open to talking about every aspect of the tattoo process, including money. I ask them what range to expect for a first session, so I can bring the right amount of cash, (and then some) and they don't seem to mind. I wouldn't ever bug them about giving me a specific price for a session or a piece beforehand though.

I have also been asked for my budget, which again I give them a nice range of what I am comfortable spending at the time, and we go from there.

I do agree that I have been snubbed a few times before about the money thing when I was a bit newer to getting tattooed, artists almost giving me an attitude about asking their hourly rate blah blah, and it sucks. I am sure it comes from the masses trying to haggle prices with them, but I'm not cheap, I have the moolah, just wanna know how much I should carry in my pocket on my way to your shop dammit.... You are trying to come prepared, mentally, physically, and financially, and not being able to do so really gets you down.

Thanks for asking these questions. Stay open and casual about the conversations you have with the artists, make it clear you would just like to be prepared and pay them accordingly, and it really shouldn't be awkward. (even though it always is...haha)

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I know that if I were to tell a used car salesman that I had a budget of £1000 then all of a sudden, every car on the lot would be at least £1100 and he'd "do me a deal" which really means he'd just do me. If I were asked for my budget, I'd probably go elsewhere.

I'd want either a set price or a rate, a minimum and an estimate of the number of hours. I would never haggle; I find it vulgar.

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I know that if I were to tell a used car salesman that I had a budget of £1000 then all of a sudden, every car on the lot would be at least £1100 and he'd "do me a deal" which really means he'd just do me. If I were asked for my budget, I'd probably go elsewhere.

I was asked to give a budget for my recent chest tattoo (my most expensive to date), and it didn't bother me at all. The way I figure it, if I trust this person to permanently mark my body, I should choose someone I trust enough to be fair with pricing.

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Like many have hinted at: Tattooing is a service done by a professional. There are not many other "services" you would have done without getting a price or estimate up front. I can't, personally, think of any other instance where I didn't know the price of something before the service was rendered. That's me though and I've never been bashful about talking $$$ with anyone....

That being said, I've had the whole gamut of experiences dealing with tattoo artists.

Early on, I went to a "famous" artist that was very strict about her (high) hourly rate, then would take 6 smoke/joint breaks during the session and add at least an hour on to the total time.

When I started travelling to get tattooed, almost everyone that I had work done by let me stay with them, and/or cut me a HUGE break when it came to paying them. I was always willing to pay full price but was usually told "you spent money to travel just to get tattooed by me, so...."). Let's just say i bought a lot of drinks for everyone in those days.

I've also had a lot of local artists that were doing several sessions/pieces on me, say about prices "we'll see when the session is finished" then when done- look down, mumble mumble and sheepishly give me a price that always seemed too low. I tried to tip well to compensate as I knew I'd be seeing them again and again.

I've also asked for a price on a larger, one shot piece with the retort "how much do you have to spend?" by the artist. Trying to not sound cheap, I answered with my max budget. I was told, that would cover the first session and the second session would probably be as much....I said I would "let the artist know" a promptly walked away and never came back. I thought that $300 + an hour was a bit too much... especially for someone whose last name wasn't spelled H A R D Y.

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Just my 2c, I always wait for the question "What is your budget" and my answer is the same "none... I am open to get this piece done" which is 98% of the time followed by the artist hourly rate.. I want the best art been performed with no restriction and definitely I don't want to be the cause of what I want to be restricted by myself...

After that I than proceed to budget the hours I can afford at the time.

BUT

When in doubt, I ask :)

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I've asked about hourly rates & estimates and given a rough budget on all my custom tattoos. Makes it very easy for both parties. For flash I get a quote and my budget is irrelevant.

The way I see it, my tattooer is as worried about getting paid for his work as I am about paying for his work, and I've never had a tattooer ask for more than I said I could spend on it or be dishonest about his rate/how long he expects. I got a bigger piece where the pricing was a little vague but it seemed fair for both of us to me at the end. I tipped him with some other goodies

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So far artists have really worked with me when it comes to money. Over ten years ago I paid only 80 Euros for a 4x4 inch tattoo. Now that would cost me more than twice as much.

What I usually do is I print or draw everything I want on a piece of paper and ask before making the appointment. So when my appointment comes around I have the same paper with me and ask if X Eur ist still okay. Last time the artist wanted more but when I said then I will have to do only this many symbols he agreed to do all for what I had saved up.

I can't afford to be shy about prices because I'm just not a wealthy person. I don't buy anything for myself when saving for tattoos.

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Being on a pretty low income myself I have to ask for an estimate, otherwise I can't book an appointment. I always get nervous about asking but so farost have been happy to give my a quote within about $50. I always save up the higher estimate and add an extra $50 just to be safe. For most of my appointments to artist has asked me how much I quoted them, and then asked for the lower end of the estimate. I am happy to pay as much as is needed, but how much it will cost will change how soon I can make the appointment, so as to have enouhb time to save money. Only one artist was the exception to 'most' I talked about, and the whole experience was off :/.

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