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If you're new to getting tattooed, how do you know how to pick an artist?

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I understand the importance of researching an artist, but since I'm completely new to getting tattooed I have no idea how to evaluate whether an artist is quality or not.  For example, there's a woman whose work I really like aesthetically, but I have no idea if she's actually a good artist with technical skill, and if she produces quality work, etc.  I understand that just because something looks pretty, it doesn't mean that it's a quality tattoo, and I don't know how to evaluate technical skill.  What's the best way to research an artist when you don't know what you're looking at?   Thanks!

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instagram - to me - love it or hate it - is a game changer for evaluating what to expect from a tattooer

its not everything - but its huge

i like when artists post regular work

not everyone does this but when i can go a year or 2 deep into someones IG and i see hundreds of tattoos they did

well that says something

if you see a consistent body of work that pleases you then you can feel confident that you will probably be pleased with the outcome of your tattoo

like i said - its not everything but its a big thing in the current processes of choosing an artist

i personally love IG

i have mentioned to a few artists that i liken it to growing up and looking at the sports pages

following your favorite athlete

well - i dont follow sports these days like that

but i like going onto IG with a cup of coffee

and checking out the latest pieces of awesomeness that my favorite tattooers have posted

anyway

good luck in your search

i also am a big fan of the LST interview section

fun stuff and you'll get some good perspective on the world of tattooing 

Edited by marley mission

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1st thing = don't be in a hurry. take time to educate yourself. this forum is excellent for that. so is Instagram.

2nd = learn about the different styles of art that are available

3rd = follow some of the artists that you enjoy, and absorb how they do what they do - and how they relate to others in their field

within a few weeks or months you should be getting a feel for what "quality" is, but ultimately what is pleasing to your educated eye is what will bring your lasting enjoyment.

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I somewhat disagree about the usefulness of Instagram for evaluating tattoos.  It's a tool, and like all tools, you need to know how to use it.  I had a tattooer tell me once when I was getting tattooed by him that it's not a tattoo until it's healed and settled in, and I agree with him.  Pictures of fresh tattoos don't tell you that much.  I'd go so far as to say that pictures are of pretty limited use in general: the mark of a good tattoo is how it actually looks in the skin and how it ages with you.  It's not about that fresh photo, it's about how it looks five, ten, forty years down the line.

 

I also understand that for someone just getting into tattoos that you maybe don't have the exposure to seeing nice, lived-in tattoos that comes from hanging around tattoo shops, conventions, with other tattooed people.  Instagram is an easy access point, but it isn't everything.

 

To the OP, I'd say that tattoos are a process of figuring out what you like and what you want out of tattoos.  If there's a tattooer whose work you really like aesthetically, by all means get tattooed by her!   Do your research, of course, but there gets to be a point where you just have to jump in and do it.  Maybe your tastes will change, maybe what you thought was good work isn't--maybe not though!--but that's all a part of getting tattooed.  Don't stress out about it, and have fun getting tattoos that make you excited.

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Honestly, what I did was look at shop reviews on Yelp and look at portfolios of all the artists and picked one...and before getting tattooed by him, talked with to make sure I was comfortable with him. I've gotten 2 tattoos from him, and he's in the process of designing my third right now. I'm very happy with his work, so even if it's not the best, I think it's great!

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Look for fresh and healed photos. Most quality artists will try to take pictures of both because they're proud of the way their tattoos have healed. If they don't have any healed photos, I would be skeptical of how well their work ages.

When evaluating pictures for technical skill, look for things like blowouts (looks like bruising, it's when ink goes too deep and spreads), straight lines, confident lines that aren't shaky, well saturated color, and well composed drawings (aesthetically pleasing, easy to tell what they are, etc).

All that aside, no tattoo will ever be perfect. You might see some mistakes here and there if you look at it critically enough. I think most of us here that have more than a couple tattoos have at least one with an issue. I have a blowout, I have a couple spots of missed color, etc. Honestly, sometimes I like an artist in spite of some technical mistakes just because his tattoos have character or his art really connects with me. I don't worry too much about going to the "best" artists, I just go to people I like who I want to work with so I can come out with some badass art that I want to look at every day! As long as there's no egregious mistakes and you like what this person is turning out, I would go for it. 

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On 6/7/2016 at 2:21 PM, Synesthesia said:

All that aside, no tattoo will ever be perfect. You might see some mistakes here and there if you look at it critically enough. I think most of us here that have more than a couple tattoos have at least one with an issue.

Oh for sure.  The happenstance of tattooing is one of my favorite parts of it. 

Even if you do end up goofing and going to someone you're not super extra pleased with it, don't beat yourself up over it. Ultimately they're just tattoos and you can always get more down the line.

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Look at a lot of bad tattoos. The internet is full of them, and, unfortunately, most of the tattoos you see out and about are going to be bad, lol.'

Once you have a keen eye for what is bad, you'll spot the exemplary work of the best artists a mile away. This is what worked for me, anyway.

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My first tattoo was flash right off the wall and done kind of spur of the moment (I was 19).  I loved it for about ten years and then decided to cover it up.  I did a lot of research in the area where I was living at the time (this was now the mid-1990s, so the internet wasn't really a "thing" yet).  I just did legwork.  Checked out shops, portfolios, talked to artists.  Found someone I was comfortable with whose work I admired.  He did I great job.  I've done the same kind of research for my most recent two tattoos, but the legwork started online and ended with meeting the artist in person, talking design, etc.  I'm very happy with him, and very lucky that he works not too far from me.  But I'm also kind of heading into a new phase here on LST and getting an even better education about what makes a "good" tattoo.  I'm reading a lot, checking out the artist interviews, absorbing things.  It's been a real education and I plan to stick around so I can become even more informed.  Best way to find out what makes a good tattoo?  Spend time with people who HAVE good tattoos!  :12_slight_smile:

Edited by Kate1939
typo

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Same way you do research on anything else. Time and exposure. 

Knowledge is experience. Best way to learn is to get tattooed. You'd be surprised what you can pick up from just talking to your artist (and the artists working next to you) for hours on end. But I get that that may be too far for a lot of people at first. 

No one starts out knowing it all. This forum is as central a repository of tattoo knowledge as you can get, (apart from actual artists) so peruse the topics here. Pick up some magazines, use instagram, check out yelp reviews, look at pictures. Lots of pictures. What Graeme said is true, a picture doesn't really give you in depth understanding of a tattoo or an artist's capabilities, but it does increase your exposure. And something is better than nothing. In time you'll start to develop a sense for what you like, and also what a good drawing/design looks like vs. a bad one. What good shading, color, linework looks like and all that. 

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If you give us a general idea of where you live maybe someone can give you some good shop/artist recommendations. Many of the regulars on this board really know their stuff. Identifying a particular style will help as artists do have their specialties. I'd start my research there.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Do you know people w/tattoos? Can get some recommendations from them and you can look the shops up online. Do lots of research. Those here can give great recommendations based on your location, ideas etc. I found the shop we go to now by asking an artist who had done some work on me and then moved farther away than I was able to go. He recommended a place, I contacted them and they were not willing to work w/us on doing a deposit since we are so far away-we couldn't take an entire day off work to drive 2.5 hours to stand in line at the door on the day they opened up the artists schedule books b/c they book up so fast to hopefully not be so far in the line that we couldn't get an appointment. So, I asked for another recommendation, we checked them out online, and called them. Super crazy easy to work with, and now we've been visiting them as we can for two or three years. If anyone asks me about them, I tell them where we go, and why, and I give them a card.

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Grime stated in an interview that you should pick the artist not the tattoo and it was great advice. 

So if you are already trying to find the right artist you are off to a good start. 

Once you find an artist you like, then the next step is to get something from them (obviously) . 

This is where common problem number 2 comes into play,  micro-managing your tattoo project. you can actually mess-up your own tattoo if you insist on getting art the way you think it should be done, instead of letting someone (the artist) who is likely trained (by education or experience) in art composition and technique to create the perfect design, in their personal style, custom done for you. 

If you like the Artist's work then you really probably like what the artist likes. An artist's personal style is often an amalgamation of the Artist's personal taste filter, basically not picking up elements that are disliked and picking up elements the artist is interested in. The next thing is to get something current from the artist. Ask them what they are hot to do right now and you will get the best work possible. Asking them to do a theme they were hammering away on two years ago, is something they probably do not want to do. Visual artists are creating a record of their development (into their past), so what they were drawing when they were 5 years old (let alone 5 years ago) is not what they are doing today. 

That being said, ask if they have a fresh sketch they want to do, and if you like it... get it, otherwise give em a loose concept and let them develop it to the best of their abilities. you will be amazed when you give em room to do their current magic. I got an oldschool snake through a skull, done by DAX (when he was at TCB in Toronto) on my arm that was random enough, following the above sketch book view request and I love it,... just saying. 

I think this is an angle no-one else addressed and hope it helps avoid a newbie blooper / future cover-up.

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I've been with mainly the same 3 artists since 2008. The shop owner came recommended to me but another artist did my first 2 years worth of work. The shop owner took over for the 3 years, then another artist for a full year of work. Now I'm back with the shop owner.

I liked he work coming out of the shop. Everyone was talented. Then I have to be able to work with the artist. Liking them is important and so is how comfortable I am at the shop. This one feels like home to me. Money is secondary and I never ask how much up front, they treat me fairly.

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Is it OK to go to multiple places/artists that you have in mind and compare their prices/art before making a decision?? I wouldn't want to waste their time just to not get tattooed by them

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7 hours ago, Jnvlv said:

Is it OK to go to multiple places/artists that you have in mind and compare their prices/art before making a decision?? I wouldn't want to waste their time just to not get tattooed by them

Most reputable artists can tell right away if you're price shopping and they won't take too kindly to it. It's a little offensive to treat a handcrafted piece of art you'll have for the rest of your life like you're trying to score a great deal on a new TV. A lot of shops are even prickly about the concept of Friday the 13th sales or the like. I don't even ask how much for a piece until I've already decided on an artist and confirmed he wants to do it, and I only ask then so I make sure I bring enough cash. Pick your artist first and the money is secondary. Maybe schedule an appointment far out in advance if it exceeds your budget, but most artists will be willing to work with you and your budget if you're cool about it and have a good idea. 

It's not frowned upon to scope out various shops for their artistry though. In addition to things like Instagram and Facebook, it can be helpful to go into a shop and ask to see a physical portfolio, sketches of things they'd like to tattoo, maybe watch them work (from a respectful distance), or ask questions. Just say something along the lines of you're trying to see if they're a good fit for what you want, don't drag things like price into it or you're going to turn off a lot of good tattooers.

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30 minutes ago, Synesthesia said:

Most reputable artists can tell right away if you're price shopping and they won't take too kindly to it. It's a little offensive to treat a handcrafted piece of art you'll have for the rest of your life like you're trying to score a great deal on a new TV. A lot of shops are even prickly about the concept of Friday the 13th sales or the like. I don't even ask how much for a piece until I've already decided on an artist and confirmed he wants to do it, and I only ask then so I make sure I bring enough cash. Pick your artist first and the money is secondary. Maybe schedule an appointment far out in advance if it exceeds your budget, but most artists will be willing to work with you and your budget if you're cool about it and have a good idea. 

It's not frowned upon to scope out various shops for their artistry though. In addition to things like Instagram and Facebook, it can be helpful to go into a shop and ask to see a physical portfolio, sketches of things they'd like to tattoo, maybe watch them work (from a respectful distance), or ask questions. Just say something along the lines of you're trying to see if they're a good fit for what you want, don't drag things like price into it or you're going to turn off a lot of good tattooers.

 

I mean price is important but I guess I was more concerned with what type of concept the artists would come up with since I will be paying them and it is a permanent thing. Sometimes just looking at pictures doesn't always help since many artists' work tend to overlap and there's only a few so far where I have said that their style isn't me at all. I think there are other factors that haven't been mentioned like how they are in person and if you think they seem cool/nice since they'll be essentially performing a procedure on you for possibly hours. So you say it's OK to ask an artist if they want to do a piece, then they come up with the design and you CAN say no, and you work it out or put it on hold and go to someone else? 

Edited by Jnvlv

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14 minutes ago, Jnvlv said:

 

I mean price is important but I guess I was more concerned with what type of concept the artists would come up with since I will be paying them and it is a permanent thing. Sometimes just looking at pictures doesn't always help since many artists' work tend to overlap and there's only a few so far where I have said that their style isn't me at all. I think there are other factors that haven't been mentioned like how they are in person and if you think they seem cool/nice since they'll be essentially performing a procedure on you for possibly hours. So you say it's OK to ask an artist if they want to do a piece, then they come up with the design and you CAN say no, and you work it out or put it on hold and go to someone else? 

I don't think personality really matters much, honestly. A lot of artists don't even really like to talk much while they're working so you'll barely notice. It's always a nice bonus if they're good people, but their artistry comes first imo.

You CAN say no at any time if you're not liking the direction an artist is going. But I've never had that problem. Maybe I'm easily impressed but I've loved every design an artist has drawn up for me. Personally, if they ever did show me something that wasn't what I wanted, I'd probably ask them to do a revision and try to steer them in the right direction. If they still aren't getting it the second time, I'd pay them for their drawing time and move on to another artist. But yeah I've never had that issue. 

I kind of think you're overthinking it a little. Find an artist whose work you love, give them lots of good reference pictures of what you're thinking, relax and let them do their thing without being micromanaged, and just see what they come up with. Every custom tattoo I've had done wasn't exactly how I pictured it in my head, but most times I liked what the artist came up with even better or I was willing to give it a shot because I had faith it would work out. If you like the majority of their work, I see no reason why they would suddenly fail to create a drawing you like for your tattoo.

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17 hours ago, Jnvlv said:

So you say it's OK to ask an artist if they want to do a piece, then they come up with the design and you CAN say no, and you work it out or put it on hold and go to someone else? 

 

With the shop I currently go to I don't see my custom designs in any form until the day of the appointment, but I've been blown away by the outcome every time. This seems like quite common practice so if I were you I'd prepare myself for it.

As @Synesthesia said there's nothing stopping you walking out of the shop if you don't like the design but asking an artist to draw for you is pretty much a commitment to getting tattooed by that person. If your shop is like mine, turning the design down isn't a case of replying to an email and saying no thanks, you'd be physically walking away from the person who'd just spent time working for you, leaving him/her with an empty day and nobody to tattoo.

If you love your artist's portfolio and give clear references, you can't go wrong :14_relaxed:

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