Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Business Realities of the Tattoo Apprenticeship

  I was inspired by a person commenting on my Using Pigskin to Practice Tattooing post to write a new post about the apprenticeship aspect of tattooing. His comment...

 "I fully agree with the apprenticeship but most shops refuse to have apprentices and if they do they will pick the cute little girl with no art talent over a guy with art talent. Or they want 10, 20 thousand up front with no guarantee they will even teach you. Have had a couple friends burned on that one."

 ...comes from one side of the window, looking in, on the tattoo apprenticeship. He is also not incorrect.

 Let me start right-off and say that getting an apprenticeship is a vastly superior way to learn to tattoo. As a shop owner I would ask about a potential tattooer's apprenticeship (Surprise! Most shops do not) but the lack of an apprenticeship would not be a deciding factor in hiring. I am a strong advocate of apprenticeships in tattooing, but there are some realities that need to be addressed.

 I want to unpack the comment above into key, distinct points:

  • Most shops refuse to take on apprentices.
  • Women are "preferred" apprentices.
  • Art talent and tattooing.
  • The apprenticeship price-tag.
  • NO guarantees.

 Most shops refuse to take on apprentices.

 There are a number of business factors which must be taken into account when taking on an apprentice. A tattooer teaching someone new is potentially training their future competition. Even if they work at the same shop, they are drawing from the same local pool of tattoo-clients as the tattoo-mentor. For the shop the apprentice is another mouth to feed; taking up space, using resources, and not generating for a year or more any income. The apprentice will also be a reflection of the tattoo-mentor and shop, good or bad. This is inherent to both the apprentice's skill as a tattooer and their personality. A bad tattooer talking about how they learned from your shop is just has negatively impactful as a tattooer with a bad attitude talking about his being one of your apprentices. 

 This means that the reason a shop or tattooer takes on an apprentice must outweigh or offset the business risks. Tattooing is a craft (more on this later), and a craftsmen may ultimately wish to see the craft continue beyond them and to pass on the techniques they have developed to improve that craft and keep it vibrant. Taking on an apprentice could be a way of ensuring that the knowledge acquired by a tattooer is not lost. 

 When selecting a person to pass their knowledge to, a tattooer will naturally want that person to share their ideals about tattooing and have similar perspectives as the tattooer about life in general. They want the apprentice to be a known-quantity, not an unknown variable. Will the apprentice promote the tattoo-mentor and the shop regardless of the outcome of their apprenticeship? Will they appreciate both the opportunity being given and the knowledge being passed? Apprentices tend to be drawn from a circle of family members and close friends, people who the tattoo-mentor or the shop have an established relationship with and can be counted upon.

 Women are "preferred" apprentices.

 Shops selecting an apprentice operate to a degree on a risk vs reward model. If offering an apprenticeship and considering an "unknown" for the role, what does that person bring to the business that outweighs their risk? You may have noted that the pronouns I have been using for most this post are male. Tattooing is a primarily male industry; the majority of tattooers and tattoo-clients are men. This is in no way an endorsement of men as tattooers over women, this is just the reality.

 That said, for the first 6 months to a year of the apprenticeship, the new apprentice will mainly be "shop-help". They will clean, run errands, manage customers, and observe the tattooers and their practices. For the business, this shop-help is better than free, the apprentice may be paying for the privilege. Given, again, that the client base is primarily male, there is an (unfortunate, I know) appeal to having a woman at the counter, especially if she is attractive. An apprentice will receive tattoos over the course of their apprenticeship, and a female model offers something different in a tattooer's portfolio. A woman in the shop will also potentially increase the female clientele for the shop, drawing in additional income.

 I cannot say that it is the right choice to select a woman as an apprentice for that reason alone, but I recognize the factors that go into the decision. A woman being taken on as an apprentice should be concerned about a shop or tattooer accepting them because they are a woman (the sleaze-factor goes way up under those circumstances), but I would also not fault a person, man or woman, for doing what they needed to get to where they wanted to be.

 Art talent and tattooing.

 Tattooing is a craft. You can bring a great deal of artistry and nuance to a craft, but at the end of the day it is still at its base a mechanical process. The primary goal of an apprenticeship is to impart to the apprentice how to execute the mechanical aspects of the tattoo proficiently and safely. As art relies on talent, it largely cannot be taught. There are technical aspects to drawing, and especially to tattoo design (tattoos are meant to be applied to the body and factors related to the "canvass" must be taken into consideration) that can be taught, but the ability to do something with those tools is inherent to the person using them. 

 In short, a good artist does not a good tattooer make. It can definitely help, and most tattooer/shops will seek out and train talent if they want an apprentice, but it is well down the list of priorities.

 The apprenticeship price-tag.

 $10-20,000 sounds about right. The apprentice is getting the equivalent of a technical degree, skills and tools they will be able to use to generate income, even go into business for themselves, for the rest of their lives. The comment that inspired this blog stated that the payment was expected "up front", and while that is often far from reality it could be because once the apprentice is shown how to set-up a workstation and machine and the basic principles of using a tattoo machine they could (and frequently do) choose to end their apprenticeship and start tattooing.

 Often badly, but they could be on their way.

 In my experience, the "up front" requirement, and even the price-tag, is not set in stone. The potential apprentice is an unknown factor. Before a tattooer or shop invests their time and effort in training someone, they need to be able to gauge if that person will appreciate what is being offered. Will they be committed to the training? Do they have the needed respect for the industry to be worth the effort? How bad do they want to be a tattooer? How creative can this person be to overcome the obstacles to get to their goal? How tenacious are they?

 $10-20,000 is by no means out of the question for a tattoo apprenticeship, and could easily be earned back in the first year as a tattooer. Payment plans are a more common arrangement, and may be offered to a potential apprentice who demonstrates the necessary drive and tenacity.

 The comment also mentioned a couple of friends being "burned" by paying this fee and learning nothing. It is typical for an apprentice to be nothing but shop-help for many months to a year. While ideally they will be shown some things directly, it is expected that the apprentice is practicing drawing tattoos (distinct from other types of art), learn to manage the day-to-day tattoo-shop operations and customer service, and to observe the tattooer's techniques. How does a tattooer move about their station? Set-up and tear-down practices for the station? What do they do with their hands while tattooing? A person who spends even a day in a tattoo shop and learns nothing is not cut-out to be a tattooer.

 NO guarantees.

 The tattoo apprenticeship is an agreement between a tattoo-mentor/shop and the apprentice. The mentor/shop will teach in the manner the tattoo-mentor/shop sees fit the basic skills needed to tattoo in a safe and technically proficient manner. The apprentice will abide by the additional terms of the agreement and learn from the mentor/shop the techniques taught in the manner that mentor/shop trains the apprentice.

 There are no guarantees. The first few months are a trial period in most apprenticeships. How bad does the apprentice want to be a tattooer? Are they willing to show-up, day-after-day, cleaning, greeting customers, and watching tattoos happen? What do they do with their relatively unstructured time? Are they practicing drawing, studying any available materials, observing and asking questions, or do they mostly just stand around and take-up space waiting for someone else to take initiative? If they are the latter, it is likely that the mentor/shop will wish to end the apprenticeship.

 Even if the apprentice shows initiative and drive and makes it to the active phase of the apprenticeship, there is no guarantee that the apprentice will learn what is being taught. Does the apprentice try to take short-cuts in setting up a tattoo station? Does he have poor interpersonal skills that come to light? Is there some unknown impediment to their learning the practices behind tattooing? These issues are not the responsibility of the mentor/shop, and may be reason to end the apprenticeship.

 Once the apprenticeship is completed, there is no guarantee that the newly minted tattooer will have a position with the shop they apprenticed under. They may even have a non-compete clause in their agreement with their mentor/shop to practice tattooing only outside a certain area some distance from the shop for a certain number of years (a clause that is less frequent now-a-days and has often been nigh impossible to enforce). 

 As the shop cannot guarantee that the apprentice will meet the expectations placed upon them, no guarantee can be made by the shop to the apprentice.

 All that said...

 Tattooing is a craft. It is important that I re-iterate that point. Tattooing is a craft. Learning a craft through the mentor-ship of a seasoned professional is vastly superior to learning said craft on one's own. 

 In the tattoo industry, for all its benefits, the apprenticeship model is not always ideal and not always adhered to. I have known many tattooers who are highly skilled and in demand who learned tattooing completely on their own. I know people who became tattooers by opening a tattoo-shop and learning from the tattooers they hired. The reality is that the apprenticeship tradition has been more of a means of control in our industry, a means of reducing potential competition. The availability of both tattoo equipment and information/training means that the genie is out of the bottle. Skill and drive are now the determining factors in a tattooer's success among competitors. 

 I will not endorse people learning to tattoo outside the apprenticeship model, but I recognize that not all mentors are equal. Not every apprenticeship is offered with the purest intentions. There are no shortage of stories of apprenticeships being offered for the wrong reason, primarily that $10-20,000 price-tag discussed above. There are tattooers who have little business teaching others; their own practices may be lacking, their skills may not be developed enough to offer any real insight to an apprentice. While an apprenticeship in my mind may be the ideal way to learn, it would be foolish to suggest it is the only way.

 The bottom line is this. A tattoo shop is seeking to hire a tattooer. Candidates are interviewed. Their portfolios are reviewed. They are asked to perform an audition tattoo. Based on their performance, they may be hired. How they learned to tattoo is rarely a part of the conversation. A self-taught tattooer should probably not brag about that fact, but being self-taught has not prevented tattooers from being successful.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Claim your ink

 I have probably discussed this topic in several different ways, but it bears repeating. I also recently did a tattoo consultation so it is fresh in my mind?

 Don’t know what a tattoo consultation is? You need a better tattooer.

 So, you are thinking about getting a tattoo, but you are not certain what you want. You have a concept, but that is about it. How does one get from a fuzzy idea in their head to the actual tattoo? Talking to a tattooer is a great start, but there is a lot you can do before you have that conversation.

 1. Determine what the tattoo means to you. If you want a military tattoo to honor a family member, you may want other items as filler related to that person. If a military tattoo is meant to be a reflection of your own service, then filler could be other aspects of that service. The meaning of the tattoo could take your concept in different directions.

 2. Once you have an idea, start looking for references. Collect images of things related to your concept, even if they are just things that could be part of your tattoo.

 3. Add to these concept references tattoo references; images of tattoos that you like. This serves two purposes; it will help to define the style of tattoo you want, and it will also indicate the limitations of tattoo design relative to your other reference material.

 What I mean by that is you will develop an understanding that the three-dimensional CGI image you have as a reference will look different when rendered as a tattoo. It may sound obvious, but people often seem to think anything can be rendered as a tattoo in the skin.

4. Identify your tattoo style. As you are collecting references of tattoos you like (related to your concept or not), a stylistic theme may emerge. You need not know that you are looking at American Traditional designs, but recognizing that you like this type of tattoo more than another, and being able to provide your tattooer examples, will help bring your design to life.

5. Determine where on your body you will get your tattoo. Location will impact both the size of the tattoo and how the design is organized. A design created for a forearm is often not the same as one created for a shoulder.

6. Be realistic about the limitations of the tattoo design and the style you want. More often than not, images rendered as a tattoo are simplified. Location on your body and size limitations also impact the amount of detail that can be reasonably included.
7. Be aware that you concept may be interpreted in multiple ways, and be prepared to allow the tattooer some creative input on the design. Your tattooer will have more experience with design as it is applied to tattoos; how certain elements should be arranged given the location of the tattoo and the style, what colors will work best and in what combinations, and so on.

8. The flipside of the same coin is being certain that the design is what you really want. If you feel pressured to depart from your ideas in a way that you do not like, or that the rendering is not living-up to your expectations, then don’t get the tattoo. The design should be something you are excited about getting, and your tattoo should be flexible enough to get it to where you want (within reason).

9. Decide if this will be your only tattoo for a while, or if it will be the first of many in the same location on your body. If your tattoo plan includes additional tattoo building on or being near the current tattoo, those future plans need to be taken into account in the design.

10. Be responsible for your tattoo and take your time. Do your research, look at portfolios, and talk to a number of tattooers. Ideally, you want an experienced tattooer who works in your chosen style and who is excited about the project. A tattoo is an investment, so take you time with it.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tattoos and Pain: Do They Hurt, Where Do They Hurt the Most/Least?

 If you are a tattooer, or just have tattoos, you will be inevitably asked, "Does it hurt?".  While this may seem like a ridiculous question (of course it hurts!), it should not be surprising that it would be asked. According to a survey taken in 2012, only 21% of the people in the United States have a tattoo. That means that if you have a tattoo, you are likely to encounter four people who have no clue what the experience of getting a tattoo is like. Given the taboos still associated with tattoos, the rise in cultural awareness and interest in tattoos, and the conflict that arises in a person's mind when they consider that someone willingly endured pain for the sake of adornment, those four people should be naturally curious.

 The initial question, "Does it hurt?", is typically just an ice-breaker. The real question on the non-tattooed person's mind is, "What does getting a tattoo feel like?". The problem is that the experience of getting a tattoo is unique. While the pain can be compared to other common experiences in order to provide some context, ultimately any description falls short of the actual feeling of getting a tattoo.

 In medical terms, a tattoo is a wound, more specifically an abrasion. Though nothing is scraped away by the tattooing process, the damage is superficial, going no deeper than the epidermis. Many people have experienced skin abrasion. The difference between that an a tattoo is that normally the abrasion happens suddenly, while a tattoo is a drawn-out process. The immediate pain of a tattoo is less significant than most people imagine, but the prolonged sensation of that pain is often not accounted for. 

 The tattoo process involves a configuration of needles (typically) repeatedly perforating the epidermis of the skin. Another experience common to most every is being stuck with a pin or needle. That sensation is often far worse and more damaging than the immediate pain caused by a tattoo needle; more often than not such injuries are more grievous than what a tattoo needle causes. Being stuck by a pin or needle may draw blood, while a tattoo needle should never go deep enough for that to happen. Again, the difference is that the tattoo process is repeated at over 100 cycles per second, while the more common experience is (hopefully) only one perforation.

 It is not uncommon for a person getting their first tattoo to report that the experience was not nearly as bad as they imagined. This is also reflected in the fact that those who get a tattoo often will get more than one. The sensation is no longer a mystery or source of trepidation. Yes, you may need to occasionally grit your teeth or clench your fist while getting a tattoo, but it is likely that you have experienced far worse.

 The next question about tattoos and pain will inevitably be about what location hurts the most or least. It should be kept in mind that every person experiences and processes pain in a different manner. Some have a greater pain tolerance than others, while others are more or less sensitive in some areas. Some even find getting a tattoo pleasurable. One of my earliest tattoos was in a spot within the client's pantie-line, and at one point she interrupted the procedure because she was having an orgasm. This was most likely due to the vibration of the machine near a sensitive area, but it demonstrates that the pain from the tattoo was not so great as to overcome other biological responses to stimulation. 

 Given that we each have different experiences with pain, any guide to what will hurt more or less should be considered anecdotal. There are, however, some commonalities to consider.

 How much tissue is between the skin and the bone?

 Tattoos that are in skin that has less tissue, fat or muscle, between the skin and the bone tend to be more painful. This is most likely because there is less cushion to resist the impact of the needle. Hands, feet, knees, collar bones, and the sternum are all typically more sensitive areas. The spine is often doubly so, due to the increase in nerve fibers and the bone being closer to the skin. The head, with very little tissue between the skin and skull and increased sensitivity, may be the most extreme example of this condition.

 How ticklish is the spot?

 The more responsive an area is to stimulation, the more painful tattooing that area may be. Even if you are not generally ticklish, areas of the body that are less exposed to stimulus tend to be more sensitive, and thus more pained when tattooed. The inside of the arm is more painful (typically) than the outside. The inner thighs are painful areas, as are the sides of the torso (or rib-cage... bones!). Add to these areas any inner bend on the body; back of the knee, crook of the elbow, the armpit, bottoms of feet, palms of hands, and especially the neck/throat.

 What is the condition of the skin?

 Skin that has been damaged in the past is often more sensitive than skin that has not been damaged, though this is not always the case. Scar tissue can either be more sensitive or less sensitive (or have variations of both throughout to scar). Mild but chronic sun-damaged skin can also be more or less sensitive. Surprising to many people is the discovery that previously tattooed areas tend to be more sensitive. While this is expected with new tattoos being touched-up, people are often surprised to feel more pain touching-up or covering tattoos they have had for months, sometimes even years. A tattoo, even when fully healed, is still a wounded area of the skin, and thus more sensitive.

 Line work, shading, or color?

 Another concern is the type of work being done, or the phase of the tattoo. Most tattoos begin with line work, tattooing the lines that define the design. A lining needle is a set of needles configured into a point. Most people are more sensitive to this configuration because the needles are perforating the skin in a more concentrated manner. Shading and coloring needles are configured more like a painter's brush, with a wider spread than a lining needle with the same number of needle-points. Shading is often considered less painful both because of the needle configuration and the manner with which a shading needle is used (the stroke tends to be more brush-like and intentionally lighter). Coloring needles, though like the shading needles in configuration, often require more concentration of perforation to achieve a solid color, so is often considered somewhere between shading and lining. However, some report that the shading or coloring is more painful. The reason for this may be that the area being tattooed is more sensitive after the line-work is completed.

 Are you a man, or a woman?

 While this is something that you no doubt have little control over, which gender takes a tattoo better is often something people are curious about. Women take a tattoo better. I believe that this is the result of biological necessity. Men are very capable when it comes to sudden, extreme pain; being punched, cut, etc. Women, on the contrary, are biologically geared toward enduring pain over long periods of time. The tattoo procedure does not cause sudden, extreme pain, but is instead a prolonged irritation, something women are simply better able to handle.

 With these conditions understood, the least painful areas to tattoo are those with large tissues masses under the skin, on the outer edges of the body, with skin that is in prime condition. The skin over the deltoid muscle (shoulder), forearms, and thighs tend to be prime tattoo locations. Interestingly, the least sensitive area may be the inside of the lower lip. This is unexpected until you consider the amount of damage the mouth endures; accidental bites, burns, and contact with certain foods. A tattoo needle will cause relatively minimal discomfort compared to what is typically experienced in the mouth.

 The pain of getting a tattoo, while not something that can always be shrugged off, is rarely so extreme that it cannot be endured. Prior to getting a tattoo, get a good night's sleep, eat a decent meal a few hours prior to your tattoo appointment, be well hydrated, and be excited about the prospect of a new tattoo! The experience is unique, but shortly after the tattoo starts, you will realize that it is nowhere near as bad as you may have imagined.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time for a Tattoo

She's probably covered in ink.
 Each Spring and Summer, thousands of people get tattoos. The sun is out, they are wearing clothes that shows off more skin, they are vacationing... You would think this would be the best time to get a tattoo, right?

 Actually, no.

 If you have a choice (and there are only a handful of reasons you would not have a choice), the best time to get a tattoo would be during the Fall and Winter months (roughly November through March for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). During the colder months, several factors align making getting a tattoo at that time the smart way to go.

 "But Jason", you say, "I want to show of my tattoo. I can't do that while wearing a parka!" While it may be true that you want to show off your tattoo in the warmer seasons, consider a couple of things your tattooer tells you about your new tattoo and how to take care of it. I am certain the following two phrases will sound familiar to tattoo collectors:

 Keep your new tattoo out of the sun as much as possible.


 Do not go swimming or submerge your tattoo in a body of water for the first two weeks.

Sun... Bad!
 The sun is the enemy of a tattoo, especially while it is healing. Sunlight fades your tattoo, and while the tattoo is healing your skin is damaged. That damage is less resistant to ultraviolet rays and more prone to burn in intense sunlight, which will do your new tattoo even more damage. In the Spring and Summer, the sun is almost unavoidable, but in the Fall and Winter your skin will be well protected from sunlight in clothing designed to keep you warm. This makes healing for your new tattoo easier, and come the Spring and Summer months your ink will look fresh, vibrant, and fully healed.

 Have you seen a tattoo while it is healing? Check out my article about the healing process here.

 Next, no swimming while your tattoo is healing. I cannot count the number of times I have tattooed clients who were on vacation and were disappointed to hear that if they wanted to take care of their new tattoo they could not go tubing on the river or to the nearby water-slide park. A tattoo is an open wound. Until a tattoo is healed, the water you put it in gets into the skin, causing you to share intimately all the fungi, bacteria, toxins, viruses, and other contaminants in said public and/or natural bodies of water. Even if the pool you are in is the cleanest pool to have ever been known by man, that water will still get into your tattoo and carry some of that expensive ink out of your skin.

 So, when you get your tattoo in June, you will need to be sitting in the shade somewhere while your tattooed peer who thought ahead and got their new tattoo in January is enjoying the water and sun with your friends. Worse, if you decide to not listen to your tattooer, you could be facing an infection, allergic reaction, and a costly touch-up. Your friend tattooed in Winter need not worry about any of that.

Get this in Winter, show it off in Summer.
 Those reasons alone should have you considering how to budget your next tattoo into your holidays, but let's also discuss the financial wisdom behind a Winter tattoo. The Fall and Winter is the slow season for most tattooers. I know tattooers who either travel to the Southern Hemisphere or go on vacation during the Winter Months because of how slow things get. On a Saturday night in July, a tattooer cannot keep-up with the number of customers walking through the door, and those customers are paying a premium rate for the tattooer's time and effort.

 In the Winter, through, many tattooers are feeling the pinch of the season. They are buying presents for family and friends and dealing with Winter expenses just like you, but their income is not consistent. During these times, when you might be the only client they have seen in days, a tattooer can be more flexible about pricing a tattoo. During the slow season, your new tattoo can cost you less than what you would pay for it in the Spring. Your tattooer will often have more time to dedicate to your tattoo, giving you more for your money, even at a discount. Financially, getting a tattoo in the Fall or Winter is simply smart.

 So, keep all that in mind for the next few months. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, now is the time. You will avoid the worst effects of the sun, you will be able to swim when you want to be in water, and you might even get more bang for your buck. Fall and Winter truly is the most wonderful time for a tattoo.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Thursday, October 6, 2016


 CreateMyTattoo.com is a user-content driven marketplace where tattoo patrons connect with tattoo designers to have a unique tattoo design created, but you probably figured that out based on the name. The way it works is that a patron creates a "Tattoo Contest", pledging at least $20 (but the amounts go up into the hundreds), and gives designers 10-16 days to create a design based on their concept. Along the way, they offer feedback to the designers who can tweak their designs to meet the vision of the patron. At the end of the contest, the patron picks a design (maybe), and the winning designer is paid for the work.

 Now, I know several of my tattoo friends are looking at all that and saying to themselves, "Why would I do that? I don't get paid for my effort unless I win, and I have better things to do with my time." Ah, but my friends, as one who has worked in several tattoo studios, I know that is not the case for most tattooers. I have found it often surprising how little we do with our down-time. Cleaning, equipment maintenance, and drawing for our next client... That tends to be the extent of what many average tattooers do. It is shocking when I think of all the ways a tattooer can be making money as an artist that are not taken advantage of, especially when I can point to the industry leaders who have built their reputations based on what the do in and out of their tattoo stations.

 But, this is not about the money.

 Seriously, this is not about the money.

 First, the positive view.

 I draw a lot. Not as much as I should, in my opinion, but a lot. I tend to draw pinup art. It is my niche. I think we, as artists, all develop a niche, a thing we are good at. That can be problematic, especially if your niche isn't in vogue at the moment, and your clients cannot see the technical skill and style beyond the subject matter.

 And, we all know that most cannot.

 CreateMyTattoo.com provides you are regularly updated list of tattoo concepts that allow you to broaden your scope and refine your style (or, for many new tattooers, begin to discover and define a style). The financial incentive is merely icing on the cake. If you don't win a contest, you still walk away with the following:

 -an addition to your design portfolio.

 -honing of your skill-set.

 -examples of your style be applied to varied subject matter.

 -art which can be applied to other venues (merchandising).

 -an increased public awareness of your name and skills.

 Plus, it gives you something to do with your downtime. Activity attracts activity. 

 And now, the negative view.

 When going through the existing contests, I counted a total of 70+ contests with no winner selected. The rules state that if a patron does not select a design, they cannot legally use any of the submissions.  How many of you have seen that stop a customer from coming in and asking for a tattoo they saw online, or stop less reputable tattooers from copying another person's work? Of those 70+ contests, nearly 900 entries were submitted. That is a lot of effort to have someone just back-out of the process, probably with a tattoo design in hand. 

 This is why it cannot be about the money.

 Most of your competition on the site are clearly not tattooers, that or they are mostly the lowest common denominator among tattooers. Many of the entries are clearly photoshopped copies of designs found on-line. While your initial thinking might be that this would give a solid tattoo designer a huge advantage, most of the winners have been selected from what are low-quality designs. 

 So, then what do I propose as the best way to use the site? Assuming that the contests are being created by actual patrons (and not internally by the site administrators), then it can perhaps be used as a gauge for what are popular tattoo requests. If you post your work to the site through contests, assume that you are giving your work away, but then again this is the assumption every tattooer should make whenever they post their designs online. If you don't post, the site at least provides a source of concepts that you may not have come up with yourself.

 CreateMyTattoo.com might be worth checking out, if one's expectations are really low and you are looking for a little creative shot-in-the-arm.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who's Confident?

 This will be a bit of a rant, so let me set this up properly.

 I get a text message from a friend who asked, "If you were getting a tattoo tonight, what tattoo shop would you go to?" For me, that is both a simple and difficult question. I have a tattooer who is AMAZING but who may not have been available for a walk-in tattoo. His shop was the first on my list in my response. I have the privilege of knowing a lot of great tattooers in Austin, guys and gals who I would happily get work from at any time. From that set, I listed four other tattoo studios that I consider highly reputable and who host consistently great tattooers. My friend hit me up simply because she was confident in my opinion and knowledge about the local tattoo offerings.

 A little bit later, I get another question. "Do you ever setup without gloves?"


 Hell no.

 Being the inquisitive type, I asked why. What was happening was her boyfriend was in the mood for the sweet, sweet feel of a tattoo needle, and wanted to get some ink. Not being familiar with what might be available, especially since I was not (available), they asked my opinion. Trusting me (and that is important), they went to one of the shops I recommended.

 Let me reiterate: I recommended the shop they went to. They went to this shop on my recommendation.

 The tattooer at this particular shop was not the tattooer I would go to at this shop. At the time, that was simply because I did not know the guy like I know one of his co-workers. He does, however, have a favorable reputation locally. He happened to be available the night my friends went to the shop I recommended. When a tattoo design was selected and a price agreed upon, this tattooer went about setting up his station.

 He did so without gloves.

 My friend, herself a tattoo collector, questioned this. She recognized that she was seeing something that in her years of getting ink she had not seen before. Her dude asked the tattooer about the lack of gloves. The tattooer's response?

 "I am confident in my method."

 I am not going to name names, or put anyone on blast. The shop this guy works at is a great shop, and should not be besmirched by this guys lackadaisical attitude and ego. I DID, however, recommend to my friend that she contact the owner. When she asked if they should stay or go (they had not paid yet), my advice was to walk.

 My friends on Facebook agreed (they must read my blog).

People must be reading my blog...

 I am not even going to rail on the BASIC NECESSITY of wearing gloves when you setup, about how your station should be as close to a small surgical bay as possible, and how gloved hands should be the only things that make contact with the tools used to tattoo anytime. No, that is not what this rant is about.

 He said, "I am confident in my method."

 Is he really the one who should be confident in his method? Friends, I do not care how cock-sure your tattooer is, YOU need to be confident about what they are doing. If you feel something is amiss, a professional tattooer will do what is necessary to address your concerns. It is your tattoo. If something bothers you, your worry should not be casually dismissed.

 The proper tattooer response to, "Hey, aren't you supposed to wear gloves when you setup?", is to stop what you are doing, agree with your client, apologize for letting this simple step slip your mind, tear down your station, clean everything your touched, and setup with clean gloves on. There is no other excusable response.

 Gang, I don't care if he had a bucket of hand-sanitizer at his station that he was dipping into every few minutes. He is leaving bits of himself on everything he touches, bits of himself he would then be sharing WITH HIS CLIENT. We make mistakes. The professional thing to do is own it and correct it.

 Blowing-off your client's concern is a dirt-bag move. It suggests a lack of character and confidence; trying to ignore your mistake instead of admitting it. The sad thing is that this guy is a good tattooer, but moves like the ones he is making kill careers.

 Added to this is the fact that I recommended his shop. Maybe not him, but in the minds' of his clients and my friends there is no distinction. If asked again about where to get a tattoo, or getting a tattoo at this particular shop, I would still recommend it.

 But I would add a caution about that particular tattooer. For the sake of my reputation and their safety, I would tell whoever was asking to not get work from that guy.

 To my friends who trusted in my recommendation and had this poor experience, I am sorry. I know this is not my fault, but it is the kind of thing that brings all tattooers down.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/