Monday, July 7, 2014

Making Getting a Tattoo as Comfortable as Possible

 Tattoos are painful. There is simply no way around it.  People deal with pain in different ways, and different areas of the body are more or less susceptible to pain than others.  The primary goal of any tattoo artist is to execute a good tattoo.  This means that the artist has to deal with the client's discomfort.  Once, there was a school of thought that stated that all that mattered was the artist's ability to get the needle into the skin, and the client needed to contort themselves into whatever position and deal with whatever pain as required.  We've learned a lot since those old-school days.  We know from experience that the more comfortable a client is, the easier they will be to tattoo.  While some discomfort is inevitable, as artists we need to try to minimize any issues to make the tattoo easier for both the client and for ourselves.

 Set Expectations

 There is no sensation quite like getting a tattoo.  When asked how a tattoo feels when I am getting a tattoo, I look at the duty cycle of the power supply and take into account the number of needles on the bar being used, and then state that "it feels like (x number) needles piercing my skin at (y) cycles per second."  No other answer really will suffice, and no answer can truly express what is being experienced.

 That said, the client should be advised that the tattoo will hurt, will at least be uncomfortable, and the pain will vary throughout the process.  If the client wants a tattoo in a typically painful spot, the artist should advise that client of this and possibly suggest a less painful alternative.  Painful areas include spots which are normally sensitive or ticklish (the spine, ribs, neck, bikini area) as well as area where there is little tissue between the skin and bone (hands, feet, sternum).  The least painful areas to tattoo are typically the arms and shoulders.

 A tattoo artist will explain to the client that what will be needed is pain-management.  They should try to continue to breathe normally throughout the process, try not to tense-up, avoid flinching, and make the artist aware of any issues such as dizziness or needing a break.  Using drugs or alcohol in an effort to inhibit pain generally just makes the client less likely to be able to manage the pain as well as if they were sober.  

 Speaking of breaks, it should also be explained that while breaks will be necessary from time-to-time, the tattooed area tends to be more sensitive after a break.

Good Bedside Manner

 As a tattoo artist, you have to be able to read people.  It is easy to become engrossed in the tattoo process and to be aware of little else.  Every so often, it is a good idea for the artist to look up and access the client, simply by asking how they are doing.  

 The artist should also try to assess the client's personality.  Are they a talker, or do they stoically deal with the tattoo process?  The stoic client will generally look to the artist to lead them through the process.  The artist should ask how the client is doing and tell them when the artist will be taking a break.  The artist should make certain that the client doesn't seem "out of it".  The artist should be on the look-out for the client becoming pale, swaying, seeming to lose focus, or having abnormal pupil dilation.

 It is easier to assess a talker's issue because they will either tell the about what they are dealing with or they will go quiet, which means the artist needs to pay more attention to what is going on with them.

 In either case, during the tattoo is a good time for the artist to get to know them.  Ask them about their choice of tattoo.  Discuss with them future tattoo plans.  Not only does it make for good conversation, it helps the artist build a connection with the client as well as assess their mental acuity as they are being tattooed.    

 Tattoo studios can be a little crazy, with artists often chatting among themselves.  Artists should try to include their clients in the shop-talk.  If the client seems uncomfortable with the subject matter, the artist should ask his co-workers to discuss something else.

 Also, the artist should make it clear that pain is normal during a tattoo, and needing a break is equally as normal.  There is nothing wrong with needing a break, and the client should feel comfortable about asking for one as needed.  If they need anything else; water, a candy, whatever, they should be made aware that it is available at any time. 

More on Breaks

 As already discussed, a client should know that breaks are available as needed, but also that breaks can mean that the tattoo will be more difficult to endure.  As an artist, you will need to factor breaks into your schedule, always assuming that your client will need more breaks, not less.  If your client seems to be getting ridiculous with the number of breaks they need, you need to be gentle but firm about how taking too many breaks will inhibit the tattoo process.  If the client is simply having trouble dealing with the pain, suggest doing the line-work to a point where stopping is feasible, and coming back to the tattoo in another session.

Help Your Client Understand the Process

 The client is trusting the artist to execute a safe and solid tattoo.  While the appearance will be the emphasis in the client's mind, safety should be the focus in the artist's mind.  Especially for the first tattoo, the tattoo process can be foreign and mysterious to some clients.  This can lead to a number of nervous questions during the tattoo, as well as movement as the client turns their head to see what you are doing next.

 The more calm your client is, the easier it will be to tattoo them.  The better they understand the process, the easier it will be for them to take the tattoo.  The client should feel comfortable about asking questions about your process, and the artist should be equally comfortable answering questions.  Getting a tattoo should be a clinic on the tattoo process, even if the client says they have no questions.  The artist should always be explaining what is being applied to the client's body and why.  The client should be comfortable in the knowledge that the artist is using the best possible techniques for the tattoo.


 The position the client needs to be in to get a tattoo is not always ideal, and even an initially comfortable position can become grueling after being in that position for several hours.  When selecting a position for the client, the artist needs to balance two considerations; the ease with which the artist can tattoo the area, and the ease with which the client can maintain that position.  The easier it is for the artist to execute the tattoo, the better the tattoo will be, but if the client cannot stay in that position and hold still through the process, it will not matter how easy it is for the artist.

 It is always a good idea to have a plan-b.  If the massage chair is not working for the client, move them to the table.  If the leg being bent back is getting too painful, change positions and move to another area of the tattoo.  The artist should always try to make it as easy as possible for the client to let the artist do their job.


 After the tattoo, the artist will explain in detail the aftercare process.  This is a good time for the client to ask any questions.  The artist will also often want to show the work off to the other artist as well as take photos of the work.  The client should be given a number of means to contact the artist; email, social media, phone number, etc, as well as assurances that any issues with the tattoo can and will be resolved by the artist.  If needed, an appointment for a follow-up or the next session should be scheduled.

 The client should leave the studio fully versed on how to care for their new art.  They should also be comfortable that they received a great tattoo, one they will want to show-off.  An artist who is friendly, knowledgeable, and skilled will have his clients coming back and recommending the artist to their friends.

 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 a message at


No comments:

Post a Comment