Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Friday the 13th Tattoo Specials; What You Need to Know

 Bargain hunters, rejoice! Every year it seems that ever-more tattoo studios are running specials on Friday the 13th. You can get a tattoo for just $13! But, before you start planning your tattoo-sleeve design for the next Friday the 13th, there are some things you should know.

 Tattoo studios do this to increase awareness of their businesses.

 Think of it as a wine-tasting at a winery, or samples being offered at a bakery. You are getting a little taste of what the tattoo studio has to offer, a sample. The tattoos being offered are small and limited to a select set of designs in order to make the process efficient. The tattooers want to take this time to show-off the studio, let people check out the atmosphere of the shop and their techniques, and introduce themselves to potential new clients. This is a great time for tattoo collectors to check out portfolios, visit shops, and talk to artists about future projects. Plus you get a nice new tattoo.

 What you can get tattooed will be extremely limited.

 As mentioned above, this is meant to be a chance to sample the work of the studio. Friday the 13th specials are generally $13 for the tattoo and a $7 set-up fee (things go faster if they don't have to make change, thus the total is an even $20). The tattoo you can get will come from a select set of tattoo flash-sheets, often a jumble of small designs. There will probably be a limit to the number of colors you are allowed to have in addition to black (often just two), and you will probably only be allowed to get the tattoo on certain parts of the body (generally no fingers, faces, necks, feet, or genitals). The size of the tattoo will be limited to the size of the design on the sheet, and the only modifications that will typically be allowed are those that take away from the design (such as dropping the number 13 from a design). The point is to make the process efficient; you pick a design and it gets tattooed.

 Pro-tip: the smaller the designs offered, the better the shop (typically). This is just my observation, but the better studios that do a Friday the 13th specials tend to offer a sheet or two full (and I mean FULL) of small tattoo designs. This is a decision driven by experience, more popular shops have heavier traffic on days when they run specials, so smaller designs make the process faster. They are popular shops BECAUSE the quality of work and the atmosphere of the shop are better than their competitors. Smaller designs equating to a better shop may not always be the case, but it is a good indicator.

 Do your research.

 Getting a tattoo is the ultimate way to judge a shop, but it helps to plan ahead. Visit the shop you want to check-out and ask if they are having a special (ideally, do this the beginning of the month a Friday the 13th falls in, not six months out). Ask what kind of traffic they expect to have, and if they have a flash-sheet prepared for that day. Pick your designs in advance, if you can, and if you plan to visit multiple shops, come-up with a game plan taking into account how busy they may be.

 Arrive early.

 There is an old saying, 'the early bird gets the tattoo'. Okay, maybe it doesn't go quite like that, but it is a good idea to arrive early. For example, at Little Pricks Tattoo in Austin, Texas, they started the day at noon, and by 6pm had to close their waiting list at four pages in order to get everyone who signed-in tattooed! People had to be turned away. Getting there early is a great idea.

 But, there is something to be said for not arriving too early. Another reason not to be late is fatigue. Doing numerous small tattoos can wear a tattooer down faster than one large piece. However, since tattoo (like any art) is a physical exercise, it is always better when the athlete has warmed-up a bit. While a good shop will have great artists who are consistent in their work-quality, it could be argued that the tattooer will hit their sweet-spot after the third or fourth tattoo (in this marathon-type situation).  Not a rule of any kind, but something to think about when getting in line at the door before the shop opens. Maybe let a few guys get in line ahead of you. 

 Be prepared.

Tattooer: Kyle Giffen

 You can really help your tattooer by being a little prepared. In addition to knowing what you want, know where you want to get it. If you are a hairy guy like your favorite tattoo-nerd, maybe give that area a trim. You may be there a while, so have something to do for when you have already walked around the shop a few times checking-out the art-work and looked through everyone's portfolio. Be prepared to step-out to a convenience store or restaurant for a bite to eat. If you have questions for your tattooer, have an idea what you are going to ask. If you want to talk about a future tattoo, bring your reference designs or anything that might help you explain to your tattooer what you want.

 Be courteous to your fellow collectors.

 If you are at a good studio, it is going to get crowded.  Try not to crowd the front desk or stand too long in one spot in the shop. Give other people a chance to sign-in, conduct their business, and check out the shop. If you are going to eat, step outside. It is great to be enthusiastic about being a part of the tattoo-tribe, but don't be too pushy about interjecting your ideas when you hear someone else having a conversation with your tattooer. When someone is getting a tattoo, that is their time with the tattooer, so keep your chit-chat to a minimum and save your questions for when you are in the chair if you can.

 Be respectful to your studio.

 You know why it is called a special?  Because there are special conditions, and it doesn't happen everyday. $13 tattoo day is not the time to negotiate price on your selected tattoo. Trying to get a price better than $13 is just not cool. Be flexible about your spot in line, if you are not around when your name gets called they are going to go to the next person, but you will be moved to the top as soon as you get back. Let your tattooer or the shop-help know if you are stepping-out for a smoke, adjourning to the restroom, or going down the street for a bite to eat, especially if you are getting close to your turn. Ask about taking pictures, especially while the tattooers are working on someone else. Understand that you are encouraged to wander the shop, but stay out of work-spaces,

 And, if the studio you are at is fully booked, don't ask if they know if another shop is running the same special! That is just poor tattoo etiquette!

 Also, a huge THANK YOU to Little Pricks Tattoo for letting me visit, to Kyle Giffen for my awesome new tattoos, and for just being a great tattoo studio. Check them out at!

 The next five Friday the 13ths are...

 May 13th, 2016

 January 13th, 2017
 October 13th, 2017
 April 13th, 2018
 July 13th, 2018

 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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Rebirth of the Green Monster, Birth Defect?

 I love Eikon Device's Green Monster coil tattoo machines. They are great machines at a relatively low price-point (less than $200). They include the innovation Tru-Spring armature bar and springs and separate the coil from the capacitor for simpler maintenance.  Their performance is consistently excellent.  

 To be fair, these were also the machines being talked about as THE standard for production machines when I was learning to tattoo.  Maybe Eikon simply did an excellent job in marketing the machines, or maybe they really were the first to do something radical like take specific measurements of machine speed, performance, and the way that the various components of the device worked together.  The Green Monster did seem to have a major impact on the industry, creating a need for power-supplies that offered a measurement of your machine's output instead of just a 1-10 power-setting.  It also seemed to create an awareness among tattooers regarding what precisely their machines where doing and why. There are better coil machines on the market today, but I would argue that the Green Monster defined the standards upon which many of those machines are based.

The Original
 Naturally, when I received an email from Eikon Device offering an updated version of the classic Green Monster, I was excited. The big change is the coil-position on the frame; they are moved forward on the frame-base to improve the performance of the machine. Everything else about the machine is fairly standard.  They do offer the additional sales pitch about every machine being "hand tuned by Mack Bregg".  That was the first red-flag in my mind, albeit a minor one.  Who is Mack Bregg, and how does he know how I like my machine to perform?  What tattooer in his or her right mind starts tattooing with a machine straight out of the box without checking it and making adjustments?  Are we also to expect that whatever Mack did with the timing-screw actually held while the machine was being jostled through the shipping process? 

 This, however, is the real issue for me.

Yeah, like this one.
 What is that?  It looks like a rubber medallion set in the machine frame. Maybe it is a medal stamp, but whatever. Look at the space between the edge of the medallion and the frame itself.  Now, imagine what can get in there.  It is a bacteria trap!  How are you supposed to clean that? While it is not a huge design flaw in regards to performance, it is major step in the wrong direction when it comes to ease of maintenance with the machine. The original Green Monster had no adornments; simplicity and efficiency made the machine what it is.  I want this machine, I really do, but Eikon may as well have just welded one of those gaudy belt-buckle face-plates to the uprights on the frame.  That medallion makes just about as much sense.   

 In conclusion, IF I do actually get one of these machines (and it is a big if), I know I will want to see if I can pop that thing out of the frame.  I know how important branding is, and getting away from the green paint-job is a plus for myself and other fans of the Green Monster, but, really?  It is a near-miss, Eikon Device, and you lost points because you went for a little flourish on the end.  

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

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is Your Significant Other Holding You Back?

 Tattoo Nerd,

 I started dating this girl shortly after I finished my apprenticeship.  We've been together for almost two years now.  I feel I was honest with her about the realities of being a tattooer; long hours, that I was just starting out, that I wasn't going to always have money, and she seemed to understand and even encourage me at first.  Lately, though, she does nothing but complain about my "hobby", the people at the shop I work at (fellow tattooers and customers), and tells me I "should get a real job". What do I do to convince her that being a tattooer is a "real job"?

 Yep, that sucks.

 Let's start with a disclaimer.  I am not a romance expert.  My past is a long-list of broken relationships and often angry women.  I am not the guy to go to in order to save your relationship.  That said, your concern is a common one, something I have both witnessed among others and seen myself first hand.

 Years ago, when I was considering becoming a tattooer, I was dating another artist.  I was working in a warehouse at the time and she was a painter.  She was used to a moderately high-standard of living, her parents where well-off and provided for her in many ways.  We talked about moving south, and I began discussing becoming a tattooer.  She was almost immediately put-off.  Tattooing was too "low-brow" for her tastes, and she was concerned about all the nude women I might see.  When I asked if she would have the same reservation (about nude women) if I wished to become a gynecologist, she stated that she wouldn't mind because of the money I would be making.

 A month or so later, I broke it off with her.  It wasn't about supporting me in the pursuit of my passions, it was about how much money I could bring her.

 A relationship should be a mutual partnership, with both parties fully aware and appreciative of their own value and what their partner brings to the table.  You don't go into a relationship thinking you can change the other person, you go into it embracing their flaws. As tattooers, we can be very "flawed", especially when held to the standards of the 9-5 world.  Your partner has to know, and appreciate, the life you live; long hours, inconsistent income, late nights, the "party-element" without the party, and your dedication to craft.  This is a hard pill to swallow for most people.  We often make the mistake of thinking we can change our partners, that one day we will hit our stride in our careers and they will learn to appreciate and support us.  It is a wonderful dream, but clinging to it will probably lead to more frustration for all parties involved.

 That frustration can lead to problems in your work.  From just being unable to enjoy the job because of troubles at home to drama that can happen when the significant other decides to lose-it at your shop, a relationship with the wrong person can damage your career.  Ask yourself if your significant other believes or has even stated any of the following:

  Is your job "just a hobby", "not real", or "easy"?

 This is indicative of someone who has no awareness of what it takes to be a tattooer.  They are oblivious to the long hours, the frustration of not having a consistent income, the haggling with customers who under-value your work.  They have no appreciation of the commitment-to-craft it takes to be a tattooer.  Often, the problem is that they are envious of your job, especially when they are unhappy in their own work.  Misery loves company, and they would rather you join them in their suffering than try to enjoy and be a part of your pursuit of happiness.

 Is there "no money" in tattooing?

 We know this is simply bullshit.  The average tattoo artist makes $30,000 to $50,000 a year.  The problem for most people in a relationship with a tattooer is that the income is inconsistent.  Some months you might make several thousand dollars, others only a few hundred.  Meanwhile, they have an income they can count on.  When they count on you, the tattooer, to consistently help with the bills and you have a bad month, this leads to problems if you are not prepared.  

 Frankly, this is more the fault of the tattooer than the partner.  In an ideal world, you as a tattooer would not be in a situation where someone was relying on you financially until you saved some money and learned to manage your inconsistent income.  That can take a couple of years for a new tattooer, maybe more.  It is far easier for your partner to deal with the lean-times as a tattooer if you have already prepared for them on your own in advance. If you are a tattooer who is relying on someone else to augment your income, then you deserve the troubles you have.

 "All you think about is work" and they want to party.

  This is the death-knell of a tattooer's relationship.  That partner that in the beginning thought it would be cool to date a tattooer and hang-out at a tattoo shop, only to discover that there are long hours, and while we have fun, it is still a business.  The social-status of dating a tattooer suddenly doesn't mean much when your friends are partying and your tattooer-partner cannot go with you. They may enjoy the money you are earning, but not the work that is behind it.  When the attention that you give them is not enough, be prepared for them to start seeking that attention elsewhere.

 On the flip-side of this is expecting your partner to cater to you while you are at work. They deserve to have a life as much as you, and you made the choice to live that life in a tattoo studio.  They did not.  Being okay with your partner going to the clubs with his or her friends takes a great deal of either trust or apathy.  Expecting them to run your errands for you while you are at the shop is almost as bad as expecting them to pay your bills.  A relationship is a two-way street, and if you both have problems with that, you may want to re-think the whole thing.

 Are your clients and co-workers beneath them, or have they said they don't like tattoos?

 First of all, it is a real testament to your game if you are covered with tattoos and work as a tattooer and someone who has a contemptuous view on tattoos and tattooed people is dating you.  The resentment from this situation is just going to fuel both you and your partner's frustration.  Again, it suggests a lack of appreciation for your career; it is more than what you do, it is who you are.  They may think things will be great when you "grow out of tattooing", while you know you will be doing this for the rest of your life.  It is unlikely that either of you will come around to the other person's way of thinking.

 Your money is their money.

 In a relationship, you should share most things.  For many tattooers, it is nice to have a partner who manages your income and handles your bills.  The problem we often run into is when our partners see us as an ATM for their party-life, or we expect them to work miracles with what little we have.  You have to both know what you are getting into when you join incomes and trust one another with your expenses.  You are each far better off knowing you can manage your own bills rather than relying on one another's income.  

 They don't trust you with attractive clients.

 This is a deal breaker.  As tattooers, we often have clients who are enhancing their body-image with art.  Often, when a client wants to enhance their body, they have a body they want to show-off.  If your partner is insecure about themselves and their own image, then this could lead to trouble,  Furthermore, if you met your partner when they were getting a tattoo in your chair, then they know the opportunity exists.  This is just one of the reasons it is a bad idea to date a client.  It takes maturity and trust, on the part of both you and your partner, to overcome this problem.

 The tattoo lifestyle caters much more to dating than being in a relationship.  Tattooers live a life that is outside what many people expect from a significant-other, often move from one location to another, and are not as "available" as many people with a romantic interest would like.  Being focused on our careers and art is also often hard for someone else to deal with, especially if they want that focus to be on them. Until you are in a fairly stable situation, you will need someone who is extremely understanding and well aware of what they are getting into if you get into a relationship. 

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Choices Have Consequences: Facial Tattoos Denied at Houston Eatery

 Once again, we have someone surprised that the world does not adjust to their personal choices. 

 Making the rounds on the news this morning was a story about a man who was denied service at a restaurant because he had facial tattoos. The facts of the story are as follows. Eric Leighton and a friend went into a Houston-area Bombshells Restaurant, after going to a rodeo, to get something to eat. They were seated for less than a minute when they were approached by a police officer. The officer was working as security at this restaurant, which is located in an area that has some issues with gangs. Because of the gang-issues, the restaurant has a policy designed to keep out potential problems, which apparently includes denying service to people with facial tattoos. The officer advised the men of the policy and told them they would have to leave. Leighton and his friend left, and Leighton posted about the issue on Facebook. From there, the story went viral.

 The lesson here is one that bares repeating; choices have consequences. As a tattooer, every studio I have worked at refused to do tattoos that are potentially gang-related. The reason for this is simple; as a business we did not wish to cater to the criminal element. We did not want to become the “gang tattoo studio” and have thugs discouraging our other clients from patronizing our business. The tattoo industry has struggled for too long to overcome its less-than-legitimate history.  This is a simple business decision; we don't want to have people in our place of business who may be disruptive or damaging to our profits. We don't want our reputation damaged by association.  It simply is not worth it.

 Furthermore, when a client requests a facial tattoo, there is always a conversation about the potential consequences of that decision. That conversation extends beyond just how such a tattoo can impact their employment options. It includes the reality that people may react poorly to the facial tattoo, that having a facial tattoo is making a statement that not everyone will appreciate. Having a facial tattoo means that you accept those consequences and are willing to tolerate the negative reactions that others may have.  When getting a tattoo on your face, you need to be aware that there are some businesses that will not hire you and some venues that will deny you entrance.

 This really should come as no surprise.

 Choices have consequences. Leighton sounds like a hard-working, upstanding individual, and definitely not a gang-banger. However, he should understand that his choice to have a facial tattoo lumps him in with an element of our society that cultivates a negative reaction. If a business chooses not to cater to that element of our society by making blanket policies regarding dress and appearance, then they cannot differentiate on a case-by-case basis regarding that policy. If red or blue bandannas are not allowed because of their gang-related symbolism, it doesn't matter that you are a sixty year-old cowboy, the policy is that you take off the bandanna if you want to eat at that restaurant. Imagine the outrage that would ensue if it was discovered that a restaurant did try to differentiate between regular tattooed folk and "gang-related" tattooed folk. The fallout would be far worse.

 This policy is no different than policies at some restaurants requiring a jacket and tie.  It is no different than some clubs that will not let you in if you are wearing baggy-pants, a baseball cap, or track clothes.  While it is true that clothing can be changed, the choice to get a permanent marking on your face was one made by the individual.  Just as an individual has a right to get a facial tattoo, a business has a right to deny service to someone for aesthetic choices out of concern for the impact it may have on their reputation.

 Bombshells is not the only eatery in the area. If they choose not to cater to you, then their choice has a consequence as well. You can go down the street to their competitors. You can choose not to eat in that area. You can tell your friends and encourage them not to eat there. You cannot, however, demand that the business change their policy to cater to you. Leighton is not necessarily making that request, but the story has taken on that aspect. Leighton did say, "If they're discriminating against face tattoos, what else are they discriminating against."

 The answer, Eric, is criminal activity. Even a sports-bar is entitled to have certain standards. If you have the right to get a facial tattoo, others have a right to choose not to interact with you. Your right should not negate the right of another.  The restaurant is not to blame in this situation.  Blame the thugs and criminals who get their faces tattooed, who commit crimes that give businesses reason to be concerned, and as a result continue to sully the reputation of the tattoo community at large.

 I will say it again, as I have said on other posts of this nature; think before you ink. You have to take the good with the bad. If you are not willing to accept that your choice may not be appreciated by others, and cannot handle the potential negative consequences, then maybe it is a choice you should avoid.

 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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top Ten Tattoo Healing Concerns (In No Particular Order)

 Since starting my blog on tattooing, I have gotten asked a lot of questions from people who have recently been tattooed or are planning to get a tattoo about the healing process. It is awesome that so many people are seeking my opinion about their tattoos, and I am always happy to offer my advice. Often, the questions asked are about common concerns. Here are the ten most common questions I have been asked, in no particular order.

-Can I exercise/participate in sports while my tattoo is healing?

 I'm getting a tattoo this weekend, and the next weekend I will be participating in a tennis tournament.  Should I wait to get my tattoo until after the tournament, and are there any risks involved with getting a tattoo and working out?

 Generally, there are no real concerns with exercise effecting your tattoo.  The biggest concern I would have is the tenderness of the tattoo effecting your performance.  You would want to lightly moisturize the tattoo before and after the event, to prevent any possible damage from the skin stretching a "dry" tattoo.  You also want to make certain you can clean the tattoo after the event (assuming that you will be sweating more than normal), and if the tattoo is normally under your clothes you will want to put on a clean outfit.  

Not for at least two weeks.
-Can I use a tanning-bed?

 I am really excited about showing-off my summer-bod.  I have lost a LOT of weight, have been going to a tanning salon, and now I want to get a cute little tattoo.  I know I have to keep the tattoo out of sunlight as much as possible.  Do tanning beds effect tattoos?

 The guidelines for keeping your tattoo out of the sun as much as possible are the same for tanning beds.  You would probably notice that the light from the bed would irritate the exposed tattoo. Tanning can also fade your tattoo, and the darker your skin gets the less bright your tattoo will be.  The tattoo is a few layers under the outer-most layer of skin, so it will be like seeing your tattoo through a tinted window. You will want to hold off your visits to the tanning bed for at least two weeks.

-Are raised areas of skin normal in the tattoo?

 It has been about three weeks, and my tattoo seems to be healed (no skin peeling or scabs).  I noticed that some of the lines feel raised.  Will this go away in time and is that normal?

 Your skin is one huge organ with lots of different areas and types that react differently to being tattooed.  The thickness of your skin is not consistent throughout.  The raised areas are your skin's response to being perforated by a needle repeatedly.  Initially, you may have noticed that the entire tattoo was slightly raised, but most of it went down to normal. Some areas, however, take longer or will remain raised. Your skin is, in essence, scarred. While more experienced tattooers are better able to avoid damaging the skin in this manner, it can sometimes happen even when every precaution is taken. Once the tattoo is healed, you may want to try a scar reducing agent, like aloe vera sap. 

After a few days, this may be a problem.
-Is it normal for my tattoo to be red and hot?

 I noticed a few days after getting my tattoo that there is some redness around the area and the tattoo feels warmer than the rest of my skin. Is this normal?

 Redness and a fevered feeling is normal with a new tattoo for the first few days. Your tattoo is basically an abrasion, and the redness and heat is typical of your body trying to heal the wound. If the redness radiates from the tattoo, it has the appearance of a rash, has bumps or weeps anything more than a thin, clear fluid, talk to your tattooer and/or a doctor.

-How long does it take to heal?

 I am getting my first tattoo in a couple of weeks, and I was wondering how long it will take to heal.

 Healing times for a tattoo vary, and it can of depends on what you mean by "healed".  A tattoo can take three-to-six months to heal "completely", and even then the area is still technically contaminated with a foreign material (tattoo ink).  You body will be working to remove the ink from your skin for the rest of your life, which is one of the factors that contributes to fading.  That said, the time generally given for the skin to return to being relatively normal is two weeks.  This is an average, as the real indicators are that the tattoo no longer has any scabs and is no longer peeling.  This is when the integrity of the tattoo skin can handle sunlight and being submerged in water without any real risks.

Really not normal.
-How long before I go swimming?

 I want to get a tattoo, but I also really want to go tubing on the river in a week with my friends. How long do I need to wait after getting a tattoo before I get in water?

 The best time to get a tattoo is in the winter, and this is just one of the reasons. In the winter, there is no real urge to "hit the beach", and by the summer your tattoo will be healed and looking great. That said, you should wait until all the scabs have fallen off your tattoo and the skin is done peeling.  This generally takes about two weeks.

-When should I apply skin cream?

 My tattoo artist told me to apply a skin cream with no perfumes or dyes during the first two weeks while the tattoo is healing, after I wash it three times a day.  Sometimes it gets really dry.  Should I apply more moisturizer?

 In my opinion, yes.  The reason you moisturize after washing your tattoo is because the soap and water can dry it out.  If your tattoo becomes too dry, the scabs can crack, leading to bleeding and ink-loss.  However, you do not want to over-moisturize, either. When your skin starts to feel dry and taunt, apply a very small amount of moisturizer.

Normal scabbing.
-Is heavy scabbing on some parts of the tattoo normal?

 I noticed that some parts of my tattoo, in particular the large, black areas, are more heavily scabbed that others.  Is that normal?

 Yes, that is normal.  The more worked the skin is, the heavier the scabbing will tend to be. Black is the least forgiving when it comes to open or light spots, so tattooers tend to hit black heavier than other colors. However, heavy scabbing will probably also lead to fading in that area.  Keep it moisturized, definitely do not pick at it, and if it needs a touch-up speak to your tattooer.

-My tattoo really itches.  What should I do?

 It has been about 8 days since I got my tattoo and it has really started to itch. What causes the itching and what should I do about it?

 Your skin goes through a phased-healing process, which involves a layer of skin growing over the tattoo that will initially die and peel off.  Another layer typically grows, dies, and peels off as well.  Your body's reaction to peeling skin is to become itchy so you will scratch the old skin off and reveal the layer of new skin beneath.  DO NOT ITCH YOUR TATTOO! You can try slapping your skin AROUND that tattoo, or itching near the tattoo (tricking the brain into believing the area has been relieved).  Other than that, it is best to just tough it out.

-When should I speak to my tattooer or a doctor about problems with my tattoo?

 I don't know if I am being a baby or not, but this is my first tattoo and I have some concerns about the way it is healing.  Reading your blog has let me know that most of what I am worried about is probably normal.  I was wondering when I should be worried enough to see a doctor?

 I wouldn't want to just assume that anything medical I read about on the Internet was applicable to me.  Treat what you read as a suggestion.  If your worried about anything to do with your tattoo, start by talking to your tattooer.  They can verify if what you are seeing is worthy of concern and suggest what you can do if there is a problem, probably saving you hundreds of dollars in doctor's fees in the process.  However, if you are not confident in your tattooer's advice, see a doctor.  Better safe than sorry.

 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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Getting a Tattoo From Someone Other Than Your Regular Artist

 You have a tattooer that you really like.  He or she does amazing work, you have a good relationship, you get a fair price for your tattoos, and you have gotten a few tattoos from this one artist.  You feel like this person is "your tattooer", the person you go to for your tattoos and advice on tattoos.  Your tattooer is strongest, however, with one particular style of tattoos, and you want a tattoo in a style that you think will be outside their skill-set.  In other words, you have another tattoo artist in mind, but you don't want to damage the relationship you have with your current tattooer. What do you do?

 If this scenario sounds a little odd to you, it is because with most professionals this would not be an issue.  An Italian Chef is not going to hold it against his clients if one night they decide to go to an American Restaurant because they were in the mood for some American Food.  Unfortunately, tattooers are often a bit superstitious about the industry, maybe even a little paranoid.  We often find ourselves with the mentality that every tattoo done by another tattooer is an opportunity lost, and money out of our own pockets.  When one of our clients goes to another artist, we tattooers worry that the shop will be better, that the other artist will offer a negative opinion of our work or try to undercut our pricing, or will frankly just provide a better experience for the client. 

 The reality is that all of these concerns are valid, at least to a point.  We tattooers tend not to see that those concerns are well with in our control.  Being tattooers ourselves, we should assume that our work will be critiqued and the other tattooer will try to win over our client. The question we should ask ourselves is what steps we took to prevent that tattooer from being successful?  If we are concerned about the quality of our shop, then we should have stepped-up and corrected any deficiency.  If we are afraid of a negative critique, then we need to be our own worst critics and truly strive to improve and do our best work on every tattoo.  If we think the other tattooer might provide a better experience, then we need to know and correct the ways which we miss the mark.  

 In short, if our client needs to go to another tattooer for one tattoo because it is simply outside our skill-set, we need to be confident that this is the ONLY reason they are going to another tattooer.

 From the onset of this idea, we have a problem.  If your client feels that they need to be concerned about offending you, then you have already done something wrong.  Your client should recognize that you are a professional, fully aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.  If you are a professional, then you should have no issue discussing with your client what their tattoo needs are, how you can address them, and if you are unable to meet their needs, how they should go about finding an artist who can.  Indeed, as a professional caring for your client, it may even behoove you to have an artist or two in mind you know will do the job, offer a fair price, and treat your client in the same manner you would.

 A doctor will recommend their patients to a specialist when necessary.  A mechanic will send work to another shop if their customer's car needs something they do not offer. If your client comes to you seeking advice about getting a tattoo from another artist, you should feel good that you have built a professional relationship with your client and they see you as a resource they can trust in the tattoo industry.  Taking care of your client, even if it means sending them down the street for a tattoo that is outside your skill-set, is better than losing them because you have a poor attitude, or worse because you gave them a tattoo that was not on par with your normal work when you couldn't bare to do the right thing and send their money to someone else.  

 As a client, you should know that despite our sometimes fragile artistic egos, we tattooers tend to be realists.  If your tattooer does primarily American Traditional work, and you want a portrait, you should be confident that your tattooer will steer you right.  We tell our clients to always, always, ALWAYS look at portfolios when shopping for an artist, and we hope that the reason you selected us was founded on the strength of our portfolios.  With this in mind, we also must know that if a style of tattoo that you want is not in our portfolio, you will have concerns about our ability to execute it. You should expect professionalism from your tattooer, and that they will be willing to talk to you about any aspect of the tattoo process, including potentially needing to go to another artist.

 If you consider someone your tattooer, simply be open and frank with them.  Tell them what you want and what your concerns are about their ability to do the tattoo,  Be prepared also to give them the opportunity to show you what they can do with your concept.

 What that means is being willing to pay your tattooer's drawing fee and being open to seeing their take on your idea.  Your tattooer is your tattooer for a reason; you like their style and their technique.  It may be that they can present your concept in a manner that you had not considered, translating it into their style.  This will have the added advantage of keeping your work consistent, as you will hopefully get many additional tattoos from that tattooer. Being ready to pay when you have this discussion also demonstrates that you are sincere about your appreciation of their work and that you really do want to keep them on as your tattooer.  Your tattooer may even be willing to apply that drawing fee as a down-payment on your next tattoo from them, depending on your relationship.

 You, as a client, should never be anxious about addressing concerns with your tattooer.  If you are, then you may have reason to be concerned.  Not every tattooer can do every tattoo, and a professional tattooer will want you to have good tattoo work, even if the work is not their own.  They would rather have you sing their praises for taking care of them than have a tattoo you regret getting and they regret doing.

 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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tattoos and Plagiarism

Don't sue me, Uncle Walt!
Plagiarism is an ongoing concern in the tattoo industry, rearing its ugly head in three forms.  The first is direct tattoo plagiarism; when an unscrupulous "tattooer" pulls photos from the Internet or other sources and claims the tattoos displayed are their work.  I have seen this kind of thing go even further with wanna-be tattooers stealing entire portfolios out of shops.  Usually, there are some tell-tale indications of this. Whenever someone would come to the shop I worked at and displayed a portfolio with numerous divergent styles and inconsistency in quality of work, a simply image-search on Google usually revealed the scam.  The reason for this act is simple; a "tattooer" who has not been professionally trained through an apprenticeship has come to the conclusion that the only way to grow (or to make real money) is to be in a tattoo studio.  Should they bother to try to get in with their own woefully inadequate portfolio, they quickly recognize that if they can get away with taking credit for another person's work, they can get their foot in the door.  Internet savvy studios catch this scam quickly, and if not it becomes obvious during the audition tattoo that is a common practice in most shops.

 The second form of plagiarism is when a tattooer copies a tattoo done by another artist. This is actually quite common.  Customers who are themselves budding tattoo aficionados find an image in a tattoo magazine or on a website that they just have to have, and they bring it into their local tattooer to get it themselves.  I say "budding" aficionados because collectors soon learn the value of having original work custom designed for them by a tattooer they admire and trust.  Tattooers will often offer to put their own spin on the design, but if the customer is adamant about getting that tattoo, then typically that is the tattoo they get.

 As an aside, a favorite joke a friend of mine tells is about they guy who walks into a tattoo convention on the last day and asks who won the "most original" tattoo contest.  He then turns to an artist who is looking for a customer and says, "I want that one."

You can only do praying hands so many ways.
 The problem here is that it can be difficult to discern a custom tattoo from a tattoo that was originally a tattoo flash design (based on a design that was created and marketed to tattoo studios and tattooers with the intent that it would be offered to customers en mass).  There are also degrees of this kind of copying; from biting off (hard) on another artists style, to blatantly copying line-for-line another tattoo.  The simple truth is that newer tattooers who have little to put into their portfolios will often include pieces that started as flash or are copies of tattoos from another artist. Older tattooers will often fill their portfolios with custom work and designs of their own.  It is a part of the maturation process in the life of a tattooer. We learn by trying other people's styles until we eventually develop our own.  Even in styles with strict parameters like American Traditional; the best artists eventually find a way to step out from under the shadows of those before them and do their own thing, but only after a healthy number of years imitating the artists they admire.

 The third type of plagiarism is related to the second, but deals with art that is not a tattoo, and obviously not tattoo flash.  The scenario presented by Deb Yarian in her own article: Flattery, Thievery, or Just Plain Business (to which this article is a response, thanks Deb!) is thus:

 A client walks into your studio with a piece of art they wish to have tattooed.  The tattooer, concerned about simply copying another artist, suggests they could create something similar, but the client balks and insists, aside from making the design more tattoo-friendly, they want it unchanged.  Does the tattooer do the design, and if so what obligations do they have, ethically and legally, to inform the original artist?

 Let us consider the legal issue first.  Plagiarism, the wrongful appropriation or copying of another person's works, generally refers to writing, but also covers other forms of art and intellectual property.  Plagiarism is itself not a crime.  Copyright Infringement is a crime, though how that crime is defined and enforced is a slippery issue.

 A copy is defined in US Copyright Laws as a direct reproduction.  The law further covers the unauthorized distribution of copies.  Interestingly, it is not considered copying to translate a design from one medium to another; ie from a 2-D drawing to a 3-D sculpture. Describing a painting in extreme written detail is not a violation of copyright.  A piece of art which is translated into a tattoo by a tattooer fits into this idea.  

 If a holder of an intellectual copyright wishes to protect their work from being translated into other media, they must trademark the works, which offers further protection.  Courts have, however, found in favor of copyright holders who's work had been translated into other mediums and mass-marketed, ie dolls being produced without authorization from cartoons.

Not a gill-man, it's a cabbage monster. Yeah...
 Tattoos may also fall under the Fair Use Doctrine in a loose manner.  A tattoo is not designed to supersede the original.  It will not replace or compete with the original work in the market.  Tattooing a design also does not impact the value of the original work.  Where there may be an issue is that the nature of the copied work is typically not of a private work which should be public domain, the translation of the work is for profit (not the betterment of the public), and the copy is often substantially similar to the original (even if translated into a new medium). 

 So, if an artist wished to pursue legal action against the creation of a tattoo using their work, they potentially have grounds to do so.  The tattooer can limit the likelihood of this by not offering the design to the public, and by not including the finished tattoo in their portfolio or in their advertising.  This makes the recreation a one-time job, and not further exploitation of another's work for profit.

 In reality, we see this kind of thing all the time.  In fact, tattoo flash often includes images which are clearly the copyright of another party, such as sheets featuring famous movie monsters, actresses, or cartoon icons.  Either this kind of homage is considered beneath the holders of the copyright to be overly concerned with, or the potential reward for pursuing legal recourse is too trivial to consider.  

 Keep in mind though that legally, you never know what will trip a big corporation's trigger. A story I have heard, which may be little more than an urban legend, deals with amateur auto-racing.  Before NASCAR, racers would mark their cars with numbers and distinctive designs, including cartoon characters from Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons.  This was until Disney began threatening to sue the violators of their copyright, resulting in Ed Roth's "Rat Fink" design.  Disney again sought legal recourse in the 1970's against the creators of "Air Pirates", an underground comic book which saw only two issues ever published.  

 Legally, odds are you are fairly safe as a tattooer using another artist's design, especially if your do not try to make a name for yourself as the originator of the work.  Ethically, things get even more fuzzy.  Ethics are almost exclusively a matter of one's personal philosophy.  I mentioned above that the use of major commercial designs is fairly common place.  There are artistic "parodies" of various designs and likenesses which skirt the line between homage and copy.  It doesn't make it right, but published artists have their work copied into tattoos so frequently that some even consider it a tribute and feature the tattoos in publications with their work. 

Make it your own.
 Where I think that there is an ethical need to inform the artist is when said artist would have benefited significantly from the paid-use of their work.  $25 will not mean much to a person who's work is featured in Playboy or Hi-Fructose (it is not my intent to liken one publication to another, they just have both featured artists I enjoy), but may mean something to someone who is paying bottom dollar for a simple website displaying their art. The good-guy thing to do is share the tattoo image with them, so that they can use it to promote their own efforts.  The great thing to do is to send that artist a gratuity for the use of their work from your tattoo-profits.

 That said, until you are so well-off and renowned as a tattooer that you can insist on tattooing exclusively your designs in your style, you should probably do the tattoo.  The person making the request will just take it down the street to a tattooer with less scruples (and probably less skill) than you if you don't, plus will leave with a bad impression of your studio.   Do what you can to convince your client to allow you to do your own thing with it, but ultimately you need to give the client what they want. If you are really torn about it, ask your studio-owner what they think.  If it has been a slow week, they will probably favor profit over artistic integrity.

 Besides, having that Tasmanian Devil tattoo tucked deep in one of your old portfolios is kind of a right-of-passage as a tattooer.

  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


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keep Your Appointment (and What to Do When They Don't)

 Tattoo Nerd,

 I have been in the business for about 8 years now, and I have this client that got work from me when I was just staring out.  I hear from her once every year or so.  She asks about a tattoo for herself or a friend, and sets an appointment.  We hash out some of the details before I notice that she is getting a little flakey about keeping in contact and confirming her appointment.  This last week, she settled on a day but not a time, told me two days prior that she would get back to me about the design, never confirmed, and did not respond to any of my messages the day of the tattoo.  It is frustrating, and I am thinking that I should just write her off and not deal with her anymore.  I feel bad, because she was one of my first clients, but I think I have hit my limit.

 What do you think?

 First of all, let me say that I just love that people are starting to refer to me as "Tattoo Nerd".  I consider it high praise that I am being recognized for my work.  

 I think we, as tattoo artists, have all had clients like the one you described,  In fact, probably multiple clients.  I am not certain if the problem is a matter of casual disrespect or an exaggerated view of tattoo artists.  On the one hand, it could be that people do not consider being a tattoo artist a "real" profession.  They have no real concept of the time, dedication, and effort that goes into being a tattooer, often because they have not experienced that kind of effort in their own pursuits.  They may also fail to recognize the expense of setting-up for a tattoo or drawing a design in advance, because, hey, that is what we do for fun, right? 

 On the other hand, they may realize we are professionals and have a high degree of respect for what we do.  In their minds, we tattooers are all "cool".  We are causal and laid back.  If they cannot make their appointment, it is okay, because we are hip and understanding.  That is why we are tattooers, because we are cool and talented.  It is no big deal to us.  

 Dear friends and tattoo patrons, neither of these perspectives are correct.  Tattooers are business professionals.  They can be more casual about their approach to business, but when you fail to make your appointment it hurts our bottom-line.  We are not paid an hourly wage, and any time we spend engaged with a client is with the goal of there being a cash-reward for our efforts.  This includes email exchanges, phone calls, drawing, follow-up discussions, confirmation of an appointment, and setting-up for the tattoo.  Those materials on the tattooers table; medical liners, ink caps, needles, tubes, inks, paper towels, ointments, etc, are not cheap, and come out of the tattooer's wallet.  The shop may provide for some of his or her supplies, but even that is with the expectation that a cash-reward will result from their use.  When you skip-out on an appointment, it is costing your artist money.

 As a customer, ask yourself this: you set an appointment with your tattooer and when you arrive at the studio, he or she is not there.  No call, no note, just not there.  How many times would this need to happen before you sought out another tattooer?  If you put up with this twice, you are extremely charitable.  

 It is tempting, as a tattooer, to take this attitude and black-list those clients that consistently skip-out on appointments.  As business-persons, we cannot afford that mentality.  Think of it this way; you own a retail store.  There is a guy who comes in once a week.  He browses your wares, asks you some questions, doesn't cause any problems, and doesn't buy anything,  He just wastes some of your time.  You could tell him to buy something or get out, but that will create an unhappy customer.  He WILL tell everyone he knows that you treated him badly; the fact that he was wasting your time weekly and never made an actual purchase will not be mentioned.  Not only have you made no money, you now have a black-mark against your reputation as a business.  You are better off just dealing with it, and maybe one glorious day that "customer" will actually buy something.

 When a tattooer is just starting out, we feel lucky just to have someone consider us for work.  We listen to every pie-in-the-sky promise to be on-time for an appointment, to bring friends to us, to help get our name out, etc.  It takes a few years to realize that cash is king, and that all the promises in the world are meaningless until the money is in your hand.  It takes a few more years before we are good enough to establish that kind of standard.  An appointment is not an appointment without a deposit.  When I started out, my clients would have balked at the idea that they needed to pay me $50 in advance to keep a slot in my schedule open for them.  Now, it is expected that my time comes at a premium.

 For sentimental reasons, I understand the reservations about changing the way you handle one of your first clients, but after 8 years of experience, you have grown enough to start being taken seriously.  Don't black-list your clients, but do let the know that you have grown as a tattooer and that your time is in demand.  When your client reaches out to you again for a tattoo, let them know that you cannot set an appointment without a deposit.  No drawing anything up, no penciling anyone in.  When they are ready to pay a deposit, they are ready to set an appointment.  They are always welcome to walk-in and see if you are available, but without cash in advance there will be no promises.  Those who appreciate your work and respect the value of your time will have no problem with your policy. 

 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