So before I had this site, and while I was working at the church, I was also hanging out at a local tattoo shop. I was serious about the industry, and much like with cannabis I wanted in. Ultimately the shop closed, but the artists there taught me a lot. So this post is dedicated to Nick, Cliff, Olly, Phil, Josh, Craig, Bill, And Kyle, all the tattoo artists who have inked my skin and taught me a lot about the craft and the industry.
So let’s dig in shall we?
How Long Do You Train Before Becoming an Artist Who Works on Humans?
Most artists will have you hang around for at least a year before they teach you anything about drawing, because it’s not something they charge for – training to tattoo I mean – so you’ll clean garbage bins, clean up spilled ink, set up a station, and work with clients to find the right artist, but you won’t ink for at least 2 years, and in my humble opinion, it should be a lot fucking longer.
What Mandatory Rules Should be in Place?
- Artists shouldn’t tattoo for at least 3 years. You’re working on human beings, that shit isn’t easy or cheap to remove, so if you’re going to do it, you should fucking do it properly and learn the craft, the history and spend time working with one particular artist for each year that you’re studying your craft.
- You should be forced to learn bookwork – a tattoo school will take you through the history of the art, and various cultural beliefs, and will show you different techniques before you pick your favourite style of inking skin, BUT they don’t exist in every place around the world.
- Pig skin is not human skin, don’t confuse the two, neither is a fucking orange. People get itchy, scared, they move, they sing, (yup) they dance around, and they get really angry when they are in pain. Dead pig skin doesn’t move.
- Is your artist drinking alcohol? THEN DON’T LET THEM INK YOU, DUMBASS. Most artists I know smoke weed, and the shit they can do when stoned? Oh. My. God. It’s…not human.
What Should Clients look for?
The shop should be fucking spotless. There should be not one speck of dust, and if one artist looks at you with a rude look walk out. Yes, they are particular about their clients, but you have every right to be particular about your artist, and if they do anything that makes you uncomfortable, you have the right to leave and demand your money back. No refunds my ass, fuck that shit.
This rule should only apply to repeat clients who come back 2 or more times demanding a refund after booking an appointment. It only exists because of how many books but never come back after the first time except for their money.
Do they have to hang out with the staff? Are there people there to get you a glass of water if you need it? No, they aren’t babysitters but we’re dealing with physical shock due to hours upon hours of pain, so you may need a glass of water, you may need a break, are they going to give you one? Artists are artists, not sadists. That’s a different service.
What Do Artists hate?
Artists eat or starve based on whether or not you show up, so show up on time and be graceful. I PROMISE you they are more afraid of you than you are afraid of them because you’re putting your body out there for their canvas they are taking this shit SUPER seriously, and you should be too.
They hate doing names and I’ll give you a scenario:
You come in with your best friend or lover, but then you get it done, come back six months later and want it covered, by the same artist. You’ve wasted their time, you’ve wasted your time and you’re literally and figuratively erasing the moment they had with you.
Artists who tattoo are fucking babies, and they HATE HATE HATE covering their own work, or worse, someone else’s. It’s a common practice, but they fucking hate it, so think very, very carefully before you get that tattoo with your best friend or the guy you love or like.
After Care is More Than Protecting The Tattoo:
After Care isn’t just about protecting the tattoo, it’s about protecting the client-artist relationship. If you’re lucky you’ll have a continual stream of artists that you’ll go back to a lot. There’s only 1 I wouldn’t go back to, but he’s dead, and I’m not sorry.
My tattoos are all in relatively great condition because my artists were too, they did a great job. Any scratches or marks are because…I have fucking cats. Does anyone want a cat?
When Phil would tattoo someone – and I saw this often – almost as soon as they left he’d go outside to take a break. It wasn’t just that his hands hurt, or that he was sore from bending over, it was the stories he would hear from the people who were getting the ink. Sometimes a client would get hurt and we hear about it, and we’d also hear that in the process of getting hurt their ink got ruined.
That ruins the moment for the artist – because instead of “wow that was a great client,” you spend the rest of your life wondering if that client is okay – I’m talking specifically about those who come to the tattoo world through gangs and guns.
“Tattoo artists are very much like therapists without training, and so they take in a lot of negative information or sad information or even happy stuff, and then you hear your client died from a heart attack or a shooting, and yeah, it takes a lot out of you. You had a moment with that person, and then their gone, and you don’t fully know how to conceptualize that because you’re a tattoo artist, not a therapist. ” – Phil Terrace, Olly Wilson
Clients don’t see their artists cry after they’ve left the shop, I have, and it’s heartbreaking, a really good tattoo artist is someone who often spends time shaking their head wondering how much of your story is real, and how much you embellished because we all do that. That’s because they genuinely care. Did they do a good job? Do you like it for real? Will you remember the moments of laughter or tears?
In the moment, when you’re sharing blood with someone – or cutting them open to inject them with ink, you’re having THE MOMENT, of their life, that they will remember forever.
That’s a lot of pressure that tattoo artists feel, there’s a power exchange between artist and client that most people don’t know how to notice, and it can be incredibly scary to watch a client leave not knowing if they’re fully satisfied.
Don’t just tip your artist, have a smoke with them after, give them time to decompress with you and laugh with you, and leave them feeling as good as you hopefully do. But also tip your fucking artist, unless they sexually assault you – then kick them in the nuts and rob the place.
Favourite / Most Painful Tattoo of Yours:
Mine is the one I drew myself on my foot because Kyle is the sweetest artist (Fresh Ink – Burnaby now) oh holy mother of Christ masturbating in the hot sun on a Sunday morning. NOTHING hurt more than that except when Phil Terrace (East Van Ink – Vancouver) went for the inside of my elbow – fucking bastard I HATE YOU but I love you so much – Holy shit. I cried. I screamed. I plotted his murder. It hurt.
You wanna talk about pain? This isn’t “oh just gave birth,” no this is “someone has ripped my fucking twat out of my eyeball” kind of pain.
But I drew the one on my foot and Martin Abel (GENUIS) drew the Witch on my left forearm and the Angel on my right shoulder. The pain was worth the moment, but Jesus Christ, please…PLEASE never let me get a tattoo on my elbow or foot again.
I still laugh – Phil looked like he wanted to cry, and so did Kyle, both men looked like they were ready to weep when I cried out in pain, but I’ll remember that shit forever….and I laughed when it was over, but BOTH Phil and I were shaken. I’ll never forget that either, he genuinely worried he’d hurt me in irreparable ways. He didn’t, but he left a memory. Asshole.
How to Prepare for a Tattoo:
- There should be at least 3 hours between when you last ate and when you go for your tattoo. I’ve done it without eating and I felt like I was going to die after, my fault not the artist, but still that worries them because you ARE experiencing trauma, or your body is, and you WILL lose a small amount of blood sometimes, and if you’re anemic not eating is really, really bad. SO EAT YOU FUCKING MORON.
- Do not take a shower until 3 days after your tattoo. Especially hot, do not submerge in water, remove the wrapping 5 hours after the tattoo, and wipe down with a clean cloth and cold water, that will soothe some of the burnings, and do make sure that you keep to your artist’s orders.
- Wear light clothing, especially if you’re clothing will cover your tattoo.
- Bring a friend but DO NOT LET THEM SIT IN THE STATION WITH YOU. FOR FUCK SAKE. They’ll go on and on about shit they don’t know and drive you both nuts, I speak from experience.
- Relax, bring some music, maybe your headphones. I tend to go quiet when I get tattooed, and almost every time except Kyle (assjerk) I fall asleep, this scares the fuck out of my artists, and only adds to my amusement.
After your tattoo:
Nothing with scent
Nothing with colour
Tattoo goo is a scam. Use a regular soft cream without scent, hard to find but organic creams are really great for this and can be found at any naturopathic store or grocery style in the organics section and NOTHING with glycerine, which I’ve been yelled at for a few times even though I’ve never used that shit.
Nothing that will enforce and force healing. There’s a reason for that, listen to them. You can’t rush healing, and that’s the point of tattoos, you’re not supposed to heal overnight. It takes time. The entire point of tattoos is learning patience, the tattoo itself is the result of hard work, it’s not the hard work.
If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out. tome or any of the artists listed below.
Kyle – Fresh Ink Burnaby – Phil, Josh, Josh, Craig, Craig, (There are two of each apparently) and many amazing others are now at East Van Ink, Nick is at Happy Buddha in New West just off the skytrain line.
Sending all my love,