Common Tattoo Artist Misconceptions

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 10, 2020
    Last Updated: January 3, 2021

The tattooing industry comes with some common tattoo artist misconceptions. It used to be a place of counterculture, a place where people could express themselves on their skin. Now that tattooing has gotten more mainstream, tattoo artists are in the spotlight more than ever before.

Nevertheless, clients still hold misconceptions about tattoo artists that they’d like to clear up. Here are a few common misconceptions that tattoo artists regularly face.

Tattoo Artists Are Unprofessional

What many people don’t understand is that tattooing is a multi-billion dollar industry. Artists need to carry a certain level of professionalism to keep up with the demands of their work. They need a consistent scheduling system and clear-cut hours to meet with their clientele. Fewer shops accept walk-in clients and many artists require appointments to make consultations.

While you’d be hard-pressed to find a tattoo artist working in a suit and tie, the way they look does not necessarily define who they are as a person. The art of tattooing allows you to customize your appearance to better express yourself, still, having a tattoo does not mean you cannot act professionally. 

Furthermore, the people who give you tattoos run a business. They dress in casual clothes because the ink might ruin them, yet they can be just as professional as a Wall Street broker. Tattoo artists are practically self-employed. While they often work in a shop, the artist has to attract their own clients, make their brand, provide customer service and promote their skills. They work by commission, not by salary.

Tattoo Parlors Attract the Wrong Kind of Attention

Many people associate tattoos with tough guys, gang members, bikers and bad influences. As a result, renting a studio for a tattoo shop can create hardship. While the artist is looking for a place to make art, the owners may fear that the region will attract “bad” people and that the artists will be irresponsible.

Tattoo artists care as much about the safety of their establishment as anyone else. They accept clients from all walks of life, though they won’t welcome them back if someone is causing trouble.

These days, tattoo shops are generally extremely clean and tidy

Any Artist Can Become a Tattoo Artist

No matter how well you can sketch, a canvas is not the same thing as a person. People constantly move as they breathe, twitch and balance themselves. Tattooing requires an entirely different skillset. One cannot be squeamish around blood, must have social competency and be able to handle all sorts of people. 

Tattoo artists must operate tattooing equipment without making a mistake. While you can touch up a painting with more layers of paint, you cannot just erase a tattoo. 

On the other hand, you don’t need to be a world-class visual artist to become a tattooer. While having some natural creativity boosts your work, tattoos can be formulaic. Tons of people want simple, minimalist designs like a daisy or a cross that almost anyone with a steady hand could make with enough practice. Also, if your artist works with transfer paper, they just need to be good at tracing.

Not all artists can become tattooists, and not all tattooists are artists. As long as one sticks to their artistic strengths, they can make thousands of tattoos with minimal creative stress.

On that note, not all tattoo artists want to take creative control over your body. What goes on your skin lasts forever, and unless they are mad artists, they’ll want you to have some input. This statement holds especially for those who create more formulaic pieces. They need an idea on your part, though you don’t have to design your tattoo completely.

Tattoo Artists Will Take Any Client

Some people think that an artist will take in any client. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Tattoo artists need to follow schedules to keep their business afloat. Many turn away walk-ins for this reason and require people to book an appointment beforehand. With modern technology, most shops allow you to schedule a consultation online.

Most tattooers will reject a drunk patron. Intoxicated individuals have a greater tendency to move around, causing the artist to make mistakes. Additionally, they create distractions and could mess up the expensive equipment. Not to mention that people don’t make the best decisions when drunk. A tattoo will stay on your body permanently and if you make a drunken choice, you could be in for a life of regret.

On that note, they also won’t take in sick clients. If you are ill, you not only create a snotty mess, you could make the artist sick as well. They have to touch you and come in contact with some of your bodily fluids. Furthermore, sickness could amplify the pain, making it worse for you. The same goes for your period: it magnifies the pain tenfold, making tattoos an agonizing experience.

Artists won’t necessarily tattoo anything you want just because you’re willing to pay. Most won’t tattoo silly pieces from a lost bet or hate symbols. You will advertise their work, and if that work is ridiculous, they don’t want it associated with them.

Other things that tattoo artists might not indulge you with are hand, face and neck tattoos. Some artists only use these places if you are running out of space. Also, palms, lips and ears fade quicker than other areas. Extremely small tattoos look cute at first but tend to smudge and lose detail quickly. White tattoos fade fast, as do pastel colors. Lastly, if you are getting your first tattoo, some artists will reject a large first-time piece, like a full sleeve if they think you’ve rushed into the idea.

Tattoo Artists Don’t Need Money

For some reason, people seem to think tattoo artists are rich. While tattoos can get expensive, the artist only keeps a small percentage of it. The rest goes to paying for their place in the shop. They usually rent equipment and need to use what remains to support their families and pay their bills. While some make loads, most earn average wages.

Many artists start out working for free. They take on apprenticeships at a shop and practice for years without making a dime. These artists need to hold multiple jobs at once to stay afloat while practicing for their dream job. After the years of free work, they may not even earn very much.

Tattoo artists work on commission, so if you skip your appointment, they lose money. They have scheduled time for you, and by skipping your appointment, you are disrespecting their business. Artists earn between $15,000 and $80,000 a year on average. You don’t want to put them on the low end of that.

Additionally, since most of the money goes towards expenses, tattooists need tips. These business owners need to pay the cost of ink, needles, machines, advertising, insurance, rent, and more. By adding a generous tip, you will help them earn a more comfortable living. However, only pay what you can afford. If you can only afford a few bucks, that is better than nothing, but the more, the merrier. 

How much you tip depends on the work. A simple line piece may not merit as much skill as a sleeve, therefore, you might not tip as much. Remember that your artist pours in time and effort into their art and a tip shows how much you appreciate their work.

Since people stereotype tattoo artists as being casual, counter-culture connoisseurs, they are people too. Many have families that they work to support, and tattooing is only a small part of their time. It is a job, after all. They cannot be at your beck and call and they want to talk about more than just tattoos.

Final Thoughts

Tattooing is a difficult job. Artists devote years of their life to unpaid labor and work beyond the nine to five to keep their businesses afloat. Between posting on social media and answering their customers, the work never ends.

Remember, tattoo artists are people too, with lives outside of their work. Treat them like professionals, tip them generously and respect their time. Not only will they appreciate you more, you will be making their lives a whole lot easier with some basic human decency.

Keep these common tattoo artist misconceptions in mind next time you go to get a tattoo.

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