By Sophia Brousseau
When meeting with an artist it's important to look over their past work to see if it matches the style of art you're going for, research them and find reviews from past customers. A quality artist can come in different forms, so what you really want to find is someone who does the style you want. There is an expression, "You get what you pay for," and this couldn't be more true. Most of the time, artists you can trust will have a flat fee based on the size of the tattoo you want, after that the fee is hourly. A good, trustworthy artist will let you know about this ahead of time, and give you an estimate. It is also important (especially on larger tattoos) that your artist makes you feel comfortable asking for a break. If they get mad at you, they aren't doing their job. You'll also want an artist who cares about your safety and the cleanliness of their station. Most of the time, they'll have you wait a moment to go re-clean their station, even if it was already clean before. Supporting your friends and other "lone wolf" artists is great, but the real quality control comes from studios!
Before you get your tattoo, meeting with the artist is impertinent. Having your chosen artist understand what you want is important, and if they show you a design you're not into, let them know! This will be on your body forever, so if you're not feeling it, don't get it, and don't worry about the artist's "feelings," they won't get hurt by it. It also helps to give your artist reference picture, examples like, "I want it in this pose," "with these colors," and "this location on my body." Also include reference photos of "extra" things, like flowers or jewels, surrounding on or in your tattoo. They will take all of these things into consideration and try to incorporate it all. They should also let you know about sizing. If the size you want isn't doable with the details, they'll let you know, and let you think about where you want to go from there. If this is your first tattoo, try something small before you get something large to see how you respond to the process. If you have an allergic reaction to the ink, if the pain was too much for you, or you realize you just wanted the experience? A small tattoo is easier to cover, and it comes without "the shakes".
When you're going in to get your tattoo, don't use any blood thinners. Alcohol and marijuana are a no-no, and by law they aren't allowed to give you a tattoo if you are under the influence. If you are unsure if your medication is a blood thinner, check the packaging and/or look it up if you have to!
During the inking, the most important rule is to just breathe! It helps to not look at the process (however, I find it very interesting) because if your brain doesn't see the "injury" it won't hurt as much. Depending on how large the tattoo is, you're either in it for the long haul or not. Don't be afraid to ask for breaks and stay hydrated! I cannot stress the hydrated part enough. Keep a water bottle with you if it's a large tattoo. I've often found line work to be the most strenuous, and shading/coloring a little easier on the body. If it's a large tattoo your artist should try to split these two processes up. If it's a smaller tattoo, getting it done in one sitting shouldn't be an issue. If the pain becomes to much, ask your artist if they have something called, "Hush" or any Lidocaine based products under another name. Hush will burn for a second (which is awesome when you get "the shakes") but afterwards it'll numb the area of the tattoo and make it a lot easier. Your artist should walk you through the process of the tattoo, and trust them when it comes to stuff! They know how the skin should react to the ink, and will call it off if they see something wrong. Trust your artist, you picked them for a reason! Now, "the shakes" that I've mentioned. Everyone's tattoo experience is different, and size will matter, but more often than not you'll get something they call "the shakes." I personally like to call them shivers, but that's because of what happens to your body. Tattoos are considered open wounds until they heal. This part will usually come near the end when you've been sitting there for an hour or two, and essentially what happens is your endorphin's are going crazy. Your body wants to control the pain, and tries releasing chemicals in the brain to combat this, such as dopamine (which is a large reason people become addicted to tattoos.) Your endorphin's help control your body temperature, and when things get to much for them it all goes haywire. The shakes are uncontrollable, like shivering when you're extremely cold, and you will feel a bit cold-- but you'll be sweating. My artist had a heat lamp for these situations and it did help. Don't be discouraged though! It's a small part of something awesome. Everyone deals with tattoos differently, some hum, sing, listen to music, distract themselves, etc. Finding your way to combat the pain is a process, just remember to breathe!
Lastly, after the the inking. Once you're done, paid your artist (and tipped them!) They should give you a run down on what to use and what not to use during the healing process, ask them what soap, lotions, and ointments to use. As soon as you get home (hopefully within at least 3 hours of the session), take off the Saran wrap and wash the area gently but as much as possible. You want to get off something called plasma, getting this layer of ink and plasma off will help your tattoo look as good as it can! Try keeping it clean first, I recommend Dr. Bronner's soap, a few drops goes a long way, and it's extremely pure. Try avoiding anything with dyes or perfumes in it. During the first week or so, use ointments rather than lotion, your artist will recommend a brand for you (a lot of them have different opinions on this, and some will have an ointment there you can buy.) Try to wash your tattoo 3 times a day, drying with a paper towel (dab the area, do not rub.) After it's dry directly apply a thin layer of ointment to the area. Make sure your hands are clean when you do this, and don't let anyone touch your tattoo but you (unless it's on your back, so then just make sure they wash their hands before helping you.) After the first week or so, when your tattoo begins to scab over, apply lotion. The lotion you use should be scentless and colorless, and as pure as you can manage. Do not use coconut oil until the tattoo is completely healed. If you have a tattoo somewhere like your back, leg, or arm, make sure not to lay on it when you sleep. There may be "leaking", so make sure your sheets aren't white and you're wearing pajamas you can ruin. If you wake up in the morning and find your tattoo is sticking to some cloth, do not rip it off! Go immediately to the shower, and with the article of clothing that is stuck, get in the shower and let the water soak the cloth. This will remove the stuck clothing easily, and while you and your clothes will be wet, your tattoo won't be ruined. Also avoid strenuous activities that may cause you to sweat, you want to avoid sweat on your tattoo. If you do sweat, just remember to keep your tattoo clean.
Once it's healed, coconut oil will keep the ink looking fresh, and always apply sunscreen to the area of your tattoo when going out, even if you don't apply it anywhere else.
It all sounds a bit scary, but it's really worth it in the end (so make sure you get a tattoo you absolutely love!)