Inkonnoisseur: Choosing Your Tattoo Artist



Short list of key traits and considerations to keep in mind when choosing your artist. By no means an exhaustive list yet, we hope, it offers some practical direction. Just as there is no ‘one’ piece of body/art that will suit every individual, the artist-client relationship will vary according to preferences and attitudes. Regardless of your decision we attempt to offer topics to assist in ensuring a considered conclusion is reached. We again believe that body/art can and should be a passion.

In the same way as your favorite painting, song or movie invokes an emotional response, body/art in its’ purest form can be the physical manifestation of this highly personal interaction. If you have chosen an artist who is able to create a unique design or procedure then part of your body and by extension you, are essentially turned into a living work of art.

The purpose of this introduction is to clarify the decisions, process and care needed when choosing and receiving body/art. The end goal is not only knowing what makes a hygienic environment but also the recognition of genuine artwork


The scratcher is an untrained tattooist who may be artistically gifted but rarely bothers sterilizing instruments. They may describe themselves as a freelancer, often ceasing to and then re-starting client bookings. A scratcher often purchases equipment through the Internet rather than reputable suppliers. The main consideration that is potentially harmful or damaging about a scratcher, apart from the quality of work often completed, is a tendency for them to reuse needles.

Then in a category somewhere between the comparatively shoddy practices of a scratcher and the brightly lit, hygienic venues of professional artists are the practitioners that simply may lack genuine talent. Their works are badly executed, unevenly lined, unattractive colors and or their drawings being out of proportion. If a tattooists’ work seems ill thought out or lacks an appealing composition, trust your instincts and stay away
Unfortunately we live in a day and age where tattooing could significantly harm clients should proper procedures not be adhered to. Reusable equipment must always be properly sterilized and cross-contamination alongside strict sterilization techniques need to be followed. Absent proper protocols a range of blood-born pathogens may further harm clients. It would be incorrect to think all you need to get a tattoo is a needle and some ink – proper training and experience in body/art is a must. Before you choose your artist, make a decision to not settle for banal and or sloppy work. There is too much talent out there for you to accept anything less than your ideal composition.


Sometimes this means investing resources and or traveling to another country in order to get the body/art you want. You need to tell yourself that an investment of time and energy prior to your session(s) is absolutely worth it. This process will ultimately essentially result in a permanent piece and or alteration to your appearance. The only way to properly assess any body/artist is to review examples of their work. They should have sufficient, unique portfolios so as to easily identify and recognize their area(s) of expertise. These body/artist portfolios should consist of photographs of work they’ve personally completed, of course
Another way to find a good artist is to approach someone (i.e. another member), whose tattoo(s) you admire and ask them who completed their compositions. They will be the first to recommend their body/artist if they had a good experience. It can be recommended to inquire as to the cost of the artwork as well as the conditions of the session venue. And often strangers are likely to give you better advice than your friends.

Although body/art is priceless, it can also be considered a form of ‘beauty treatment’. You wouldn’t allow a bad hairdresser to butcher your hair equally do not let an affordable tattoo artist brand you for life with a marking that you instantly and persistently dislike. As with any product or service, the cost of body/art varies.

Popular or award winning artists will always charge more than inexperienced practitioners. The cheapest category of tattoo work is typically flash or stock. These are the designs that you find hanging on the walls of studios, parlors or (traditionally) the barber shop wall. Artists usually charge a flat rate for their flash designs but this, of course, is dependent on the size of the design (i.e. time required to apply) alongside the amount of ink used
In general you can expect to pay between $100 to $400 USD for a tattoo that is about two by two square inches in many places across the globe. For custom work, most artists usually charge by the hour. It is highly recommended that you discuss your artwork preferences – using any pertinent research / references you have compiled – so that your artist can give you an accurate estimation of how long the application will take on your session agreement. Rates for custom tattoos go anywhere from $100 to $1000+ USD an hour. Although price doesn’t always dictate excellence. Your guiding motivation should be in selecting an artist whos work ‘speaks to you’ and or that you find beautiful, inspirational or would like to carry. Cost should be secondary as, to reiterate, the result of this process is permanent


For example, if you want a realistic portrait of Marilyn Monroe don’t seek out an artist that specializes in reproducing lurid cartoons. Ultimately when it comes to body/art, you are the art director and you are selecting the talent to realize your vision. Some tattoo artists are better at fine line compositions whereas others have a knack for the rhythms and designs associated with primitive work.

Some excel in ink-brush floral compositions while their colleague may draw / paint nothing other than than realistic animal skulls. Usually you can tell just by looking at the artist’s portfolio what area(s) they in fact wish to work in
Most artists have a great deal of enthusiasm for their work and are willing to “get into the spirit” with you when it comes to collaborations. If the artist has suggestions about size and color, listen to the voice of experience. They may simply know what looks best or they may be trying to subtly tell you something about the limitations of their own skill. Likewise please consider the flip-side to this advice – an artist will only be able to do their best work provided they too are excited about the design / subject direction. Quality will arise from selecting the right artist who specializes in your chosen style, from the artist who is excited to complete your piece


Don’t try to be a “back seat” artist and offer impulsive creative suggestions. Of course, this is not going to happen if you and the artist have mutually agreed on an appropriate design or direction in the first place. Please remember that you are commissioning an artist to complete a composition. Whether freehand (i.e. no design beforehand), or following a stencil your artist will be able to visualize and ‘picture’ your composition in an entirely different light than you.

The only caveat to this would be possible clarification on any stages and or details throughout your session if you are concerned. If you are worried about the progress of the session or setting in anyway, generally aside from the expected unavoidable potential and nominal discomfort associated with completing the work itself, don’t hesitate to speak up.

A professional body/artist is an artist, technician and a crafts person. Selecting the body/artist who is going to apply your composition is one of the most important decisions that you will make. Have you researched their portfolios as well as read their reviews? Do their lines look inadvertently shaky or feathery? Do the circles look like circles and squares like squares? What about the coloring? Are the colors blended well to create even forms of shading, dimension, and depth? Do any of the pieces already look faded, bleary or out of proportion? Trust your own artistic eye when it comes to this, as despite all of the promises or excuses that explain inferior work, your body/art will probably resemble what is in the artist’s portfolio.
Body/art can be considered a form of cosmetic surgery. For example, tattooing involves the bonding of color pigmentation through to middle layer of your skin thereby perforating your protective barrier. The more translucent outer layer of the skin grows over this layer, once the tattoo has healed. When a tattoo “fails” it is usually because the ink was placed too deeply into the skin where bodily fluids can cause the tattoo to spread and lose definition. If the tattoo is not set deeply enough then it may fade or completely disappear. The artists’ portfolios and feedback will reflect their mastery of these skill sets plus much more.


Bad places to get tattooed are in someone’s kitchen, a local bar, in the bleachers at a racetrack or at a county fair. This is because sterile conditions cannot be met in certain environments. Watching the artist in action can be recommended, as everything that is used to apply the tattoo should be sterilized or disposable. This is why we encourage members to upload their session videos.

For instance, the artist should not be dipping his needle into a large plastic jug of ink. The ink should be poured into a disposable container that is intended for use with just one client. You might also want to observe how the tattooist is applying ointments. The tattoo artist should always use steel or disposable wooden sterile spreader and not a finger to apply these substances to your skin. The tattooist should also use disposable sterile latex gloves. If he or she is using bare fingers then you are vulnerable to infection. New sterile tools should also be used for every procedure
All non-disposable equipment should be sterilized after each use with an autoclave. Ultra-sonic cleaning does not sterilize equipment. It should only be used as a method of cleaning the equipment before it’s placed into the autoclave. Dunking tools in a tub of rubbing alcohol is not sufficient to sterilize body/art equipment. Many artists have used roll-on deodorant to create a darker impression of the transfer copy [stencil paper] on skin before they begin.

Although this is a very effective method of transferring, keep in mind that the same roll-on deodorant ball may have been used on another client. As with ink, single use tools and equipment should be utilized throughout. You might also wish to verify that your selected artist has been vaccinated for Hepatitis B. The hepatitis vaccination is a series of three shots given over a four-month period. Getting a hepatitis shot is “an affair to remember”. Unfortunately, mandatory testing for hepatitis B is not required before an artist can pick up a needle. For ultimate safety, make sure that you are vaccinated before you receive a new tattoo.



The artist has an excellent portfolio of work that speaks to your aesthetic preferences. Albums of body/art completed on actual people are what must be reviewed (unless of course you only wish to purchase or commission their artwork itself rather than an application session)


The artist is trained and or experienced. Unfortunately, in most places around the world, there aren’t any kind of official certifications given to body/artists who complete their education. Body/art has been an oral tradition usually passed down through residentships. Yet most body/artists will be able to produce proof of established artist(s) the have trained with and or able to convey sufficient working experience. Simply ensure whomever you may choose meets your standards


You and your artist click. You must revere and respect your artist and he or she must revere and respect you. You do not have to become best friends however this is a situation where you should not be subject to any kind of belittlement nor displays of artistic temperament. An artist should also not consider themselves ‘too cool’ to act in the civil and courteous manner associated with professional conduct


Your venue is clean with a well lit working space. Although many venues can be ‘artistically eclectic’ or in other words – seemingly chaotic – this does not inherently mean that the location is dirty. What matters most is that places where work will be undertaken look well maintained and hygienic


The artist wears latex, nitrile or suitable protective gloves. Fingers can spread germs to raw, freshly tattooed / pierced skin faster than anything else. Gloves should not have holes or tears and fit the artist properly. These gloves should be properly disposed of between client sessions, or indeed possibly throughout the one session itself, and not reused


The artist only uses new, sterile needles. Sterile needles are always removed from hermetically sealed pouches. Each bag usually boasts a small label called a “sterile confirmation” label along with the name of the manufacturer. If you do not see this label on the bag or if your needles are sitting outside the bag, then the artist may be reusing materials. New needles are typically bright silver. If needles appear stained, brownish or dulled then stop


The artist lives in a disposable universe. Nothing that that the tattoo artist uses should ever be placed back into a container. This includes ointment, ink and water. Usually these substances have been in contact with your blood plasma. Such thriftiness increases the risk of the spread of infection to you and others. Ink should always be placed in ink caps, which are tiny cups used to hold just enough color that is needed to tattoo you. This ink should never be returned to a bottle or a jar


The artist disposes of needles in a sharps container. A Sharps container is a plastic container, usually red, with a bio-hazard symbol on the outside. You also see these containers that are labeled “hazardous waste” in dental and doctor offices. Used needles and anything else contaminated and not scheduled for autoclave sterilization should be placed in these containers and removed in a timely manner


The artist possesses an autoclave certificate if utilizing reusable equipment throughout sessions. An autoclave is a sterilization unit that resembles a high-powered pressure cooker. It is used by hospitals and medical professionals to clean equipment yet there are numerous grades of these machines depending on usage. Very broadly speaking in order for equipment to be sterilized the tools must sit in the autoclave (wrapped in special pouches), at a temperature of 246 degrees for at least thirty minutes. Being in possession of an autoclave does not guarantee it is used. This kind of machinery must also be cleaned regularly otherwise the ‘sterilization’ effects are comparatively diminished. Well maintained autoclaves will have recent, up to date certificate


The artist has a license to practice (if applicable). For example most States (USA specific), require that a tattoo artist has some kind of license before they can touch anyone with a needle. In other countries only licensed doctors and or medical professionals have the honor. Check the laws in your area to make sure that you are dealing with an established practitioner



Check out their portfolios. These will give you an idea of the work you can expect for your session. Make sure their previously completed compositions meet your standards


As with any service or purchase be wary of choosing the cheapest option. If someone is significantly cheaper than all others there may be an important reason for this


How is the communication with your artist? Do you consider them to be someone you are sufficiently comfortable with? You certainly don’t need to be best friends yet do need to be able to comfortably communicate as well as discuss any pertinent aspects around your sessions or composition


That you have read, understood and confirmed all points of your collaboration agreement. Please pay particular attention to the minimum charge as well as any cancellation policies, notifying your artist of any change to your schedule and or requirements as early as possible


Review the proposed venue, it’s easy enough to tell if the location is clean. If you are selecting and or in discussions around possible venue locations please ensure that the basic levels of hygiene and security are in place to accommodate a comfortable sitting. Remember that in such venue locations like large halls where anyone can walk in off the street, hygiene cannot be guaranteed


Confirm that any furniture coming into direct contact with clients has a water-proof barrier that is changed between sessions


Is it evident that your artist follows best hygiene practices? The use of gloves, masks and sterile equipment are basics


Inks used during any one session should be poured into individual cups and then safely discarded. Needles should never be dipped into a ‘communal’ pot or ink-holder that is used across different sessions


Ideally new needles should be opened in front of you at your session and then disposed of in a proper receptacle afterward


Ask about aftercare. How do they want you take care of your body/art?

Use the services section on Parlour Tree to find your own design. Take it to your studio and bam!

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