5 Questions your tattooer is tired of answering.

lovewinsweddings.ca1.”Here is a photo, how much for this?”

There are very few situations where a shop will quote you for a design via email. These are limited to instances where the tattoo isn’t a custom piece (such as generic symbols, simple words or phrases in a computer generated font).  And no this isn’t designed to make your life harder. Shops tend not to do quotes for custom work via email because their prices are based on a  number of factors including time and complexity of the design being tattooed, neither of which can be estimated by simply looking at a photo of your desired tattoo. Then there is the fact that the artist will be designing your piece from scratch as opposed to just copying a design you found on instagram or pinterest which brings us to…

2.”Can i get this tattoo exactly as it is with no changes?”

Nothing makes a tattoo artist more uncomfortable than having your sweaty phone shoved in their face, with your pinterest or instagram open to another artist’s work. Tattooers are visual people and they make a living off turning abstract concepts into tangible works of art. Provided the subject matter is translatable into their style/s of tattooing, most tattooers enjoy the process of creating a unique piece for their clients. To be asked to replicate someone else’s tattoo line for line and shade for shade is not something a reputable artist would do. I say reputable artist because the rise of social media platforms such as instagram and Facebook has seen the subsequent rise in incidence of plagiarism in the tattoo industry. A former colleague and friend of mine has a knack for creating gorgeous works of art that end up stolen by other artists and passed off as their own (Some even won conventions with HIS art). This is a guy who spends hours upon hours drawing and creating one of a kind art pieces for his clients, only to have them replicated a few weeks later by someone else across the globe. Art is hard, and to steal someone else’s design not only robs the original client of something that they commissioned for themselves, it robs the tattooer of the hard work they put into that tattoo. Long story short, it is a form of theft and plagiarism isn’t cool.  Thats not to say your artist doesn’t want you to show them other people’s work to give them a better idea of what you want. They would just prefer to draw up their own version of your idea to give you a tattoo that is unique to you.

Pro Tip: Certain works such as the flash of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Don Ed Hardy and other elements of American traditional tattooing are accepted in the industry to be replicated as is.

3.”But it’s only a small tattoo? Why are you charging me so much?”

Contrary to popular belief, minimum charges aren’t arbitrary. We aren’t just pulling a price out of thin air to fuck with you or to punish you for getting a basic whitebread tattoo. This is quite literally the bare minimum a shop has to charge a client to cover the costs associated with tattooing regardless of how long it will take. This takes into account things such as the supplies the artist has to use, the cost of manual cleaning and sterilising of the space and equipment they are using,  and the disposable items they are using for this single tattoo. The same amount of each of these things could be used for a small tattoo or a large tattoo, with the only difference being the tattooers time/labour cost, which would increase the price as the tattoo gets bigger.

Pro Tip: if you’re going to go get something fairly small tattooed, you may as well get a couple of little things done and fill out the hour/pay the hourly rate. Why just stop at the semi colon on your wrist Becky, when you could get an infinity symbol or small anchor tattooed on your shoulder as well for just a little bit more! Thats twice the amount of basic-ness for your buck!


4.”How much for a sleeve?”

How long is a piece of string? How many grains of rice can you fit in a jar?  

Answer: It depends. 

Sleeves and bodysuits are difficult things to quote. I mean, you’re basically asking how much it is going to cost someone to labour over a large portion of your body without any other information. How much a sleeve will cost depends upon what style you are going for/what the theme of the sleeve is  because this will determine how much drawing needs to be done, how much material is going to be used,  and how much time its going to take to tattoo it. Let’s not forget variables such as how sensitive your skin is and your pain tolerance. Whether or not the artist can finish a tattoo in any given time span ultimately depends on how well you sit. If you’re taking a bathroom break or smoke break every hour on the hour, if you’re incredibly fidgety and the tattooer has to keep holding you down, its going to affect how quick that job is gonna get done. Certain styles such as American traditional sleeves for example are built upon piece by piece over a period of time  while others can be done over a couple of sessions. The more complex the concept, the more detail in the sleeve, and the larger the area, the longer it can take and ergo the more it will cost.

Pro tip: When inquiring for a sleeve, arrange a consult with your artist and bring a loose bunch of ideas of what you are after. Be very clear with what you want included in your sleeve and what your financial constraints are. Based on this information, your tattooer can give you an idea of how many sessions you will need and a rough ballpark figure of what to expect $$$ wise.

5.”Can you do me a drawing and if I like it, I might get it done”

This is perhaps one of the most inconsiderate things you can say to an artist. Lets me give you some perspective:

“Hey building company, can you build me a house and if i like it, I might consider buying it and living in it”

“Hey barista, can you make me a latte and if I like it, I might pay for it”

“Hey Bakery, can you bake me a personalised wedding cake and if i like it, I might pay for it and have it at my wedding”

Hey seamstress, can you sew a dress in my favourite colour to my specific dimensions in a style I like and if i am feeling my vibes, I might consider paying for it and wearing it to my 21st birthday party”

In each of these scenarios, what you are asking is for a professional to take on a piece of work that is made to your specifications only to possibly reject it without any chance of compensating them for their time and efforts. You see what I am getting at? The odds of an artist being able to re-use a custom piece they have drawn is quite slim as it was made to someone else’s tastes.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s because we as a society do not value the time people invest into art. Drawing for tattooing is a different ballgame to doodling in your notebook during a Uni lecture. It is hard work and tattooers might have several jobs a week they have to draw up for paying clients. Tattooers do not get paid an hourly wage like most people do, they make a living off people coming in and getting a design tattooed. This is why the cost of the drawing is usually included into the price of the tattoo.  This is why most artists will refrain from drawing anything for you unless you have an appointment booked and a deposit paid. Others might oblige you by charging you a drawing fee before a deposit or appointment is organised. Either way, no artist should be forced or required to draw you something for free.

Pro tip: If you want a drawing because you want to know that the artist you have chosen is right for you, have a look at their instagram page, their portfolios or existing flash books. They have plenty of examples of their style and work lying about and if that isn’t enough to convince you that they would do a good job then maybe they aren’t the artist for you.


Note: This post was originally featured in The International Mag Nov-Dec 2017 issue. Opinions shared here are my own based on discussion with artists around Australia and do not necessarily represent any particular shop or artist.. 

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