Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Tattoo selection 101

November 11th, 2008 by

With the recent explosion of media-fueled interest in tattoo, I’ve found myself coaching a progressively greater amount of my customers when it comes to selecting an appropriate piece.  This is somewhat difficult because I’m attempting to give advice about something I feel is extremely important to someone I’ve only just met.  It’s taken some time to distill that question-based process into the core considerations that must be made in order to find the right piece for any individual, But I shall try to convey what I’ve learned here.

The most important thing when considering a tattoo is the subject matter.  It’s always one of the first questions any tattoo artist will ask a client “What do you want?” and there’s a systematic way to go about answering this very question.  Subject Matter can be addressed from three distinct perspectives.

1.  What does this tattoo mean to you?  Tattoos can be funny; dark; purely decorative or amazingly insightful, they should be and are intensely personal things.  Tattoo is not only a reflection of self, how others see you, or even how you want others to see you, but a greater sum of all these things.  That being said, it appears that the greater the commercial consumption of this artform, the greater the commercial influence upon it.  To witness this, one need only consider the number of tattoos being done directly from photos of celebrity tattoos, to tattoos of celebrities and the pop culture that supports them.  As people start to look outward for inspiration they can sometimes be very impulsive.  At the core of this impulse control problem lies a deep sea of regret from people who fell so in love with the idea of getting/having a tattoo, that they didn’t stop to think of why they wanted one in the first place. This should be the top priority when deciding whether or not to get a tattoo.  Why. The inspiration for getting a tattoo should come from within, while representative aspects of it’s depiction can be determined through reference.

2.  What is the purpose of this tattoo?  I have several tattoos of my own that can be attributed to catharsis; marking an important time in my life; celebrating things that I love;  political or social protest; and even just plain decoration.  To determine whether the subject matter you have selected for a tattoo is appropriate, you must first determine if it is more appropriate as something other than a tattoo.  For instance:  Pop culture tattoos have a tendency to “backfire” unless a certain amount of time has passed between the fad’s highest popularity and the ultimate application of the tattoo.  That guy that got the Micheal Jackson portrait back in 89′ being the perfect example of not waiting long enough after a particular fad to get a tattoo commemorating it.  That same MJ fan would have done fine buying a poster or a keychain of He Who Walks On The Moon and he would have fared better in the long run.  If this same person was so inspired by Micheal Jackson’s music, he could have selected a piece depicting his love of music or how music has affected his life, specificity not always being the most desirable thing when considering a new tattoo.  Which leads me to…

3.  What does the tattoo say about you?  I know, I know, you don’t care what people think about you.  News flash:  You won’t care until it affects you, especially if what they think is all wrong.  That being said, some people will judge you just as a tattooed person, nevermind the subject matter of the actual tattoo (I’ve seen pastors scoul at tattoos depicting christ).  But what if you got a tattoo and everyone who saw it got the wrong idea?  For instance, swastikas.  For the sake of arguement let’s say that you had never heard of Hitler, but had been a Buddhist your entire life and wanted a graphic image to honor that part of you.  Now let’s say that you would like to get a job, say at the local grocery store.  This grocery store is tattoo-friendly and doesn’t mind hiring cashiers with tattoos on their forearms, which is where your tibetan swastika is.  During the job interview you see the personel manager eyeballing your tattoo, you take it upon yourself to explain the differences between the tibetan and nazi swastikas and the personel manager hires you, being the nice gal that she is.  Let’s also say that within three days of hiring you the store gets enough complaints that they are forced to let you go, through no wrongdoing of your own.  This lengthy scenario serves as a warning, in America people judge each other on the basis of looks, so if you are trying to say something with your tattoos, make sure you’re saying what you mean, lasers hurt.

The next question is usually “Do you want it in color or black and gray?”  I’ll leave this to you and your respective artists with the mild admonition that “black and gray with a little color” rarely works out.
These tattoos have a tendency to look unfinished and people tend to get tired of telling questioners “it is finished, that’s it.” so avoid the monochrome look unless you’re certain the technique is necessary for the piece to work.

Lastly, Flow.  The flow of a tattoo is arguably the single most important aspect of the composition.  Tattoo being different from other forms of art in that the canvas is always moving.  If you get a tattoo that messes up your own personal Feng Shui that tattoo will never look right.  Kind of like a dog with three balls, everything still works fine but something just looks wrong about it.  The human body is given definite shape by the skin and bones, and further contouring by the underlying musculature.  These things must be considered during the design process in order to produce the most aesthetically pleasing final product.  Even if the look you are going for is one of horror and gore, a tattoo that does not flow well will never be as impressive as one that does.  Slaves to form we all must be as tattooed people and this is no more obvious than when discussing the quality of flow.  Flow must be allowed to dictate the overall  size and shape of the final design if one is to reap the highest quality results from their tattoo.  To wit:  The one type of tattoo that seems to elicit a collective groan from the tattoo artist community has to be the armband. Armbands work in opposition to the body’s natural contour making it difficult to render additional work anywhere near the armband at a later date.  I can’t count the number of times a customer has come into the shop with the hopes of starting a sleeve only to discover a years-old armband lying under their shirtsleeve.  This type of tattoo greatly inhibits the creative process and can potentially kill several great ideas.  When faced with such a challenge, it is usually my response that we work from the standpoint of covering up, rather than preseving the armband.

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