I’ve just booked an appointment for another tattoo! In London! I am finally going to get some work done in the city where my heart beats a little faster. I am so excited.
I’ve been asked by a few people to write about how I choose an artist. Especially in a city where I don’t actually know that many people, let alone many people with tattoos. So that is what this
little quite long post is supposed to be.
Not the final word on choosing an artist but perhaps a guide, a starting point.
I currently wear eight tattoos. Of these, I have the work of six artists on my body*.
Not intentionally, mind, that’s just the way it has turned out.
But I digress! How did I choose my artist in London? You’ll see. But more importantly, how do YOU start finding the perfect artist for your tattoo?
Word of mouth is invaluable. Ask someone you know who has amazing tattoos; ask someone you DON’T know who has amazing tattoos. Chances are, if you are nice about it and explain why you are asking hi, I just love your tattoo, I’m looking to get one done myself and was just wondering what artist you used? then they are unlikely to mind.
If they are quite heavily tattooed they are most likely going to be used to people coming up and talking to them about their tattoos. They are, when on display, quite the conversation starter**.
Remember to look for the same style of tattoo you are imagining. It is probable that an artist can be equally proficient at realistic and traditional-tattoo style tattoos, but don’t bet your money on it. Don’t go to an artist who does only black and grey realist portraits and ask them to do a traditional Japanese style koi & Hokusai’s The Great Wave piece. Artists specialise for a reason.
However, I didn’t really know anyone who has been tattooed in London, and I wouldn’t have enough time when I was in London to go looking for strangers. So this option wasn’t much of an option for me.
I had watched the first season of London Ink in 2008 and through the show discovered Nikole Lowe (a Kiwi artist living in London!). It was through a subsequent profile on her in Inked magazine that I found out she had opened her own studio and discovered the work of Saira Hunjan.
Use social networking to ask for recommendations. When I was looking for an artist to do my rose tattoo I was completely stuck. I turned to Twitter for recommendations. Through them I found Sacred Tattoo in Auckland and Dan Anderson, who did my rose.
I suppose I could have crowdsourced recommendations for London tattoo artists through Twitter but I don’t have that many followers in the UK, I don’t think, and to be honest, it completely slipped my mind!
With Nikole Lowe in mind I searched for her tattoo studio, Good Times. I emailed and requested an appointment with Saira Hunjan if she had space available during the week I am in London. I sent the email and went to bed. The next morning, my inbox empty, I decided that I was leaving it a little late*** to rely on only contacting one studio, I needed to find another artist.
Honestly? I then turned to Google. I searched “tattoo studio London”. I know, it’s kind of ridiculous in its simplicity, but I swear this is what I did.
Thankfully, one of the first links was to an article on Time Out called London’s best tattoo studios****. SO HANDY!
So then I had a list. I clicked through to all the individual tattoo parlour’s websites and came to this conclusion (yet again): tattoo parlours have, by and large, TERRIBLE websites. Oh lord. The fonts, the busy backgrounds, the animations. SO bad.
Luckily, I did not want them to design me a website.
Use the About or FAQs page to get a feel for the studio. Do they assume that you already know a lot about tattoos? In that case, they may not be the best choice for your first tattoo, especially if you are nervous.
Check for waiting periods, do they take walk-ins? what rate do they charge? do they need a deposit? do they charge for artwork or is that built into the hourly rate? is there a minimum charge?
I always like to have a look at the Studio photos to see the kind of environment I will be being tattooed in. You can’t necessarily tell how sanitary a place seems from photos which are probably taken when the studio is looking its best, but you can get a feel for the place.
This time I even looked the studio up on google maps, just to see what area of London it is in. Close to my old work!
I should note that The Family Business, the studio I chose, has a damn pretty website.
The studio website should have links to portfolios for all their artists. This is definitely the most important part of the process. You need to love the other work your artist has done.
I was looking for an artist who leans towards the traditional style tattoos, as that’s the aesthetic I like, but who could also do quite delicate or “feminine” work. I fell for Andrea Giulimondi’s work immediately.
Like with any art, you are looking at work that speaks to you. I had looked at the work of many many artists and thought it’s fine but or he’s a good artist but something was off. Something didn’t work with the mental image I have of the tattoo I want to get. There were only a few artists, say 4 out of the 30 or so portfolios I looked at, whose work I actually loved enough to email for an appointment*****.
Hopefully the portfolio will be either all healed tattoos or a mixture of healed and fresh. Understandably it is easier to get photos of tattoos as soon as they are done, but you really don’t know exactly how a tattoo is going to look until after it has healed. Often artists will ask their customers to come back in to show them the tattoo or to send them a photo once it’s healed.
Pay particular attention to the line work. It should be the same thickness all the way along, and not fuzzy around the edges – the fuzzy bit is called a blowout and can ruin delicate linework or text tattoos.
Check out large swathes of colour – is it evenly coloured or is it splotchy? Is it all primary colours or does it look like they mix their own. What kind of colour combinations do they use, is there anything unexpected?
Also remember that the work in the portfolio is what the artist themselves considers their best work. So if you don’t like it, or it’s not that great, then you don’t even like that artist at their best.
Finally, once you have decided on an artist, give them a little bit of freedom to work. Unless you are an artist yourself, or the tattoo you want is a replication of a famous piece of art, recognise that your tattoo artist is an ARTIST and let them do their thing.
Take in images of similar tattoos or the styles that you like. Take in examples of colour schemes or paint techniques you like. I took in a photo of a plate for a colour scheme for my rose, as well as images where I like parts of the rose – the middle of one, the curls around the outside of another, the different interior and exterior petal colours from a third.
I took in outlines for my first two tattoos – the cupcake and the crown – which was fine as I was looking for straight replicas. However by far my favourite tattoos are the ones where I gave the artist guidance and reference images and asked them to come up with something.
With my sugar skull for example I took 4 or 5 examples of the kind of sugar skulls I liked and he talked to me about the colour scheme I was looking for (girly, bright, similar to my rose) and the particular elements I liked (heart shaped sockets, tudor roses, sacred heart, flourishes) and he designed me something beautiful and completely my own. I couldn’t have come up with better.
Sometimes the artist can save you from yourself. My side piece I had initially wanted with a horizontal orientation, about 2/3 the size I ended up with, but still retaining the details of peonies, roses, my camera, and in omnia paratus in a banner. It never would have worked the way I was thinking. The detail would have been too small and it would have looked too busy.
But I couldn’t see that. The artist could though, and I am glad I took her recommendation.
So yes. Don’t accept a tattoo design that you don’t absolutely adore, but maybe let the artist help you find something that is both beautiful, and the best for a tattoo.
To conclude this session I leave you with this anecdote.
I let Gill choose the colours for my lock and key tattoo, I trust him enough to do that, and he chose gold and teal and a little bit of aqua. I loved it. The next day I was showing a girl in the office and she said “aren’t those the colours of [where I worked]” and YES! YES THEY WERE.
Oops. But I love the tattoo. And I no longer work there. And it is an amusing anecdote. Tattoos do not have to be serious.
* Dave McEwan – cupcake, Michelle Mac – crown, Dan Anderson – rose, Manu Edwin – sugarskull and Jitterbug Perfume quote, Erin Chance – side piece, and Jeremy Gill – St Paul’s Cathedral and my lock and key.
** Personally, I don’t mind people talking to me about my tattoos, as long as they are respectful. If they touch me? That is NOT cool. If you can’t see my entire text tattoo, ASK me to move my hair. Don’t brush my back. That’s just creepy, ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU ARE BEHIND ME.
Oh also? Do not rubbish someone’s tattoos. Once they are there, they are THERE, treat them like an unsightly mole or a broken nose that wasn’t set properly. Yes, they could get plastic surgery to fix it, but do not give them a hard time about it.
*** Most excellent artists have waiting lists. My guy in Wellington? About 3 months at the moment. Rose Hardy, one of my wishlist artists? A 12 month waiting list. When I found out that Saira Hunjan was the favoured tattoo artist of Kate Moss? I realised that the chances of her having only a 3 month waiting list were … pretty slim. About as slim as Mrs Hince herself.
**** I loved their description of The Family Business’ studio
Everything about The Family Business is sharp, from its boutiquey location in Exmouth Market to its suited and booted staff and vintage swing soundtrack. Its blood red interior, adorned with Roman Catholic imagery, is inspired by owner Mo Coppoletta’s Italian heritage, and contrasts with the bold Japanese screens separating the work area from the waiting room.
***** the artists I emailed about were: Saira Hunjan at Good Times Tattoo, Lucy at Into You Tattoo, and Andrea Giulimondi and Andrea Furci at The Family Business