How did you find your tattoo artist?

I have decided what I want my next couple of tattoo’s to be, in particular I have a shoulder piece I want to get for my 30th birthday and this time I want to find a quality artist and get it done nicely. Not that I don’t love my other tattoo, it’s a simple tat done that I had done as a walk in at a local shop with a good reputation, but I have some specific ideas about color and design style for this next one and I want it done right. I have no clue how to track down the right artist. It doesn’t help that I am not really all that familiar with New Jersey yet despite having lived here for a year and change. So unlike in LA where I just sort of knew where to go, I have no clue out here.

So, how do I find the artist that I want? How did you find the artists that you who have tattoos used? Anyone in the NJ/NYC area want to recommend someone for me to check out? I am looking for something in the more realistic/Japanese style rather than a more cartoony style for this.

If it helps the tattoo is going to be a chrysanthemum similar to something like this or this.

Edit: This seemed CS-y to me. But if it’s more an IMHO question I totally get that.

I physically went to tattoo artists, after looking at their websites. Anybody that had a real MACHO attitude, out. Anybody that didn’t look clean, out. After that anybody whose art I didn’t like, out.

I ended up with a very nice tattoo artist right here in Albany, not downtown, which I didn’t want to go to. She was sweet and nice and girl next door and not macho at all, and I liked her art style and her personality.

“Macho” - a lot of tattoo artists have this attitude of, if you can’t take the pain, you shouldn’t even be in here. If you even so much as say “Ow”, you shouldn’t be in here. Whatever. I want someone who’s going to work with me. I was scared.

After all that, it didn’t even hurt that bad, even though it was in a very sensitive spot (inside of the wrist). :smack: Electrolysis hair removal hurt way, way more.

I asked my tatted ex a bit for some recommendations, and then looked at portfolios. I think that’s probably the way to do it–word of mouth for places to start, followed by checking out the goods.

(FYI, I had mine done at White Rabbit Tattoo Studio. Rachel is great, but I don’t know if she’s your style, which is a bit more traditional.)

I asked around. I wasn’t disappointed.


You should really ask people with tattoos you really admire where they got it.
Does the tattoo you chose mean something to you? I only ask because I like tattoos, but only original ones that have meaning to the person wearing them. I have designed several and they get a lot of attention. If it is the one you want by all means have at it, but it will be there for a long time. Just my unsolicited opinion. A good artist can turn any picture into a tattoo, a great one will make art.

If there are any tattoo conventions near you (Pittsburgh has The Meting Of The Marked the last weekend in October, for instance) they are a great resource.

BTW, though people have a good point, I didn’t ask anybody about their artist. I don’t even know many people with tattoos - I am unusual in my workplace and in my circle of friends!

Right. My problem is I don’t know a whole lot of people out here yet. It wasn’t that hard when I was living someplace where I had a whole social network, but I have made about 3 friends since moving here and we landed in a…conservative, little section of the world.

Yes, it does. The Chrysanthemum is representative of my daughter and I have a few other family type elements I want to incorporate including some color symbolism. I have a pretty specific idea in mind, I just need to find an artist who will, as you say, turn it into art. It’s my 30th birthday present to myself, I want it to be right.

You’re going to have to rely on Google and Yelp then. Yelp can maybe give you some reviews. Google will show you tattoo shops in your area. Go visit them, speak with artists and view portfolios.

If a place doesn’t appreciate you wanting to do that, then you do not want your tattoo done there. Any place that’s worth doing the work will let you visit first, and probably not even try to hard sell you. They’ll be like “If you want a tattoo here’s all about us. If not, ok.”

Yelp isn’t a bad idea actually, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that.

Great points. Better yet, if you are getting some custom work done and need the artist to work on some sketches, offer to discuss it over coffee/lunch. Pick up the check, of course. I’ve heard many stories from artists who work on sketches for people who then do not return.

Ask people with tattoos. When you see a tattoo that you like ask where they got it done. People are all too happy to talk about their tattoos and will usually add in ‘I see a lot of good work coming out of ____ also’. Over time you’ll here the same handful of shops/artists over and over.

Never mind!

Referral from someone whose tattoo looked damn good.

Strangely enough, my SO found our tattoo artist by accident. They met at a midget wrestling event a couple of years before I wanted (and had the money for) a tattoo; somehow my SO had remembered the guy and we made an appointment to meet with him and look at his portfolio. Nearly four years later, and we’ve both been tattooed by him and refer folks to him regularly.

The tattoo artist friend that I work with requires a $50 deposit from anyone he books an appointment with. Why? Because folks don’t show up or show up so late that he can’t work on them before his next appointment, and he’s already spent time drawing and prepping his equipment.

Any good artist will be realistic with you about whether what you want can be done. Many of them will even have guidelines for what they’re willing to do-- most artists want to do work that looks good when it’s done and good when it’s 10 years old (with proper aftercare). Most will also try to make sure that your work will also look good in its placement, though if you insist, some will let you put a piece in a place that’s not as flattering. Look up names, websites, drop in and ask to see their portfolios, equipment and sterilization equipment-- you want all to look good and be in good working order. Don’t like what you see? Then move on-- the artist understands that this is a professional agreement, not a personal one.

Online portfolios. Find an artist in your area that does a good job with the style you want (surrealist, cartoony, photo, text, etc). I haven’t gotten a tattoo yet, but I did strongly consider it. I had an artist picked out but then dithered on the design I actually wanted. I figure I shouldn’t get permanent ink until I get done dithering.

Rachel, I did it the other way 'round. I had an idea what I wanted (in one case, a garland of jasmine and roses) so I looked from shop to shop until I found someone whose flash included fine-lined realistic floral… and when I found my artist, I asked her to draw a design for me. (I brought her a bouquet of roses and jasmine to work from.) I am totally happy with the results!

I found my artist by going to the shop and showing the guy at the counter a sketch of what I wanted. It was a sketch by me, which looked like a 2-year-old did it. He said, “You’ll want Miles for that,” and handed me Miles’ book. The artists in each shop all know each other’s talents and interests, so they’ll usually point you in the direction of the one who would be best at what you want. (it happens that Miles also specializes in Japanese work and had his entire right arm done by a prominent Japanese artist - flew to Japan just for the tattoo!)

I met with Miles and showed/described what I wanted (the leafy sea dragon - a type of seahorse). He sent me on my way and said he’d email me a sketch. He sent it to me a couple weeks later and it was absolutely perfect, so we set up some chair time to get it started.

Another tidbit - if you work with an artist and give them your ideas, but nothing to trace (no flash or other artists work from a book or something), so they draw it from scratch with what you want integrated with their personal style as well, often they will work with you on the price. Miles charged me a flat $500 for my tat - because it’s his artistry based on my idea. If I were to walk in off the street and just want flash or something traced, he would normally charge $125 an hour. Since my total chair time was 9 hours over three sessions, I sure got a bargain!