I need some tattoo advice

I’ve been pondering this for quite a while, and I’ve decided I want a tattoo. It’s a very specific tattoo for a very specific reason (and to answer this thread’s question, it’s for me–nobody else).

It’s been almost two years now since my oncologist declared me officially cancer-free. I’m a fan of sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, and I identify strongly with my Scottish ancestors. To me, there are a lot of parallels between epic fantasy battles against various monsters and the epic real-life battle against the cancer.

I want a tattoo–probably on my biceps–of a victorious kilted warrior standing over the corpse of a dragon (or dragon-like creature) with his broadsword thrust through the monster’s head. The dragon, obviously, symbolizes the cancer.

I’m not an artist. I know what I want, but I can’t draw it. I’m not in New York City, or Mexico City, or London, or any other big city with a tattoo parlor on every street corner. I’m in a small Montana town. I can travel to a bigger city (within reason), but I can’t afford to spend thousands on a trip just to get the tattoo, and I don’t know how to select a tattoo parlor anyway.

How do I find an artist to do the work? Do I have the drawing done by one person and the actual tattoo applied by another, or does one person do both? What is this going to cost me?

Thanks for the help, tattooed Dopers!

There’s several good questions here.

First, to choose a tattoo parlor, talk to the artist. You’ll find that tattoo artists aren’t always up with people. That’s ok. Ask to see samples of her work (website or emailed photos will do fine for the initial screening.) Ask how long she’s been working. Ask who she studied with. Ask about her techniques, her favorite pieces, and how the whole process works. Much of this may mean nothing to you at all, but the *way *she answers will tell you alot about her. Is she forthcoming and open? Or does she stall and stammer and not answer your questions while making you feel like you’re wasting her time? You’ll make your own choice, but I wouldn’t work with anyone who wasn’t willing to talk to me.

Some artists do their own artwork, but any artist will be able to take a piece you bring them and tattoo it. The amazing ones do this by hand, and even suggest alterations or changes which really perfect it and make it just yours. Others will photocopy it onto transfer paper and literally trace it onto your skin, then do the coloring and shading by hand.

I hope someone else has a suggestion of artists doing tattoo drawing and design from a remote location, because I don’t, and I need help myself with my latest idea!

That varies by location. Around here (Chicago) you can expect $60 or so an hour, and of course the time involved varies according to the size and complexity of the tat and how much you can stand to do in one day. It’s not uncommon for a large. complex piece to be outlined one day, redefined a couple of weeks later, shaded and colored over a couple of sessions and finally touched up a few weeks after that. Only the very simple (drunken frat-boy) designs are done all at once. Something like a complex sleeve could easily get in the $600 range before all is said and done. Ask your artist, and they’ll generally stick pretty closely to their estimate, only going over if you do something dumb and don’t take care of your healing tat and pull out all the color. (They’ll explain how not to do this.)

I love your design idea, by the way.

Thanks, WhyNot. Do I just look for tattoo places in the phone book or on the Web and call them? Or do you think I need to actually drive out to them and reconnoiter?

I’d start on the web and phone to make it easier on yourself. You’re bound to be turned off by half of 'em just on the phone. (I wasn’t joking about the “tattoo artists aren’t always up with people” thing - they often have the combined geis of being a tortured artist and a counter-culture rebel. Makes some of 'em testy. Of course, some of the testy ones are the greatest artists - so YMMV.) Only visit two or three that you like from the phone call.

Three artists who I believe have done special commission tattoos come to mind right away.

Amy Brown (Has a section dedicated to commisioning images for tattoos on her site somewhere, and lots of her artwork has a Celtic feel to it.)

Stephanie Pui Mun Law

Rowena Morrill

You might also check out Janet Chui.

Good luck, I hope you find an image that suits you.

Adding, see the FAQ on Amy Brown’s site for questions about tattoos using her artwork.

Gah, also meant to say, all of those artists portray dragons to some extent, and they also do artwork with a Celtic feel.

One dissenting note.

Tattoos are a turnoff to a lot of people, including me.


I don’t know Clothahump, I’d say they have their head on straight.

My tattoo advice: don’t get one.

To echo WhyNot, some tattoo artists are real jerks for various reasons. I’ve noticed that most nice-up pretty quick if they know you’ve already got ink, or you’re determined about your design. My first tattoo, the artist treated me like a little girl who knew nothing about anything (which, let’s face it, I was) until I was in the chair. I knew what I wanted, I picked my design, and I got complimented for being so “brave” while under the needle. I don’t think it’s a matter of bravery–I think it’s because I’m a masochist, but whatever. :smiley:

I love the design idea you have, and I definitely think WhyNot has the artist-selection method down, too. My advice would be to choose someone who’s as excited by your design as you are.

The tattoo you pick should be reflective of you and your interests. It should also be something that you won’t look at when you are 65 and say to yourself “what the hell was I thinking”?

I would recommend against words (the last thing you want is an idiot without a dictionary inking you). Stay away from sports team logos- teams move and loyalties change. I also don’t think that portraits are a good idea, at least not at first, they just seem to require a great deal of fine needle work which means lots of time in the chair and lots of $$$ out of your pocket.

Last thing - for the love of Og (and I know some will disagree with me here) do not get a tattoo from a stock design in a shop. That tells me that you didn’t really want a tattoo, but liked the idea of having a tattoo - which is a bad combination.

Thanks, Zabali! I sent an inquiry off to Janet Chui regarding my pregnant faerie circle tattoo. Here’s hoping she doesn’t think I’m bonkers. (Pregnant faeries? WTF?!) :smiley:

Clothahump, Licentious Ectomorph, the OP wasn’t asking if s/he *should *get a tatto, only how to wisely go about it. Your comments don’t really fit the thread.

Oooh, I definitely want to see a draft of the pregnant faerie circle! That sounds fantastic.

As for finding an artist, I’ll echo what the WhyNot said. If you start with the phone book, you can then talk to the ones you’re comfortable with and then go to their shops to take a look at photos of their past work and discuss the type of design you want to get. You’ll quickly find out if it’s someone who can do custom work well and is someone you feel comfortable working with.

As far as cost, that’s going to vary a fair amount depending on the artist as well as the size and complexity of the design you settle on. It won’t be cheap, by my guess. The guy I like here in Minneapolis charges $125 an hour, but he’s well worth it.

And congratulations on the cancer! That’s fabulous news, and well worth commemmorating.

As to Clothahump and Licentious Ectomorph’s comments: the OP wasn’t asking for advice on whether or not to get a tattoo. InvisibleWombat already said he had decided to get one. This was a question about how, not if. I realize you don’t like tattoos, but that doesn’t mean you should try to rain on someone else’s parade just because they disagree with you.

Hehe. I know what you mean, but this sounds so odd out of context.

I agree with all the “finding an artist” stuff here. If you know anyone with a tattoo, ask to see it and ask where they got it, if they like the place, etc… Talk to people about who they like. Ask on messageboards (livejournal is a good place to get info from the tattooed masses, but of course, take it all with a grain of salt).

Don’t forget, when you talk to the tattoo artists and visit their shops, ask about cleanliness. It should feel clean and they should assure you about new needles, individual pots of color (no dipping from common pots) everything sterilized, gloves, etc.

Good luck.

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions–well, most of you, anyway, as I don’t particularly care whether Clothahump finds me a turn-off. I’ve been pondering this tattoo for over a year now, but reading tat Web sites wasn’t answering my questions. As mrklutz said, defeating the cancer is an event worth commemorating, and after going through chemotherapy, tattoo needles don’t worry me a bit :wink:

It’s probably a bit far for you to go (Pueblo, CO), but this place does some nice work (I especially like some of the ones in Gallery #3).

I posted the link because there’s some great pictures there. Also, these folks seem to get around in the tattoo world. If you contacted them, maybe they could recommend an artist in your area.

I don’t suppose there might be a convention near you anytime soon? That’s a good place to get a lot of window shopping done at once. The amount of stuff on-line is mind boggling, and maybe get yourself some magazines and find someone whose style you like. It’s amazing how many ways there are to interpret what you described. Don’t check only tattooing mags and books, there’s lots of good stuff out there done as traditional art that could be great inspiration. I know at least a few artists actually sell their designs for others to ink. That’s how a lot of places get their flash, but it may be a way for you to get the design you want out where you are.

Once you know what you want, be really, really picky about the rendering, especially when it comes to the face, because those are one thing that has a tendency to come out looking funky. Research like crazy and don’t be afraid to wait until everything’s right.

One thing I’ve noticed some people don’t consider is size and color. A small tattoo and/or one with dark colors and lots of detail can look like a blob on your arm unless the viewer is very close. If it’s important to you, you might want to take a couple of steps back from the design before you get started and pretend you’ve never seen it and see what your impression of it would be. Squint your eyes and see if anything sticks out or looks odd. Also tape it to your arm where you intend it to be placed and make sure muscles or the curve of your arm won’t make it look odd.

Not to criticize, but your design idea makes me feel sort of sad for the dragon/creature. Make sure he looks good and evil so nobody sympathizes! Before I forget, there’s a show on Discovery tonight about tattooing and some of the places are on line like Triangle Tattoo. Good luck.

Pat Fish does some custom work, I believe, as do others. Here are some links-


These are people I have looked closely at for work of my own (that I still haven’t had done, after 15 years of thinking about it!).

Good luck!