You’ve pinned hundreds of tattoo designs, looked at every artist in the area, googled prices and mentally prepared yourself for what you imagine is the absolute unbearable pain of getting a tattoo. Or maybe your buddy got a tattoo last weekend and you want one too. Whatever the situation may be, getting your first tattoo is a big (and permanent) deal. Whether you’re getting an itty bitty heart or a full-sized back-piece, it’s important to be prepared.
When getting your very first tattoo, putting at least some thought into it is a good idea. You don’t have to know exactly what you want, how big you want it or the exact inch of skin it’ll go on. In fact, it’s good to let your artist have some creativity, but you should have at least a general idea of what you want. The people who come to regret their tattoos often go into a shop and pick something off of a wall or just totally let the artist choose for them. Your tattoos don’t have to have any deep, special meaning—but they should at least be something that you like and can see yourself still enjoying in 10, 20 or 30 years.
“I got a star on my elbow and it was spur of the moment. I had talked about always getting a star on my elbow though,” tattoo artist Jason Call says of his first tattoo. “I still have it. I’ll never cover it up.”
Pick a good artist
Having a clear vision of a beautiful tattoo means nothing if you don’t choose the right artist. No matter what your budding tattooist friend says in his basement, he is not going to do a good job. It’s imperative that you choose an artist that is comfortable doing the style you want, has a decent portfolio and operates in a clean and reputable shop. Going to the cheapest shop in town and getting inked by whatever artist is free means you’ll probably end up with the cheapest looking tattoo in town.
“Do your research, that’s the number one thing,” says Call. “People will just walk into a shop and just because they think its a tattoo shop that everybody’s good. Certain artists do certain styles, so if you want Japanese, you want an artist who does Japanese style.”
Even selecting an artist simply because they are good at tattooing doesn’t guarantee a great piece.
“You need someone who’s got their heart into that style, because it’s not going to be 100% otherwise,” Call said. “Let’s say I was doing Japanese on you, I would just be dreading you coming in, because I’m just not excited about it.”
Tattoos are expensive. Well, good ones are anyway. Be aware that even for the tiniest of tats, most places will charge a shop minimum to cover the cost of using new needles, ink, equipment and the artist’s time. This minimum can be anywhere between $50 and $100. For bigger pieces, it is common to charge by the hour, most starting at $100, but it can easily exceed that. Other artists charge strictly by the piece, gauging pricing based on size and detail. Artists won’t always give you a quote, so it’s important to save and bring more money than you think it will be. It is also customary to tip if you’re satisfied with the final product. There is no set rule, but you can’t go wrong with the standard 15% to 20%.
Perhaps the most frequently asked question in the tattoo world—does it hurt? The simple answer is yes, of course it hurts. It is a needle (several, actually) quickly puncturing your skin for an extended period of time, but that doesn’t mean it’s the excruciating, unbearable pain you’ve built up in your head.
“Everyone tells you it’s the worst thing in the world, and you get it and it’s like, oh okay cool,” Call said. “That’s why it’s addicting; because it’s not that bad of a pain.”
The pain is a lot more bearable if you’ve got a good friend that will chat away and hold your hand in addition to a compassionate tattoo artist.
“When I tattoo someone I guide them through everything, I tell them exactly what I’m doing so they feel more comfortable.” Call said.
The best way to prepare for the appointment itself is to eat beforehand, avoid taking any pain relievers and grit your teeth through it. Often times people want to take a Tylenol or even put on numbing cream, but this can thin your blood, therefore making you bleed a lot more than you normally would. Another rookie mistake is not eating. Nerves can make it hard to choke something down, but you’ll need all the sustenance you can get to support your body through the process.
Just DO It
Okay, maybe not right this second, but if you follow this advice, you’ll be prepared as you can possibly be. If it’s something you truly want and love, go for it. Walk out of that shop displaying your first tattoo with pride, feeling like the badass that you are.
Jason Call is an award-winning tattoo artist located in Dallas at Gold Dust Tattoos and Fine Art. To see his work visit his Instagram.
Photo by: Savannah Hubbard