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Trusting the Inkslinger

After the third session on my sleeve a couple of days ago, I realised I left with something more than just ink – a bond between myself and my tattoo artist. This gets stronger after every visit, and I have worked out that it is down to the trust I have gained in him. After all, how can you not form a relationship (and I’m speaking purely social here) with someone who is putting in hours of work and effort, using careful and perfected skill to drag needles through your skin? How did I manage to achieve this?

Firstly, like all good teachings in life, it took a mistake to start my search for the right tattooist for me. When I was 17, I got my first tattoo – it was awful. When I was 18, I decided to do something about it, and was gaining a little more information about tattoos at this time. So I trawled through the studios in my nearest town, avoiding the ones I knew had a bad reputation for putting out some dodgy tattoos. I came across one, and as soon as I went inside was impressed by how clean it looked, and the people there were surprisingly friendly (something I assumed tattooists lacked when I was younger, imagining the stereotypical ‘bald, fat, sleazy and unhygienic’ type that is usually used to depict a tattooist). I brought in my design and before I knew it, my older tattoo now looked more enhanced. But I wasn’t satisfied.

The problem was, that I had started to learn about the tattoo world, and after a few months of having the previously mentioned one done, knew I would want more tattoos. But I also knew that the tattooist I’d gone to last, as nice and as good as he was, wouldn’t be good enough for me. You see, I had started to collect all the tattoo magazines available, including USA & other EU publications. I was starting to get a fantastic view into the custom tattoo world – the backpieces, bodysuits and sleeves blew me away. I got familiar with the famous artists’ work, and couldn’t believe that this level of style, technique and skill could even exist on something like skin.

Never being someone to ‘follow the crowd’, I had never had much of an interest to get a tattoo of a ‘typical’ design – no flower, dolphin, Chinese symbol, tazmanian devil, ‘tribal’, or Winnie the Pooh would EVER have a place on my body, and that was certain. I am also slightly perfectionist when it comes to art – when a piece actually requires, even demands to be realistic or exact, it obviously must be composed with a hand that can perform these skills. Looking at my tattoo, I knew the tattooist wouldn’t be able to ink up an entire sleeve – he didn’t appear to use much imagination when it came to the actual tattoos – often quite happily just copying the flash designs. Although I wasn’t intending to get a realistic tattoo next (far from it in fact), I wanted to be able to give the artist complete artistic freedom. And to allow this, I needed to be able to trust him/her completely. And to gain this, I needed to find the right person, who had a high reputation for being one of the best custom tattoo artists. Looking around my town, he/she certainly didn’t exist here. So, I chatted with some other tattooists about my quest, and together with the magazines I’d acquired, was given some priceless advice. This led me to finding my tattoo artist. And the bizarre thing is - now I’ve chosen to have him sleeve me up, with future plans for other large pieces, I could not imagine going to anyone else. The thought of sitting in someone else’s tattooing chair, makes me feel very nervous. The immense trust I have gained in my artist is something that will last for years. I could not imagine going to anyone else now, in fear that they would not do as good a job.

It comes as no surprise that I deliberately chose one of the best custom tattoo artists in the UK in the end, and why not? He has gained this title for a reason after all. However, for others it might not necessarily need to be this way, mattering only about this issue of trust. So, my advice to you and to others is to PLEASE, use your instincts. If you want a tattoo that much, you have shown a strong interest in tattooing, so why just settle with some guy sat on his bed, waving a little machine made from his walkman motor and his dad’s gardening wire? Why settle for the tattoo studio round the corner, with dirty stained walls and floors and a tattooist that clearly doesn’t care about sanitation? Why settle for a tattooist that doesn’t even really LOOK at the design they’re tattooing on you, only to sit back afterwards and realise they’ve made a mistake? Why settle for someone you don’t feel comfortable around? If you don’t like their personality, their humour or opinions, then GO SOMEWHERE ELSE! Find someone you ‘click’ with, someone you know you could sit down and allow to tattoo you, without you even needing to look and watch consistently that what they’re doing IS a dragon and not a fluffy teddy bear.

Take your time. You have years to really choose the right tattooist. A tattoo is not something that someone ‘wants’, and wants it ‘NOW’. There is no urgency in getting a tattoo – so be patient and hold out until you’re sure. Keep your eyes out for tattoo studios, check them out, see what the tattooist is like. Even keep your options open about the design – who knows, you might realise you don’t even really want that unicorn tattooed on you, or maybe you could even end up with a custom piece! Lastly, do not assume you have to go to your nearest tattooist for a tattoo – not even the one in town or the town next. If it is that important to you, then look as far and as wide as is needed. I travel for approximately 2 hours to get to mine, for example – and I know others that actually go abroad for theirs.

About the Author: Scott Jones organizes Tattoos by Design Zine at

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