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I shared on Monday the story behind my first tattoo and I’ve shared other posts about the other tattoos I have. I’ve learned a lot through my experience getting tattoos and I’ve heard some pretty interesting stories about tattoos gone wrong. (The best one is when an 18 year old girl got her mom’s named tattooed on her and she spelled it wrong. Yes, apparently that really happens.)

I’m a bit of a committaphobe and don’t want to live the rest of my life with a terrible tattoo, so I put a lot of thought and research into all of my tattoos. I wanted to share with you all today (in my opinion) the best way to go about getting a tattoo and choosing a tattoo artist.

How to choose a tattoo artist

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Know exactly what tattoo you want.

If you’re undecided about a tattoo, you shouldn’t get it. There’s a lot more that goes into deciding a tattoo than you think. It goes way beyond just picking what you want and showing up at a tattoo parlor to get it. Technically, you can do it that way, but it’s risky. You’ll be much safer and satisfied if you put a lot of thought and research into it.

Here’s a handy checklist for picking a tattoo:

  • What do you want (obviously)?
  • Is it something that already exists or does an artist need to create it?
  • Do you want color?
  • Where do you want it?
  • Have you thought about the pain involved in different locations?
  • How easily can the tattoo be concealed if necessary? And how often will that need to be?
  • How large do you want it?
  • If it’s writing, do you want it written so you can read it, others can read it, or it can be read in a mirror?
  • If it’s another language or symbolic piece, have you checked to see if it means what you think it does?

I always recommend answering all those questions THEN waiting at least 6 months to see how you feel about it. If I had gotten the first tattoo I wanted when I was 18, I would already have it covered by now. Thankfully I always make myself wait at least a year (I have commitment issues) before even looking for an artist.

Determine if you need artwork done.

Personally, I think tattoos that aren’t found in a Google image search are the best. (However, my Deathly Hollows and anchor tattoo were both from Google image. So just do you.) Needing artwork drawn will greatly influence who you should choose to do your tattoo.

artwork tips:

  • Don’t get someone you have a close personal relationship with. You might as well be getting their name tattooed on your booty. Nobody wants to look at their tattoo and be reminded of a dead relationship.
  • The person who does your artwork doesn’t have to be the person who draws your tattoo, but you might have a harder time finding a tattooer. I’ve met tattoo artists who are very picky about doing tattoos from other people’s artwork. Think about it, it’s an unusual situation when one person puts their artistic skills to work and create something that is a piece of them, then another artist recreates it with their own skills.  Also, to put it as bluntly as the tattoo artist did, they don’t want their name associated with a shitty drawing.
  • Tattoo artists often have a specialty. Some do amazing black and white pieces while other specialize is realistic floral. Knowing what design and colors go into your piece will help you pick the right artist.

Ask for references from people who have well-done tattoos.

The only way to know if a tattoo artist is good is by seeing their work. If you know or see someone with an amazing piece, ask them where they got it done and by who. Very few people will get a tattoo and not want to talk about it. This is how we found our artist for the tattoos we got on our honeymoon. We knew we wanted to get tattoos together, so I kept my eye out for people with great tattoos. While we were shopping I noticed the cashier had a beautiful bouquet tattooed on her forearm. Luckily the piece was done by a local shop and we were set.

Thoroughly look through an artist’s portfolio.

So you have your design decided and several artist and shop recommendations, now it’s time to do more research. Remember how I said artist have specialties? You want to look up the artist’s portfolios to see what type of work they do. If they don’t have a portfolio, don’t let them tattoo you. Anybody that is licensed to tattoo should have a portfolio. (Fun fact, an individual has to be a tattooer’s apprentice for 1000 hours before they can get a license in the state of SC.) If you aren’t impressed by their work, or their work is in a completely different genre than what you’re wanting, look elsewhere. Tattoos are permanent, you should be picky.

Things to look for in a portfolio:

  • Lines should be straight, look for wobbles or unevenness.
  • Colors should be even, for example, a solid black line should be solid black with no gray spots.
  • Personally, I like to see samples of hand drawn pieces included in their portfolio. I just feel like tattoo artists are actual artists and should have non-tattooed pieces included. Even better, if they have the hand drawn sample AND the final tattooed version of their drawing.
  • If they include drawings and the tattooed versions, they should match. They don’t have to match exactly, but I would expect the tattoo to be of equal or better quality than the drawn piece.

Visit the parlor’s website and if possible visit the shop.

Not only do you want a talented tattoo artist, you want it to be done in a very clean and very professional place of business. I know people who’ve gotten tattoos in basements…and that shows in the quality of their tattoo. There are also real consequences to getting a tattoo from an unclean business. You don’t want to get some illness or infection just because of a tattoo.

Now, I will say not every tattoo shop looks fancy on the outside, and they aren’t always on the fanciest street. I recommend looking at their website and Facebook first. They should have portfolios available in both places. If an artist’s portfolio appeals to you, then go visit the location and check the inside. When you’re there, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you have. Ask about their hygiene policy. They should have no problem informing you all the ways they ensure their shop and tattoo process are safe.

Carl and I visited the shop first during our honeymoon. The artist we met was wonderful and spent at least thirty minutes talking to us about the shop, his tattooing experience, and tips for our tattoos. The tattoo he was working on while we were there was excelling quality and he was very thorough with the sterilization of his area. We were confident in his abilities and were able to make an appointment with him then.

Go with your gut.

If you go through all those steps and then have even the slightest unsure feeling, don’t do it. If you go visit the shop, make an appointment then have second thoughts, cancel. You might not get a deposit back if you left one, but it’s worth it. When Carl and I visited Wisconsin last summer we wanted to get tattoos, but after visiting the shop and making an appointment, we just had this iffy feeling about it. We canceled and I’m so glad we did. It not worth getting a regrettable tattoo.

Some final tips

  • Don’t be scared, it’s not as bad as you think. Just keep breathing.
  • Nowadays there are incredibly talented artists who can cover up or fix even the worst tattoos, so it’s not the end of the world if you end up with a tattoo you don’t like.
  • Be sure you are given or at least offered something to inform you how to care for your tattoo. You don’t want an infection or to mess up the tattoo because you don’t know how to care for it while it heals.
  • Tip your tattoo artist. I know tattoos are already expensive, but they are also a lot of hard work and take a lot of skill. Plus artists spend a lot of time drawing up artwork and making sure their providing quality.
  • Be nice and friendly to your artist. If you want more tattoos, it’s always nice to have a person you trust.
  • If you are satisfied with their work, tell them and everyone! It’ll help bring them more business.
  • On that note, this is my tattoo artist. I met English in college as we were both in the dance program. She was always incredibly talented and went on the become a tattoo artist. Visit her Instagram and keep up with her latest pieces!

How did you find your tattoo artist?


  • Fabulous! I already have two tattoos that I got when I lived in Florida and knew the people/shops really well. Now I want my third but we live in Atlanta so I’ve been putting it off since I can’t decide where to go. I’ve been randomly stopping tattooed people for the past week to ask them where they got their work done and if they can recommend a shop. Ppl look at me weirdly when I first stop them but then when I start asking about their ink they are pretty open to chatting.

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