I have been a tattoo enthusiast for as long as I can remember. The brilliant colors and intricate lines seemingly painted on people’s skin mesmerized me from an early age. I was always interested in art and couldn’t believe that people were able to transform their skin into canvas. When I was finally old enough, my parents allowed me to get my first tattoo – a small piece by most standards, located on my lower shin – and from that point on, like many before me, I was hooked.
Tattooing is an art that has been around for almost as long as humankind has been scrawling on cave walls. It has existed across cultures, the world, and time and today is possibly experiencing its greatest boom in popularity to date. With Skinsight, we try to provide passionate, intellectual, and interesting articles about topics that matter to our readers. When I realized that we had never really done a post about tattoos, I immediately jumped at the chance to write this series. It is my hope that with this series I will shed a little light on some common misconceptions, prepare you for your first tattoo, or for some, give you information to use when talking to your kids about their interest in getting a tattoo.
Recently, I got the chance to sit down with my good friend and the very talented tattoo artist Josh Wright, who graciously let me interview him for this article. Josh is a classically trained artist who found his niche in tattooing. He is currently working at White Tiger Tattoo in Rochester, NY.
Ok, so I guess a good first question is, how old do you have to be to get a tattoo? At least how old do you have to be here in New York State?
(Note: You can easily find age requirements and guidelines for tattoos in your area by searching online.)
In the state of New York you have to be 18 years old. There is no parental permission. Anyone who will give you a tattoo when you are younger than that is probably going to give you a bad tattoo, because they are breaking the law. It would be the same as me giving a 16-year-old a beer, but I’d probably get arrested sooner.
How do you verify?
You have to present a valid form of photo ID, for instance, your driver’s license, passport, or military ID.
So when I visit tattoo shops I tend to see a lot of pictures on the wall of what appear to be ready-to-go tattoo designs; what’s the deal with those?
(Laughs) In the business we call it flash. They are pre-made designs that other tattooers or painters have made that either give people something I can do right off the sheet or give them something to use as a starting point. So, if they have kind of an idea, they’re like “OK I want a cross with a banner” or “I want a cross with a rose” or whatever. It helps people get started, or again, if they find a design that is a slam dunk for them, it’s a good way to go.
Should I get a custom tattoo?
It depends on the person. I do a lot of custom work, but I do a lot of stuff from the sheets (flash) too. The most important thing that I would say for someone going into a shop with the intention of getting a custom piece is to go through somebody’s portfolio. Anyone or most anyone can do a custom piece, but you want to find someone who specializes in the design style you like. For instance, I’m not going to do a portrait because I just don’t do portraits or bio-mechanical stuff because I just don’t know how to draw it.
I mean there are less scrupulous people who will say “sure OK, I’ll do whatever.” There are those who really can tattoo pretty much anything, but there are definitely those who say they can do everything without really possessing that capability. That’s why I recommend looking through an artist’s portfolio before making a decision.
Do you have any do’s and don’t’s for someone thinking about getting tattooed?
With there being so many shops around now, make sure you check out the cleanliness of the shop. There are so many communicable diseases and blood-borne pathogens that unless you’re in a shop with good health standards and proper contamination procedures in place, you can walk out of a tattoo shop with more than your tattoo and you probably don’t want that.
How does pricing work, and what should I expect to pay for a tattoo?
As far as cost, it really depends on the shop and what you are planning to do. Many shops in the area and many shops in general have a standard minimum fee. If the price dips below a certain point – around $50 – I would caution people against it. If it’s custom work, especially large-scale work, most people charge by the hour. Rates can vary from shop to shop, but again there seems to be a standard. For myself, I charge $125 an hour for custom work. There are people that charge more. Not a lot of people charge much less, especially people doing nice-looking tattoos. That’s my opinion of course, but I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of nice-looking tattoos.
Say you moved to a new city and you don’t know anything about the local tattooers or tattoo shops, how would you go about finding one that is reputable?
With there being as many shops as there are today, everyone seems to have some kind of Web presence. Go online (Google, Facebook) and start looking up shops to check out their reviews and feedback. In general, if you can’t find any information about a shop then that should be a pretty clear sign. I know there are some guys I want to get tattooed by that are at very private and exclusive shops where you kind of have to know someone to get in, but the average person is not looking for that experience. Look at the tattooer’s portfolio online; if their works looks shaky and patchy then it will probably look like that on you too. If the lines look solid and the color is vibrant and clear, that is what you want.
How do you apply a tattoo?
Once the design is set and the person has filled out the release form, I wash my hands and then begin setting up my work station.
- I put barrier film or some kind of waterproof barrier over everything that I’m using. If I need the customer to lie on a massage table for their piece, I will put down a hospital drape sheet. All of my machines are bagged.
- Once everything is sanitary and safe, I will bring the customer back to my station and begin by shaving and cleaning the area where the tattoo will be applied.
- I will apply the stencil and let the customer check it out in the mirror, and when we both agree that it’s in a good spot and is the right size, I will then remove my needles and tubes from their sterile packaging.
- I’ll pour the inks that I’ll be using into tiny disposable cups, finish setting up my machine, and then begin the tattoo.
Is there anything I can do to prepare for my tattoo ahead of time?
A couple of things:
- Eat a good meal.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol or caffeine beforehand or the night before because for a lot of people it tends to cause excessive bleeding. Everything in moderation is what I always say.
What about during the tattoo… Is there anything I can do to make it easier?
I found for myself it’s nice to have some water or Gatorade or something like that. Then anytime you take a break during the tattoo, especially during a longer tattoo session, make sure to drink some. A protein bar or some kind of snack like that can help a lot too.
(Note: Coffee and caffeinated drinks are probably not a good choice.)
Ok, you’ve finished my tattoo…What now?
After finishing a tattoo I will make sure to clean and bandage the area and then go over some quick after-care instructions:
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Make sure not to use bar soap because it hangs on to bacteria.
- Carefully remove the bandage.
- Wash the tattoo with soap and water and pat it dry. Then pretty much leave it alone for the next 24 hours, other than washing it with soap and water a few times.
- For the next 2 or 3 days, wash your new tattoo with soap and water 2 or 3 times a day and apply a small amount of unscented hand lotion after you've cleaned it off.
- As your tattoo starts to flake and peel, it's very important not to pick or scratch it.
What about A&D ointment or Neosporin?
I know some people like that stuff. I personally don’t really care for it. I have found that a lot of people have rougher heals when using the triple-antibiotics or anything with petroleum jelly in it. Whether its over-application or whatever it is, some of those can actually work against what they are recommended for. They can actually hold bacteria against the skin and cause problems.
How long does a tattoo generally take to heal?
It normally depends on someone’s general health. If you are healthy it should only take around 2 weeks, sometimes 3 weeks. It will go through a few different stages of healing:
- It will crust over, kind of like a rug burn.
- Then it will flake and peel.
- Then it will look shiny and waxy.
Those are all normal stages of healing. I know it can be a little unsettling for someone getting their first tattoo when those things start to happen, but it isn’t anything to worry about. Also, the skin usually needs at least a month before being tattooed again. A lot of people rush to get little touch-ups when some color falls out or whatever, but waiting until your skin is completely healed is the best plan of action.
Are there any health risk myths associated with tattooing?
Yeah, but just like anything else, there is always a grain of truth there – otherwise they wouldn’t persist for so long. Health risks are possible, but if you’ve done your homework to make sure the tattoo shop is clean and people are clearly using sterile practices and that the shop has a good reputation for its health standards, then you are going to be as close to 0% health risk as is possible.
(Note: Like everything else on Skinsight, we urge you to take an active role in your health. Ask your tattoo artist about their sterile procedures and make sure you are comfortable before you move forward with your tattoo. There are plenty of upstanding reputable places to get a tattoo today. If you aren’t comfortable with a shop, go somewhere else.)
Do you have any special certifications?
Unfortunately, in New York State, there are no requirements. I am bloodborne pathogen training certified, which I think everyone should be, but again, it isn’t mandatory.
I know a lot of tattooers won’t tattoo certain parts of the body like hands, necks, and faces under certain – or sometimes any – circumstances. Can you tell me more about that?
Personally, I don’t really have a problem with hands and necks. I prefer to do those only on heavily-tattooed people because they understand they will be treated differently having tattoos in those areas. There is a reason I don’t have my hands or neck tattooed. In no way am I being disparaging to anyone who does. I just feel like for myself… I’m pretty conservative about that. For as heavily-tattooed as I am, I want to be able to put a suit on and not have any tattoos showing.
As far as tattooing faces, that’s too much to have on my conscience. I’ve tattooed a few customers on their heads, but they can grow their hair over it. I just don’t want to be involved in that.
Do you have any advice for parents with kids who want to get tattooed or for the parents whose kids come home from college with their first tattoo?
For me, I just think it’s a personal choice; as long as they are going somewhere clean and if they are the legal age… then they’re the legal age.
Any parting words?
Everyone has different ideas about what looks good. There are a lot of tattoos that I wouldn’t personally wear or want, but I can appreciate them. For me, as long as the tattoo is applied in a clean environment, the tattooer is clear about care instructions, and they apply a nice, solid-looking tattoo that you've both agreed on, then I’m happy.
Take a couple extra minutes and do your research on the tattoo shop and tattooer that you're interested in getting work from. It’s on your body for the rest of your life and it’s worth taking the time to get it right.
All Images Featured Appear Courtesy of Josh Wright ©
Check out Josh:
Other Great Links:
- Tattoo Artist Magazine Mike Riina: How to Recognize Aseptic Technique in a Tattoo Shop
- HelloGiggles.com Danielle Hampton: On Being a Mom and Having Tattoos
- Sara Purr Tattoo
- 1975 Art Gallery • 1975 Facebook