With more and more people getting tattooed than every before (rougly 3 in 10 Americans), sometimes finding the right artist to execute your artwork can seem like a bit of a daunting task.  Lucky with the help of apps like Instagram and websites like Facebook, finding an artist who’s work you like has been made easier, but there is much more to committing to a tattoo then just a quick view of an online portfolio.  Here are 5 factors to consider when deciding to move forward with any tattoo you might want to get, but especially with larger scale work that takes much more time and patience.

1.Meet your artist for a consultation in person

Seeing an artist work online and deciding you like it enough to want to have it on your body forever is one thing, but remember, depending on size, you might be spending a good amount of time with this person.  Are they punctual and professional?  How much do they charge?  Do they have a portfolio of work similar to what you are looking for (more on this later)?  Is the shop clean and orderly?  These and many other questions can begin to get parsed out once you meet the artist in person the first time.  Just because they are an amazing artist does not mean that they are also amazing people to be around.  Remember, that depending on the area of the body that you are trying to get tattooed, you might have to be fairly undressed, even naked for some larger scale work.  The idea of this can be pretty unnerving for most, so you want to make sure that your artist is professional and courtois and makes you feel as comfortable as possible in the situation. We all have personalities we get along with and some we don’t, feel this out before you decide to leave a deposit and schedule your appointments. Remember, you are going to be spending time and money with this person, make sure it is a good fit before you commit to a relationship in which you will be receiving a fair amount of pain in exchange for you hard earned money.

2. If you don’t see the style you are after, keep looking 

Sure, we like to believe that every artist is totally able to knock out any style tattoo you give them, unfortunately in the real world this is rarely the case.  Just as a neurosurgeon and a podiatrist are both technically doctors, you want to make sure you pick the right person for the job that you are looking to have done.  Besides the only portfolio, take the time, if possible, to go to the studio and look at a physical portfolio as well.  Most artists only publish tattoos they want to do and excel in, so if you are looking for a japanese traditional dragon sleeve but the artist you are looking at seems to only have photos of traditional american work, you might want to keep looking till you find the person with a vast understanding of the subject matter you are interested in.       

This isn’t to say that tattoo artists aren’t versatile, quite the opposite, but it is to point out that tattoo artists like to specialize in a specific style.  The more homework you do on researching the right artist the better your overall experience will be. This brings us to our next point.

3. Do Your Homework

Believe me when I say that if I knew how much homework I would have now as an tattoo artist who does larger scale work, I would have paid a lot more attention in school!  Doing your homework is also important when you are deciding on a tattoo design.  Does the traditional tiger have a deeper meaning that you are interested in?  Are the sparrows on your chest conveying a message you don’t really understand to someone else?  Is the symbol you are tying into your tattoo have a deeper cultural meaning than maybe you are aware of?  These, and others, are all good questions to ask before you settle on your design, but here is the tricky part, don’t overthink it.  Have you heard the expression “ 10 pounds of garbage in a 5 pound bag”?  This means don’t try to cram a ton of information into one tattoo (Your address of the house you grew up in with your grandparents names in banners around a portrait of your cat in a tree going up for ribs with script about it and your favorite flowers crowning the tree). This also brings us to the next point.

4. Trust your artist

So you have decided to pull the trigger on the japanese snake and flower full sleeve you have always wanted.  You have met the artist and you guys get along and have a friendly rapport with each other and you have decided to book the appointments.  Now all you have to do is sit back and relax, let your artist do what they do and design your tattoo the best way they see fit.  Micromanaging this process is one of the biggest annoyances for an artist, if you trust your artist’s ability that  they possess, displayed in their portfolio, you shouldn’t have to worry about the design of your tattoo.  Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t suggest some items or color schemes or, upon seeing the design, if you want to change somethings.  All of that is pretty standard and any artist worth their salt will be able to accommodate your suggestions fairly efficiently before the process starts, so trust your artist and let them do their job.

5. Be Prepared

Getting a tattoo, and especially a large scale one, is a commitment.  It sometimes can take months to get and the cost a substantial amount.  This is why it is extremely important to be prepared mentally, physically, and financially before approaching an artist to begin the project.  There is no rush to get a tattoo, and remember, this is the artist’s profession, not a hobby.  Once you commit to the process you should be able to go in for a multi hour session anywhere from 1-2 times in a month (depending on size and healing).  There is nothing that an artist hates more than to start a tattoo and then not see it again for a year.  Artists styles are constantly changing and evolving, so by staying consistent you are guaranteeing a cohesive tattoo that will age cohesively.

Hopefully these 5 steps will help you become a more informed client and make the process of getting a large scale tattoo (or any tattoo really) as easy as possible.  Obviously there is a bunch of things that weren’t covered here, but this should be used as a good starting point if you do decide to step up your tattoo game.

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Jeb Maykut
Jeb is a World renowned tattoo artist based in Manhattan, New York, He specializes in large scale Japanese tattoos. He works at Five Points NYC and can be booked by contacting him at jeb1134@gmail.com.