I think it is important that if you’re going to get a tattoo, you do your homework on shops and artists to be sure you’re getting the best tattoo possible. While your artist’s drawing skills are only half the story on how the end result is going to look—they also have to be able to execute the stencil—if you start with a bad drawing, you’re guaranteed to get a bad tattoo. Whether you’re walking in on a whim or you’ve been planning your visit for a long time, look at the artist’s portfolio. Most artists nowadays have social media accounts (I have found Instagram to be the most helpful) you can browse in addition to albums at their shop.
If you are looking for somebody to do some flash you like off the wall, make sure you find someone who traces well, especially if the original design isn’t theirs. Not everyone is good at everything, so you need somebody who is familiar with the style and can mimic the design well. If they have been apprenticed well, this is something they’ve been doing for awhile already. This is going to be my life for some time and I’ve already accepted it.
On the other hand, if you have a specific concept in mind but not the actual drawing, you might be better off going into a shop and talking to the different artists. Somebody might be a great artist, but if they’re not excited about your idea, maybe you go to the next person. The idea is to find somebody who gets fired up by your concept because they’re going to expand on it and totally knock that idea out of the park. Others might do a good job but will simply give you what you want instead of making it a collaborative project. And if all you have is an idea, you’re going to want that professional eye to talk to you about placement, size, colors, and that kind of thing. Some places require you to book a consultation with an artist, others will make you pay to see the stencil. It all depends on where you go and what you ask for.
But what if you already have the complete package? Maybe you have a similar image already or the exact picture you want. This can actually be the hardest because it means you have to do the most research beforehand. If it is a specific style you’re looking for, scout around online prior to even going to a shop for a consultation. Be sure that whoever you choose already has some experience in the style you want if it is crucial to your design. See how they draw. Does it work with what you want? Do you see a theme immerging from their portfolio that is in the same vein as what you want? Just because they are a great artist doesn’t mean that they will do your picture justice. Maybe the artist is more comfortable in black and greys and does some killer work that way. But he or she might not do a great job on the vibrant sugar skull you’re picturing in your head.
Finally, pick somebody you’re comfortable with. They are going to be touching you (and inflicting pain) and you’re going to be spending a nice chunk of time together depending on the size of your tattoo. Pick somebody you are OK with getting that close to you. Check out their procedures: make sure they’re wearing gloves, that the shop is clean, that they are using sterilized equipment. While yes, you might be paying them quite a bit and they might have huge reputations, you’re still the customer. So make sure that you’re happy with the stencil and its location. If you aren’t comfortable asking the artist a question, this is not the person for you.
Good luck and I want to hear all about your tattoo experience!