There are so many brilliant tattoo artists out there but there are some dreadful ones too who are making money off the back of the current climate of acceptance for ink. I learnt this the hard way like a lot of people, and even tattooists themselves have one or two tattoos that they don't like.
I can't emphasise enough how important it is to choose the right artist, the one that works in the style you want. Like all artists, tattooist work in different styles, some only work in black ink, some are superb with colour (including blending shades and choosing colours which work together). Every tattooist is different, so it is essential that you do your research before booking an appointment.
Golden rules ; never go to a tattoo parlour just because it's the nearest one to where you live, never get one on holiday when drunk, never get one because it's cheaper than the others.
So how do you choose your tattooist? If you are thinking 'I want a tattoo but I don't know what I want' then it's probably better that you don't get one at all until you have made your mind up, thought about it for a good long while, and checked out all the artists working in that style.
I found my first decent tattooist on Pinterest of all places, her name is Amy Williams and she was working in Sheffield at the time (Amy now works in Newcastle at Cock A Snook and her name on instagram is @amybirdart). I travelled three hours every time I went to see her sometimes staying in an Ibis overnight, it was worth every bit of effort because the work that Amy did on my leg is superb. At the time Amy was specialising in colour work and while she still does this she has moved into black dot work, look at her feed on instagram for an idea of what I'm talking about.
All my tattooists have been women, so I investigated their work by looking at who was working at tattoo conventions, like Brighton or London, where they list all the people with a sample of their work. Here I discovered Guen Douglas (who is now in Berlin) and Angelique Houtkamp who is the owner of the famous tattoo parlour Salon Serpent in Amsterdam.
So when you have decided what you would like and where you want it start to look around for who works in that style. For example, if you want an all black ink botanical piece then look at the work of Rebecca Vincent who works out of Parliament Tattoo in London, where all these photos were taken.
If you want colour work with Pre-Raphaelite themes then go to someone like Tracy D (who is now in Switzerland at Built To Last, I had my arms tattooed by Tracy when she was working at Kings Cross Tattoo Parlour in London). If you want a large piece that looks like a masterpiece in oils then have a look at Aimee Cornwell who is just outside Oxford, she has recently done a beautiful bird and cherry blossom on my leg. Aimee works in quite a different way as she tends to work free-hand on your body and spends a lot of time drawing on you with pens to get the shape to work with your body curves. If you want words or script this is also a specialist area, so again look for someone who has done a lot of this before.
All good tattooists have a waiting list, often as much as three months and you will always have to leave a deposit to hold your booking. These people are professional and this is how they earn a living, so treat them how you would treat any top professional.
Most tattooists have an instagram account with a gallery of their previous work, this is a good way to focus on what you want, choosing elements of things they have done before.
Another style which looks great is the traditional small individual tattoos like sailors would collect on their travels, this style is called 'Sailor Jerry" (based on the work of an American artist). This is often something you can choose from a Flash Sheet. A flash sheet is a pre-drawn tattoo, often on a piece of paper with many other similar style and size pieces and displayed on the walls of the tattoo parlour). If you go to a 'walk-in' then you will most likely be choosing a piece from a flash sheet. Not all tattoo parlours do 'walk-ins' but some like Salon Serpent in Amsterdam, have one day a week, usually Saturday, when you can wait in line and it is first come first served to get inked by the tattooists working on that day.
Many salons have guest artists, tattooist like to move around, so if one of your favourites are a bit too far away, ask if they will be guest spotting anywhere or working at a convention. If you are a collector like me, then this will be an ideal opportunity to get a small piece of flash from someone you admire.
Most good tattooists will draw your tattoo especially for you after you have emailed them your requirements. They will want to know an approximate size, where you would like it and some themes of what you want. If they are worth their salt, they will be honest with you about what will and won't look good. Take their advice, and have a few ideas so you can be flexible. Don't be afraid to tell them all your requirements but do respect their opinion.
When you arrive for your appointment they will show you the drawing they have done for you and at this point you can ask for it to be bigger or smaller, or tweaked a bit. They will make a stencil from the approved drawing and between you, decide on the exact placement. They transfer the design to your skin and this is their guide of where to tattoo so that their lines are accurate.
Parliament Tattoo in London is the loveliest parlour I have yet visited, it is large and airy and decorated in fun and cool ways, like most parlours they have collections of religious ephemera and animal skulls, but their extra touches like free biscuits and lollypops, coffee and tea, make them extra special in my book. If you are having a larger piece requiring a few hours of work, you will probably need a sugar fix to get you through. It is a very female friendly place, with many of their tattoists being women, they even have their own clothing ranges, I bought a really cool polo neck dress with long sleeves from Mary Wyatt's latest range. They are currently making cardigans with embroidery and I simply can't wait to get one. Parliament Tattoo are a custom salon, you can find more information about them at http://www.parliamenttattoo.com/
They have a great video on their site which gives you a feel for the place and how it looks to get a tattoo.
Pain? yes there will be, some areas a lot more than others, a general rule about how painful it will be is that the nearer to a bone you get where the skin is thin, like ankles, feet, front of leg, elbows etc. the more painful it will be. It varies, I've found that legs are more painful than arms. If you pain is more of a concern than placement then ask your tattooist which area is best.
Hopefully if you have done your research and found your person, nothing will go wrong but there is always a risk that the lines will blur and 'blow-out'. I have had this in a few places on my arms and it is due to several reasons. One reason is that the tattooist has gone too deep and hard with a thick line and the ink spreads instead of staying in one place. Another reason will be your skin type and where on your body it is. Very pale people are prone to this and particularly women, there are certain places on women's arms which are extremely likely to blur if you have that Celtic paleness.
I recently discussed this with Rebecca Vincent who has a really great understanding of this problem, so she was super careful with my latest piece and because I want it to continue up my arm we will be avoiding the hot spots for blurring.
So, if something does go blurry, or you end up not liking a tattoo what are your options? Well, two really, get it covered up (you have probably seen this done on the TV show tattoo fixers), but in order to cover it up convincingly you will need a much larger piece over the top. Your other option is laser removal and I have met several tattooists who have had laser removal, because everyone will have one piece that they aren't totally happy with.
Like choosing a tattoist, choosing a laser removal specialist is just as crucial. It is quite normal to need several sessions with the remover for the ink to disappear and there are a few different types of equipment used to do this. It is painful and often it is harder to remove coloured ink than black ink, however the lasers which burn are more painful than the ones that use pulse light.
I recently discovered Pulse Light clinic in London http://www.pulselightclinic.co.uk/tattoo-removal-london
and I'm going to be booking an appointment with them to discuss the removal maybe of something and ask them if they can treat areas of blurring.
The pulse light clinic has different equipment to your usual laser removers, their pulse light machine breaks down the ink into tiny particles that can be absorbed by the body and naturally removed, it is much less invasive and at worst will leave you feeling like you have a bit of sunburn, which can be soothed with Aloe.
I would like to also see them and ask how soon after a tattoo removal can another tattoo be placed in that area, so when I have seen them I will report back here on the results.
To contact the Pulse Light Clinic and book a free consultation and patch-test you can email email@example.com or telephone 0207 523 5158
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have and pick my brains about tattooists, I'm more than happy to help.