I have always been obsessed with tattoos but until recently, I was too afraid to bite the bullet. During my senior year of high school, as other students were turning 18, one by one they would come to class showing off the fresh yet slightly scabbed tattoos they had gotten as their own initiation into adulthood.
While some of my peers fell in love with their new body art, others weren’t as sure, and a few even found themselves in search of tattoo removal specialists. This put me off for a while.
At 22, I was still un-tatted but still "favoriting" pictures of tattoos on Pinterest and walking past tattoo shops starry-eyed, wondering when I would ever muster up the courage. One of my close friends applauded my hesitation, alluding to her disdain for her copycat Rihanna tattoo she got from a dorm mate during her freshman year.
This year, I can proudly say I got my first tattoo! Due to my penchant for overthinking everything and five years of asking friends, family, and strangers about their tattoos and stories, I have collected quite a bit of knowledge on the subject of getting your first tattoo.
Here are my tips for getting your first tattoo!
1. Do Your Research Online AND In-person
While our parents had to choose their tattoo artist purely by word-of-mouth, we’re blessed with having any tattoo artist’s portfolio at the palm of our hand. With social media, you can quickly compare and contrast different tattooist's work.
Although online portfolios are a huge help in your search for a tattoo artist, people watching can be just as helpful. If you see someone’s tattoo that you like, don’t be afraid to ask them where they got it done and how their experience was.
2. Find an Artist That Fits Your Style
Every artist has a unique style and tattoo artists are no exception. If you're looking for the classic and raw aesthetic of a hand-poke tattoo, you wouldn't go to a tattooist who strictly uses a machine to create realistic portraits.
It might sound like common sense, but knowing your style and how to spot it will filter out a lot of possible tattoo professionals in your area, saving you valuable research time.
3. Decide On the Tattoo You Want and Then Sit On the Idea for a Long While
Maybe you are in a new city and/or it’s your birthday, and it may sound fun and exciting to get a tattoo on a whim. Most of us have been there. But the decision isn’t as consequence-free as, say, a spontaneous weekend road trip.
Getting a tattoo is a lifetime decision! That tattoo will be there when you're twenty-three tackling life as a recent grad, it’ll be there when you're in your thirties and you’re climbing up the corporate ladder and starting a family, it’ll be there when you start going to interviews again because of a mid-life career change, and it’ll be there when you're a grandparent and your telling your grandchildren stories about the good old days.
A tattoo is one of the longest lasting decisions you can make, so don’t take it lightly. A good rule of thumb when deciding on a tattoo is to choose a design and then sit on the idea for a few months or longer. If, then, you’re just as passionate about getting that tattoo as you were at the beginning of the waiting period, then by all means… go get your tattoo! (But also consider the other tips from this guide.)
4. Consider Going Abstract
There is no guarantee that you’ll like your tattoo for a lifetime. Your future self isn’t going to be the same person you are today. As humans, we grow, learn, and discover new things about ourselves that incrementally change our being while our society and culture changes around us.
While I appreciate who I used to be during my middle school and high school years, present me cringes at the tattoo choices my past self would have made. For instance, middle school me might have gotten something related to My Chemical Romance (though I still love the band...just not as a tattoo).
That’s why when choosing a tattoo, it’s almost always best to choose something abstract and avoid any specific (especially pop-culture) references. The obvious exception being specifics related to your family, but I’m talking about specifics like sports teams, T.V. shows, current idols, and significant others' names. For example, I’m sure there was someone back in the day who thought their Cosby Show tattoo was golden.
Your abstract tattoo can be related to something specific but -- since it's abstract -- its significance can change if you decide you no longer like the meaning behind it anymore. Plus, tattoos make excellent conversational icebreakers. Having an abstract tattoo has the added bonus of built-in small talk with a stranger about something other than the weather or what’s your major.
5. Avoid Anything Trendy
Just like how barbed wire armbands, butterflies on the lower-back, and star-constellations traced down the spine seem like terrible mid-2000s cliches, the reason they're cliches now is because they too were once trends.
Sure, the ever-popular infinity symbols, geometric animals, and Mandala tattoos that fill Instagram today might seem cool, but that probably won't be true a decade from now.
I’m not saying that your tattoo has to have several meanings or be totally original, but it’s best to stray a little bit from the beaten path.
6. Understand that Quality Comes at a Premium
When shopping around, you might balk at the quote for your tattoo ranging from hundreds to maybe even thousands of dollars, but understand that you’re not just paying for original artwork. You’re paying for the tattooist’s professional expertise, unique style, customer service, hours of labor, and level of safety.
If it’s a highly rated tattooist that is offering a guarantee on all the metrics above, expect there to be a higher price tag for that level of service.
Sure, there are artists that will do the work for half the price or even lower, but understand that there is a tradeoff between quality and cost. The artist offering the cheaper work may not have mastered their craft like their pricier counterpart or doesn't focus on the fine details that make a tattoo look truly beautiful.
7. Listen to Your Tattoo Artist
This piece of advice actually goes for all expertise: Listen to the Professional. Just like you wouldn’t question the knowledge of your doctor, mechanic, or professor, why would you ignore the advice of your tattooist?
If it’s an artist with a strong history of work, they can keep you from making the same past mistakes of others, after all, they should know better than anyone else. So if they say a certain tattoo won’t look good, it’s best to listen to their important tip.
What Do You Think?
Did this guide help you on your journey towards getting your first tattoo? Do you already have tattoos and want to share your story? Leave a comment below!