How To Choose A Tattoo Design You Won’t Hate Forever 

bad tattoo design

In September 2016, I finally got a new tattoo. It’s my second tattoo (sort of). I got my first tattoo in 1996 but added more, and covered some of it for my 30th birthday.

My first ink was a tribal band – because they were awesome for like a hot minute. There was no significance to the tattoo. Its sole purpose was to piss off my parents who specifically said before dropping me into my freshman dorm “don’t come home with a tattoo.” I wish I didn’t because I hate it now.

I put absolutely no thought into the tattoo design. I went trendy. I was an idiot.

The new tattoo took some time to think up and means way more to me and will hold a significance forever.

Don’t make the same mistake I made as an eighteen-year-old “rebel” on his own for the first time in his life. If you’re going to get a tattoo, take these five things into consideration, or you’ll regret the tattoo design forever.

Do Your Homework

Social media has made it much easier to find tattoo artists. I got my first tattoo at a shop that a college friend frequented for his tattoos so I knew the place did decent work (he was a walking billboard) but I didn’t know much about the artists, their specialties or even their hours. There might have been an artist on staff who would have done a killer job on my tribal band but I just popped into a shop one day and told the woman at the front desk “I want a tattoo, who’s available?”

Every good tattoo artist has a website (or at least a gallery on the shop’s website) and most artists maintain a Facebook page or Instagram account. Do some digging on artists.

Also, do some digging for tattoo ideas. Maybe there’s something out there you’ve never seen or never considered. Maybe your idea is all over the place and not that original. Do your homework. There’s no rush.

Picture Yourself in 5 Years (Not 50)

When my mother finally talked to me again after a month of the silent treatment she asked, “how’s the tattoo going to look in 50 years?” Probably saggy as shit, I thought, but I hadn’t really given the future much thought. I assumed it would look ridiculous on my 68-year-old body, but by that point, who gives a shit? Who would be looking at my old ass anyway?

If you’re on the fence about your tattoo design, don’t think decades ahead; think just a couple years ahead. Will it work with your possible line of work? Will it be odd to explain to your kids? Will it even make sense? A box of Eggo waffles with the word Eleven replacing Eggo is a sweet tattoo idea but will people remember Stranger Things, will your kids think you got a breakfast food inked to your skin and do any 4th-grade teachers have visible neck tattoos?

Before getting something insane, in a spot you can never cover up, give it some real thought.

Allow The Artist Room To Create

Allow the tattoo artist room to create and put their own spin on the idea. That’s what the drafting process of the tattoo is for anyway. It’s a brainstorming for ideas — what works, what doesn’t, what looks good and what won’t and what’s possible and what isn’t – until a design is created that you can live with looking at forever.

It’s fine to have a tattoo design but it’s not fair to ask a tattoo artist to replicate the design exactly. Notice the second word in his or her title is ARTIST.

Don’t Let The Artist Talk You Into (or out of) Anything

I knew what I wanted my new tattoo to look like but I couldn’t really envision the exact tattoo in my mind. While explaining the concept to my tattoo artist, he sketches it out in real time, and the creation slowly come to life.

“Honestly dude,” he said, “If I do it like this it won’t look like a dagger. It will look like a fancy letter opener. We need to go fatter with the blade.”

In my case, the artist talked me out of a bad idea without completely trying to change my mind on the concept. He gave his opinion, I agreed, and it was back to the drawing board. But if my heart was set on his first drawing, I’m pretty sure he would have done it anyway because “my body and my money” so what could he really do?

There are some artists who honestly don’t care what you want, they just want to do the tattoo they want to do. On the flipside, there are artists who don’t give a shit about adding anything to your design. They just want to get the tattoo done and move on to the next customer.

Ultimately it’s your arm, your money, and your decision.

Don’t Do It Just To Do It

I learned this lesson the hard way the first time around. I got a tattoo just to get a tattoo (and piss off my mom) and didn’t really think the whole idea through. I really did want a tattoo but should have done a better job asking myself questions like “what do you really want?” and “what tattoo will convey a message you want to convey?” I did it just to do it and that was stupid.

new tattoo design

While the first tattoo wasn’t everything I hoped, my latest tattoo is more than I could have hoped or imagined in my head. I had rough ideas but what came out of my artist’s pen was above and beyond my mental sketches.

Immediately after the tattoo, I scheduled another appointment for a year later to finally cover up or convert the jumbled mess on my arm. I’m sure my mom will hate that one too.

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