Should You Tip Your Tattoo Artist?

Tipping is customary in most places within the United States and most tattoo artists world wide love the extra cheddar after a day of hard work. You, the client who is overwrought with joy and a new piece of art that will last a lifetime may be asking yourself, “should I tip or should I go?”

The answer is, always tip your artist if it fits into your budget, you were happy with the work and you feel compelled to let them feel how grateful you are. We setup a quick and easy tipping calculator located at the bottom of the page to help you figure out what is considered a “good” tip when tipping your tattoo artist.

tattoo money

Here are a few reasons you may not have known that can help influence your decision on how much to tip your tattoo artist:

The whole system is setup like a barber shop

You may not know the in’s and out’s of tattoo business operations but most tattoo artists out there do not make every dollar you pay them. Much like barber shops, booths or chairs can come with a rental fee. In some places this is a flat daily rate, in other places artists are paid a percentage of your total bill.

Let’s say your tattoo cost $300. Well, in most places an artist may get a percentage of that total, somewhere around 40%-70% of the total. On the low end, your artist make $120 out of that $300 and the shop takes the rest. What a racket eh?! This is the most common reason tattoo artists like tips: The system is rigged for the shop an not the artist.

Learn more about the cost of an artist setup by following this link:

Cost of setup

Artists must purchase most, if not all of their supplies.

Tattoo shops do not purchase all the supplies for a tattoo artist. Some supply disposable items, others just gloves and paper towels. Everything else is covered by the artist, including their training and skill.

tipping your artist - they buy all the Art Kit - Wallpaper

Tattooing is very competitive and not all artists are booked 5 years into the future.

Have you see how many shops are in the Portland Oregon area? How about Austin, Texas? Even in the middle of nowhere tattoo shops are springing up and offering their own take on colorful modifications. with the increased saturation of shops globally there are less options for artists to book out long term. Due to this increase in competition, shop owners have been quick to lower artist pay rates, holding the clients as chattel owned wholly by the shop. With lower pay coming into an artists pockets, you can be assured they will find any form of gratuity very welcome.

The work they do for large scale projects far exceeds the time spent on the tattoo session(s)

If you are getting a back piece done, or a full sleeve, the work done before the tattoo can incur multiple hours. This work is something most clients never think about and even more rarely are a part of. I will personally spend tens of hours on a single design, sometimes the hours can reach 100+ if multiple redesigns are ordered by the client. If a tip is tossed onto the final sitting of the tattoo, I will thank that client and express the warm and fuzzy feelings that fill my black heart.

If you get more than more sitting to do the tattoo, choose when to tip (beginning, end or after every session)

If you really enjoy the service and want to tip every sitting, or if you have a fixed budget and don’t know if you will have enough to tip your artist, let them know up front. Most artists will be thankful for the upfront and direct way that you will talk to them. Just please, don’t lord a tattoo over them as if they were a dog begging for a treat. That habit is rude to dogs and definitely rude to a skilled artisan.

If you have a shop owner tattooing you, you can straight ask them what tip rate is good for them (shop big and fancy or small comparison)

Shop owners make more money than the artists they employ when a business is run under the barbershop model. If they are professional they will not be expecting a tip after service. If they do come asking for it… well that is just not kosher.

Gifts are great but cash is king

Love Text-printed Board Leaning on Wall

I have received books, clothing, shot glasses and a bunch of artwork from clients over my career. While I really have enjoyed the gifts I have only utilized 1 gift in 17 years more than once. If you will feel poorly if your nicknack gift isn’t well received, bring cash to brighten the mood in the shop. Or food. Tattoo artists love candy, coffee and tacos.

So that’s it. A few tips for the clients out there on how to tip your artist.

Below is an interactive widget that can help you figure out how much to tip if you are unsure.

Thanks for reading.

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Tattoo Aftercare – Products

I have spent some time rolling around the great vastness of the internet looking up different articles on how to take care of your tattoo. There are a variety of protocols that have been put forth by artists and regulators but none of the methods I had found were focused on the individual. For the most part, all aftercare solutions have been rolled into a single process – Don’t pick it and keep it wet. 

This idea of tattoo care is blatantly wrong (apart from picking the tattoo).

There are so many variables that go into taking care of a tattoo: Your skin type, the climate that you live in, your daily activities or type of work you do, if you pick your scabs or not… We can put a definite etcetera on that list but, I am going to take a poke at how you should pick apart aftercare products. Hopefully you can figure out what is the most viable option for you and your skin..

Tattoo Aftercare And Healing Your Tattoo

First, let’s dismiss the idea that you are healing your tattoo. You are not healing your tattoo. You are not making it go faster by applying some magical topical ointment or lotion to your skin. There is no chance in this life that the $45 bottle of magical, salt-infused tattoo cream will magically imbue your body with healing powers comparable to Wolverine. I am sad to point it out but, it did make me feel kind of happy at the same time.


What science has shown us is that our body has an amazing ability to heal itself, regardless of our interference and wish to make things progress faster than they naturally occur. Our bodies are amazing machines and without proper knowledge or planning, our efforts to speed things up can result in annoyance, or at times, catastrophe.

Caring For Your New Tattoo – The Default Setting

In my experience, there is always a default for taking care of a tattoo. This occurs with both the artist as well as the client. 

Clients will always remember their first tattoo like it was yesterday. With the nostalgia of pain and process comes the memories of how tattoo aftercare is to be approached. Because the first experience is so discreetly unique, our memories of it become more readily ingrained in our habits. This process creates a default memory that will have a greater than presence in future accounts. It also creates a minefield where new information must be added to or amend the previously learned knowledge. This topic should probably be torn into as it is massively interesting to me but, as this topic has already been laser focused on tattoo aftercare products, I will walk away from it for now.

I am focused on the bad habits with types of products or a timeline for the care regimens which are hard to break.  The easiest way to combat this is to make it apparent that we have a shortage in knowledge surrounding this subject. In knowing that we can move forward developing new techniques that will increase the positive outcomes artists experience globally we can improve the user experience and hopefully make tattoo aftercare more targeted to the user.. We as an industry need to have a more comprehensive care routine for our clients, hence the efforts to write this article.

The artist is not always right

As artists, we all know a few tips and tricks when healing a tattoo. Some of us go so far as to toss a proverbial tattoo aftercare blanket on every client that walks through the door. We apply a universal qualifier to all clients healing a tattoo – “I” did the tattoo and “I” know how tattoos heal when I do them (on average) and you need to do it this way or you suck.

This solipsistic approach has worked for years, but I can’t imagine a place where an artists hasn’t had a tattoo come back from what we considered a fantastic session looking like absolute crap. When this happens, defenses come up on the artist’s side, as well as the client’s. When it comes to tattoo aftercare, rarely does the situation result in a way that both sides feel validated.

A quick explanation of what happens when an artist applies a tattoo

A tattoo is a medical procedure where pigment is permanently inserted into your skin. By creating openings in the skin for the pigment to enter, the body becomes more vulnerable to the possibility of infection. We develop aftercare procedures for clients to follow because the process is collaborative: We artists apply the tattoo to your skin in a way that we (hopefully) understand will limit the possibility of long lasting damage internally, scarring of the procedure spot as well as decreasing the chances of transmitting an infection. 

Sadly, our industry and the media created a blanket procedure that we utilize globally for taking care of a new tattoo. I fear that many artists have not thought critically about what they are being sold when confronted with new products “designed” for healing broken skin.

Now that I have effectively called out an entire industry, let’s take a look at some variable that effect your skin and how it heals.

Healing your tattoo


Your skin is the largest organ of your body and it acts as a barrier to the dangerous, pathogenic environment that surrounds us. While there is significant scientific information about the processes surrounding your bodies natural ability to keep your skin hydrated, we will avoid falling down these rabbit holes. Getting tattooed damages your skin and therefore damages your skin’s natural ability to hydrate itself.

In healthy undamaged skin, the human body naturally hydrates the upper layers of the skin through transepidermal water loss (TEWL).  It’s very complex, so for those interested in the many mechanical and chemical processes TEWL is comprised of, take a look around the reference section at the bottom of this page. To not shy too far away from the science, here is a brief description of how your body keeps the skin hydrated – Moisture moves through your skin starting at the bottom, or the part that is nearest to your internals. It moves up through your dermis to the epidermis where it is eventually lost due to evaporation. 

Regardless of the damages that may occur mechanically, we use moisturizers to increase the health of the skin. It has been shown that what we put on our skin has a lasting effect on the health of our body’s largest organ. If we think about how these products can harm your skin when it isn’t injured, you can imagine what happens when you apply a product that is “designed” to aid in the healing of an area that has been repeatedly stabbed with a needle for hours on end. At times it can result in a well healed tattoo, other times it can leave you with an extended healing time.

pH And Acidity Of The Skin

When measuring the difference between acidic conditions and alkaline conditions, scientists use a scale called the pH scale. A pH scale is the measurement of how acidic or basic a solution that is water based is (a solution is a dissolved mixture of substances. In this case it is a mixture dissolved in water).

At room temperature, this scale displays numbers that are lower (left hand side of the scale) are considered acidic, while those on the opposite (right hand side) are alkaline. A neutral state, which is neither acidic or alkaline is considered neutral. A neutral pH reading is somewhere around 7.

pH measures the molar concentration (not teeth but a chemistry-based measurement) of free hydrogen ions (hydrogen ions are positively or negatively charged hydrogen atoms- the atoms that have gained or lost electrons) are found in a solution. Here is a video from Crash Course Chemistry that explains it in further detail:


The Acid Mantle

The very top layer of skin (called the Acid Mantle) on an average adult human’s skin has an approximate pH of 5.6-5.8 (averaging 5.7) but this number can be affected due to climate, elevation, pollution, nutrition or products which are applied to the skin. The acid mantle is very thin but has an incredibly effective way of keeping your body safe from pathogens by forcing adaptation to things that could otherwise cause illness.

Skin Acid Mantle

The acid mantle is created when secretions from your sebaceous glands mix with sweat and lowers the pH on the tissues involved. By doing this the body forces bacteria and other pathogens to become “comfortable” in this environment. When we are cut or have an abrasion, the opening in our skin and the blood that accompanies this break are relatively neutral, the change in pH creates an environment where the invading pathogens are not as “comfortable”, or less well adapted. This change in pH can actually kill the invading pathogens before they are able to establish a foothold and cause illness or infection.

Healing Stages

Misconceptions on the first peel of a tattoo

Most tattoos that I found online, that are deemed “healed”, have only gone through the first (initial) peel. After a sitting, your fresh tattoo goes through a dynamic process of being accepted and settling into your skin. This process ensures permanency and if taken care of properly, decreases the chances of scarring and infection. This initial healing process does not equate what the tattoo will look like in the years to come but only ensures the wearer is less likely to pick up an infection during life’s normal wear and tear.

I also have run across many articles giving a timeline of months for a tattoo to be through the first peel. While this timeline may be adequate with some artists who do not understand skin function or what happens when you overwork the skin, most first peels should occur within the first 7-10 days, not 4-6 weeks after the procedure.

After the first peel your tattoo will still look nearly fresh, as the pigment is located relatively high in the dermis layer of your skin. Regardless of your skin health as you age, your skin will become thinner and with time The pigment that makes up your tattoo will undergo changes in its appearance. Due to this evolution of the artwork, what you see in social media posts or in person as a fresh tattoo is not what the tattoo will end up looking like in 1 month, 1 year or in 1 decade.

The Stages of Healing a Tattoo

There multiple stages to the healing of your tattoo that are commonly broken down into 3 parts.

  • The first stage of healing is the first 7 to 10 days after your tattoo has been completed. During this time you will notice the pigment in the skin become less vibrant, be swollen and start to develop a mild, thin scab over the area that had been tattooed. Macrophages in the body (specialized cells that capture and destroy pathogens) contain the pigment particles introduced during a tattoo procedure. These specialized immune cells “eat” the pigment particles and hold them in place.
    • During the initial healing process your skin may ooze exudate for the first 24-48 hours (Exudate is fluid that leaks out of blood vessels into nearby tissues. The fluid is made of cells, proteins, and solid materials. This substance may ooze from abrasions or from areas of inflammation. like you may see after receiving a tattoo.) There may be redness radiating around the edges of the tattoo as well as a feeling of itchiness or irritation while the tattoo goes through this initial stage of healing. During this stage, the majority of surface healing is done with the tattoo. The scabs that collect on the skin surface should also fall off and your skin should have a glossy, thin looking sheen to it.


  • The second stage is a deeper healing, wherein the dermis rebuilds its structure to support and consolidate the pigment that has been introduced through the tattoo process. This process starts as soon as the scabs that have formed on the upper layers of skin start to fall off naturally and can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months. On average this settling of the skin and consolidation of pigment lasts around 2 months.


  • The final stage of healing is what we call in the business “settling”. During this stage, the skin has adapted to the newly introduced pigment and adjusts the saturation sections as macrophage interaction (dying off and being replaced with newer cells) redistributes the pigment is ways that eases the distributed skin tension. The settling process will cause the pigment to “bleed out” a little and make the tattoo look less focused as time passes. This process is continuous and will affect your tattoo for your lifetime (or the lifetime of the tattoo).
Aged Tattoo - Courtesy of

Common tattoo aftercare products

Let’s cover the products used most commonly in aftercare regiments and toss out a few pros/cons with each type-

Lotions creams and gels

These are the most commonly recommended products for taking care of a fresh tattoo. Emollients are usually made up of lipid (hydrophobic compounds that repel water) and water emulsions that utilize a binding agent to keep them together. These products fill the gaps in your skin creating a more “full” stratum corneum layer (the outermost layer of skin) and cover the outer layer of skin to prevent TEWL. This increases the pliability, fullness, softness and moisture of the skin. These products are commonly produced  with additional products added for increased shelf-life and mechanical enhancements (ease of application, color, medications, natural products, smells etc.) Lotions are the thinnest of these mixtures. Creams usually have additional ingredients that create a thicker consistency. Gels will liquify when the contact skin.

Examples – Lubriderm

Pros- due to the decreased amount of oils in lotion, the maximum retained moisture is decreased. There is also a greater effect of excess moisturizer being evaporated so over moisturizing of the skin is less likely to occur with single applications. Given specific climates, lotions are a best bet for the aftercare of a tattoo if the preservatives and additives are considered beneficial for healing of damaged tissues.

Cons- In arid climates, there is a decreased ability of lotions to retain enough moisture in the skin to promote faster healing. You will need to reapply more often which may result in a mixed over-moisturized/under-moisturized situation with the affected area of skin. You may also unknowingly introduce pathogens to an open wound by touching it more often. This can result in a higher incidence of infection.

For larger areas of skin to be covered, there can be an inconsistent level of beneficial moisture applied. Along with the increased amount of damage that increases the amount of moisture lost by the skin, there can be a dehydrating effect that will increase the amount of discarded tissue collected on the surface of the skin (increased scabbing). There are also additives that are more often found in lotions that can cause allergic reactions and with a new tattoo, and when healing a fresh wound we want to avoid any possible reactions.


Usually an oil or wax based moisturizer that is applied to the skin. It acts in a way that stops the skin losing moisture due to evaporation by creating a barrier where the skin won’t be able to lose moisture due to TEWL.

Examples – A&D Ointment, Aquaphor

Pros- Less product must be consumed to create a high level of hydration. This is beneficial in moderately temperate climates to hot or arid climates and decreases the amount of product used to ensure proper skin moisture levels. In people who have dry skin or problems like eczema, the oil based moisturizers will soothe the skin and increase the body’s ability to heal before the tattoo procedure is scheduled.

Cons- In humid climates the skin can become choked with moisture when using ointments which results in excessive scabbing and delayed healing times. If you have oily or combination skin types, ointments can effectively over moisturize your skin, which in turn can increase the chances of contracting an infection. Using ointments can increase your chances of having acneiform eruptions (pimples) as well as contracting short bouts of contact dermatitis, especially if you have oily, sensitive skin or allergic responses to additives or the base ingredients. Another drawback to using occlusives is that the water content of the skin takes a long time to increase, as the water must be drawn from deeper levels of the skin before an improvement takes place


Substances that attract and hold moisture in the skin. They are commonly used in conjunction with other products to increase skin health.(Honey, propylene glycol, hyaluronic acid). Humectants can be mixed with a simple moisturizer to enhance their effects.

Examples – Manuka honey, glycerol

Pros- If you have naturally dry skin, humectants have been shown to increase the natural moisture levels of the skin when applied correctly and in the correct environments. There are many “all natural” choices when selecting humectants. 

Cons- If used separately, these products underperform clinically developed emollients and occlusives, especially when the relative humidity levels are less than 70% (making them useless in arid climates). There can also be a concern for purity and controls when purchasing what could be considered less than regulated substances from producers.

Specialty Products

These products we will classify as those specifically made for healing tattoos. I will not be going out on a limb to give any review with these products. Not only do I wish to not be sued by blasting some of their claims, I also do not wish to sway any person who is currently using a product that is produced specifically for tattoos and having a positive result.

Below is a short list of product reactions that I will be adding to as more become available through your submissions.


Formulations – An expansion and explanation

The term “cream” traditionally refers to a product containing more occlusive ingredients, whereas a “lotion” contains primarily humectants.

Modern moisturizers often contain both occlusives and humectants that contribute to the efficacy but levels of each additive are not uniform among. Understanding the physiology of the skin barrier, and how a disease state or circumstance may contribute to dry skin, impaired barrier function or flaking of the skin can help us choose the best ingredients for a patient. The specific balance and combination of ingredients will help achieve a variety of outcomes depending on the desire of the consumer.

Pay attention to the additives and formulations of any product that you choose to utilize. Take the time to look up ingredients and potential reactions that may be experienced when using the products.

When in doubt – Lotions make for the best aftercare product

I admit that I have left out many variables that go into the best course for your tattoo aftercare but this article is a good introduction for those wanting a more focused aftercare regimen.

In my opinion, using a lotion in most, if not all occasions, makes the most sense. The possible complications that arise from overuse the of  humectants or occlusives make e default to that choice. It’s not some paid ideology but experience that has shown time and again that people will attempt to care for their tattoo in a way that doesn’t help it heal. People more often than not smother their pain with love and care and that doesn’t help a wound heal.

This article is just part 1 of an indepth look at tattoo aftercare. As they become available, we will link additional information for you, our discerning reader.

Body Mapping Tattoos– Basic Version #1

Body Mapping – Artist Version

Hello artists! Today we are going to be looking into the allusive body mapping techniques used by the great artists worldwide. This isn’t a complete, in depth article but more of an introduction into the world of mapping. Sit tight and get ready to practice your hands off. This topic is crazy difficult to wrap your head around when designing tattoos but gets easier with practice.

Introduction to Body Mapping

Have you ever seen a tattoo on the web, social media or in real life, that just looks good? The subject matter may be simple and the work may be mediocre but there is something about that tattoo that just… well it works!

More than likely the tattoo you are seeing has been place well by a skilled and knowledgeable artist. Their understanding of simple skin mapping can take an ordinary design to new levels by having it work with the body.

Concepts to know before moving on

Focal Points:

A point in a design where you want the viewer to focus. It usually has a great amount of detail and has the job of explaining the design to the viewer. Are you tattooing a humming bird and flowers with a washed-out background? What part of that tattoo would you like people to focus on? The bird, the background or the flowers? Whatever the choice is, dump your details into that part of the design. By doing so the viewer will be directed to look at that part of the image first. The other aspects of the design will fill in the blanks and create a whole composition.


Aspects of the design that lead a viewer through the design. If you want to join multiple focal points, use these transitions to point and flow between every focal point. They can be subtle bits of soft shading or a foreground element that literally points to the focal point you want to be seen.


This is where, when the body is at rest, the focal point is viewable.

We now have that cleared up so, what is placement and why does it matter in tattooing?

Body Mapping Basics – Elements

The skin

The skin is an amazing organ. It covers our bodies, keeps us warm and makes sure we don’t get sick from all the pathogens that lurk in every crevice of our existence. It also carries those rad designs we cover our bodies with. While I won’t go into detail about the mechanics of the skin and how pigment interacts with it, I can tell you that your skin and how it interacts with your underlying tissues and bones influences how the tattoo will look once completed.

Look at my best friend’s forearm in all its glory!

A Forearm

To the untrained eye, it is just an arm. I want you, the studious tattoo artist, to look at bit deeper and compare it to your arm.

Ask Yourself

  • Is your arm and theirs the same?
  • Do you have the same skin?
  • Is it the same length?
  • No to all the above. That was a simple set of answers, right?!

Body Mapping – We are not the same

If this arm and yours are not the same, how can we accurately place the same tattoo on both of your forearms and have them produce the same effect?

The answer is you cannot. There would have to be some modifications done so that any and all designs are custom fit to each client. This is the true idea behind “custom tattooing”. It has little to do with artwork that is custom made (anyone can draw an anchor), the tattoo is supposed to be custom tailored to the individual. It is supposed to fit the contours and movement of the specific individual. In the case of a custom tattoo, it is one size fits one.

Things under the skin that influence tattoo designs.

The Muscles

What is underneath your skin? Yes, that is correct, muscles and bones. Muscles are responsible for your ability to move through the world. Your mass and strength can influence how your tattoo ages and how it is viewed by the world. Simply put, the muscles underneath your skin create hills and valleys that can distort an/or create movement in a design.

Do not let this deter you though; knowing how these will influence the movement of your tattoo can add to the aesthetic and decrease the awkward effects of aging.


What is everything stacked on inside your body. Bones. They add structure and support, so you don’t end up a gelatinous mass, quivering on the floor. The bones are connected to the muscles by tendons, and to each other with ligaments. All that gooey mess inside your badass self is covered by your skin and gives you structure so you can move through the world.

What’s on top


Some people are sasquatches. That dense blanket of fur can affect how you view the image. Want to use a bug pin single to line this crispy daisy tattoo on ol’ biker Tom? Think again. That hair acts as a buffer that distorts any image you put into a person’s skin.


Burns, scrapes, cuts and gunshots. These marks left over by your lazy ass body trying to fix some nasty wound can affect the results of your tattooing effort.

Knowing how the skin reacts to stress, as well as how it changes with age, will help you plan the perfect “custom” tattoo for your client, because we know “custom” means “custom fit!”

Light details about what’s underneath

The muscles:

The muscles are a variable that changes constantly in all people. If you start working out, stop working out, get hurt or, as is the inevitability of all humans, age, your muscles will change in size and affect the skin above it. If that is so, how do we include this ever-changing variable into the design concept and placement?

First, look at the muscles in the area you are placing a tattoo. The muscle groupings have a stacked effect and create a crisscross pattern over most body parts. Where the lines following the muscle groups meet, a grid of offset perpendicular lines is formed.

Those perpendicular lines that form by tracing the edges of the muscles, gives you what I call distortion areas. These points are prone to movement whenever a person flexes or extends this part of their body.

Movement and body mapping

If you rotate your arm, pull or push your hand or grasp something with your fingers, those muscles are going to move. These lines can be placed anywhere the client may want to be tattooed as they all are boundaries as to where a muscle will affect the skin above it.

Putting a focal point or a static part of the image you are working with on top of these lines will create distortion whenever the person moves, so avoid that. These areas are best left for organic shapes and transitional elements of the tattoo that would benefit from distortion.

Work with the body

If you must place part or all of a focal point on top of a distortion area, do your best to place whatever curve or organic shape in line with what is going to move. It will cause a distortion but placing an aspect of the tattoo which is contrasting to the natural curves and movements of the body will make the final tattoo look out of place and age it prematurely.

The appendages

Keep in mind that any point between 2 joints creates stress to the skin with muscles contraction. Your hands and feet are the greatest example of this as they are highly mobile, have many bones and a ton of muscles.

Moving in closer to the heart, the forearms and lower legs have a higher incidence of torsion stress (twisting). You can see the torsion stress decreases as you move further in. Look at the gastrocnemius in the legs or the brachioradialis, flexors and extensors of the arm. The lines that they draw across those areas of the body show a distinct increase of torsion the further you move past them however, they are easily dealt with if approached correctly.

Connecting to the core

The upper thigh (quadriceps on the front and hamstrings in the back) and upper arm (biceps on the front and triceps on the back) create a great amount of compression stress. Images placed here will crush and stretch to a higher degree than the other parts of the extremities.

The buttocks and Iliac muscles, The shoulders and chest

You can apply the same tracing aspects when mapping the buttocks or shoulder. The leg areas are broad, flat and have torsion and compression stress. The shoulders work in tandem with the back and chest to rotate the upper arm so you get a good amount of torsion stress when those are engaged. You also get a ton of compression on an image when someone lifts their arm in the air.

Remember to pay attention to the amount of compressions and movement each of the places on the body exert.

The chest and back, midsection and neck

This shit stretches and twists a lot. These parts of the body are hypermobile, like the fingers, when compared to the upper and lower extremities.

We will go into greater depth later in this article about how those movements affect your design, so read on!

“For those that want an in depth look at muscles and how they interact with our body, follow this link”


For more information.

The Bones

While the bones are relatively static throughout our adult lives, they grow and change constantly during our childhood and early adult years. The bones behind an image being placed onto the skin create stresses that modify the image. Look at how the bones connect at different pivot points, and with your new knowledge of how muscles work, see how the bones and their attachments affect the movement of muscles.

We attach a straight line to any bone when mapping that follows its course and a circle for any junction point that they attach to (joints).

For an in depth look at how the bones age follow this link

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To an article about bones and aging.

Onto Body Mapping

This may seem like a large order, asking an artist to take the initiative in understanding what is going on with the placement of the tattoo, but there is a reason for such a task to be undertaken by you, dear reader. If you gain a working knowledge of this practice your tattoos will be better fit to the body, legible from a distance and age better than others place incorrectly.

Let’s look at my besties arm again:

A forearm with no markings.

Imagine how the muscles contract and where things twist or bend. Where do the muscles underneath the skin cause distortions that could affect a tattoo. Do you notice something unique? How do you feel it is best to approach this aspect of mapping?

Let’s go into the paint program on my phone and start detailing a few aspects of this arm.

Body Mapping- What to look for.

As stated before, the joints on the body are usually denoted with a circle when mapping designs on the body.

A forearm with basic mapping done.

The muscles create perpendicular lines that traverse the section of body you are working with and move in opposite directions

The bones create the limitations in movement and structure that effects the muscles under the skin.

Creating a mess

If we put all of these together, you end up with a bit of a mess. It kind of looks like a demonic symbol, eh?

A forearm with all aspects that cause distortion mapped onto the skin.

I know, I may have lost you there but stick with me as you already know about the muscles, how they move and what stresses the exert on the body. We can utilize our knowledge to create a complex image that will age well.

Mapping with foreground and background elements

We use something that approximates a distorted figure 8, a loose “s” curve or infinity symbol, when mapping out a design that is custom fit for the body

Finding Muscle Lines

By utilizing the muscles, and their contraction lengths, we can map and place foreground and background elements. Trace the flow of each muscle grouping you are working with and find the points that the muscles crisscross to create perpendicular lines.

A forearm with a basic mapping done by the elbow.

The perpendicular lines create the crossover you see above. Those lines and where they cross over each other can be made into directional foreground or background elements in a tattoo design. These secondary elements can be utilized to create movement through and around an image by placing them on top of the muscle contraction lines you had mapped out (the dotted lines with arrows above).

Creating Flow

These flow lines indicate movement through the design and are able to move with the muscles as they contract or extend, giving the applied tattoo the ability to breathe and move with the person as the interact with their world and age. The flow lines also create a way of bypassing the joints that move through the appendages, so the designs can continue past the normal boundaries applied by the mobile joints.

A koi fish tattoo with foreground and background elements.

Finding Focal Points

Back to the arm again. I drew directly onto my friends skin to show you how i would approach finding the focal point areas and mapping where we can place those focal points to create multiple viewpoints.

A forearm mapped with marker.

I start mapping the body with finding the joints and drawing on an organic line that follows the contraction points along a muscle grouping.

One thing to notice is that the focal points aren’t aligned. This is important because the points where you want to put detail inside a tattoo aren’t competing for space.

To explain image focal point competition:

When you have a design placed that has a ton of detail occupying the same linear space as another design that is detail packed, your eyes will be forced to pick one.

A problem with competition

Our brains draw an imaginary line through the image that will bisect it as it tries to rectify what it should focus on. If you have multiple detailed designs that are competing for space, the brain (which is lazy) will try to look at both simultaneously.

By doing this the brain takes the competing images in and levels them out on the same plane of space. This makes an image look flat. Contrasting that idea, when you have multiple aspects of the tattoo that are working together with foreground and background elements, you end up with an organic piece that is mapped to the body and moves well with it. It gives depth and dimension to a piece and will work well as the tattoo ages.

(Focal point competition is an advanced concept, so I will leave it at that and explain it further in another article dedicated to design and mapping later.)

Body Mapping and Distortion

Every part of the body you want to tattoo has different muscles that overlay different bones. This technique isn’t relegated to the arms or legs though, all sections of the body can be approached and mapped in the same fashion. Practice mapping out different areas and see how you can manipulate the more static parts located near the transitional areas where muscles contract and extend.

You can take your time and experiment with where each one of the different parts of your tattoo interact with the skin by placing different stencils of the same image onto people’s skin and have them move around with them. Try moving foreground elements higher or lower, change the focal point locations you have worked into the tattoo and see how the design moves when placed onto different parts of the body.

Body Mapping – Conclusion

Taking in all of this information might give you a migraine , so work towards understanding the application slowly. Take a few minutes before and after each design you do and check to see if you can better map it to a body part. Is there anyway you can increase the depth of the image or create better transitions between elements? Is there any competition between your focal points? Does you image look good from a distance as well as up close?

If you are lucky enough to have a tablet for producing artwork, take some pictures of legs and arms and back etc. and start drawing design directly mapped to body parts.

In conclusion

This is the end of the introduction article. We are working on a complete guide to body mapping right now and will post it once we get it finished.

Let us know how we are doing.

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Or, send us an email with a critique or recommendation for an article.



Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus



The Social Contract of Tattooing – Artist Version – Part 1

In this comprehensive, 3-part article, we will be tackling a difficult topic discussed in philosophy, the Social Contract. More specifically, we will be discussion how the Social Contract pertains to tattooing.

Hang tight and stop rolling your eyes! I’ll try to keep this entertaining. TL: DR at the end or part 3.

What’s a Social Contract

Social contracts? What the fuck does this have to do with tattooing? I’m not leasing a car or renting an apartment Rian, I’m doing a goddamned tattoo.

To start, let’s toss out a minor correction there ace. This isn’t a contract you sign to walk away with something new, this contract deals with your societal, interpersonal and political responsibilities. It’s the unspoken contract you have with your clientele, the people you work with, the shop owners or your employees and the place/region/society you choose to do business and the industry as a whole. Its fucking heavy bro/bra, so pay attention.

Social contracts have been around since the dawn of civilization. They are responsible for our species’ ability to grow and hopefully, continued existence. A social contract implies that either vocally, through action/inaction or just being present, a person agrees to specific terms that is defined as their natural and/or legal rights.

Fucking heavy, I told ya.

An Adventure in Social Contracts.

Let’s take you on a fucking journey to get your brain going:

Your normal day goes awry

You, a fabulous and famous tattoo artist, are crushing a tattoo. It’s the sickest shit ever! A backpiece of 2 mechanized dolphins with razor-wire covered fin-gloves, battling a T-rex over Chicago’s city skyline. You are getting into some thick, 13rl highlights when your eyes get heavy and your legs start to shake.

You give your client a heads up that you gotta take a quick 5 and drop a 2fer. He nods his approval and you exit the booth, smokes and cell in hand. As you crack open the door, a sharp pain shoots through your colon. It feels like warm butter is starting to roll down your tight pant leg. Fighting through the discomfort, you suck it up and walk towards the toilet. You get about 5 steps down the hall and cringe. Ah damn, that Chipotle you had for lunch is revisiting the scene! Your cringe turns into a loud scream as you feel your soul being ripped from your body. As you fall towards the ground, you try and brace the potential facial impact, the world goes black.

Welcome to…Erf?

You wake to find your surroundings not as they were a minute ago. Startled, you scan the area and see that you are lying in a field, covered with some hay looking shit. There is a long, well beaten path is next to you running into the distance. You dust yourself off as you stand up and, luckily, you haven’t taken a crapper in your tight pants. Time to take stock.

Your clothes look the same but everything in your tiny, tight pants pockets are gone. No smokes, no phone.


A new friend and a social contract

As you think about what the fuck to do next, you turn a 360 and look into the distant surroundings. You spot a figure in the distance, which is growing larger as the seconds pass, heading up the path towards you. You hail this stranger who is walking along and rush to meet them. It’s immense. Fucking huge. It’s some goblin looking fucker with a crazy axe attached to his back and red ass, blood dripping eyes focused on your chest. He looks masculine and his head top is all shiny

He lifts his head to the sky and screams,

“Me Glarg. You Friend!”

Yes, this is the start of a social contract. Glarg, the glorious eminence has described you as a friend. Cool. I don’t fucking know Glarg. What’s in it for me to be his friend?

Considering the social contract

These are questions every person should be asking when they meet a new person in a new land. Simple ones like: Am I sure they are a nice person? How should I act around them? Are they packing heat past that wicked axe? Are they going to eat me?!

Maybe you won’t ask the last 2 in normal life but these questions should sound relevant to anyone who runs into a monster, whose name sounds like projectile sick:


Back to our adventure

Take a pause and relax. We have control over this fictitious timeline so let’s freeze it.

You’ve asked yourself some questions, that is good.

Dig in further and you can grasp any deeper concepts or threats in what’s going on here. Does it emerge from your timeworn and far travelled brain? Do you need a alittle help as you aren’t prone to fantasy role-playing?

You can see that all of the questions you asked above have a simple, underlying theme:

Am I safe?

What answers do you have? Well, none to be honest. We know nothing about this big fucker or where we are.

Understanding your place and how the contract works

This is where you notice a fucking crown atop their head. You wonder if royalty stands before you?

You can ask yourself a few simple questions until you suss out this monsters’ station and intent: Is he a benevolent person who works weekends at the local kids’ hospital doing balloon animals for kids, or is he a murderous “Ted Bundy” esq person looking for a midnight companion?

Regardless, you can rest assured that you have this covered. He’s alone. You may be able to take him if he don’t get their hands on that axe… But what about that crown?

It may not be a big deal! If he is a murderous fuckwit on the solo, he’s got no power over you! Just run away and hope he’s not packing heat or can throw that axe very far, right?

That sounds about right. No connection. run past Glarg like those bums you step over in the street during the Christmas holidays!

The Bigger Picture. Why Choose?

Well, that may work out but what if Glarg is the boss. Like the fucking boss of everything. It’s Independence Day, “Welcome to erf”, shits falling down, and the Eiffel Tower is a giant beacon summoning these bastards down to your home. It would make sense right, he is wearing a crown?

Good thing he’s stated he’s your friend though, right?!

If he’s the boss, is there any unspoken terms or arrangements you are bound to, regardless of your ability to say yes or no? I can almost guarantee Glarg’s up to no good and the planet is in for a world of pain and, after a very lengthy tangent, you’re finally faced with the social contract I’ve mentioned earlier.

Instead of simple questions like, “Is he dangerous” you are faced with something greater. If you can’t find a way home, how are you to act in the new illustrious society of almighty Glarg so as to not bring about the fury of his righteousness?

By following the rules his almighty has set forth for truth and prosperity for all, of course!

Laws, Rules and Your Place

Now, laws are contracts. We can see them, hold them and trust they are for our collective benefit (Mostly. I’m looking at you, humanity, you’re still a fucking mess). These laws are supposed to level the playing field inside a society, keeping all people equal (yeehaw freedom) as well as defining the roles of those existing inside a society.

You don’t have to sign up for these friendly laws. By merely existing inside a society, you are bound by their laws. The law of the land, or this land to be specific.

Since you are now in Glarg’s domain let’s hope you get some rules and regulations figured out quick.

Association – Simple rules of the social contract

You remember one simple rule from home:

Don’t kill.

A big, nay, grand law, this one is! It is shaped in a way to which there are heavy penalties. All lives are considered equal. It’s an overarching, general will, expressed by society. I don’t want to die because I’m overdue at Blockbuster. Keeping Weekend at Bernie’s for that extra 6 years carries a heavy fine. What of Glarg doesn’t like late returns? Could you imagine getting an axe in the skull because of an overdue movie!?

In most societies, you have no right to believe your life is better or more valuable than another. (Fuckin’ Freedom!) We have laws like this in place, so society has stability. If you break this law, you suffer consequences. Muthafuckin jail time. You entered into agreement with your society, by existing there, not by signing a piece of paper. Since you are existing there, your agreement ensures that you will give some or all of your life if you break this agreement. Do not pass go. Go directly to jail. Wait to maybe get out. (Unless its Guantanamo. Then you’re fucked.)

Another association

Let’s look at an unspoken law you can identify with to further our understanding of these contracts.

You live in a small tribe on the plains in a far-gone time. The tribe always feeds the hunters/protectors first, the women and children second, while they feed the sick, weak and elderly last (Literally trickle-down economics).

Yes, another social contract. You choose to live with this tribe, so you are bound by the feeding schedule and rights that are imposed upon you. In this society a hunter/protector is revered as something necessary. Maybe they don’t have an agrarian society? Who knows?

To ensure all get fed, the ones who bring home the food and keep everyone safe are fed first. Keeping these people happy and healthy ensures a better survivability for all in the tribe. Everyone wants something (safety), agrees on a way to make sure they are safe (having those hunters armed as fuck and well fed), and even though some people may not feel as well fed at the end of the day, they agree that it is in the best interest of all to abide by these rules. No signature required!

Does Glarg’s system of governance follow a hunter-gatherer societal structure. I sure hope not. You can’t even remember to brush your fucking teeth in the morning, how are you going to rise through the ranks and achieve that Rockstar status you have come to enjoy?

Now a tangent to fill in a plot hole.

Yes, we have skipped around a bit, but I do want to move backwards and define an aspect that may make this whole contract theory more complete by the end of this essay. Let us talk about psychological egoism.

Fuck. More heavy shit. I’m dropping this crap right meow.

Just hold your donkeys there rock star. This small detour is made for you.


Psychological egoism is the philosophical school of thought brought about by the famous philosopher and social commentator Tommy Hobbes (Thomas Hobbes). It is largely debated but it comes down to the idea that you, dear reader, are exclusively self-interested. You are an ego maniac. You like your looks, your personality and, by God or Glarg’s will, your fucking tattoo skillz. Your direction and purpose are wholly motivated by your own need to make yourself feel good. Like, really good.

This is exclusive to the other ideas that you may be personally motivated by some other outside force. Your ethics have little to do with what your final internal actions may force you to consider paramount concerning your actions.

Let’s science this a bit

Thought Experiment:

Your wife/husband/partner/sibling etc. is trapped in a burning building and you rush in to grab them, saving their life. What is your motivation for doing such a thing? You could have died yo! Psychological egoism holds true that you did that entirely for your own benefit. Maybe you wanted to get on TV. Maybe you wanted to save them, so you had someone to talk to. Whatever the reason, there is always the underlying theme that you have acted for your own benefit.

Back from this tangent, we can assume that you have already wandered down the path of being a fucking ego maniac by thinking of how you can better your own station inside of Glarg’s magnificent society. That’s fine and it brings us to real life where we can break this all apart an reassemble it in a way that gives relevance to this crazy op-ed.

The Industry as a Whole.

You, an industry insider, enter into a contract, albeit unspoken, every time you sit down to do a tattoo, do a consultation or even advertise your ability to the world. Your actions have a direct consequence and the clients have a level of trust in your decisions, regardless if they are included in those decisions.

So, what are you doing to ensure the future, or current client’s, success as they meander through this crazy industry? Does this only apply only to you, or is this a critique of the entire industry as it stands now?

The idea of a social contract may normally be applied to those things bigger than a simple tattoo appointment but, in our case as professionals on the inside, we must do everything in our power to define and understand what it is that we are agreeing to when we take on a project.

The big and small picture of social contracts

This application as well isn’t just micro in scale. Think macro. Look around you. Go to a convention and see how paying clientele are ignored, disrespected or turned away because the person involved is more focused on their own personal gain rather than accomplishing a goal based around the gains of the clientele and industry. It seems as if we have degraded into a more natural state of lawlessness. It’s turned into a jungle out there.

Yes, a counter argument stands that the efforts of the ego and the artists involved currently have progressed the industry to new levels, increasing the utility of all involved exponentially. Think of the needs of the few outweighed by the needs of the many. (Spock still rules)

We have seen insane abilities being tossed around in the media and artwork that extends far beyond what we thought was possible a decade or more ago. The products being produced for artists and clients are of better quality. The negative consequences have decreased over time (attach links to demographics) and we are seeing a so-called renaissance in the industry.

I do agree, but I also believe that in doing so we haven’t stopped to think about where this effort is leading us. Where will we be in the future if this ideal, self-centered focus on artistic ability drives the industry forward? We are rushing forward so fast and we really don’t know what is going to be common knowledge 25 years from now.

Acting alone or together – a social contract

If we, as industry insiders, step forward and act inclusively with our clients, will it be a detriment for us as a whole? I think not. The idea that the client(s) who are available to help us progress are incapable of understanding the why’s and what’s of our daily grind is ignorant. We all started somewhere and knew absolute shit nothing about what we do. We were apprentices, kitchen magicians, jail birds.

Even if we tried to ask questions the inevitability was a failed attempt things knowing we could have done better. What we have learned isn’t some hidden gem boxed in our own ego, its information that can be spread around. If we choose to spread it, inform ourselves and our clientele, the industry is the only entity that benefits. Keeping this specific demographic (clients) out of the future of the industry will hurt, not help our efforts.

Let’s move back to the fictional universe you were placed in earlier.

After a brief pause where you had turned inward for 1000 words, you look to Glarg and ask him to lead the way. You follow his majesty for a few hours regaling in his stories of conquest and impossible love making and finally fall upon a giant village. The village is dwarfed and surrounds what looks like the Burj Dubai that is made of solid-fucking-gold.

Glarg leads you into the village and tells you to wander and look around.

Well, that’s a lie. What he actually said was,

“Stay little person. Glarg need pussy!”

As he tromps off you feel relieved and head off in the opposite direction.

Into the village

Your soul feels lighter as you start to wander the streets that are occupied with vendors, children and what looks like garden gnomes scrubbing cobblestones with toothbrushes. You feel that now is a perfect time to ask around and find out what the fuck is going on. It’s also a great time to get some information on how you should handle yourself while occupying these new surroundings.

For what feels like an eternity, you greet and chat with every available person. Past the insanely long introductions, bows and acts of fealty, you learn that every person inside this village is deathly afraid of Glarg. He is described as:

  1. Rude and prone to flatulence.
  2. Actively ignores the needs of his people.
  3. Tries to fuck anything that moves inside his town.
  4. Overcharges for simple goods and services.
  5. Claims to always be, “too busy,” when confronted by the village-folk.
  6. Never returns an email.
  7. His attire is generally seen as abusive. The bedazzling is accosting to the eyes.
  8. Is always accompanied by a large theatrical troupe.
  9. Shows up late to engagements.
  10. The garden gnome people fucking hate his face.
  11. Has literally destroyed multiple worlds.
  12. Kills scores of people and steals their belongings for fun.

Yes, those last two seem to trump the others, don’t they?

Past the jokes, what I mean is:

Responsibilities and a social contract

Doesn’t Glarg have a commitment to those who reside under his majestic rule?

You could throw out an argument like:

Why don’t these people just leave! They can get away from this guy and do their own shit and live in harmony.

Well, he is a badass destroyer of worlds. He would probably just hunt them down, incinerate them all and rape their cattle. They really don’t have a choice.

Back to the real world.

So, here we are again, and I bet you know right where I am going with my argument.

People sometimes are left with little choice as to who does their tattoo. Perhaps they lack transportation to get to the best shop around. Maybe they lack the funds to get something wicked by the best artists around. For all I know the artist they enjoy so much is booked out 5 years in advance! That still doesn’t mean they can’t have a great experience and walk away educated about the process.

You, dear reader, must identify the contract laid in front of you when you work in, or walk into, an industry shop. What is it that is expected of you? What do you expect from your artist?

Do you have a contract and what does it state

In all reality, you shouldn’t have to assign a value based on familial recommendations or Facebook likes You should know that what you are getting is the best that is possible from each artist you encounter.

You should know what terms and conditions are being placed upon you by entering into the contract being presented but not spoken. You should know that your best wishes are being kept and focused upon. If you do not have the knowledge to make such decisions about your body, it is the industry insider who has a responsibility to inform and educate you so you can make those choices.

Right there I probably lost a few people and gained a few haters. That’s fine, I will deal with it by drinking heavily tonight.

Looking at ideas to the contrary

The counter arguments are really a tough cookies to crumble. Let’s take a look at a couple and defend our position:

  1. As industry insiders, people choose to listen to our advice. We are experts in what we do. As tattooers, we do not have an obligation to explain or educate anyone in what we feel is the best course of action. I have their best interests at heart.

Yes. That is a good argument. I feel ya.

But, what if other people in our lives used that same argument? What if doctors just did shit to us base don their belief that they know what’s best? Would you complain if you woke up with DD’s and a missing kidney?

What about another argument in favor of dismissing client interaction:

I do not have enough time in the day to sit down with every client. There is little I can do to extend myself. I cannot discuss every aspect of my work, the causes and effects of any action I may choose or utilize.

I would go broke, need a second job or be forced to quit to survive.

There may be a disconnect with what I believe and you do but, I understand where you are coming from.

Fighting the urge to take it easy

If you are working with multiple clients on a walk-in basis, and you have no steady clientele to speak of, you may be in a bind. The service you are offering is simple and these people do not have, or want, any of this information. They know what they want, and they chose you to do it.

This doesn’t mean that you must shirk your responsibility to your clients. They may think they know exactly what they want, and they may think they have it all figured out, but do they? When you, dear reader, were first gracing this industry with your presence, did you know everything or was intuition what guided your understanding?

Our job is not just to offer up sexy tattoo work, our job is to educate and inform those we work with, tattooer and client alike.

(This is a sliding scale and I put those who are working in situations like this a couple standard deviations away from the top dawgs in the industry. The responsibility of all artists involved in this industry is to create progress in a way that improves the experience and results for all involved.)

Be honest with your clientand a social contract

If people are led to believe what they intuit versus real facts, they will believe the earth is flat and the Sun revolves around Earth. It is only when confronted with reality and facts that people make decisions that are considered informed. You dear reader, would be amazed at how much information you need to pass along to your client so they can make an educated decision. It isn’t a whole lot. The mind is amazing at filling in the blanks and making connections.

You are not forced to give an hour long seminar about the workings of your tattoo machine for those clients to make a good decision about their body, you only need to go so far that they understand why you are doing what you are doing and ask if they need more information.

Even if there is an hour or so in your day lost by giving the same information to each client, and it may bore the fuck out of you, but you are working in a way that ensures the clients are informed. You are also practicing and expressing your understanding of your chosen trade.

Your arguments against the social contract

One final argument I have heard:

  1. I am a skilled artist and people choose to get tattooed by me. My clients fly from all corners of the world and come from all walks of life. I do not discriminate as to who I will tattoo. They know what they are going to get and are considered collectors. I do not have a responsibility, much like the great artists of antiquity, to explain anything to my clients past what the final product is going to be.

Whether it be due to hard work or just dumb luck, we in the industry salute you, artist! You have made it to the top of the tattoo pyramid and have won the $64,000 allotted by our sponsors!

I do feel like you may have overlooked something along the way though… With your station come great responsibility. You have a debt to the industry to spread your knowledge. You do conventions and teach a ton to anyone willing to pay and listen? Good. What about your clientele and the artists who are just making it into the industry? What are you doing for them?

This is a long term solution – Social Contract

Take a step back and remember, we are all in this together. This entire industry isn’t based around what you, as an individual, can do alone. Even if we broke down everything and focused on just the single tattoo that goes on between you and your client, it is still a collaboration.

You may be thinking that you can tattoo yourself and this argument isn’t very effective. I would argue that you are already educated as to the why’s and the what’s. It’s moot to offer that up as a way to deny me my right to rant. Every interaction that you have, whether you are a great artist with a worldwide audience or a person who works in a simple walk-in studio, is a collaboration.

You work with your fellow artists and clients, day after day. If you work solo, you still need that paying client, right? And while you may be able to hide behind the artistic wall that is dead artists, you are still very able to influence your surroundings. Your tattoo work is not the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa, well it very well could be, but it isn’t literally those works of art.

When people purchase something to hang on their walls, they are taking a direct action that doesn’t affect their person directly. They are making an investment to dress up their walls and hide money for tax purposes. You, the great and powerful Oz of tattooing, you must separate your ego from your actions and work. You should be skilled enough to know how to succinctly answer questions posited to you by your clientele and be humble enough to know that those artists seeking to gain your level of greatness deserve what you have to offer.

My closing thoughts on part 1

I reserve the rights to come back into this and rework this thought but I always welcome our thoughts and critiques, dear reader. I will leave you with one final observation:

The best tattoo artists out there produce amazing imagery but the best are also great at working with their clients.

Do you feel the social contract you are holding your clients to is fluid and should only become more inclusive as you improve, or is this something you can master today?



Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus


Tattoo Checklist -Client Version

Whether you’re getting ready to sit through a marathon session or a single needle prick, here’s a checklist to make sure you’re prepared for the big tattoo day. We also attached a printable link at the bottom of the page to make sure you have a friendly reminder to post on your fridge.

Shower. Be a good client

oval mirror near toilet bowl

You dirty fucker. Please go into your tattoo session bathed and smelling neutral. No heavy cologne/perfume. Also, don’t shave your tattoo area unless specified by the artist. If you sever your kneecap while trying to trim the chewbacca growth you acquired during your trip abroad, you can’t get tattooed.

Loose fitting clothes that aren’t white or light in nature.

woman in white shirt

Please don’t wear white clothes. You may look chaste and virginal but you will get ink on them. Also, being comfortable is key when being stabbed so make sure you have clothes that are loose fitting for your tattoo. If you are a texture person, silk is amazing.

Good night’s sleep.

photo of person holding alarm clock
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on

Sleep is key to your body having the tools to fight off pain. If you are sleep deprived you will not enjoy the tattoo process as it will feel like you are being tortured. Get around 8 hours of sleep before your tattoo appointment, or just like, everyday.

Be a good client – No alcohol or drugs please.

photo of man smoking blunt

You can’t give consent while intoxicated, no matter how little you feel you have imbibed. Your coherence is key when making a life-long decision, and we are pretty sure it is illegal to be fucked up in most states. So, hold off on that martini and bong rip until after your tattoo session. Even better, recharge your brain a bit by letting off for 72 hours. This will give your body time to stock up and store those rad endorphins that you burn getting fucked up. Marijuana included.

Have a good breakfast.


Eating gives you strength and feeds that endorphin producing monster of a body so you can sit through any length of tattoo session. Don’t leave yourself dealing with hunger pains, eat something.

Hydrate yo’self

sunset cup water drink

Water. The element of life! Drink it. You will lose fluid during your tattoo. The magic of water also helps with the inflammation you get during a tattoo, which in turn decreases pain. Less inflammation, less pain. It’s a win win.

Tattoo Snacks

woman sitting on beige floor tile

Having a boost of fuel during your tattoo can help some people sit longer. Keep the snacks light, somewhat infrequent during the tattoo session. Also, check with your tattooist to see if they have any issues with the snacks you want to bring in with you, or if it’s even okay to bring food in at all. If it’s not okay to bring snack into the tattoo area, plan to take a short break if you need to fuel up.


white headphones

Sometimes, listening to music is the best. If you are someone who zones the hell out listening to music, bring something to focus on while getting tattooed. Keep it light, no heavy shit, and relax your session away.

Travel to and from Your Tattoo

automobile automotive blurred background car

If you are planning a larger session, or if you have had issues like:

  1. Fainting while giving blood
  2. Lightheartedness
  3. Low blood sugar

Get a ride to and from the tattoo appointment. Or, if you just like to ride in style, grab an Uber and help your local rideshare provider. Feeling frugal and eco friendly? Take the goddamned bus.

Taking Breaks – Be safe a client!

watch on a wrist

Taking breaks can be great but, if you take too many, or too often, your body goes into repair mode. This means your tattoo will hurt more than if you just sat through the mild discomfort. Take a break for 5 minutes every 1-2 hours to stretch your legs and get some blood pumping. If you make it 3-4 hours and the pain is getting to you, take a 30 minute break and grab a meal. When you come back, you’ll be ready to sit until the end of your session.

Paying for you Tattoo

Handful of cash money

For most tattoo establishments, bring cash as it is preferred. Ask ahead if there are any other options, especially if you’re uncomfortable carrying rainmaker money on your person.

Tipping Your Artist – Should you as a client?

person who may be a client doing thumbs up

Tipping is complimentary.  What does complimentary mean? If you want to compliment their service and work, give them money. 20% for small tattoos where the artist has gone above and beyond is standard. 10% good work but a bland experience. 0% for anything else. Its complimentary!

Thanks for reading, and here is the printable link. Tattoo Checklist- Client Version



Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus


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