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 Bros: My Thoughts. Tattoo Artist Version

This is my first article and it’s about tattoo bros. My first article is what I hope to be a recurring effort regarding the state and my personal interpretation of the tattoo industry. While this article is filled with sarcasm, I hit my actual point at the end. I hope it is entertaining and informative. SOOOO, here we go.


The Tattoo Bro

Hello tattoo artists! While this post is focused more on you than the clients, I will be doing up a similar post that is client-centric soon. This week’s article is based off a simple question I ask every client who comes in to get tattooed:

If a stylist treated you like most tattooers treat their clients, would you let them do your hair?”

I know this may seem like a silly question but, really, where are we in the industry right now?


So, you may be a tattoo bro?

I have found the overarching theme of “Tattoo Bros” permeating my conversations and consultations recently, and it concerns me. What is a Tattoo Bro? Let me give you a few examples my clients gave me:


  1. They wear Affliction and Ed Hardy shirts with bedazzled pants/jeans.
  2. They are beyond well coiffed and smell of aftershave and cologne heavily.
  3. Their shops play metal/deathcore/Limp Bizkit on repeat all day.
  4. They drive expensive cars with loud exhaust and post pictures of said cars instead of tattoos or artwork on social media.
  5. They use Facebook. Like, they really use it.
  6. They do one style. THEIR STYLE
  7. They may carry a gun.
  8. They expect the world wants to get in their pants. That includes you, dear reader.

This list goes on and on, but I should leave it there. I fear that I may summon a Tattoo Bro by speaking of their person so specifically. To summon one, you would be suddenly be surprised… like…




The Ultimate Tattoo Bro


The prrroooooofffff – AKA We have one spotted.

OK, before I go off the rails and start writing a movie plot, let’s get back to reality.

You can’t summon Tattoos Bros, and to be honest, the majority of them aren’t all that bad. It’s just that they seem to be so common, and, like shit, the bad floats to the top and sticks out, hence this article.

These specific people (Tattoo Bros) use the industry as a way puff up their ego. The infamous rock star. Inside of the industry we can usually spot them quickly, whether at a convention, in public or by chance meeting when they stroll into the shop looking for a guest spot. They stick out pretty readily and I don’t know if it is because they dress/walk like they do, or if you can just feel something that is out of alignment in the universe when they walk past. Regardless of their wraith like tendencies, some people have come to think of these folk as the standard norm inside of tattooing. Helpless clients seek the bros out and expect little regarding the experience. You just sit down, shut up, don’t make eye contact and get an overpriced tattoo that is (hopefully) excellent in quality.

That was, like, the introduction. Shit. Maybe I can go back and edit this before it goes live… onto the body of this sucker.

Now that we have identified the Tattoo Bro, let us posit the simple comparison again:

“If your hair dresser/stylist were to treat you the way a tattoo artist does, would you let them style/cut your hair?”

This may seem like a trivial thought experiment but i assure you there is a bit of meat here to chomp on.


Tattoo Bros – It’s a service not a style

We tattooers work in the service industry. Our product is a form of art that you, our friendly and discerning clientele, will sport for your lifetime (if all goes well). Our product may speak for itself but, we as tattooers, have come to a point where service is focused upon lastly and the idea of being an artist is paramount. What do I mean by that? Well, to start, how many friends do you know that have gotten a tattoo? Lots right! Out of those friends, how many of them openly talk about how wonderful the entire experience was, not just the end result? This is where we as tattoo artists, tattooers, ink slingers, tat gods and rock stars need to focus our attention.


man holding tattoo machine and tattooing person arm
Photo by Djordje Petrovic on

Our clients don’t have to put up with shitty experiences when getting worked on ( I am speaking to the bros). In fact, they have the right to enjoy the entirety of the process. They should be educated about what we are doing and why we are doing it. They should know, not intuit, what is going to happen to their bodies. If we take the time and do our jobs, which are in the service industry, the clientele should walk away better, well informed and content with their choice of artist rather than being upset with the one they are saddled with.

So how do we do that? Let’s break down a single tattoo and redesign the encounter focusing on the client instead of our own egos.


The Process


A walk-in for the tattoo bros

The conversation starts with either a walk-in consultation or the bread-and-butter walk-in tattoo. Most commonly, in what I have seen, a short conversation comes about by a befuddled tattoo artist and a tuned up client. (tuned up can be translated as excited, scared, worried, sad etc… maybe I should have used emotional?) This conversation is kept as brief as possible. The ego of the tattoo artist involved slowly takes over and their inner monologue descends into grief, disturbing imagery and thoughts of escape, yet they are tempered by the idea of making some actual money. Here, they smile and take the information given to the back to start drafting a tattoo leaving the client to wait in their own emotionally charged mind.

Okay. Stop.


How it should be done

Here is where a conditioned artist can take a break, they can let go of the inner beast who wishes that a goddamned tat-crazed behemoth of a client would walk in, toss this client aside and ask for a rad tattoo. Something along the lines of Jesus shooting laser eyes while riding a mutant horseradish. They can realign their priorities and focus on their job, not their wants.

To start, address any anxiety or emotional state the client may have. Talk to them like:

You are here for their tattoo,


They are here for your tattoo.

This will create an active and engaged situation. You will be listening to what they are trying to achieve. Ask good questions and get to the root of what they truly want. By doing this you are ensuring that the client will be in a better position to walk away far more content compared to what is now a normal encounter. Take notes, throw out alternative ideas if needed and fully describe what you are capable of and comfortable doing. This is not a time to throw in any bias as to what you think or want to do. The body of the client is their property and they can choose to do whatever they want with it.


photo of man riding motorcycle
Photo by Ryan Lim on


Next up, consent

This brings me to another thought:

“How can someone give informed consent without knowledge of what they are consenting to?”

To the best of our abilities, we have an obligation as service professionals to adequately inform and educate any clientele or potential clientele. This should be a common practice but I feel that it is overlooked by most people. I won’t jump to any conclusions but I do feel like the egocentric part of being an artist forces us to automatically assume all clients have a vast wealth of knowledge about tattooing. Regardless if they do or do not we can assume they can intuit the answers to simple questions. This is wrong.

Any question that should be asked, should be asked. Don’t bro out, please! We, as an industry need to get into the habit of going through all aspects of the tattoo procedure and work tirelessly to ensure client satisfaction. Some topics that we should cover include:


  1. design
  2. application
  3. body mechanics
  4. skin types and tones
  5. musculature and the effects of proper placement

This list is actually pretty long. As I write articles about any of the above topics, I will add to this list and attach links to the posts.


The reality of tattoo bros.

I understand, not every tattoo artist works in an elite, top shelf city shop with gilded wall coverings and an international presence. The vast majority work inside a simple street shop and have ambitions of becoming great. Some people really do not have the time to get into the meat and potatoes of a client’s request. Whether is be an overbearing shop owner, stress from life or just a general unwillingness to connect with a client, time is money… Right!? What you can do is create a short checklist that ensures you are doing your due diligence when first connecting with a client.

We know most tattoo bro’s already have these questions at their disposal:


  1. Is this your first tattoo?
  2. Why are you getting this tattoo?
  3. Do you have any references of tattoos or tattoo styles you like that you can show me?
  4. Are you open on placement?
  5. Do you like my style (or, I only do this MY WAY)

We should also be asking questions like:


  1. Are you scared?
  2. Is there any questions you may have regarding your tattoo?
  3. Do you need any more information regarding my process?
  4. Would you like a more in depth explanation as to why I would choose this style or placement personally?

Reading that second list you can see a difference in feeling with the questions. When you ask more personalized questions, you increase your ability to connect with your clientele. When you do this your client should open up more and become engaged with any discussion topics you may want to cover. They may also be more open to changes, additions and/or style changes you feel more comfortable with.

So we are all happy so far, right?


Drawing up the tattoo

Onto the drafting phase. You are out of the clients eye shot /ear shot. Its time to bro’down! Let’s talk some shit about their stupid idea and slam how they dress or how jacked their haircut is!

No. Please. Stop.

Carrying all of that pent up energy will affect your ability to do good work. Walking into a design, you will want to just crush through it, giving little effort or thought about how your lack of care will affect the outcome of this tattoo. So let’s slow down and take a breath. Think back to where you came from.


Tattoo Bros – The beginning

Almost all of the artists (tattoo bros included) who attempt to join the elite ranks of the world-famous start out here, on the floor of a walk-in establishment, honing their techniques until they can open their own shop or move to greener pastures.

They (not just tattoo bros) have had a joke apprenticeship (or are self taught) and have had to figure out almost all of their techniques solo, usually by experimentation. This is evident with the young-en’s and tattoo bro’s inside the industry. We have many colloquially abusive names for them, which if you are clever you can probably figure out. To be honest, without any effort you can figure it out. (shithead, duckfucker etc…) While I won’t be going into the idea of apprenticeships and what artists have come to know as the norm in this article, I will jump into it later and put a link here when it is completed.

These new artists and trained artists alike approach their job with the same enamored glee as a stalker lurking in the bushes. Get that money and get that client the fuck out! Turn and burn! Rip that shit!


Tattoo Bros – A Comparison

If we were to apply that same talk to any other industry, how would you feel? How would you feel if you were the one being treated like this?



Plumber: “Well sir/mam, I hate to be contrite but this is my only style of water heater. I know you are without water but its all that I use. It’ll cost you $8000 and please, don’t check its reviews on Amazon or Google.”

Stylist: “Ya, I know its not exactly what you wanted it to look like, but it’s my style and you should have known what you were getting into. Don’t you know who I am!”

Driver: “Well, this is the only route I take. Pay me and get the fuck out of my car.”

I have literally listened to these same arguments given by tattoo artist to their clients. Literally.


Custom custom

How would you feel if your home builder just traced a home plan off of Google and started mocking up your custom built home that you saved so much money, for so long, to build? Would you enjoy the “custom” craftsmanship? I think not.

Take your time and focus on what is at hand. Something permanent that is not for you. Have you taken the time to ask questions and get a good feel for the client? Do you know how long they saved to get this tattoo? Are they sacrificing something to pay you for your expertise? Get past your ego and give these paying and possibly adoring fans something that they will enjoy for a lifetime rather than crushing a design off of Google.


Tattoo Bros – Get that critique!

So you put in the work. Now it’s time to take that magical walk back up front and get a critique. Take that masterfully crafted design and show it to the client. If they hate your ideas or your style. Give them what they want! Listen to your client! They want a shitty unicorn? Do it. They want you to do 5000 infinity symbols rolling up their torso spelling out “Dank AF”, do it! It is their body, not yours. Unless you have thousands of people hitting you up for your signature style, do what they want. You are not that important or special. Your best practice is to do what they want better than they expect it can be done.


In closing

If there are any changes that need to be made, open up that discussion power you established earlier. Discuss any changes and give them feedback on what you think is the best course of action and why you may wish to do it another way. Don’t give inauthentic truths to mollify or manipulate your clients into doing what you want. Give them information and allow the client to take control of their own body.

Now it’s time to discuss pricing.



Tattoo Bros – Price dat shit.


Alion tattoos at different costs. The cheap one is horrible.

Cheezburger Bad Tattoo Supplied this image^^^

Don’t do what your thinking bro. You aren’t that special. Yes, you put in time and effort. Yes you listened to their thoughts and wishes. You were a good person. Don’t up charge your empathy. set an estimate of time based on the best artist’s speed you know of, at the quality you are able to pull off. Unless you discussed an artwork charge prior to the completion of a design, don’t tax your client. Do you charge $100 an hour? Good, charge that and multiply it by how many hours you took to do the tattoo. Simple. That is what we call an estimate. Alright bro, if all parties are in agreement, let’s get onto tattooing.

To be continued!


Thumbs Up!




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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