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:
- They wear Affliction and Ed Hardy shirts with bedazzled pants/jeans.
- They are beyond well coiffed and smell of aftershave and cologne heavily.
- Their shops play metal/deathcore/Limp Bizkit on repeat all day.
- They drive expensive cars with loud exhaust and post pictures of said cars instead of tattoos or artwork on social media.
- They use Facebook. Like, they really use it.
- They do one style. THEIR STYLE
- They may carry a gun.
- 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…
“LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU, HE’S WEARING 27 GOLD CHAINS AND IS SINGING AVENGED SEVENFOLD!”
“OH SHIT, HE’S COMING. HE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT HIS DOG AND HOW VULNERABLE HE IS AFTER HIS BREAKUP!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- body mechanics
- skin types and tones
- 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:
- Is this your first tattoo?
- Why are you getting this tattoo?
- Do you have any references of tattoos or tattoo styles you like that you can show me?
- Are you open on placement?
- Do you like my style (or, I only do this MY WAY)
We should also be asking questions like:
- Are you scared?
- Is there any questions you may have regarding your tattoo?
- Do you need any more information regarding my process?
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.