Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Tattoo


Tattoos aren’t for everyone, but done well, there’s plenty of allure for the modern man. Here, top artist Ruby May Quilter lifts the lid on everything you need to know before getting inked…

Only you know can know if you’re truly ready for a tattoo. It’s different for everybody – if you're anxious and worried then it's probably not the right time for you, but if you're excited and can't wait to work with an artist on your design, go ahead.

Pinterest and Instagram are the obvious places to find inspiration – they’re great for exposing you to a wide variety of different styles and ideas that maybe you didn't realise could be translated into tattoos. However, this is also what spawns trends – it means the internet becomes a menu of tattoo designs you can bring to any artist, which takes away the fun of choosing something unique. With that in mind, try to use those sites to discover new tattoo artists you like and whose style you connect with. My favourite kind of project isn’t usually based on a pre-existing tattoo – instead, it might be a painting you love or a photograph, or something from a book you want to interpret into a tattoo.

If a celebrity or model has a tattoo in a certain place that's outside the norm, it will usually get replicated. There are a lot of Rihanna-style hand tattoos or Justin Bieber neck tattoos out there now. It was only a few years ago people would have been afraid to get something so exposed.

Smaller tattoos are definitely trending right now, as are DIY-style designs. It used to be people wanted the biggest, most colourful tattoos, but now people want smaller and mostly black ink – either very fine or hand-poked. Trends will come and go, and some are good, some are not. As long as you feel connected to your design and research your artist properly, you will end up with something that stands the test of time.

"As long as you feel connected to your design and research your artist properly, you will end up with something that stands the test of time."

There are so many cool artists out there. It depends on what kind of style you like, but some of my favourites are LA-based Dr Woo, Nathan Kostechko and also my friend Tati who does beautiful hand-poked tattoos. My friend Emily who works with an amazing shop Femme Fatale in London is great, and there’s also Claudia De Sabe and her shop Red Point, who specialises in large Japanese-style tattooing if you want to get something truly mind blowing. 

Obviously stay clear of anything offensive or that might seem like a good idea now, but you may later regret. Also, thoroughly research your source material. For example, you may have seen a traditional tattoo you like, but that design could be potentially offensive, racist or sexist, and you maybe hadn't realised. It’s really worth looking into the meaning of your ideas first.

Whether or not you’ll find the process painful definitely changes person to person. You're not going to be able to pick a part of the body that's going to be pain free, so you shouldn't let that dictate where you get tattooed – the experience is momentary but your tattoo is forever. For me, the worst bits are the palms of my hands and my feet. Usually the sensitive parts of your body – your ribs, elbows, armpits – will be the worst.

When it comes to it, stay calm and be in the moment. Make sure you've eaten, stay hydrated, and breathe normally. Try not to get too worked up about it, because this isn't what your experience should be about – you're getting a new tattoo with your favourite artist and that's exciting. Bring some snacks with you as you actually use a lot of energy when you’re getting tattooed. Plan enough time for the appointment too, and discuss the method of payment beforehand so you're prepared. 

Luckily, these days we have Google to tell us if an artist is reputable. You can read about other people’s experiences, which should make finding a shop easier. Take a look at the artist’s portfolio, visit the studio and see how you feel, or what the atmosphere is like. Do you feel welcome and does it look clean and safe? Really do your research; you get what you pay for in this industry. Maybe you have to travel, maybe you have to save up for a little while, but that's all part of the process.

If you haven’t been tattooed before or only have a few, then you may want to meet the tattoo artist beforehand to discuss the design. Sometimes it isn't necessary, but you shouldn't be afraid to discuss the process. If you're getting a large tattoo, maybe a back piece or a full sleeve, then you will need a consultation – this is so the tattoo artist can work out what is going to be best for you, take photos of your placement choice and discuss your vision in person.

The price depends on your tattoo and your artist. But as a general rule of thumb, expect to pay a price relative to the city you're in. This is something you should always discuss with your tattoo artist – if they don't offer a quote or have terms and conditions that include pricing expectations, just ask. Some tattoo artists charge hourly, which could or could not include drawing, and some charge by the size and the placement, so it's good to establish these things beforehand if you're budget conscious. Remember though, a cheap tattoo rarely equates to a good tattoo – it should be an investment, like a good haircut or item of clothing.

"Really do your research; you get what you pay for in this industry. Maybe you have to travel, maybe you have to save up for a little while, but that's all part of the process."

It’s incredibly rare that an artist makes a mistake. They’re working from a stencil on your skin unless it's freehand (drawn on, usually larger pieces) so they know what they are working with. If this does happen, the shop/artist in question will usually do their very best to render their mistake and make sure you are happy – neither the client nor the artist wants you to be walking around with a bad tattoo.

The most important element in any healing process is to keep the new tattoo clean. Do not touch it while it’s healing unless you're washing it with clean hands. Once the tattoo is healed, a natural moisturiser will help get the skin looking healthy – and make sure you use sunscreen. This is so important to keep your tattoos from ageing prematurely.

My favourite tattoo I’ve done recently was based on a painting of Medusa by my favourite painter Frederick Sandys. My client was interested in getting a large tattoo, and when we were discussing different ideas this reference came up and we both felt it would be perfect as a large stomach tattoo. It’s one of my all-time favourite designs – we did it across two full-day sessions. 

My number one piece of advice? Do your research. I can't stress this enough. Be patient and wait for someone whose work you absolutely love. Also, communication is important – if you've discussed your concept with your artist, and they show you a design you don't like and isn't what you discussed, don't get it tattooed. This seems obvious but it's important to remember. This is on your body, and you should like what's being put on there. Equally, if you're going to an amazing artist whose work you really like, you may want them to draw up whatever they feel works best for your idea – in most cases your tattoo artist should have a lot of experience, so try to take their advice.

Follow Ruby May Quilter on Instagram @RubyMayQuilter

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