How to Shop for a Tattoo

In the Western world, the origins of tattoos trace back to sixteenth century maritime expeditions, where European sailors adopted the practice from Polynesian tribes. As far as tattooing in America is concerned, three prolific names to know are Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, Ed Hardy (the man, not the brand) and Mike "Rollo Banks" Malone, whose designs can be considered truly classic. We've heard from plenty of guys who want to get some ink, but have no idea where to start. So we asked Nick Schonberger, one of the foremost experts on the history of American tattooing and contributor to the books "Homeward Bound" and the upcoming "Forever: The New Tattoo," to give us a few pointers.

How can you tell if someone's a quality artist? Is there a Yelp for tattooers?

The best way is to check out portfolios. Look for recent work (Instagram is awesome for this now), that way you can also get an idea of what that artist might be into. If a guy is always tattooing Koi fish, there is a good chance he won't be interested in doing a portrait of your grandmother. Second to that, have a conversation. Do you vibe? Is there noticeable interest in your idea? Those are good signs.

There's a definite correlation between price/quality in clothing,
it's probably the same for tattoos right?

Sure. As a rule, better tattooers should charge a little more. But that isn't a hard and fast rule. Lot's of factors go into hourly shop rates (location being one). I think in general, it is best to consider what you've got to spend, who you want to get tattooed by, and how to make those two factors meet.

    For another Nick's inklings on ink, check out Nick Wooster's ruminations on tattoos in this Esquire article.
Any ground rules for tipping?

I tip 50%. Not sure how I came to that conclusion, but it has been my standard for a decade now.


"Forever: The New Tattoo,"
$33 (available for pre-oder) on Amazon

What products do you use to help in the healing process?

I tend to use real basic, cheap moisturizer after the first two days. Many people recommend Aquaphor, which is a really great healing ointment and minimizes itching associated with dryness. I regularly keep tattoos wrapped for the first night. No rhyme or reason, but it makes the long-term process more palatable.


Published on

August 31, 2012

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