Friends don’t let friends get bad tattoos!

What can any of us DO about the number of people out there getting BAD TATTOOS?

Why do people get bad tattoos? Why do neighbors, coworkers, and even our family members come up and show us their new tattoos [which are obviously sub-par] and say, “I just got a new tattoo! It looks good, right?!” How can otherwise intelligent people, people whom we know have relatively good tastes in music, movies, comedy, theater, ballet, (SH#T– nearly ANYthing else creative in the world), but be utterly and completely blind to the truth about how bad their own tattoos are? As hard as it is to say- it may not really be their fault; even tattooers need up to TEN YEARS to learn how to recognize good work! That’s how hard it is to learn. But, for some reason, every-body thinks they know what’s good and what’s not, when it comes to tattoo work.

Speaking AS a tattooer of 25 years, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s mostly OUR OWN fault, the pros who’ve been doing it for 10-20 years or more; we LET television and the internet flood the hearts & minds of genuinely interested tattoo fans, and did little to make a stand TOGETHER when we had the chance, by creating and offering quality, entertaining AND educational media resources for the masses. Most tattooer’s have selective memories, so it’s been really really difficult for many of them to remember that there was once a time that they didn’t know shit about tattoos either. Without proper guidance, people have NO IDEA what factors determine good vs bad tattooing. But before questioning the judgement of the poor folks getting unfortunate tattoos, let’s remember that it’s primarily television and youtube they are getting their information from, not the people who actually KNOW. Given that fact, let’s take a realistic look at the average person’s tattoo choices? Most have NO IDEA what they’re doing, what they should be looking for (or at), or even where they can go to get actual educational information. To them, a tattoo artist is much like an auto mechanic; any mechanic at any car shop can change your oil, ergo- any tattoo artist can deliver a quality tattoo, right? Well, it simply isn’t so. Tattooing is a craft not an art. Crafts take time to master, art is subjective. Good linework is NOT subjective, it’s technical, so it’s not about art, but expertise. So is proper shading techniques and solid saturation of color, etc, etc, etc.

So, I’m sorry to point this out- but some people simply SHOULD NOT be putting a needle to other peoples’ skin- Period. It’s not only irresponsible on their part, it’s also dangerous. Think about this; if we consider the skill levels of ALL the tattooers in the world, then, by definition, at least HALF are “BELOW AVERAGE”. And that applies to EVERY area of importance when it comes to getting a good tattoo– their experience, their technical skill, artistic talent, the overall quality of work, an understanding of color theory, design, sterility, even customer service(!), etc. Sure, some of those ‘bad’ artists will likely get better over time, but c’mon– how many innocent people will they mutilate along the way? And no one wants a below average tattoo on their body! There’s absolutely NO COMFORT in telling yourself, “Oh, he’ll get better, LATER.” The tattoo is on YOUR BODY, NOW! What good is it to you? Everyone, (even those “dumb-ass” friends we ALL know), deserves GOOD TATTOOS. Anyone BELOW the average when it comes to tattooing should, at this point, just stop f#%&ing people up.

But let’s take this down to the street level as I pose this question to YOU, just regular ol’ tattoo fans & collectors: What could YOU do to help people get better tattoos?

Hey, I know what y’all are thinkin: “C’mon, buddy! What can we do about it? It’s not our problem. Besides, how could any of us have a positive effect in the real world like that??” Well, I do happen to disagree; making a difference is precisely the reason Tattoo Artist Magazine even exists at all…(and this blog, and our social media networks, & our books, our videos, our articles, etc). The entire TAM project started twelve years ago with just two people who wanted to have a positive impact on our community and our craft. And it’s also WHY we seek out other conscientious professional tattooers willing to take time to write for us and share their experience with our readers. So, yeah, please do take the question seriously- every one of us can make some sort of difference. Our words matter and our guidance might prove priceless, not just to our friends & family, but also for our favorite artists and the shops they work at! Remember, at this point in the tattoo-explosion, every tattoo obtained from a GOOD, reputable shop EQUALS another job not going toward feeding “Scratchers!”

Illegal tattooing today is at epidemic levels in towns and cities around the globe, and the victims of these unscrupulous charlatans are our neighbors. Let’s all take the time to TRY to guide people in the right directions: to legitimate artists working in licensed, clean, inspected & insured tattoo shops. These are the people who care enough about this craft to do things the right way, all the way, and who will NOT put people at risk just to make a few bucks! It is the bare minimum requirement of any so-called ‘tattoo artist’ worthy of the term “professional,” don’t you think?

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Each of us, in our own way, can help the tattoo world by taking time to answer questions and help people who don’t know any better, then direct ’em to quality artists & shops in the local area. So many people ignore the risks, so it’s also important to talk about the hazards of getting a tattoo done ANYWHERE that does not meet state and local standards in sterility & safety. We all start blind and ignorant in the tattoo journey, (even -GASP- tattoo artists!); no one is born knowing what a good tattoo looks like. The vast majority need help! -[*Stay hooked up to the TAMblog and all our social media for MORE educational content and exclusive daily access to some of the world’s best and brightest tattoo artists!]

In the end it comes down to apathy, a lack of knowledge, or a lack of wisdom, as to WHY average folks are getting so many bad tattoos. Let’s all do our part and, whenever possible, take the time to HELP. Remember, the number of GOOD tattoos in this world are FAR outnumbered by the BAD ones. Take it from the people who know– the professionals! -Enjoy these short videos from our sister project, Tattoo Culture Magazine:

So, please take the time out of your busy day to point people in the right direction! All quality tattooers appreciate it.


Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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