Tattoo Advice Part 1: Five Tips for Getting Your first Tattoo

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Tattoo Artist Oliver Wong shows his 20 year collection of arm tattoos

I’ve now collected tattoos for over 20 years and worked as tattoo artist for over 12 of those. The adage “if I only knew then what I know now” comes to mind. Lucky if you are reading this, you are about to save yourself some tattoo grief and regret. Here’s a few simple tips to make sure you end up with tattoo art that you are proud to carry for the rest your life.

1: Be Patient

-Theoretically you are going to wear this for the rest of your life, don’t rush yourself through the process of finding an artist or design.

-Wait until you have the funds to get a good piece of art instead of looking for a tattoo you can afford. Unlike a cell phone or car, you can’t just upgrade to a newer model as easily.

-Avoid spur of the moment or “tourist” tattoos while you are traveling. Ask yourself if you really want to be looking for a way to cover up that Hawaiian sea turtle tattoo 10 years down the line when you realize you don’t even like turtles. If you want something to commemorate your time away buy a T-shirt.

Oliver Shows his aged tattoos and poorly tattooed flowers on the wrist

2. Research your artist

-The individual artist is more important than the shop they work out of, the shop is little more than the place an artist chooses to work at.

-Go to a professional experienced artist. Avoid your friend who can draw and bought a machine from the internet to give tattooing a try. There are hygiene standards that are important to prevent infection and the spread of disease. You can solidify your friendship in other ways.

-Make sure your artist is well versed in the style you are looking for by reviewing their portfolio and recent work. Not every artist is proficient in every style. If you are looking for a fine-line tattoo, don’t have a Japanese traditional artist do your tattoo.

-Make sure you can see some unfiltered healed tattoo results. Many artist present enhanced photos of their work in their portfolios. Through the use of physical and digital filters, tattoos can be made to look drawn on, beware of getting tattoo cat-fished.

Oliver’s hand tattoo fresh (Oct 2023) vs healed (May 2024) Artwork by Justin Shao of Zhen Cang tattoo in Shanghai

3. Consider the future

-Skin isn’t paper, HD will become SD, if all the fine detail wasn’t clear, how would your tattoo look?

-Scale and boldness will survive, if you have seen a small tattoo on an older person, you’ll notice fuzzy lines and faded color. Large designs will still be readable, while not immune to aging, at least you will be able to see what the tattoo was before.

4. Aesthetic appearance

-The tattoo or art may look good, but how does it look on you? Just because you could tattoo anything doesn’t mean you should tattoo anything. A lot of art done in other mediums simply does not translate well to skin. Consider that most art these days is viewed on a backlit screen, without this backlighting, will the artwork still look good?

-Always go bigger because nobody has ever said “I wish my tattoo was smaller.” Is it large enough for others to distinguish as art or does it look like a blemish? There is a tendency for people to want to go smaller with their first tattoo out of fear of overcommitting. Sure the art looks amazing when you zoom in and crop it on instagram, but do you really want an oddly shaped dark spot on your forearm forever?

– Placement is everything. Does the orientation of the tattoo read clearly when you are in a relaxed position or is it upside down?

– Consider avoiding the face and hands until you have built a solid position in your career or industry of employment. We still live in a society where the cover of the book infers the quality of it’s contents. If you are still in the midst of starting your story consider other parts of the body.

5. Forget everything I just said

-If you want a tattoo, just go get one and like me learn to own the decisions you make or at least let your bad tattoo be a reminder of who you use to be when you become that better version of your former self.

-While the consequences of getting body art are all but permanent, don’t let analysis-paralysis prevent you from the experience of getting a tattoo. Just like in life, there is always a way to work with what you have.

-Your body is a temple, you should just decorate it.

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