According to a Harris Poll of 2,225 U.S. adults, thirty percent of all Americans have tattoos. While the sheer volume suggests that the ritual is no longer reserved for people operating solely in counterculture sects, it also reveals that regret plays a huge part in contemporary tattoo culture as well.
23 percent of that same sample group revealed that they have tattoos they wished they had never gotten - up nine percent in only a three year period.
While tattooing techniques, equipment and artists have all improved in recent years, it begs the question; why are people still regretting their tattoos?
We turned to three prominent tattoo artists - Ryan Malarkey, Nikki Simpson and Gia Rose - who share hosting duties on Spike's tattoo show, Ink Master: Angels, to gather a number of tips and strategies a person should employ when thinking about getting a tattoo.
How should you go about vetting a particular artist? Do websites and Instagram do works justice, or should you attempt to view their work in person?
Gia Rose: Absolutely view all social media! Those are portfolios and give as much of a look into their overall body of work you can get. It's way harder in person, because if you can see a healed tattoo, it's probably just one tattoo and would not be an accurate representation of their work.
Nikki Simpson: We're lucky to be in a time where anyone's portfolio is just a click away and can be shared all around the world. It's best to scour through someone's entire Instagram page and research what you think is their strengths and weaknesses, and find someone whose style most appeals to you. Sometimes photos can be deceiving, and tattoos can look much different after they've healed. So if you happen to see someone's tattoo in public that you like, it's good to ask that person who they went to and go from there.
Ryan Malarkey: It is important that when shopping for a tattoo artist you find an artist whose aesthetic vision is similar to yours. You need to remember that tattoo artists are not mind readers. Which means if you are going to a tattoo artist expecting them to give you the exact image that is in your mind, you might be disappointed. You need to find an artist who has a portfolio full of images that you love, and invest trust in them that if they have a vision similar to yours, you will receive a unique piece that you are both excited about.
It is not always necessary to see an artist's work in person, but you need to remember that photos on the Internet are a double edge sword. Most tattoos are always so much more beautiful in person, but what you see on the Internet is usually photos of fresh tattoos and tattoos always look the best on the first day that they are done.
Also, something that is happening now in the industry is many tattooers are editing or adjusting or Photoshopping their tattoos, so what you see online is not always what you get.
If budget is an issue, is it wiser to save up than pinch pennies?
Gia Rose: Save. I never understood people willing to skimp on tattoos. These are permanent pieces of work on your body. It's worth the wait. The truth is that very good artists are expensive, and that's because they are in-demand and successful. Being both of these things means that their work and time are valuable.
If you won't pay what they are asking, someone else will, so it's not really in their interest to cut corners. Most highly sought after artists have truly built a career and skill level that's taken years of time to hone, and their cost will represent that.
The saying, "You get what you pay for" is pretty accurate. It's forever, save up.
Nikki Simpson: Absolutely. I can't tell you how many coverups I've done on people because they wanted a tattoo but couldn't afford a certain artist. I understand being tattooed is an aesthetic but at the end of the day, you're the one who has to look at it until the day you die, so wouldn't you rather wait and save for the perfect piece of art that you'll love forever?
Remember, good work ain't cheap, and cheap work ain't good!
Ryan Malarkey: It is absolutely not wise to shop for an artist based on price. If you find an artist whose vision is similar to yours and you truly want their art, you need to remember that tattoos are lifelong investments that stay with you forever. Budget is not something that should restrict you for getting the best quality possible, considering that tattoos are technically a minor medical procedure. It's like shopping for clearance plastic surgery, would you do that?
On a personal level, are there tattoos on your own body that you regret, and what could you have done differently?
Gia Rose: Yes. But I was super young when I started and it's not that I regret them as much as I just wish I had waited for better pieces. But when you start out tattooing you just want it all! So it's part of the learning process. I have some horrible tattoos. But I also have some really good ones!
Nikki Simpson: I don't regret any of my tattoos. I've been obsessed with the tattoo industry from a very young age so I like to think that I went about my tattoos with a good head on my shoulders. Sure, there are some bad ones, some outdated ones, and some small spur-of-the-moment party tats, but they always remind me of a certain time in my life and I think that's pretty cool.
Ryan Malarkey: There are many tattoos on my body that I wish I would've thought out more deeply before I got them. It is not because the memories of them aren't good or I didn't love them at the time, it's just that the more you are exposed to the deep roots of the tattoo world the more you are exposed to the amazing artists available.
The more I get the opportunity to travel the world and see portfolios of these amazing artists, I realize that I was settling for simplicity when really anything is possible. If I could go back I would definitely have designed a whole body suit for myself as one big cohesive piece. But that's just me.
How big of a consideration is it where you put your tattoo?
Nikki Simpson: Unless you're heavily tattooed, it should be a very important consideration as to where you're putting your tattoo. You've gotta consider if this tattoo's visibility will interfere with your job or getting a job, and you've also got to consider if it will compliment that part of the body or not. Tattoos should be a beautiful addition, not a distracting eyesore.
Ryan Malarkey: It is not necessarily the biggest deal where on your body you get a tattoo, but it is a bigger deal how a tattoo fits you and how it flows on your body and looks like it was made for you. A tattoo should not always look like a sticker, tattoos can be used to emphasize certain body parts or muscle structures, and you need to remember that there are no straight lines on the body.
I've always felt like tattoo placement can create an illusion- an optical illusion. And you need to take this into consideration when choosing how the tattoo fits you along with where you're putting it.
Are there are places on men's bodies that tattoos don't age well?
Gia Rose: No. There are places on the body in general that don't age well but it's nothing to do with gender. Feet, hands and fingers don't age well in general.
Nikki Simpson: It all depends on that man's skin and line of work and skin tone. If that man works in the sun constantly, a soft and light colored tattoo may not age well in places like the exposed forearms or the neck. But that applies to men or women.
Ryan Malarkey: There are places on every human body where tattoos don't age well. But just like anything else, tattoos need to be touched up. Your skin changes over time and since your tattoos are part of your skin, the tattoos age as your skin ages. Just like cars need oil changes, tattoos need touching up every six to 10 years.
How much should a person be willing to compromise with an artist when it comes to feasibility of a a vision?
Gia Rose: You must compromise! No really, I mean it. If you are going in for a fish and the artist wants to do a horse, maybe not. But, ultimately the best tattoos come from the work you do picking out your artist first. So if you know you want a floral piece, find the artist whose work fits best to the style you want, and then give them your ideas and concepts, but let them do their job.
Designing, composition and content are part of that process. It's up to them to do what in their craft they know will work best.
That being said, you don't have to get what you don't want. It takes a lot of trust, but that's part of the process. A good artist will work with you and that's what you want but ultimately you are going to compromise.
Nikki Simpson: I definitely think a customer should be happy with their design, but I don't necessarily think the customer is always right. There's a ton of factors that go into creating a successful tattoo, and most people, other than tattooer's, aren't aware of those factors. We want to give you the best outcome possible, so it's best to learn to compromise and provide trust in your artist.
Ryan Malarkey: Tattoo artists are not machines. There are many different types of tattooers, but I choose to select a specific clientele who is open to creativity and my interpretation of their ideas. As I said earlier, tattooers are not mind readers. It is easier to get a better tattoo if the artist is truly invested in the vision.
Many of the most popular tattoo artists have long waiting lists. Simply put, is it worth the wait?
Gia Rose: Absolutely.
Nikki Simpson: I absolutely think it's worth waiting for the best artist for you. This tattoo is for life, and a few months to a few years is just a small blip in the grand scheme of your life. When you save and wait on the right artist and come out with an amazing work of art, it's the most gratifying feeling ever.
Ryan: Tattoos are on your body for a lifetime. The rest of your life is nothing compared to a few months waitlist when waiting for the perfect tattoo. I always encourage people to wait for the right hours despite the time or despite the price.
Are you a proponent of an artist who specializes in one area, or seeking out someone who is a jack-of-all-trades?
Gia Rose: Always specialized. That is sort of the irony of Ink Master, as it doesn't really exist. A true "master" is highly specialized in their style. That's what tattooers strive for. It can take a whole career to be the best at one style and it's incredibly rare to be recognized for your style. So that's why it's something artists try and master. The truth is that if you're a jack-of-all-trades, you never get to be really good at anything.
Nikki Simpson: I like to think I can do many styles, but the longer I've been tattooing, I enjoy being able to have the most creative freedom as possible because it's good for the artist's soul, as cheesy as that sounds. I love finding my own style and learning who I am as an artist and seeing the people that also like it feels wonderful.
Where do you fall on getting the "name of your significant other" tattoo? Is it really a jinx?
Gia Rose: It's just not a good idea...
Nikki Simpson: I have matching tattoos with my significant other, but I don't think we want to get each other's names, I just don't want to jinx anything! I've covered so many names it's made me believe there's really something to the myth.
Ryan Malarkey: I don't think that getting names tattooed on you is always the smartest choice. If a person means that much to you that you want their name tattooed on you, there should be another symbol or another image that means more than simply their name. People are deeper than the name that they are given, and I always suggest using imagery that symbolizes them as a person, rather than the label they are given.
Are they any tips you have for handling the pain?
Gia Rose: It's minor and more annoying than anything. I actually suggest going for a tattoo alone. People in general are more relaxed going alone and seem to feel less pain. Stay hydrated and dress comfy. Bring headphones and Netflix.
Nikki Simpson: It's best to come with a full belly, stay hydrated, and to bring whatever keeps you in a calm state of mind, such as headphones, a book, etc. Oftentimes your environment can greatly alter how you're perceiving the pain. Finding your happy place is the best advice I can give you.
Ryan: Handling the pain is a lot of the time mental. You need to get your mind in the right zone and be prepared to mentally stabilize yourself and remain calm. Tattoos are painful yes, but it is truly the mindset that you were in getting tattooed that allows you to have an easier or harder time.