Tattoo Art- Where to find it, and what not to do

I’ve been known to complain about the lack of education people have regarding tattoos and the tattoo process. It’s true, as much as I try to embody positivity and inclusivity— I am still, inevitably, an artist. And what kind of artist would I be if I wasn’t sulking about, wondering why people won’t understand me? (She wonders, as Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls plays softly in the distance)

But here’s the thing, I HATE artists who sit around and whine about things that they can easily fix. This is a problem that is so easily solved by simply fucking typing it out for people to read. Given, I probably shouldn’t assume that anyone at all will be reading this (The Goo Goo Dolls gets slightly louder) (just kidding). But for those who seek answers, I want the information to be out there for them. I refuse to be part of the problem.

Let’s get into it.

Where to find it—

Every time I offer to answer questions on my social media, four or five people always end up asking me this: “Do I have to bring in a drawing for my tattoo artist or can they draw it for me?”

There are a few things that I find odd about this question. The first is this: the dictionary definition of the word Artist is “a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.” If someone claims to be a Tattoo Artist on their resume, I sure as shit hope they can draw for you.

The other weird thing about this question is essentially this: the only thing that makes a good tattoo artist different from the rest is what? Her ART. Mediocre tattoos come a dime a dozen these days, it seems everyone thinks it’s easy to learn to tattoo with youtube and amazon users providing them with everything they need to learn (this is entirely untrue by the way, but we will get into that topic another time) (also, no shade on youtube and amazon, they are my internet gods, I will never deny that). It’s true you can walk into any not-so-sketchy shop and get a decent tattoo, but what separates tattooers from tattoo artists, is what happens before the tattoo starts.

I wouldn’t be foaming at the mouth every time I look at Justin Hartman’s work if he hadn’t honed his art style to perfection. I wouldn’t shed actual literal tears every time I look at Sam Barber’s surrealism if she hadn’t been the creative mastermind that she is. (By the way, those names are live links for a reason. Click. Be amazed.)

So then I’m sure you’re probably wondering “How do I communicate what I want to my tattoo artist?”

Every artist does it differently. It’s usually a good idea to show them pictures of something similar, to help flip both of your brains to the same page. I’ll say this, sometimes it can be hard for an artist to figure out what’s going on in your sweet little client brain (or big tough client brain, which ever you prefer), and it is for this reason that I require every client to come in for a consultation where we discuss everything.

In my experience (disclaimer: every artist is different), I find that artists do their best work when you provide them with a solid concept, a style, and a location. Allow me to provide an example.

This client asked me for an “ancient looking” stone buddha statue that was cracked. He also wanted the words “What we believe, we become.” Great. Solid concept. He said he wanted it to have a “surrealism” feel to it. There’s your style. Lastly, he said he wanted it on his arm and that he intends on working towards a sleeve someday. This is what we came up with:


This one was fun and easy because it gave me some room to be creative but it wasn’t too vague. Not all artists want full creative freedom. Why? Because well, we don’t know you. We may want to do a sick owl tatt and it might turn out that you got attacked by an owl when you were 5 and now you quiver at the very thought of them (pretty cool war story though). I don’t care what the client thinks, everyone has an opinion. That is why I say it’s best to provide an idea.

Pro tip: try to stay away from tattoo concepts that aren’t concrete visuals. For example, “life and death” or “light and dark” or “eerie and creepy” or “soft and sweet” — all of these are just too vague. “Life and death” could literally be a vegetable and a dinosaur skeleton and it would still be life and death. Find symbols that you like, for example an angel and a reaper. For “eerie and creepy” you could do a skeleton sulking about the moonlight (not unlike myself) with a gnarled tree in the background. I hope this makes sense. If you can’t see it in your head, keep thinking until you can.

On the flip side, don’t get too specific. A tattoo is absolutely never going to look exactly how you expect it to. If you want to have a fight with your artist, a good way to do so is by not listening to them. And further, if you want to end up with a funky looking tattoo, try bullying them into doing it your way! (insert thumbs up emoji here) (Tonight’s sarcasm has been brought to you by that emo little artist from the first paragraph)

I understand that tattoos are forever and that fact can get to be a little bit anxious. Trust me, I’ve gone into appointments with sweaty palms wondering if I’m going to regret it. Thats probably a natural reaction. But here’s the thing. A good tattoo artist will never steer you away from a good idea. Tattoo artists LOVE good ideas. If you ever find your artist making suggestions or trying to steer your vision, it is usually for good reason. Any good tattoo artist has spent years learning the craft and knows what will work best (for example, landscapes are really hard to fit on vertical canvases like an arm). Try not to take offense when an artist shoots down an idea, and remember that you can’t control every aspect of the outcome. Tattoos tend to be difficult for perfectionists, in my experience.

I can almost hear the next question burning in some minds—

“I’m not an artist, how am I supposed to know what I want my tattoo to look like?”

It’s going to be alright. Sometimes it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. That’s fine! That just means that your idea is unique. My advice is to look for other tattoos that you like, look at photography that speaks to your idea, go flipping nuts on Pinterest. I promise it will help. Remember, think visually, not conceptually.

This leads me to my next last bit. This is something that I’m very passionate about.

I understand that tattoos can be hard to conceptualize, especially if you don’t think of yourself as creative, but do not bring in a tattoo that has already been done and expect your artist to tattoo it. Sometimes you see a tattoo or a design, and it’s so beautiful that you absolutely must have it. Unfortunately (but also fortunately), tattooing is a very unique art form, it is as unique as every person who wears it. Once one has been done, it is generally frowned upon to take it to someone else to reproduce it.

I get clients asking me to reproduce other tattoos that I myself have already done and I still won’t do it. Why? because if tattoos had no individuality, I feel as though it would cheapen the art form as a whole.

(big big disclaimer: some tattoos are meant to be reproduced such as OG American Traditional flash and other traditional styles. Flash was around before custom tattooing even existed, so for the sake of this blog rant, lets stay on the topic of custom tattooing)

I can do a whole blog post on why it’s not so chill to rip someone else’s tattoo and take it for your own, but perhaps I’ll save that for later.

Just remember this, your tattoo artist should be able to create something that will inspire you. You shouldn’t have to use someone else’s tattoo.

Anyway that concludes today’s info spill. I really do hope this helps. If you have any suggestions on what I should address in my next blog post, please feel free to send them through my DMs or comments on instagram.

Thanks for everything, tattoo people!


Angel Fergerstrom