Hello fellow body art fans! After days of seventy degree temperatures it is forty-five today! So no showing off skin around here! I'd promised to discuss things you should talk with your about artist when you visit their shop for the first time. So I figure we will hit on that a little and for future posts feel free to ask questions or make suggestions if there are any topics you would like covered.
On your first visit, before you put yourself in anyone's chair you have the right to ask questions. I've said before you are hiring this person to do a job for you. Think of it like an interview to make sure they are the correct person for the job. If for any reason they don't want to answer your questions then they really don't want the job. It's that easy, don't allow yourself to feel threatened or like you are in the wrong. Mind you they aren't going to give up the secrets of their art but should answer all your questions otherwise.
So, basics....How long have you been doing this? May I see your portfolio? These are questions to make sure you aren't taking a big risk. I've talked about looking at portfolios. Look for things you like, things that make you stop and say, “Damn, that's nice!” If you don't see any pick another artist. Most shops have more than one artist and they are usually different styles to cater to different clients. If the other artist is more your style, you will not hurt anyone's feelings and if you do, they'll get over it. It's your body. Same rings true for piercers. Only it harder to see with piercings. Look to make sure they are even or placed correctly. Minimal bruising, sometimes it can't be helped but there is a limit. With piercings you really want to see it healed but that can be hard to accomplish as it puts the client having to come back anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months later depending on the piercing. Ideally though, that is what you want to see. I am lucky enough to have a walking pin cushion with me whom I can guarantee took proper care of his piercings. So I can almost always at least show a fairly large variety of healed piercings.
Another series of questions is about sanitation. A shop legally can not show you their clean room so don't attempt. But if the shop is not using disposable equipment, ask what kind of autoclave they are using and how often they do spore testing. An autoclave is a sterilization device that uses steam and pressure to sterilize instruments, needles, tools, jewelry, etc. Anything that doesn't get thrown out should go through an autoclave, anything coming into contact with you (even if it is getting thrown out) should still come from a sterile package. Anymore most tattoo artists have switched to completely disposable and piercers are leaning more and more that direction although not every tool is available disposable and pre-sterilized. So don't be afraid to ask, and don't be surprised if the artist needs to double check. Often one person will be in charge of sterilization to guarantee that steps are not missed due to lack of communication. That does not mean your artist is ill informed it just means the shop takes extra steps to ensure your safety. Spore testing is the test they do on the autoclave to make sure it is operating correctly. Guidelines may vary from one area to another on how often the test needs to be performed so I won't quote a time frame. This test is run through the autoclave and then sent out to a private lab with results coming back to the shop as well as the authorities that monitor tattoo shops in your area. If for any reason, something is already open on the artist's station you have every right to ask for it to be replaced with something you can guarantee is sterile. These rules are set in place for both you and the artists safety. And truth be told, with it becoming a disposable world the artist is at a much higher risk than you are. Still it never hurts to ask. And even not knowing the difference in models or makes of autoclaves it still lets your artist know that you take sterilization seriously.
Another sterilization question would be how they clean up between clients? Most of us have a hospital grade spray and barrier film. Barrier film is used on anything you may come in contact with during the process. It's the same stuff your dentist puts on the light handles above your head, because he is going to be adjusting the light frequently during your exam. Anything your artist touches while working with you should be covered, if not they should change their gloves. It creates a sterile field between the object and the artist. The sprays or wipes are for any surface that may have come into contact with body fluids. Be it ink spray from the gun or the chair you were seated in. I even wipe down the foot pedal...just in case. Most sprays have a “kill time”. That is the amount of time it takes for it to remove all possible contaminants. This can vary, usually the quicker it is the stronger the odor so most artists try to find a balance. One that won't make everyone in the studio pass out but doesn't take thirty minutes to be effective. I, personally, use one with a six minute kill time. IF your artist tells you they use alcohol walk away immediately! Alcohol is rendered useless once it comes into contact with blood. Blood neutralizes alcohol. Yes, it is useful to clean off the skin before it is broken, but once the skin has been broken with a needle, whether piercing or tattoo, alcohol is useless for sanitation. Plus even when not dealing with blood it's kill time is thirty minutes. Usually kill time requires for the surface to be wet for that amount of time. I have not used the wipes as I'm not comfortable with them. Most are fast drying yet still take a “wet kill time” it's just not a chance I'm willing to take. So ask what they use and what it's kill time is.
That's the majority of the technical stuff. And while I know this is a dry read compared to others I have written it is very important information! Knowing these questions and just this little bit of information can be what prevents you from contracting hepatitis or something else.
Otherwise look at the artist style and talk with them. I like to have a pattern drawn up for me especially for an artist created original piece. Mainly because I want to know the plan. I've seen a few too many times when it was done “freestyle or freehand” and the end result is not what the client asked for. If you are in love with that artist's style then giving them freedom to go with the flow may work out for you. But if you are very set on a design make sure the pattern is drawn and placed on your skin before the gun starts running. Same with piercings. Unless there is a reason that it can not go where you want it, in which case your piercer will explain why. Often clients will just trust the artist with more than they should or let the artist talk them into things that isn't quite what they want. Don't do that....please. It leads to you being unhappy. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion. Yes they are experts, but they are also human and humans make mistakes. Check the spelling. If the portrait you are having done looks like a cone head because it's too far up your shoulder....say something. Shading is not going to change that. When all is said and done you will have a very well shaded cone head. As I keep saying, remember it is YOUR body. If you are not happy at the end of your piercing, tell them. You will do better having it taken out right then letting it heal and attempting again after. Better than dealing with a scarred crooked piercing, the needle will want to follow that path once it's healed. So be open but not rude. Just a simple I don't like the angle can we fix that or should we do it again later? If the artist gets angry with you then he probably isn't the artist for you anyway. No one is perfect but if they think they are...well, let's just say that could cause issues.
That's it for this post. Next time, I saw an interesting article about a new direction for tattoos that I'd like to give my opinion on :), not sure if they will want it but I'm not one to be quiet about my views. Until then keep your tattoos moisturized and your jewelry clean!