Think Before You Ink: Volume I

As one of the more permanent forms of creative self-expression, tattoos are built to last: Just consider Ötzi the Ice Man in all of his tattooed glory, beautifully preserved after over five thousand years. If mummification isn’t in your future, there are companies today that will preserve your inked skin postmortem as an heirloom for your loved ones. Professionally preserved or not, your tattoo is here to stay—so we want to be sure it’s something you enjoy for a lifetime (and something your grandchildren can enjoy, too, if you go that route).
We are excited to launch our “Think Before You Ink” series, which will consider a variety of issues that may or may not occur to you before you head to the tattoo shop. Our industry insight and professional experience can help you create a tattoo you’re proud of—and potentially save you from one you regret. From placement and style to tools and trends, we’ll give you the inside story on a range of topics in each installment. (Drop us a line if there’s something you’d like to know more about!)


Let’s Talk Commitment (Tattoos ARE Permanent!)

Everyone (tattooed or not) has an opinion on how long a person should consider a tattoo before committing to it. Should you live with the idea for a few weeks? A full year? Longer?
“I respect spontaneous decisions just as much as intensely thought-out ones,” says Mikey Vigilante, our founder and senior artist at Paper Crane. In his experience, it isn’t the length of time spent considering a tattoo that counts: Rather, it’s the depth of the inspiration. Whether you’ve thought a design over for a day or a decade, if it has layered meaning or significance to you, it’s a tattoo you’re going to love for a lifetime—long after the initial thrill or fear of commitment. (Assuming, of course, that you get your tattoo done by a professional artist who knows the craft—but more on that later.)
“I had been designing and thinking about a sacred heart tattoo for over a year,” one of our clients told us during a recent visit. “The day I walked into the shop for my appointment, I realized I wanted a totally different heart motif, something I had never considered before. It came to me and I just knew it was right.” Not every design can be so quickly adjusted, but in this case her artist was able to accommodate this new vision. Years down the road, she loves the winged heart she walked out with, despite the suddenness of the decision.
At Paper Crane Studio, we love creatively collaborating with you on an authentic design that reflects the real you. That might mean working on a vision you’ve had since you were a kid, or it could be bringing to life something that came to you over coffee that morning—we don’t judge. If you’re passionate about the piece, then we’re passionate about it, too.


Do Your Homework on Your Artist

Once you’ve committed to a tattoo, you might feel compelled to rush out to the nearest shop and jump in the chair of the first available artist. That can work out: We happily accept walk-ins at Paper Crane when we have time, whether for a small tattoo or for an on-the-spot consultation.
Most artists in our industry are true professionals, and as such they have the integrity to tell a client when a piece is outside of their particular skill set. If you ask our blackwork specialist for a watercolor tattoo, for example, she’ll tell you that it’s not her area of expertise and recommend you to one of our other artists.
But as tempting as it is to pull into the first shop you pass, we recommend doing your research. Check out portfolios at local shops, follow artists on Instagram and Facebook, look into whom an artist has mentored with or where they’ve studied. Don’t assume an artist can do everything just because they’ve been in the industry for two decades—and similarly, don’t assume an artist with only a few years of experience is too green. Talent matures at a different rate in each artist, and some professionals choose to stick to one stylistic specialty for the length of their career.
Even with something that you might think of as simple, you should be picky. For example, script seems straightforward, right? But a script tattoo is in fact easily botched by someone unable to do precise lines. That quote on your friend’s forearm is actually a challenging piece because of this: Any flaws in the line quality are totally apparent and impossible to hide with shading. We have artists at the shop who are very proficient in script and others who hate it! (And we’ll be honest if you ask us about that.)
If you’re looking at something more complicated, be sure to find exactly the right artist, even if it means traveling to their area. Just think about all the “ugly tattoo” websites you’ve ever browsed late at night: How many portrait-tattoos-gone-wrong have you seen? Something meant to be a beautiful memorial to a loved one can easily turn into the butt of a joke if you’re not careful. For something like a portrait tattoo, an intricate watercolor piece, or anything highly detailed, we urge you to find an artist that meets your highest standard—and be prepared to pay top dollar for top quality.
Once you’ve found an artist you can put your faith in, trust him or her to do right by you. From size and placement to design elements, a professional artist knows what makes an outstanding tattoo.


When We Say Professional Tattoo Artists, We Mean Professional Tattoo Artists…

…not your neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend who tattoos in his garage.
Seriously: Would you let someone give you surgery in their basement?
Tattooing requires a sterile environment, sanitized and/or disposable tools, and strict observance of guidelines intended to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens. Professional shops have the proper licenses, accreditations, and protocols to ensure a safe environment for what is a somewhat invasive procedure: To make your tattoo permanent, an artist injects a needle into the second layer of your skin, essentially creating a wound. White blood cells react by trying to dump the ink into your bloodstream.
If you’re stopping by someone’s garage for a tattoo, you literally risk death by exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Non-sterile equipment can transmit Hepatitis C, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA), and other bacterial or viral infections. Again: These diseases can actually KILL you.
When you skip the “professional” part of “professional tattoo artist,” you also run the risk of getting a seriously terrible tattoo (which will go great with your new life-threatening disease). Respectable shops hire talented artists with industry experience, academic and/or practical training, professional mentorships, etc. A professional artist may be new to tattooing—but if a shop has hired that artist, you can trust that he or she has the chops to be gainfully employed in this industry.
If cost is a factor, our professional advice would be to save up until you have enough for your dream tattoo with the perfect artist. You can always opt for a smaller piece for the time being to satisfy your ink addiction. Or you might let your artist know you are on a budget: At Paper Crane, we can work with you to do your tattoo in multiple sessions or to make design adjustments that cut down on cost without sacrificing quality. (And if your budget isn’t realistic for a particular piece, we’ll let you know.)


Questions? Ask Us!

Now that we’ve got some of the basics out of the way, we want to know what you’d like to explore in the wide world of tattooing. Do you want the skinny on glow-in-the-dark ink? The real story about 3D tattoos? Have you been wondering if your forearm tattoo is technically upside down? We’ll be looking at these trending topics in our next “Think Before You Ink” installment, but we would love to know what questions you have for our professional team at Paper Crane Studio.
Send us your questions on Instagram @papercranestudio!
And stay tuned for Volume II of “Think Before You Ink.” Remember: In five millenia, someone could be scrutinizing your tattoos… Won’t you be glad you thought yours through?