Custom Work: Introduction, Part I

Posted by Alex the Odd at 09:32

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


Of my previous tattoos, three have been the product of flash as it happens all from the same place - the fabulous Tattoodles (subscription required for the galleries and full size artwork) and one, the snowflake on my right shoulder was drawn for me from a photograph. However, I didn't have any input into the designs of any of them (short of actually choosing the images from a database) and so I consider myself as:

a) not having any custom tattoos
b) not having any proper tattoos.

I feel this way as quite conceivably there could be many people walking around out there with the same tattoos as me and also because all of them are less than 4" in diameter. As I've been undergoing the research for my next tattoo one thing that I've noticed is the lack of information regarding how to actually go about getting a custom tattoo designed and eventually inked. Now, I know as much about this as any relative novice so I thought I'd share the process in blog format as I go through it (although don't expect any live blogging while in the chair). So without further ado may I present...

Chapter I - the Accidental Appointment

Backstory: I ended up getting kicked out of work at 11am today as our network was down (some moron managed to cut the cable supplying the building with life giving internet) and everything I had to accomplish today involved me being online. What with travel strikes and unexpectedly sunny weather I decided to take a wander down to Camden so that I could sit by the water and sketch for a while or maybe wander around the market and get some Japanese food from one of the stands. But as always I gravitated towards my favourite tattoo parlour, Evil from the Needle and ended up inside flicking through the artwork.

I've been researching artists for my next few tattoos for a few months now and there's one in particular that I've had my eye on for a while. He currently resides at Evil from the Needle and his name is Kamil. I have been keeping an eye on him (read: obsessively looking through the galleries of his art and tattoo examples) and had already pretty much decided that he was the person I wanted to draw up and tattoo my back piece.

Side note: Choosing the artist I wanted was a long and complicated process... okay, maybe not complicated but it involved a hell of a lot of leg work. Sheer luck dictated that I ended up with a local artist - for a while I planned to get the work done by someone on the coast a good few hours away (and I may still go through with that for another tattoo). Lesson for today: good artist trumps travel expenses.

Process: After wandering in to the studio I had a look through the photo albums associated with each artist, I already knew pretty much what I wanted done and who I wanted it done by but nerves stopped me from striding straight up to the desk and asking for what I wanted. The receptionist eventually noticed me loitering (note for the future: you become instantly conspicuous if you walk into a tattoo parlour wearing a lavender sweater and have your hair in bunches) and asked me if I was looking for something in particular. I explained that I was thinking about getting my first piece of custom work done, that I was considering one artist in particular and was also wondering if I would be able to book a consult with him.

The receptionist disappeared upstairs and I started to feel uneasy; tattoo parlours always intimidate me as I tend to feel like I'm not quite "alternative" enough to be in them and taken seriously. Once I'm a serious bag of nerves, she returns and tells me that although Kamil is currently doing a tattoo he'd like to speak to me about my design.

Now I'll take this opportunity to say that every other tattoo I've had done has been met with mild indifference on the part of the artist. Maybe it's just because I've been getting flash done and hence not challenging them, maybe it's because I'm a ludicrously irritating person who only gets on with about one out of every 7 people. We'll never know, but my point is that instantly this guy was different. I started explaining what I wanted (sketches to follow incidentally) and instantly he told me that what I wanted probably wouldn't translate that well as a tattoo. Rather than just agreeing to what I wanted, or greeting me with a stony "no, I won't do that" he instead started developing on my idea (while giving the prettiest damned Goth girl I'd ever seen some very impressive colour work I might add) and explaining how he saw it working.

He explained how to turn my design into something that was inherently tattooable as well as describing how he would use the natural curves of my body and the tone of my skin to bring out the best from his ink work. Just listening to his ideas and seeing how excited he was (the correct answer to the question "how big do you see it being?" is apparently "big") made me even more excited about the project. He asked me to put a deposit down for the artwork (which ended up at around £40) and to book a proper consult in a week's time. As it is my first piece of properly custom work he told me to make sure that I was the final appointment of the day so that I could have as much time as I needed to discuss it with him and then hopefully, at the end of the session, put down a deposit for the actual work.

And so on Wednesday the 12th of September I shall return and have a look at the artwork he has prepared. I'm literally bouncing off the walls.

Side note: normally the idea of getting an artist to design something essentially blind, as well as taking it off in an entirely new direction would not be particularly advisable or even desirable, especially for someone like me. However, I chose this artist based on the style of his custom work as well as the paintings that he has produced. Giving too strict a set of conditions wouldn't produce something that was truly "his" artwork and I'd rather tone down something original than be left with a flat carbon copy. That said, if I had a piece already designed then I would have chosen the artist in a completely different way and treated his suggestions in a totally different manner.

Aftermath: This is a larger issue than you may first think. Although tattoos are a highly personal thing, and the majority of mine aren't on public display the attitudes of those around me still affect my daily life, if not my decisions. After my appointment I was, and probably still am completely hyperactive. This was dampened only slightly when telling my Mother about the work (this will be a common theme so be warned) she doesn't agree with the designs I get (or even the fact that I get tattoos at all) and she tends to only like the very small, very inoffensive and pedestrian tattoos which I personally think fall into the category that she so kindly labels "tacky". But out of some kind of insane loyalty and respect I have to tell her what's going on after every appointment. Flatmates were uninterested, slightly freaked out and crazily excited respectively.

So there we have it, the first stage of the process has been completed. Any questions/requests for clarification in the comments section are welcomed and will be responded to. That's me out for tonight.

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