How NOT to Pick a Tattoo Artist

I don’t regret my first tattoo whatsoever. I look down at it even years later and smile because I think of my mom. Yeah, there are definitely things I would have done differently knowing what I know now. I probably would have chosen a different style to be honest. Don’t be that person. So, you’re saying you want a tattoo? Once you figure out what you want to get, the next step is to find an artist. Tattoo shops are a dime-a-dozen, almost like fast food restaurants, but how do you avoid the ones that forget to put the tomato on your burger? I’ll tell you through my experiences and the words of tattoo artist of over seven years, Dave “Azma” Knauer.


Don’t try to put a price on great artwork and the time it takes. If you have an extravagant idea for a tattoo, don’t be caught off guard when the price tag is well into the hundreds. Tattoos are expensive, and you get what you pay for. Be prepared that, even if your idea is a small, simple one, tattoo shops have minimums. And although it isn’t required, it’s encouraged to tip your artist based off the work he or she did. I’m not sure if it’s a percentage thing, but I always try and tip at least $50 to $100 depending on how much time, but that’s just me. Don’t pick your artist based off your price range. “Stop emphasizing what you’re spending on good work. You wouldn’t blink and eye to spend $150 on a pair of sneakers that will last you two years,” explains Knauer. “Don’t think cheaper is better because it’s not always better. Sometimes cheaper becomes more expensive in the long run when you want to fix it.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “This tattoo shop is right down the road! Maybe today I’ll go in and get some ink!” Stop right there. RESEARCH, REASEARCH, RESEARCH.

“See if there’s been feedback on the shop. Good or bad or both. You’re always going to have good, and you’re always going to have bad. See what the artist has been doing, if he’s got a lot of people that follow ‘em, like ‘em, respect ‘em,” says Knauer. Don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity to work with an artist who could give you exactly what you want just because you’re limiting yourself to the shop down the road.

Just stop right there. Hey, I don’t know your dad’s friend… he might be an amazing artist, but avoid going to so-and-so’s friend. This way you know the equipment is clean, the place you’re in is clean, the artist’s work is credible and you can sign any documents saying that you agree to this tattoo just incase there are any issues. Tattoo shops are designed and furnished with your safety in mind. A tattoo is initially an open wound. Touching things around the shop that could get into your cut or whatever fluid is coming out of the cut soaking into things around the shop can be very dangerous.

“Potentially damaging people’s skin, or spreading disease and infection, don’t know proper ways of cleaning, everything like that, they’re doing more harm that good,” said Knauer. “And then they wanna put a staple on their name, ‘oh I’m a tattooist,’ no you’re really not. You’re not a tattooist.”

Just one? While he may be a good artist, how do you know if there isn’t someone out there who can do your tattoo even better? Feel free to shop around. You don’t want to miss out on someone who could best represent the idea you’re going for. This was my first mistake with my first tattoo. I was 16, I wanted a tattoo and my mom wanted to get one with me. “Awesome,” said the 16-year-old with no prior knowledge of the tattoo world. I talked to one friend. She recommended one artist. My mom picked the tattoo. The artist was good. He said he would do it. The tattoo was pretty. That was all.

Yes, they do. While one artist may do excellent black and gray work, they may lack in working with colors. Know your styles! There are many different types of tattoos, including portraits, photorealism, illustrative, and cartoons – the list goes on. Artists specialize in certain types of art. Some artists even prefer to do certain pieces over others, and that’s something you need to find out.

“We obviously like to focus on certain things because it’s what we like. I like photorealistic kind of stuff. If somebody comes in here and wants a solid colored rose, yeah, I can do it, but I would rather make that rose look real,” commented Knauer. “You want them to leave happy. Not leave kind of happy because they got the tattoo but… ya know… I’m not fluent in that style. So, I don’t’ really want to do it. I want them to get it from someone who’s fluent in that style.”

Bad idea. I’ve had a few friends go against these made-up rules I’ve decided are important to know. Spontaneity becomes a factor. Sometimes it works out, but making irrational decisions about tattoos doesn’t always work in everyone’s favor. This is on your body forever. Think about it. Forever is a very long time. Knauer recommended checking out @NIGHTMAREONINKSTREET on Instagram to see some of these nightmare pieces that we’re talking about.

There are so many amazing artists out there just waiting to work on your next piece. I hope some of these steps will help you decide on who.

“You have pride in what you do or you don’t or what you’re getting or what you’re not getting.” –Knauer

Don’t forget to check out Dave “Azma” Knauer at Mythic Ink in Pitman, NJ!


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