Tattoos are deeply personal – and permanent – forms of expression. The image you choose, the quality of the artwork and where you place it will say something about you to everyone you encounter for the rest of your life.
Because of this, design, placement and artist selection are important considerations – along with determining your personal reasons for adornment.
Below you will find some tips that will hopefully assist you in choosing a design that will bring you a lifetime of loving -rather than regretting – your tattoo.
Consider the why. First off, you should consider why you want to get a tattoo. The reason is yours and yours alone, so it doesn’t necessarily matter what the reason is – just know it. Some people get tattoos to mark major life events or accomplishments, some get them as a soulful personal expression, and some simply because they think they look cool.
If your reason is more along the lines of “because my parents will flip,” or “all my friends have them,” then you might want to take a moment to make sure this is really what you want to do. Your parents freaking out and your friends gushing over your new tat are short-lived moments – the tattoo is a long-term commitment.
And, then, consider the what. Do you already know exactly what you want? If so, then you can skip this section. But, if you haven’t quite decided on the design that will soon grace your skin, here are a couple of suggestions to help hone in on an image that will work for you.
If you already know where you want it and/or the size you want, that might help as you select a design that will work for that spot or those dimensions. Keep in mind, the smaller you go, the less detail you will want to use.
If you are getting a tattoo to commemorate a life event or accomplishment, start by considering images that are directly connected. For example, if you would like to get a tattoo in memory of your grandmother, think about the things that remind you of her – did she love to bake? Or did she teach you how to ride a motorcycle? If so, then think about images like rolling pins or handlebars – things that have a significant tie to your relationship with her.
Think of similar things for life accomplishments – perhaps you don’t want to get a graduation hat and rolled up diploma on your shoulder to celebrate getting your degree, but think about images that relate to your major or to what you want to do with your degree. You can think very literally and go with specific symbols related to the field of medicine, psychology, etc. – or you can go a more esoteric route and come up with images that are more symbolic of a concept.
If you are getting a tattoo as a work of art and personal expression, or even if you just think you want one because they’re cool, then you should consider what you want the piece to convey. Do you want it to say something about you? Your ideals? Something about where you have come from or where you are going? Or, maybe a concept – humanity, beauty, hope, turmoil?
Even if you just want a tough or beautiful or sad image, you just need to determine what you are looking for. Then, you can begin the search for images and inspiration for your own unique design.
Get Creative. If you are at the point where you are contemplating getting a tattoo, you probably already have an idea of what you want. If you can draw (or know someone who can) that’s an excellent way to get a basic idea down on paper to take to your artist. But, if you are like me and you can’t draw to save your life, you can still find ways to get the image in your head into some physical form for you and your tattoo artist to work from.
This is the part where you need to get creative. If you don’t already have a picture of some kind, start by searching online and in books and magazines for images that resemble the concept you are going for. Even if only pieces of the image would work and you hate the rest, print out or make a copy of it. For example, for one of my tattoos, I gave the artist five pictures. Two were pages from an art nouveau book, one was from an online search, one was a very basic sketch of the concept (remember I can’t draw) and one was a picture I took of a billboard.
Combining elements from each, I was able to work with the artist to get the vines, leaves, curves and distinct art nouveau feel that I was looking for, even though I couldn’t find an exact match for the picture in my head.
Look everywhere for design elements. The Internet is obviously a great place to start – as is the library – but look around you as well. The perfect arch might come from a logo on a soda can, or the perfect wings for your fairy might be on an ad poster of a succubus. Keep in mind that the more specific you can be, the smoother the design process will go.
Tattoo artists do seem to have an uncanny way of turning very little information into a work of art, but they aren’t mind readers – so, to make sure you get what you want and they have enough to work with, bring everything you can find that contains the design elements of your mental masterpiece.
Steer clear of tattoo trends. Tattoos are personal forms of expression. Yours should project an image of who you are or something that is important to you or representative of you – not an image of the latest trend in tattooing, which is bound to be out of style within a few years.
So, whether it’s stars, sparrows, anchors or Kanji, unless it really pertains to who you are and the statement you want to make, stay away from the most recent flash and go for an original design concept.
Avoid vacation tattoos. Vacation tattoos are big business in tourist towns. Students on spring break, couples on their honeymoon, friends stealing away for a girls’ weekend in Vegas – it’s easy to get the urge to commemorate the trip with a little ink.
There are a couple of problems with this – typically folks who get vacation tattoos do it on the spur of the moment. They haven’t researched the artist, they choose some utterly overused image pertaining to that particular locale, or they didn’t even consider getting one until the person they are there with suggested it, etc. What they usually end up with is regret.
So, unless there is some significance – like your father passed away and this is where he took you every year since birth -think hard before you fall prey to the vacation tattoo.
I mean, come on, you did take pictures on your trip right? It’s not like you are going to forget that you were there.
Don’t play the name game. In maritime lore, it is considered unlucky to name a ship after a person. The superstition is that once you put a person’s name on the ship, either the ship will sink or the person will die. Think of tattooing your significant other’s name on your body in the same way, since it almost always seems to be a harbinger of disaster. While possible, names are difficult to cover up and, thus, can cause some serious discomfort in future relationships.
If you are really feeling the love connection or your partner just won’t be happy until their territory is somehow marked, consider compromising on an image that represents them rather than putting their name on you in permanent ink. If you later break up, you might still regret getting the tattoo every time it reminds you of her or him, but at least you can avoid the discomfort of explaining yourself to future significant others. Another plus – your future partners won’t have it to use as ammo in arguments.
Think long-term. Tattoos are forever – for the most part. Yes, you can have them removed in an expensive and painful process that still leaves a mark, but as you consider tattoo design and placement you should consider them as a permanent addition to your overall appearance.
So, while it might be hard to really know where you are going to be in 10 years, you probably have some idea as to whether you will be vying for a position as CEO of a major corporation, working for yourself, or caring for someone’s children or parents.
That scary snake might look hot writhing down your arm while you are in college and working at the local independent bookstore, but it might come back to bite you when you go for that Senior Manager position in eldercare.
Now, maybe you are the type that wouldn’t want a job that doesn’t appreciate your personal expression and full sleeves of koi and mermaids, but, at some point your priorities might change and keeping a roof over your family’s head might outweigh your anti-establishment principles. I know, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen it happen.
So, go big and express yourself – but pay heed to that little voice in the back of your mind that keeps asking, “Will people really elect someone with 666 tattooed on the side of their neck?”
And, finally – listen to the artist. You chose her or him for a reason. If you’ve done your homework, you’ve selected an artist with experience in the style and design of your future tattoo. So, if they tell you that too much detail isn’t going to age well over the years or that the size of the skull is too big for the crossbones, take another look at your design with that in mind.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give the artist free reign over your tattoo. Just keep in mind that they do this all day every day and have some sage advice to offer that could save you some future disappointment.