Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them

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Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Tattoo artists often get a lot of questions about their job.Taxi / Getty
  • Insider asked tattoo artists popular questions about their job and getting inked.
  • Novice artists usually practice on people they know or materials like unpeeled oranges.
  • The sternum, chest, groin, and eyelids are some of the most painful places to get tattooed.

If you're thinking of getting your first tattoo or considering a career as an artist, some facts about the world of inking may surprise you.

Insider spoke with professional tattooers about the ins and outs of inking and what they're really thinking when a customer climbs into their chair.

How do tattoo artists practice when they're just starting out?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Novice tattoo artists can practice on materials like unpeeled oranges, boiled eggs, and balloons.Kristina Kohanova/EyeEm/Getty

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Professional tattooer Josh Hall, owner of Lamar Street Tattoo Club, told Insider that learning to ink usually involves practicing on people you know.

"Most people start with very patient and understanding friends who are willing to be worked on," Hall said. "A shop may also allow an apprentice to practice on clients who consent to working with a beginner."

Novice artists can also hone their skills on synthetic skin, which can help beginners bridge the gap between working with paper and tattooing actual people. Other popular practice materials include unpeeled oranges, boiled eggs, and balloons.

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Does it hurt more to be tattooed with a large or small needle?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Large needles may actually be less painful when used on certain areas.Anton Novoderezhkin\TASS via Getty Images

Professional medical-tattoo practitioner Hannah Maruyama of YAMA Studios told Insider that, in her experience, using a larger needle on sensitive areas can actually decrease pain.

"Lips, especially, are really painless when using a larger needle," Maruyama said. "It seems counterintuitive, but the larger needle means the pressure is dispersed more evenly."

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You can consult with an artist to determine what would be the best option given your choice of tattoo and location.

How do you feel about inking intoxicated customers?

Hall told Insider that he's not a fan of tattooing any client that seems to be under the influence.

"Drunk clients have a harder time keeping still, which makes the tattoo session difficult for us both," Hall said. "Having alcohol in your system also increases bleeding and healing time."

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Hall also noted that tipsy clients are more likely to regret their new ink, so if you're looking to get a tattoo, it's best to attend your appointment with a clear head.

What's something you wish clients would stop doing?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
It may not be a respectful idea to ask an artist for their hourly rate.Justin Sullivan/Getty

Every tattoo artist is different, but Maruyama said that she particularly dislikes when clients ask about her hourly rate.

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"Asking about an hourly rate enables the client to nitpick over how fast I work when what they are really paying for is the end result," Maruyama said. "You wouldn't ask a surgeon or painter for their hourly rate."

Hall also told Insider that he doesn't appreciate when customers ask for an overly trendy tattoo that they've seen online.

"Just because you saw it on Pinterest doesn't make it a good tattoo for your skin tone, muscle structure, or size desires," Hall said. "Getting a custom piece is a much better way to go."

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What happens if artists make a mistake while tattooing?

Even professionals make mistakes, and Maruyama told Insider that if a tattoo artist notices an error while inking, flushing the area can help.

"I've never needed to use this technique, but a tattooer can use a saline removal solution to pull out fresh color," Maruyama said.

It's also possible to use flesh-colored ink to camouflage an error, but this can leave the area looking chalky and discolored as the tattoo ages.

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Hall added that the best approach to handling an error is being honest with the client.

"It's better not to make mistakes, but if you do, you should own it," he said. "Learn from it, fix it, and move on."

Do clients ever cry while getting their tattoo?

Stephan Hipwell, tattoo artist and owner of Goodbye Horses, told Insider that it's not unheard of for clients to shed a tear or two while being inked.

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"Not many clients cry, but it does happen," Hipwell said. "[Tattoos] can be very painful, so a little crying is OK."

Hall also noted that some clients cry during a tattoo session for emotional reasons.

"Crying happens from time to time, but I find that it's most often connected to an emotional release rather than physical pain," he said.

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What are some of the most and least painful places to get tattooed?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Sternum, chest, and groin tattoos can be particularly painful.Rawpixel.com/Shuttershock

How much a tattoo hurts depends on a number of different factors such as the thickness of the skin, whether the area is over bone or muscle, and the concentration of nerve cells.

"In my experience, the sternum, chest, and groin hurt the most when tattooed," Hipwell said. "The least painful are usually the arms and thighs."

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Maruyama added that areas with extremely thin and sensitive skin also may hurt.

"Eyelids, in particular, can be painful, as many people are very twitchy when getting their eyelids tattooed," she said. "The areolas can also hurt, especially if scar tissue there means extra pressure is needed."

How do artists feel about giving facial tattoos?

Hall told Insider that although he's happy to give clients facial tattoos, they should be aware that body art in certain places can have professional and social implications.

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"In the industry, we call tattoos on the neck, face, and hands 'job enders,'" Hall said. "Unfortunately, tattoos in these places really affect the way people view and interact with you."

Hipwell added that he often suggests that clients with no previous tattoos be inked in less visible places before committing to facial art.

"Neck or face tattoos have become a lot more common and acceptable recently, but you want to make sure what you're displaying on your forehead is a good idea," he said.

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Should clients take a painkiller before getting a tattoo?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Some painkillers can possibly increase bleeding and complicate recovery.Ann Kosolapova/Shuttershock

Popping a painkiller ahead of your session may help limit the discomfort, but Hipwell warned against medicating before getting inked.

"I don't usually recommend clients take a painkiller before their appointment," Hipwell said. "In particular, some topical numbing creams can have adverse effects on the quality of the tattoo."

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It's also important to note that some over-the-counter and prescription painkillers, including ibuprofen and aspirin, are also blood thinners, so they may increase bleeding and interfere with the healing process.

What do most people not realize about life as a tattoo artist?

Tattoo artists answer 11 questions you've always wanted to ask them
Some tattoo artists don't like getting inked.CREATISTA/Shutterstock

Hall told Insider that life as a professional tattoo artist is about more than drawing cool designs and chatting with clients.

"Tattooers make their jobs look cool and fun, but most of us work long hours and the apprenticeship is hard work," Hall said.

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And surprisingly, Hipwell shared tattoo artists may not actually like being inked themselves.

"The majority of tattoo artists that I've personally met actually hate getting tattooed," Hipwell said. "Most of them really don't like pain."

What's the most interesting tattoo you've ever given?

Although all tattoos are incredibly personal pieces of art, the artists admitted that some designs are more memorable than others.

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"The most interesting tattoo I've ever done was a belly button," Maruyama said. "A previous surgery had erased the client's natural belly button, so I tattooed a new 3D version for her."

Also, many clients aren't shy about asking their tattoo artist for unique designs in unusual places.

"This may make some people change their minds about becoming a tattooer, but I once had a client ask for a daisy on their anus," Hall said.

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