Today’s article is written for new and aspiring tattooers, but can be applied to almost any industry. Over the last 3 years I have developed a method for identifying problems customers from the start.
It may seem contrary to everything you’ve been taught, but not every client is the same and there are some people who are just not worth tattooing. Whether they are indecisive, overly picky or on a bunch of drugs, learning to point out bad clients is one of the most important things a tattooer should learn.
How to tell when someone isn’t ready
“I used to be indecisive but now I am not quite sure. ” – Tommy Cooper
I was taught that if someone wants to get tattooed, even if they aren’t sure of what they want, talk them into getting something fun to tattoo and hope they like it. This works some of the time when you have an easy going client who genuinely wants to get a new tattoo but hasn’t quite nailed down the image. Hopefully they provided a few reference photos or at least presented a fairly coherent idea about the subject to build off of. Often times I have people give me nothing more then a vague idea of what they are looking for and where they would like it to go. This is only successful if they are fans of my work, and believe in my vision 100%. You will find that that is not always the case.
History repeats itself
Everyone has their own opinion about what makes a good tattoo. One person may love portrait realism and another only likes traditional old school styles. A lack of education about tattooing and the possibilities that different artists bring to the table cause a lot of people to get tattooed by the first person they come into contact with. This is fine for kanji or little trinkets but the majority of people have a very particular style in mind when they set out to get tattooed. I’ve heard a hundred times; “I have an idea in my head I just don’t know how to explain it”. We artists love to hear this because it means we are challenged to slip inside their mind a bit and pull from the fragments we are given to create something unique.
The problem arises when a client has a very particular vision about how their tattoo will come out. So particular in fact, that no tattoo will ever satisfy their requests. They may nod in approval with each step of the process: as you look through reference, draw a stencil, and even while the tattooing is taking place. Immediately afterward, they begin to think about how to “change” or “fix” the tattoo. This I’ve come to realize has nothing to do with your work and everything to do with their misunderstanding of the art form.
The easiest way to identify these people is during their consultation. Ask about any prior tattoos and their experiences getting tattooed. You will notice instantly that they have problems with their existing tattoos, often times having had them covered one or twice or even that they have come for you to “fix” their tattoo.
More then half of the cover-up consultations I do are with people who don’t like their tattoos and would be much better off removing them instead of getting them covered-up. It is our responsibility as tattooers to assist them in this decision ethically with no thought of financial gain or loss. I will not tattoo a coverup on someone simply because the cover-up is cheaper to have done than it costs to have the original tattoo removed. To put it simply if someone isn’t happy with their previous tattoos, chances are they wont be happy a their new one.
What do you mean sober?
The worst people to tattoo are alcoholics and drug addicts. I’m not talking about your best friend who wants to drink a beer before getting tattooed or someone who secretly pops a Norco before going under the needle. We’re talking people with problems here. Sometimes it seems like it may be worth a few hundred dollars to put up with a restless, noisy, disrespectful client for a few hours but as I’ve learned you want to avoid these people like the plague.
Most of the time they are freshly sober looking for a thrill to fill the void of addiction, have a pocket full of money that would otherwise go towards something negative, and ramble on over and over about how amazing your work is and how they can’t wait to get their whole back tattooed in a single session.
What really happens is you get 2 hours into the session they can’t sit still, are completely unfocused on what is happening, and either disappear into the bathroom for a half hour to do said drug of choice, or they chicken out leaving the tattoo unfinished with no hope of it ever returning to be finished.
What to do once you know who not to work on
The simplest way to look at it is this: do you want this person to be an ambassador for your work? If the client isn’t someone you want representing you for the rest of their life (and yours), politely tell them you aren’t interested in doing the tattoo.
What is important is to remember tattooing is not only about who you tattoo, but about who you don’t. More then 40% of U.S. adults are tattooed and that number is growing daily. So put yourself out there, stand for something and you will have no problem finding a lifetime of GOOD clients to work on.
Here’s a great video if a typical bad tattoo client: