I designed the dragon as a reference, for a client who knew perfectly well it would change drastically when she passed the image to her tattooist, Woodz (woodzart.com). The result is no longer my dragon, but it is a WICKED tattoo. That’s how it should be.
If getting a good tattoo is something important to you, read on.
I love commissions for three reasons:
1. I often get ideas I otherwise wouldn’t think of myself. By trying to meet these challenges I become a better artist.
2. Seeing as most of my commissions are intended to become tattoos, I feel truly honored that a stranger somewhere in the world would have me be part of that process.
3. The money is a nice motivator too.
All that said, art is my way of relaxing, processing information, and having fun. It has never been, and will never be, my career or my primary source of income. So as eager, honored, and motivated I might be to design a would-be tattoo for you, I urge you to think about this before commissioning me or another artist: Find the right tattooist.
As a disclaimer, I know there are plenty of amazing tattooists out there that are more than capable, and happy to exactly copy someone else’s art onto skin. If that is truly what you want then that option does exist. Also, this applies less to 'tribal.' But all that aside...
What I often get is something like this: “I love your art so much, your style is exactly what I want. I’m looking to get a tattoo of _____, can you draw that for me?” And what I want to say is, “That is an awesome idea, let me pull out pencil and paper right now and whip up a few sketches.” But what I will actually tell you, is this.
If the tattooist you go to does not work in the style you want, you can bring him/her the perfect picture commissioned by the ‘perfect’ artist and it will be different. If you find the RIGHT tattooist, whose gallery speaks to you, whose style you can imagine your dragon, phoenix, cartoon character, to be in… You can be very sure about what will end up on your skin. The right tattooist draws up drafts, just like any other artist. He will work with you and make modifications, unlike many other artists. Getting a tattoo is a process, where you bring in an idea and you have to accept it will mold with the ideas of the artist holding the tattoo machine. But you can be sure that if you go to the right tattooist, what you get on paper is what you will get on your skin.
Here is another reason why I may refuse your request. It is downright offensive to walk into a tattoo parlor and say, “I commissioned another artist to draw this for me, can you put it on my skin?” Because a tattooist is also a creative thinker, not a laserjet printer. What you are implying is, “Your work isn’t good enough so I went and found another artist, but I want you to put it on my skin.” In the rare occasions that I do non-tribal drawings intended for tattoos, I make sure my client is fully aware that my drawing is nothing more than a reference. The end result will be drastically different (see image above). It is perfectly fine to bring references into a tattoo parlor if you are open to it being changed to suit the tattooist’s style.
By not commissioning artists like me, you can save your time and money and instead find the RIGHT tattooist for the whole process, point A to B. And here is a word on tattoos as well. They generally start at $60, no matter the size, just for the work required in setting up and cleaning the equipment. The costs really hit the fan from there. I have had people say that my commission price of $50 is too much. This is all fine to me anyways because I would rather that money go to a tattooist… But if $50 is too much, I really question what quality tattoo you are looking for. To give you a very loose idea, the above tattoo cost $675. Finding the right tattooist takes weeks of research and possibly months of waiting. You don’t just walk into a parlor with a ‘nice looking gallery’ and say “ink me up!” People who love Japanese style tattoos will wait ages (and possibly be turned down) by the legendary Shige. And my favorite for realism and mind-blowing color is Mike DeVries. But these are not even on the scale we should be talking about here… These are tattooists who do custom work only, who would not even read your email if you are looking for a tribal tattoo, tattooist for which people book flights to foreign countries just to have the honor of having their artwork on their skin. At the very minimum, the right tattooist should not only have an impressive gallery, but also work in the style that you are looking for (ie, you do not go to Shige for a tattoo of your first dog).
So that’s one end of the spectrum. The other end is this: you take a picture, walk into your local tattoo parlor, and walk out with a new tattoo in a few hours. And you know what? That’s cool too. Because it’s your skin and regardless of what other people think, if You like it then no one can say anything. You can stop reading right now. If you think all this is petty then you are not the person I am trying to reach. But if you are somewhere in the middle, and you’re looking for some measure of quality, then the best advice I can give you is to stop looking at my gallery and other artists’ deviantart galleries (with few exceptions) and start look at tattooists’ galleries.
It might also seem foolish of me to turn down a commission because of all this. I have no tattoos of my own so I probably have no right to give any tattoo advice. But my whole reason for writing this is simply: I appreciate good art. No matter how much money you could throw my way, how intrigued I am by your idea… I would RATHER see a gorgeous, masterfully executed piece of permanent artwork on your skin.