Guitar String or World Class?

What makes a good tattoo?

Now for the purposes of this discussion I am NOT talking about anyone who is performing dirty tattoos. There is no excuse for endangering anyone’s life for a tattoo. For the purposes of this conversation I am talking purely from an artistic point of view.

I have seen people with tattoos that are visually horrendous that were loved and cherished by the person wearing them. Likewise I have seen people with beautifully done tattoos that they hated.

What’s the deal?

There are a whole lot of factors and things going on. First and foremost is that not everyone can SEE the difference between a good tattoo and a bad tattoo. In the same way that some people (like myself) have a really hard time discerning when someone is singing off key (I am pretty close to tone deaf, you don’t want to hear me try to sing). So no matter how long people sat down and explained pitch to me – I can understand it, but I can not HEAR it. Some people can not SEE the difference between a good drawing and a bad drawing. If it’s a picture of a horse and they can tell it is a horse, then it must be good. Throw a bunch of shading and stuff in there and they are dazzled. Even if the muscle structure is off and the horse is hideous – they just don’t SEE it. Translate that to a drawing on the body and it is no different.

We will occasionally have someone in the shop who will not understand why our tattoos are more expensive than the kitchen tattoos that they are currently wearing (“But I only paid $20 and a six pack for this one…”). I ask them to look through the portfolios of the artists in the shop and examples of the work that we have done and tell them simply that if they can not see the difference between what we do and what they are wearing, then there is no reason to pay the difference. Just as with myself (and my previously discussed hearing handicap) there is no point in me spending thousands of dollars on audio equipment that doesn’t sound any better to me.

Beyond that we get into another level of the tattoo being good or bad. Emotion. Most everyone has something ugly in their life that they love anyhow. The concert t-shirt from 1987, the stuffed bunny that we have had from early childhood, that old ratty easy chair… you get the idea. So we often encounter clients who have an old ugly tattoo that they wouldn’t change for the world. They know it isn’t the prettiest thing ever but the cherish it for some other reason. It represents who they were or where they were at that time in their life. Maybe it was their first tattoo and they remember that feeling of being on top of the world.

Contrarily people will come into the shop with a beautiful tattoo that they hate and are looking to cover or alter. Further discussion usually reveals that there is some ugly memory with the tattoo. They got it done when they were with their ex, it was done at a very low point in their life or perhaps they didn’t get along well with the tattooist and just had a bad experience with it. There is no changing these people’s minds. The tattoos are awful and have to go.

So what makes for a good tattoo?

I can answer this for myself. I can have my favorite artists. We can have lively discussions about who is better and who is inspiring and who is a copy cat and who is an idiot – but when it really comes down to it, everyone sees differently. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I have to remember that.

I’ve always liked the phrase “Whatever floats your boat, as long as it doesn’t sink anyone else’s”. If someone loves their tattoo, I am not going to point out to them where it is technically not perfect. If someone hates their tattoo, I am not going to hop on the bandwagon and bash the other artist.

So, no matter who you are… or where you are. Seek out the artist that is perfect for you. Look at portfolios. Ask questions. If possible, meet and sit down with the person before hand. You are commissioning a piece of artwork that will be with you for the rest of your life. Make the decisions that you can live with. If that means that you need to save and scrimp and fly to Japan or you are going to sit down with your lifelong friend to let him put his first tattoo on you. It is a personal decision. Good Art… Bad Art… beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Think before you Ink.



I want to make it abundantly clear that I did not do either one of the tattoos above. I grabbed them off of the internet for a comparison of both ends of the spectrum on the same subject matter. The color skull(s) were done by Jeff Gogue more of his remarkable work can be found on his website GogueArt. I have no idea who did the other one.

~ by justteejay on February 16, 2011.

One Response to “Guitar String or World Class?”

  1. More then just the work you have done onto me is the fact we get along so well.We have spent hours together,grabbed dinner together and I even left for a bit.That being said I waited to come back for more work because of the trust factor and the way you “get” me and what I like. I agree with what is said above 100%

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