Recently I had a first time client arrive at the tattoo shop with a friend in tow. I could tell my client was very apprehensive about her tattoo appointment to begin with, so she brought a friend with her for moral support but really the friend was there to control the situation.
My client's shaky nerves stemmed from the dubious undertaking of needing a cover-up tattoo. Cover-up jobs are always psychologically daunting for customers because inherently they're worried about making a tattooed mistake even bigger. Cover-ups almost always require an expansion of space in order to be effective, usually two to three times the size of the tattoo that needs to be covered. For me as an artist I only look at the task in a practical manner - what can we do to make the old tattoo vanish under a new tattoo - but for many customers making a bigger tattoo over a tattoo they hate is like jumping out of the fire pan and into the figurative fire.
Trust is handicapped by an underlying negative attitude about having an unwanted tattoo in the first place.
In this specific circumstance we were covering a 90's band logo with something more feminine; a cluster of flowers and some filigree. The cover-up design needed some room to work effectively as the existing tattoo was solid black and well applied to begin with. A 3 inch tattoo turned in to an 8 inch cover-up. I did my best to explain my strategy for how we could use shading, linework and colour to eliminate the old tattoo and how the new piece would have a lot of flow and would move correctly with the body, however we'd need the freedom of not having size restraints for all of it to work.
The friend of the client began to interrupt the conversation with her concerns about the size of the piece. I did my best to redirect the conversation to the client while being sensitive to not make the friend feel invalidated with her opinion. I could sense there was a tight rope appearing under my feet.
The tattoo session got aborted. After the point where the client and I had agreed upon proceeding, her friend pulled my client out of the room and convinced her not to get tattooed. Several hours of designing the tattoo and carefully creating reassurances with my client were defeated because her friend decided to interrupt and control the situation by saying that the tattoo was "too big for you". It was all qualified with gushing praise for my artwork but ham strung all the same.
I'm not disappointed because I lost a sale. I truly wish the absolute best for my client and completely respect the decision to not move forward as its entirely her decision to make but this situation is noteworthy to mention because it's an excellent example of how interjecting other people's opinions in to the tattoo process is almost always overwhelmingly counterproductive.
Sometimes its the domineering boyfriend who looms over you while you tattoo a young lady's bikini area and other times it can be the bored besty dutifully waiting for a three hour session to be over while they sigh and stab at their smart phone but it almost always equates to a third person in the room trying to dominate the process.
I usually feel sorry for the friend because sitting for hours watching someone get tattooed is as exciting as watching someone at the dentist getting their teeth cleaned.
Building trust with my clients is crucial. Having a psychic vampire in the room who sucks away the energy and makes the moment all about them when the situation should be focused between the artist and the client is brutally counterproductive in making the best possible tattoo.
As an old tattoo artist friend once said "tattooing is not a spectator sport". Sort of contrary to that, I really don't mind if you bring a chaperone with you to your session if you want. But be mindful that it's the dialogue between you and your artist that's paramount to making good tattoo decisions.
Rose Gold's Tattoo
San Francisco, California