Thursday, March 29, 2007

To Ink or Not to Ink

that is the question. And the promised topic of this article.
Okay, we all know we're in this business to make money. And of course we love to create our art. We love the satisfaction of crafting a beautiful piece of Body Art that makes the client happy.
But what about those times when a client wants something that we just know they will be unhappy with in later years?
What do we do with requests that violate our personal values?
What do we do with requests for ink on body areas we just don't care to visit?

Is "the customer always right"?
Do we have a responsibility to save our clients from themselves?
Do we have a responsibility to the Industry?
To our own art?
To our paycheck?

I think that these are important questions for every artist to answer. Not because there is necessarily a right or wrong answer to any of them, but because we owe it to our clients, our art, and the industry to at least examine where each of us stands on these questions.

I'll start off by admitting that as a "by appointment" custom artist I don't face the "walk-ins" that many artists working in busy shop locations have to deal with. Although I do get business from my website, most of my clients are referrals who have already seen my work and are interested in the kinds of work I do.

Still, from time to time I have to face these questions. Nest week I will be doing the second sitting on the client pictured in the previous article entitled Tattooing Darker Skintones.

This client is quite insistent on having color in his tattoo, even though it is not the best choice for his skintone; even though he already has a tattoo in color that he is unhappy with. When he described the older tattoo to me on the phone, I was expecting a mess. He was very unhappy with the tattoo and the artist. When I saw the tattoo I was nonplussed. It may have been a little too fine in detail, but otherwise it was a well executed piece of flash, the colors layed in smoothly with no drop-out. In discussing the tattoo with him, I discovered that the artist had been responsible and knowledgeable about not using midrange colors (he flat refused the client's request for pink and orange in the design), and did his best to dissuade the client and explain the color problem on dark skin. In the end, I believe the artist made a reasonable compromise between what the client wanted and what he believed would work best from an artistic and technical standpoint.

So the question for me this Saturday will be, to "Color or Not to Color"?? I think this would be a beautiful tattoo done only in Black and Grey. I will do my very best to make the client see and accept this. I will try hard to talk him out of adding any color when the Black and Grey is finished and I can show it to him to illustrate my point. In the end, in this case, I will do as the client wishes. If he insists on color, he will get it. Green, some red and blue. I will do this hoping that my bold lines and large spaces will hold up under the addition of color better than his other tattoo, but knowing it would have been a better piece without color. I will do it even knowing that there is a good possibility that in time (perhaps as soon as the piece is fully healed) he will be unhappy with the color.

I'll go with what the client wants within reason, because it's his body and his ink. He's the one who will live with it, and hopefully, he'll come to love it, regardless. Hopefully, he won't talk about it and me the way he did about the previous artist. Hopefully.

Before I do his color however, I will take photos of the Black and Grey design. I'll also take photos of the colored piece, and I suppose they'll go in my little Color on Dark Skin album as one more example.

What about the client that comes to us with artwork by a friend that is unsuitable as a tattoo? If I can't create something that both of us are happy with, I will politely suggest that the client find another artist. For me it is important that I simply don't do work that I wouldn't want in my portfolio; that I wouldn't be happy to claim as my work.

Wellll....maybe not. As for subject matter; I don't do hate. No swastikas, Nazi, or other poison.

Also don't care to tattoo genitalia. Male or female. I'm no prude, I just don't care to have my face that close to a stranger's stuff.

In a multiple artist shop, these things might be a matter of personal but not shop policy, and the artists could just pass around the client that they don't care to do. For a one-artist shop, turning down work means the loss of income. I'd have to say that the two examples above are not common requests for me, so it's not really a big consideration, but in those two cases, money is not the issue. It's where I stand. Period.

Will I do that "cute " little butterfly, that overdone tribal butt-antler design or fairy or armband that a client has his/her heart set on? Will I do some of the great flash that artists are putting out these days? The Biomechanical or skulls and reaper monster stuff that is not my forte?? Yes. I do need to support myself...somebody's gotta bring home the kibble, and I sometimes have to do designs that I may not like, but still have the responsibility to do the best technical job I can.

In my opinion I do have a responsibility to the client, my own artistic integrity and personal values, as well as to the Tattoo Industry as a whole. High quality ink from a clean and professional artist is no less than a client deserves. Ink that I'm proud to call mine to and to represent in my portfolio or other venues is important to me, and reflects well on our growing industry.

Although this is my business, my job, my source of income; I hope my need will never overcome these responsibilities.

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