A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from Gleen, a guy from London. He contacted me by recommendation from his friend, originally from Croatia. He was thinking about full sleeve tattoo and was wondering if we could arrange the design and other details by e-mail. Negotiations by e-mail were never quite my thing. I prefer to communicate with my clients face to face, which turned out to be more efficient and practical. That’s why I advised Glenn to book two VIP REVOLT appointments. If a client lives near, I suggest one VIP REVOLT appointment for the start, but for the ones coming from other countries, I advise booking two. It’s because you can never tell how long will INKDIVIDUAL consultations and planning of tattoo last. Sometimes we can finish it in a couple of hours, but sometimes, believe it or not, it can last as long as eight hours. And that’s exactly what I want to write about. To make a long story short, I advised Glenn to study my web site Anubis-tattoo.com, read what and how I do, to check out VIP appointments and a gallery of my works, so he could be sure I’m the right choice for what he wants. A couple of days later, Glenn confirmed he’s sure I’m the kind of tattoo artist he wanted and was looking for a long time. He paid part of the cost in advance and I booked his appointments. For me personally, conversations by e-mail have a big flaw because I can’t tell what kind of person is gonna knock at my door.
Because things work quite differently at my studio. Most tattoo artists choose their clients by the tattoo they wanna have done, how much they wanna pay or by tattoo style they prefer. Nothing of those things matter to me. That’s why all my clients pay the same and they all go through INKDIVIDUAL consultations. I choose my clients by their personality and their approach to tattooing. It may sound bad or even arrogant, but put yourself in my shoes – how would you like to spend eight hours with a person you usually wouldn’t even have coffee with?
To paint a picture a bit better, these are the types of people tattoo artists encounter regularly:
- they enter the studio as if they own you, and that’s exactly how they proceed to act
- they see you as a tool, not a person
- they set limits but expect you to do wonders
- they’re insecure in their decision and submissive to other people’s opinions
- have weak intellectual abilities
- they’re physically and mentally ill
- they have wrong approach to tattooing
- they’re presumptuous, annoying, arrogant, angry, without character…
After 15 years of working with that kind of people, I have no interest in having any kind of contact with them anymore. I believe many of You can relate.
But, let’s get back to the story…
Two months later, Glenn’s calling: Hello! I’m in front of your door, can You let me in? I came for my appointment. Glenn traveled almost 2000 kilometers because he was sure he wants to work with me, but even at this moment, he still didn’t know what he was getting himself into. I already had great respect for him because he put so much effort from the start, and when I opened the door and saw him, I was sure he was my type of client. I showed him the way to the kitchen, made us some coffee and we started talking.
Getting to know each other
I don’t like going into details right away. Instead, we talked in general about ourselves, what we do, how was his trip and about tattoos. The more detailed conversation comes later, during the process of tattooing.
Whishes and ideas
I got comfortable in my chair and asked Glenn to tell me more about his idea. Not because I could put it into practice later, but to see the level of his expressing, his expectations, understanding and knowledge of tattooing. If I hear something unrealistic or something I’m not in a position to offer, I like to say it right away so we wouldn’t waste our time on something that’s not gonna happen.
Description of the idea
Glenn put about 20 pages of paper on the table. They were all covered in coloured drawings of mythological creatures he wanted to put on his arm. In addition, he wanted to have silhouettes of people fighting each of those creatures. What is so great about our brain is that it can imagine unimaginable. But once we got back to reality, we started seeing flaws in Glenn’s idea. To make this happen, and to transfer all the creatures credibly from the paper, we need a certain body surface. We can put a couple of the creatures on his arm, but not all 20 of them. Maybe if he would agree to tattoo his whole body… Tattooing is therefore limited by style and technique, the medium it is performed on (skin), and artist’s skill and experience. Glenn quickly realized we had a problem and started worrying because that was the only idea he had.
I told him to relax and that it’s normal for everything to crumble right at the beginning of the process because a person who isn’t completely familiar with tattooing and it’s possibilities, can’t make tattooing plan all by himself. It’s kind of as if you draw a house and take it to the construction company to build it. Can’t be done. There is a whole team of people, from architects to builders, who will help you with the idea, design and construction. Well, when it comes to your tattoo, I’m your architect, builder and everything in between. People don’t get this, and that’s why I designed INKDIVIDUAL consultations. I asked Glenn what is important to him when it comes to tattoo, and what isn’t. I explained when it’s OK for him to dictate the direction we’re gonna go, and when it’s better to let me be in charge. Simply put – we agreed on what is his, and what is my role in the process of making his tattoo. I explained it on everyday life examples and Glenn offered all the right answers by himself. Once we found a mutual language and he understood how to approach tattooing, Glenn clapped his hands and said: OK, I’m ready, let’s move on! The beauty of INKDIVIDUAL consultations is that they allow you to create something you’re not able to imagine by yourself. They help to create a symbiosis between a client and the tattoo artist. You become an extension of me, a fresh source of ideas and creativity, and I become yours – source of knowledge and experience. Together we create unthinkable.
Fresh start - reference
Trough INKDIVIDUAL consultations Glenn understood what he was actually paying for, and what is in fact completely irrelevant. One of the most important things in the process is the reference. We spent next hour searching the Internet looking for as much material as possible to work with. We’re still at zero and don’t know what we’re gonna do and how. But, if we only have one reference, we have only one choice. That reference is supposed to fullfil all our wishes and combinations we imagined, what is as possible as winning the lottery. More references for one character offer us more possibilities and more combinations, which also means a greater chance of success.
Process of elimination
So we collected about a hundred references and Glenn was once again stunned. What now? Everything looks great, how to decide how to proceed?
We began the process of elimination which is actually pretty short because I lead you trough it using your emotions and taste. In the end, you get the tattoo you want – the one you’ll want for the rest of your life.
Every day I hear or get messages ‘I want to have this tattooed’, and my question is always the same: how do you know you want something for the rest of your life?
By eliminating things, we’re getting rid of stuff you don’t want. Once you’ve thrown away a whole bunch of stuff, you start realizing what you actually do want. What is left is the right option in which you are certain because you have just eliminated everything that’s wrong for you.
Styles and techniques
Every reference is doable in more than 20 different ways and each of them demands minimal size and sets certain boundaries. At the moment we have a huge amount of options, but we’d spend too much time if we started trying them all out. That’s why I have prepared a folder with different styles and techniques for my clients. I explained all their benefits and shortcomings to Glenn, and we started eliminating once again. As a result, we now have great references, style, and technique we’re gonna use. We’re ready to start planning the tattoo.
We’ve been working for three hours and we still don’t have tattoo design. But Glenn isn’t disappointed. In fact, he’s full of adrenaline and excited about the next step. He understands the importance of preparation and that tattooing is not simple nor should it be treated as such.Great thing is that I use a tablet so clients who aren’t visual types can see and understand what I’m talking about, how’s tattoo supposed to look like and direct me to their desires.As I have already said, ever style demands minimal space and sets certain boundaries. At the same time, every reference has its own shape and position. Once again we have a lot of options and it’s impossible to try them all. We have to eliminate some of them, but this time, I choose which. I have no feelings towards Glenn’s references, so I can see the situation from a different perspective.I put my focus on the appearance of the tattoo and offered Glenn options with the references and style he chose. I explained what is possible to do and how – I offered him the simplest, more and the most complicated execution. I never force my clients to choose the fastest or the most complicated process. Instead, I offer a couple of options and explain them step by step, so a client knows what to expect.And as most of my clients do, Glenn chose the most demanding execution.And why shouldn’t he, when all of them cost the same? That’s the point of VIP appointment.I asked him to take his shirt off so I could photograph his arm and place a sketch of a tattoo on it.And there it was – a whole new set of problems. Glenn has many moles which would ruin most of the images he wanted to have tattooed. Even though this new info could seem like an unsolvable problem, it’s just another challenge which allows us to demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness of client-artist symbiosis.
We poured ourselves a new cup of coffee and started brainstorming how to carry out our mythological creatures without ruining them.Half an hour later, we had a new idea how to adjust style and technique in a way that won’t be affected by moles. We decided to do our best references in semi-realistic style, cb technique, and position them in places where moles won’t ruin them. Around references, we’ll place the Polynesian tattoo.Polynesian tattoo is made of symbols which clients choose from book. Each symbol has it’s meaning so it allows them to create their own story. I always do it freehand so I can adjust things during a process if necessary.
We both loved the idea about Polynesia, but I was a bit restless and I could tell Glenn was feeling the same way. ‘Buddy, I love where this is going, but don’t you think it’s wrong to mix mythological creatures from every civilization with Polynesia? It’s like we’re putting them into the same basket, but Polynesia is not a myth. It’s real. I do want this tattoo to be great, but I wouldn’t like to destroy certain values in the process’, I told Glenn and he agreed. Meaning of Polynesian symbols has nothing to do with mythology which was Glenn’s primary wish. At that moment, I had an idea – to do Polynesian style tattoo but with symbols from mythology. Glenn loved it. He never saw something like that before and he got a new rush of adrenalin. We were brainstorming once again. The process of inventing symbols from mythology.
The process of inventing symbols from mythology
We agreed on four motives, realistic style, which seemed most doable and would look good (Eye of a dragon, Medusa, Manticore, and our favourite – Cockatrice). There were couple more of them which we wanted to fit in this big story about mythology, and for which we also had to invent symbols (Fenrir, Scylla, Hydra, Kraken, Cyclops, Griffin, Basilisk, Naga, Golem…). We studied narrative about each of them, drew inspiration from there and invented symbols which reflect their story.
What that actually means?
Let’s take Cyclops for an example. Cyclops are mythological giants known for having just one eye. Best known are the sons of Uranus and Gaea. They made weapons for gods (Poseidon’s trident, lightning bolts for Zeus, helmet for Ares…). What we did is we invented the symbols for Cyclops, Uranus, Gaea, forging weapons, trident, lightning, helmet… We could go even further, but 7-9 symbols for every creature was just fine for the beginning (at the end we had about a hundred of them). Glenn also asked if that’s not a bit too much, but it’s always good to have more options. It took us two more hours and three coffees to finish this part.
Next big step was to present mythological symbols in Polynesian style. I’ve been working with Polynesian symbols for years so I’m quite familiar with the topic. I told Glenn to get comfortable and enjoy, it was time for me to do my magic. The only thing he had to do is say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to my drawings. I drew each symbol in Polynesian style on paper. I could tell Glenn was thrilled while the idea he came up with, got real. He saw what it means to create your own tattoo. Creativity was all over the place, so it took me only half an hour to finish everything. Brainstorming, planning, talking from 10 am to 4 pm got us pretty tired, but it was totally worth it.
We were ready for the next step.
Size and position
We printed our references to decide on their size and position on Glenn’s body. Once again we had to adjust our plan so all the mythological creatures would be perfectly set on his arm. I told Glenn what needed to be adjusted and where I wanted to put which character. He agreed and we could proceed.
Freehand drawing of the whole hand
Polynesian style and the way I do it was completely new to Glenn. He had no idea how I’m gonna merge realism with Polynesia. His curiosity was at its peak and he couldn’t wait to discover this unknown area. This wasn’t the first time he was getting a tattoo. He did his homework researching tattoo artists, their work, he visited many tattoo studios, but still he was experiencing something completely new right now, something he couldn’t imagine he’d experience when he chose me, and he was fascinated with what was happening. I told him to enjoy the process and that I’ll guide him all the way, telling him exactly what I’m doing so we can react right away if there’s something he doesn’t like. After I washed and shaved Glenn’s arm, I drew the contours and size of the surface with markers. He approved and we moved on. Combination of mapping and freehand drawing is always tricky. If I drew full mythological Polynesia and start mapping after, images will ruin many of the symbols, which I really don’t want. Another way is to use mapping first and draw symbols around. But, this way symbols won’t look like the background as I want them to. It would be obvious I drew around images, and it would ruin Polynesian style which always has to follow body contours. As long as I’m combining styles, I thought, why not combine the way I’m gonna position images. As always when I do Polynesia, I started drawing fields in which I was going to place symbols. I always draw them on muscle or curves of the arm so they are positioned in the best possible way. But again moles got in the way. If I try to bypass them, the tattoo will be discontinuous and it won’t look good. F..k it, I said and explained to Gleen we are once again in an unknown area. Once again I had to improvise. The poor guy looked at me and nodded in approval, pretty much exhausted from all the changes. I decided to do double lines between the fields following the trajectory of moles, instead of curves of the hand. Glenn was confused but aware of kind of the skin he has, so he completely put his trust in me. When coming to my studio, he was scared I would turn him down because of the moles. But that was not an option because my clients are open-minded and creative, so together we always find the way to the final goal. After this, I mapped the references and started drawing the symbols. First I sketched where I wanted to place them and got another approval from my investor. With a marker, I thickened all the lines and sketches, polished everything and finally finished the design.
It was already 6.10 PM, end of our appointment. Usually, when I finish the design, I outline it with a light colour so I can see shapes and can continue at a second appointment. But we were so tired that we decided to wrap it up for the day. I explained Glenn how to preserve the design for next two days when we had the second appointment and sent him to his apartment. If something gets wiped out, we’ll draw again.
Two days later Glenn returned rested, smiling and ready to continue. We had coffee and talked about how the first appointment wore us down, how he smeared all the bed sheets and about methods he tried to keep as much design intact as possible. After half an hour, I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to see how much design we had left. The result was much better than I expected. To be honest, I expected it all to be ruined, and was ready to spend another five hours drawing. Lines of mythologic Polynesia were smudged, thick and sloppy, but I still had what I needed the most – position, symbols and ratio of the sizes. To end my short story, which turned out to be a long one – I drew back missing symbols, fixed smudged lines, connected my equipment and finally started tattooing. I outlined the whole design with light colour so we can continue next year. I also started tattooing the image so Glenn can get the picture of what it’s gonna look like, but the most important thing is that we set the grounds and there’ll be no more complications when we see each other next time (or at least we hope so ).
Usually, the whole process is not this long or complicated, but you have to be prepared for everything if you want your own unique tattoo. I just wanted to show you a couple of things that you might encounter on your way of getting a tattoo no one else has. I wanted to show you why my clients change their minds once they step into my studio. Explain what VIP treatment is. That at my studio you don’t pay for a tattoo, but service. Demonstrate the effort both by my clients and I invest in this process. Getting a tattoo for me is everything but simple and it doesn’t work by the principle ‘I want that, how much?’. I’m sure you’ll find someone who operates in that manner, but I’ve specialized in creating your stories, designed and made only for you and in line with your standards. The only thing that is important to me is that your tattoo is beautiful and that you love it. Glenn’s story is not in class by itself. I had many situations like this one, but I wanted to use Glenn’s story as a symbol representing experience my clients and I go through in the process of getting a tattoo. How much all of this is important to me is supported by the fact that I’ve spent four hours writing this article. And it still has to be edited and translated.