Tattoo Artists Reveal Their Biggest "Oh No" Moments While Inking Someone
We all make mistakes. Usually, though, the products of our mistakes aren't permanently etched into someone else's skin. Tattoo artist unfortunately force their clients to live with their mistakes for their entire lives.
Here were some of the answers.
My best friend's father operated a tattoo parlor out of a small KS town at one point. He had two assistants, but typically was alone in the shop during non-busy hours. Had a client who came in reeking of hookah smoke (that thick, syrupy smell from the "double apple" brand of shisha that's so popular in fake-*ss hookah places). Whatever, guy's not inebriated and he has a design for a half-sleeve that looks pretty rad, so let's do it. About 2 hours in the guy on the table sniffs heavily and says, "Huh, I smell a lot of smoke." Well no sh*t dude, you're covered in hookah bar stank.
Nope, building next door's on fire. And these buildings are all right next to each other.
My friend's father realizes time is a factor and tells the guy "I'll do this tattoo for free (would have been about $800 otherwise with coloring) if you help me carry the expensive sh*t out of here before it burns down." Spends the next 5 minutes frantically loading said expensive sh*t into his truck bed before the building does indeed start to burn down (fire department got there about 15 minutes later, not too much damage but smoke everywhere and the building gets condemned later on).
Funny epilogue, once the new studio is up and running about 2 months later, hookah guy ends up wanting to pay the difference to update to a full sleeve and gets stylized flames all over the other half to commemorate the experience.
It's Like You're My Mirror
After a few years of tattooing, I had moved & started at a new studio. I was a pretty new hire at the time. I obviously wanted to show my employers I was competent.
One of the co-owners had a coworker/friend from his other job at a casino come in for some tattoos on her back. They were two tribal looking symbols, apparently in some Asian language (She herself was an immigrant & vouched for the meanings).
Long story shorter, I get a phone call about 2 weeks later. The lady was upset & insisted I had tattooed the symbols backwards! Mind you, I am very cautious. I always have my clients look at the design(s) on paper, sign off on paperwork, check the stencil before & after application. So, despite feeling pretty sure I didn't mess up the placement, I was a bit freaked out. I told her to come into the shop right away to check it out.
She came back in, and I pulled up the jpeg of her tattoo lines (I save everything). She confirmed they were correct. She went back to my station & showed me her back. The tattoos matched perfectly! She looked in the mirror and continued to argue they were backwards. Smh.
So, I took the paper with the line work & showed her. She agreed again that they looked correct. Then I showed her the paper in the mirror, next to her tattoos. Obviously, to me at least, mirrors show the inverse image.
This lady looked shocked, like I had just performed a magic trick. Well, despite being about 50 years old, she never realized mirrors will make lettering/images appear backwards. She laughed, and began to apologize profusely. Told me she'd tell my boss & everyone else that she badmouthed me for no reason.
I had one other lady experience thus years later. It took every member of the shop staff to explain to her how mirrors work.
The Entire Back
Back when my first tattoo artist was still in business I came in to get a tattoo done by his apprentice.
As she doing mine she tells me about the day before, she had had a lady pay to get Cinderella's castle tattooed on her entire back. My artist had spent the while week getting it ready. Lady comes in to get the line work done. They get towards the end of the session and this lady starts taking about how she cant wait to see what Snow White's castle looks like finished.
My artist told me she had a heart attack. This tat was massive and if it was the wrong castle there was no way to change it. She said she immediately started questioning the woman, totally panicked. Turns out lady had had a bit of a brain fart. She maent to say Cinderella. She apologized for the confusion and they finished the session without any more issues.
She said that after that woman said Snow White it was the most terrifying 5 minutes of her life.
One Jump Ahead
Not an artist but an artist who was working on me told me this story of something that happened in the shop:
The shop hired a new tattoo artist who was under the influence one day (they didn't know him too well so they didn't know if it was just his personality or not). He's working on this guy who is a hippie, stoned as all hell. He's tattooing a Tiger on him. Apparently he tattooed an extra leg by accident on the Tiger and when they were finished, the client was beyond irritated and goes "I don't mean to trip out man, but what's with the extra leg" the tattoo artist just looks at him and goes "he's just one step ahead of the game, man" the client, for some reason, got a huge kick out of it and ended up loving it and it ended there.
They fired him immediately.
Was doing a cover up on a small wrist tattoo for a girl. After about a half hour she got kind of quiet and clammy so I asked if she wanted a break. I got up to take off my gloves and she slumped off the chair. Luckily I caught her and tried to wake her up. After about 5 minutes she came to and we got her a granola bar and she perked up. I was the newbie at the shop so all the other artists were laughing at me for freaking out over a passed out client.
It's Gonna Hurt
Girl comes in fresh faced, just turned 18 and ready to make the step into getting a tattoo.
She was after a henna style lotus flower on the centre of her back.
"OK, cool" I thought.. Probably 2 hours work, tops?
Fast forward a few weeks to the appointment. Consent form has been filled in and signed. I put my old squiggle on the bottom.
She gets laid down after I've put the stencil on and I begin. She tenses up and says it really hurts. I reassure her that after the first 10 minutes or so it does get easier. At around the 17 minute mark she erupts into tears. Not just the odd tear but I mean hysterics. Her make up was running down her face and she was crying out at every line.
If any of you have played the remaster of Resident Evil, she literally sounded like Lisa Trevor.
I ask her if she wanted to leave it and maybe try another day when she felt braver. Through tears, she just said "No.. I need it done today."
Ok, right yep. So a two hour tattoo turned into a 3 and a half hour showdown of blood, sweat and (many) tears.
She hasn't been back since.
Not me, but a friend of mine is a heavily tatted individual.
He was born and raised on Vancouver Island in BC, and as an homage he wanted to get an outline of the island tattooed across his entire back.
Went to the shop he had been going to for years but sat down with one of the new artists. She showed him the stencil of the tattoo on his back, with the help of a mirror. He ok'd the tattoo.
The artist was about 75% done the tattoo, she then lets out an audible 'oh sh*t'....
My buddy, thinking she maybe made a small error said 'no worries if one of the lines isn't perfect, I trust you'.
'No, *****, I think I drew the island backwards.'
What she had done was put the stencil on his back the wrong way, but upon showing him in the mirror it appeared that it was on correctly. He ok'd the tat and she went to town. At this point both of them start freaking out. He called me asking me to come to him immediately as he was losing his mind. The artist ran out of the shop crying and disappeared for the whole day.
The owner quickly came over and offered to fix the tattoo, which would now have to include a great deal of shading in order to cover up the previous mistake. In the end my buddy got free tats for life and now has a GIGANTIC tattoo of Vancouver Island on his back.
My brother in law got the oh so original 'death before dishonor' tattoo (ironically before he was dishonorably discharged from the army) and when it was finished we realized it said death before dishoron. The artist was able to fix it the best that he could but it still looks funny. It's fitting though. My brother in law is an idiot.
Not the artist, but the one getting the work done. I was getting a tattoo with a specific year on it, as well as a good amount of other detail around it. About halfway through I look down, and the year is completely wrong. Like, hundreds of years off. I was young and didn't like confrontation at the time so my heart just sank and I accepted my fate.
The artist seemed to become aware of what was happening, and said "Give me a minute." He left me sitting in the chair and went to the back of the shop. He came back a couple minutes later, proceeded to shade in the old year and put the correct year underneath the shading, and tied the entire tattoo together with that shading which ended up making it look even better than the original design. It worked out for the better in the end but for 10 minutes I was sure my tat was ruined.
An Intense Situation
Obligatory "not an artist", but my friends older brother used to tell us stories from his tattoo shop before class and a few stuck with me.
So, Jake was about 3 years into tattooing and he had seen some crazy sh*t. People screaming as though they had been shot, clients passing out, he had even been punched in the face because he was taking too long. But, hey, this is Vegas. Crazy sh*t happens. However one client sticks in his memory as his most frightening scare.
One day a client comes in with his friend and wanted something semi complex on his forearm. Jake freehands some nice sh*t (incredibly talented guy) and gets right to it. About fifteen minutes in, the guy starts bleeding a decent bit. That's clearly nothing shocking in a tattoo shop, but the amount is a little more than normal. After taking a minute to talk to the friend she tells him they'd been drinking. Most if not all artists will tell you not to drink before getting some work done due to the fact that booze tends to make you bleed more than normal. Jake adjusts his attitude and gets back to it.
About five minutes later the guy starts bleeding a lot more. Like, a LOT more. Jake stops and asks the guy what's going on. The dude confesses that he's got a medical issue with blood clotting. Jake is really bothered because no tattoo, even with cut skin, should be bleeding that much. He tells the guy that he can't finish and to see a doctor. While cleaning up he happens to catch a piece of the conversation they're having while they grab their bags.
"Shouldn't you tell him that you're poz?"
This client was HIV positive. And here Jake was wiping up a small pool of his blood. Needless to say, Jake was freaking out. Things escalate to shouting and the owner of the shop gets involved. Once the owner finds out he calmly ushers Jake out of the room and implores him to inspect himself for cuts. Jake gets obsessive and checks about a thousand times while the owner sternly informs the client that he should have informed them of his status. The client leaves and they clean obsessively for hours and don't let clients in that room for a couple days.
Guys, tell your artists about medical issues before hand, don't drink before getting a tattoo, and definitely tell them if you're HIV positive. Yes, good shops sterilize profusely but you should still let them know. It's for your safety as well as theirs and other clients.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.