Tattoo Artists Share Their Biggest ‘Oh Crap’ Moment On The Job

From tattooing the number 47 in wrong Roman numerals, to a client going unconscious and hitting her head on the floor, tattoo artists share their biggest 'oh crap!' moment on the job. 

[Source can be found at the end of the article]

A friend of mine's dog passed away so he wanted to get the dog's name, plus "man's best friend" inside a bone. The tattoo artist spelled the 'e' in "best" backwards and tried to fix it, but it made it worse. At one point during this session he says, "oh, hang on, let me put my glasses on so I can see better." He also gave my friend the horrifying information that he can only tattoo while drunk. My friend went back to the same guy for multiple tattoos.


Friday the 13th we do a $20 tattoo special. I had been working for about 12 hours and I go to tattoo this girl. She gets Finn from adventure time and the word thirteen. As Im tattooing the stencil starts to rub away and I realize I spelled thirirt and I stop and say out loud oh no. I tell the girl and she agrees to let me cover it with roses. The tattoo turned out pretty good, and she has been back several times since. I just cant believe I misspelled thirteen on Friday the 13th when I had been tattooing it on people all day. Theres another one coming up next week and Im dreading it. There wont be any words on the flash sheets this year.


One of my clients had some nerve damage in his arm, as I went over it, his arm involuntary lifted up and started shaking aggressively back and forth. He almost hit me in the face, and he's lucky I didn't accidentally tattoo a huge line across his arm. It took several seconds for his arm to stop shaking, neither of us had experienced that before. 


My shop has a strict policy that you must give us a picture of what you want. In other words, I dont read Japanese so I just draw what you give me. Guy gave what he thought was the Italian flag. Looked right to me. Turns out it was the Iranian flag.


The one that stands out the most is when I was tattooing a girl's butt cheek and we were having a nice conversation and then both laughed and she farted. I could hear her butt hole instantly seize up with fear and embarrassment and she got dead silent and I slightly trailed off my laughter and just pretended like I didn't hear it. The conversation just ended and we both stopped talking and she put her head phones in.


I knew a guy who did really bad tattoos. The kind of guy who gives out tattoos for like $20. He bought a kit off Amazon with a small how-to booklet. He sent me some pictures of his stuff trying to recruit me as a client. He posted new stuff every week and was so proud of it. I thought it was horrible though. He did a tattoo of a grim reaper whose scythe was so crooked it was pretty much a half circle shape. The rest of the drawing was pretty bad too and it was ALL BLACK.

When I told him it looked terrible he gave excuses as to what went wrong. He said he got high and that gave him jitters or something. Then other times he said he was drawing a picture his client drew. Doesn't mean you can tattoo crooked lines.


Friend of mine. Guy comes in wanting a horrid west coast customs style font on his leg saying "balling is a habit." Guy had given her the paper with the script on it. Did the tat. After she realized the paper said "balling is a hobit." So now that guy is walking around representing Frodo like a gangster. In turn she says, "look I've worked my butt off for this job. I'm a tattoo artist. Not an English major. Proof read your stuff." And she's right about that. 


A minor but cute mess up.

Long ago, I saw my friend/ former tattoo artist at a club with her new girlfriend, whom she introduced me to. I asked how they met and the girlfriend showed me a tattoo on her chest of a crown with little circles atop the points. 3 of those circles were blue, and one was yellow.

Apparently, there was a nip slip at some point in the tattooing process, and my friend got distracted with nipple gazing and shaded the circle the wrong color.


I woke up in the middle of the night, sat up, and said "oh no!" as I suddenly realized that 47 in Roman numerals is NOT written out "XXXXVII"... which is what I tattooed on someone earlier that week. I am usually really strict about my client, and usually also a coworker spell checks EVERYTHING, even if I'm 100% sure already. This guy have me a lot of trust and neither of us thought anything about it when I had the design printed out. I emailed him the next morning apologising, offered him a cover up or free work (I tattooed him before and we talked about more plans in the future.) He didn't even mind, and came back several more times for other stuff.


My tattoo artist accidentally did a line in a completed part of the sleeve he was finishing. He immediately got out all the colors and redid the completed part (it was the fletching of and arrow, so it wasn't a huge section) and it ended up looking even better than it did before. I really didn't mind, I considered my arm a piece of his art, kind of like I had the idea and left the execution up to him.


Met with a wife's friend recently, (We were on vacation in another state.) I'm reading one of his tats that's supposed to say "To thy own self be true." But what it actually says is "To thy own self be ture." I asked him, "is that supposed to be an inside joke?" He says, "What do you mean?" Kind of offended. I said, "True is spelled wrong." "No it's... OMG NOOOOO!!! I'm changing my review on yelp! I've had this tattoo for two and a half years and no one has ever said anything." At that point we all burst out laughing, and he's now determined to get it covered.


Been tattooing 14 years and just had this happen for the first time a few weeks ago. Guy is laying facedown on a massage table with arms to his sides. I'm working on his shoulder blade when the cord of my machine gets caught in his fingers. While I was making quick shading movements it snags and rips the machine from my hand. It's now running on its own bouncing on the table by itself and tattooing him in the ribs! I let him know all those extra marks were free tattoos. We both had a good laugh and hopefully they aren't deep enough to stay.


A coworker of mine's client was getting a black and grey bear on the ribs with script around it that reads "sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you." The artist is a lefty so he starts from the left side and gets to a point where he's already tattooed most of the script except for the last two words. As I'm looking over his shoulder, he and I both realize that there's an S missing at the end of "eat."

Luckily, without alarming his client, an S was added and his client was spared appearing as a bear eating Comrade from the Motherland with a tattoo that read "sometimes you eat the bear, sometime the bear eat you."

Personally, I would have enjoyed the latter spelling but to each their own.


I was tattooing this girl and I had just really started out and this was my first time on my own. I was very nervous. Anyhow, I was going pretty strong and everything looked pretty good and my boss stepped out to grab food really fast. Right after she leaves, the light she had clamped to the station above the girl I was tattooing fell and the bulb exploded on her back on impact and caught her shirt on fire. She said that lamp was there over a year and never fell. I got so lucky. I tattooed a really nasty line right through the flowers I was mid stroke on. Yeah, it took months to get over that for me. She was cool though, I ran her to my house, smoked a blunt with her, and gave her one of my cute shirts to replace hers. It could have been a lawsuit or something, thankfully she was cool. It's not the worst story from that shop. 


I had this client once.... she was getting a memorial tattoo done and was getting her grandmothers dates. I asked her 3 times before we started that she was sure she had the right dates. She was 100% sure. She calls the next day and you guess what happens next. She asked if I could fix it and I said .... umm no? sorry! Thats my ONE mistake in 5 years and it wasnt even mine so I don't feel bad about it!!


I was an apprentice and was tattooing this guy. Somehow, the customer bumped my hand that held the machine and the needles punctured my finger. Internally I had an "Oh crap!" moment. I told him what happened, changed out the needles and tube and finished it. I was freaking out inside. I didn't have sex with my significant other until I got tested. Thankfully I was clean. I was stressed out until I got the results.


I was just starting out, got my machine and some dude was super adamant about me practicing on him. Despite my many, many warnings and doubts, he insisted I free hand an anime wolf/human couple as a full back piece. The guy wolf man had his hand down the lady wolf's pants, while licking her ear... full back piece. Terrible. I did a great job as far as line work goes, but still... this guy has a horrible outline of wolf people foreplay on his entire back... forever. Not to mention his girlfriend then insisting I also do a tattoo for her. They wouldn't stop pestering me even after telling them it was a horrible idea.


I was tattooing a guy's shoulder blade, so he was sitting upright facing away from me. It wasn't a big tattoo or anything, otherwise I usually lay people down for this, and it was busy, so just sit down and bang it out. Get about 1/3 into it, his skin goes clammy cold -big warning sign - so I start asking him if he's okay, and of course, he wants to be all tough guy about it and assures me he's fine. His face isn't too pale, so I go to start another line. He stands straight up and just like that, he's out. He tips forward away from me, I can't grab him fast enough with a tattoo machine in one hand and his chair in my way, and he crashes face first like a plank of wood hitting the floor. The only thing this poor guy had going for him was he had a baseball cap pulled low and the brim saved his face from hitting full force. 

Everybody saw this, the whole shop, the lobby full of people, they probably heard it outside. I'm shedding gloves and putting stuff down, and my client is twitching on the floor like a fried egg. We get to him, roll him on his side, and he starts coming to, first thing he says really loud, "mmmmmMMMM PANCAKES!" Everybody burst out laughing, and my client is still pretty out of it, so he's coming to, on the floor, and everyone is doubled over in laughter. Took us a while to get him sorted and finally explain to him what happened. He had no explanation for the pancakes.


Tattoo artist for a dozen years. Own 2 shops. Have had a few of these moments.

The one that sticks out to me the most was a very demure old lady and her granddaughter came in. Late 70s and early 30s. Very spry old lady though. Would never guess she was that old. But seemed very proper. Not an english accent but like old school cape cod accent. I don't know. Demure and classy. Grand daughter had tattoos showing. Automatically assumed she was getting the tattoo. But they directed me towards the older lady.

Caught off guard, I kind of chuckled. A few simple questions while I recovered and ok... lets begin. She begins to explain what she wants. And from the very first words, I'm floored. "For starters, I would like the tattoo on my bum." I shot a glance at grand daughter and she gives me a palms up, eyes closed, huge smiling nod of acceptance. The older lady didn't even blush. I was sweating. Ok... round 2. Let's try again.

"So, what you want on your bum?" And she says, in her classy way, very calmly and matter of factly, "I want to be very clear here, dear. I want this tattoo around my butthole."


I am literally laughing out loud. Not sure if this is real or some joke and a friend is messing with me. Ok. Grab my drink and my stool. Look her dead in the eyes and ask if she's serious. A few times. She's adamant. "At my age I should be able to get what I want tattooed wherever I want without being questioned if I'm in a proper mind!" At that point she removes her jacket and this woman is covered in tattoos. A span of 50 years of work. Nothing on her hands or above her neck. I'm in disbelief. This is a carbon copy of my grandmother, standing in front of me, covered in ink, asking me to tattoo her butthole. Times like this I love and hate my job.


There was this other time, right at the start of my career, I was probably still an apprentice. Banged out a sweet half sleeve of tribal. Dude came back like 3 days later, Tattoo all septic looking, red, swollen, ugly... just not right, so Im scared trying to troubleshoot it and figure out what I have done wrong to get such an outcome. After some conversation the guy says he has to go to the shop when he leaves, grabbed some cream and more tin foil. wait... tin foil? yeah dude, you said use tin foil, so I wrapped it in tin foil. He said. This guy has been fucking baking his arm over night. Cling film dude, I said cling film! He got red faced instantly, got apologetic. So yeah, wrapping the tin foil round it really cooked it...

Finally Ill tell you about this one last one, more recently..

Dudes getting a big rose with a name through it. Im quite known for doing roses so it was a good day for me. The name going through it was about 1.5inches high, the rose was about 4-5inches. The guy was getting his wife's name, pretty sure they were early 20s. During the tattoo he was getting texts or something and he started going quiet. He asked for a quick smoke break. 20 minutes later he returns. I casually get started again. By this point Im doing the shading, about half way through he says, I don't know what to do man... she just told me shes been cheating on me and were over. WHOA! I finished the guy's tattoo, spoke for a bit, got paid, havent seen the guy since. Such a shame.


Ive been tattooing for almost 17 years. Last winter, I was doing a very small, simple tattoo on a young womans calf.

Usually when a client is about to lose consciousness, they get this weird cross-eyed look, their skin gets sweaty but cold, they talk nonsense. When I know its coming, there are steps I can take to prevent it, or at least prevent them from injuring themselves.

In this case, none of that happened- and besides, I was looking down at her leg, not up at her face.

Girl faints and face-plants into the hard tile floor. Loud THUNK like a watermelon being dropped into the bed of a pickup truck.

So, I get down there to check her out. Unconscious. Okay. CAN YOU HEAR ME? Nothing. Look at her friend. Whats her name? Tasha. TASHA! CAN YOU HEAR ME? Nothing...

And then I see it. The huge, dark, crimson pool of blood spreading around her head.

Just so much blood.

Look back at her friend. YOU! CALL 911. The address here is 123 Main St!

Just then, Bloody Tasha begins to stir and make weird animal noises.

Hi Tasha! Youre going to be okay, youve lost consciousness. Lets keep you right here on the floor so you cant get hurt, okay? Are you breathing alright? Got her turned onto her back with the wound not draining into her eyes or nose, and gently started to clean blood off her so we could see the damage. Shes talking okay, making sense, breathing and heart rate are at least close to normal, isnt nauseous, no complaints other than a severely bumped noggin.

Two fire trucks and an ambulance. 7 EMTS in my shop. Tasha goes to hospital. Tasha gets 10 stitches in her head.

While fortunately I didnt have to use it, all licensed tattooists in my state are required to be First Aid and CPR certified. I have to renew these certifications every year.

This is not a joke. Getting tattooed by an amateur unlicensed scratcher without the proper training can lead to your death. Had Tasha been getting tattooed by some amateur at a house party where there were drugs on the table and nobody was willing to call 911, things could have been a lot worse.

Alls well that ends well: Tasha returned two weeks later so I could finish her tattoo. She did not faint again. She left a happy customer.


Well I have had to do a lot of weird tattoos for people. But this one woman I did a butterfly on her ankle. And just a heads up I do so many butterflies that it's nothing I couldn't handle. I sketch it out, she loves it. I pull everything out and get ready to shave and or clean her skin. She pulls her foot out of her boots and oh my lord, the smell! I wear combat boots and I know this is a new fashion thing that girls wear boots but oh my, the smell was so bad. I have never EVER smelt something so bad.

The woman rolls up her stocking and her feet were horrible. The toe nails were long yellow and weird. There were black stuff between her toes. I get my gloves and start to draw on her ankle. I gag, she screams at me how rude I am. I tell her I just ate something bad so I get a mask. I am finally finished with sketching it out and she's whining how I'm rude and how she's not going to tip me. Fine, whatever.

I start to ink and she moves away so fast. Thankfully I didn't hurt her or mess up but she starts to bleed. Badly, all over the chair and the stool. I grab gauze and help her out. She's screaming for my manager, so I go get him. He helps and tells her if she didn't move that wouldn't have happened. I didn't end up finishing the tattoo; my boss did.

But when he was done the lady said I should be fired and he said whatever to her. She said she will put me on the Internet and whatever. My boss said that her feet were extremely disgusting. He said when he grabbed her feet and she almost kicked him too. It was just an all around horrible experience.



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