Have you ever spoken with someone who is tattooed, and they seem possessive of their tattoo artist? They let you know all about how great their artist is, how close the two of them are and how excited they are to get another piece from this person. There are two possibilities after hearing these folks regale you with tales of “tattoo heaven” (where artist and client read each other’s minds, the tattoo process tickles, and the piece is healed in a few short days) – either they put the time in and found the right artist, or they’re making it up. Either way, we want you to find tattoo heaven and give you a few tips to get you part of the way there.

The key to finding the right artist for you is patience. Tattoos are permanent, and unless you’re just in it for the story of how you all got tattooed that one crazy summer, they take a lot of time and research to get right. First, what kind of tattoo do you want? An image that represents something to you, or just a beautiful composition? Do you want it in color, and if so, what colors? These are the first questions to ask yourself because every high-level artist has a style they work best in. I know what you’re thinking: “but my artist can do anything”. They aren’t your artist if you don’t even know the style they like best and are most skilled at. So once you’ve explored your area and found a few artists who work in the style you’re looking for, how do you know if they’re actually any good?

Some of your best starting resources to determine the quality of an artist are peer and client reviews. Treat these like you might Wikipedia, as a jumping off point. If the reviews check out, time for you to really pull their work apart and see if they are worth the money you want to drop. So what are the elements of a good tattoo? The same as with any other piece of art: line quality, overall composition, and tonal range are a few things to look for. Are the artist’s lines smooth and solid? A good artist can create depth in their composition, and give a sense of weight to the various parts of the composition using nothing but lines. Always remember, lines are often the foundation of any tattoo, and in the same way a movie can’t be good without competent writing or a house can’t be good without a solid foundation, a tattoo can’t be good without solid line work.

If the lines are good, how are the artist’s pieces laid out? Does your eye move smoothly through the piece, or do you get hung up in certain areas, stuck on disjointed images or confused by overly complex transitions? Does the structure of the composition make sense? Are distant objects pushed back and scaled down? Does their tonal range support their composition? Lights and darks are used to give a sense of depth to the image. If it’s a color piece do they use contrasting warm and cool colors to help create this depth?