Maggie Paris got a tattoo in Ireland that, despite her research into the artist, was far from what she wanted (top). She got a cover-up tattoo two years later. (contributed photos)
With television shows like “Bad Ink” and “Tattoo Nightmares” becoming so popular, you must wonder, why do so many people get bad tattoos?
Robert Jarrett, a licensed tattoo artist for 15 years and current owner of 2 Ton Gallery, said he has three or four people come in every day with bad tattoos to see what their options are for getting them covered.
“If you don’t do research, you run the risk of getting a bad tattoo,” he said.
Many low-quality tattoos result from ignorance of the artist’s style and ability.
“Just because they work in a tattoo shop doesn’t mean they can tattoo,” said Jordan Pratt, a licensed tattoo artist for 13 years who currently works at Skinsations Tattoo and Body Piercing.
Some people decide to get a tattoo on impulse and then regret getting the design or image years and even months after it heals.
“It’s mostly people who got tattoos when they were young and regret it,” said Jarrett. “They’re older and want to cover it up, or they’re young and they already regret it.”
Twenty-two-year-old Maggie Paris of Johnson City got a tattoo when she was 20 in Ireland. She researched the artist, the cleanliness of the shop and the specific artist’s portfolio. Everything checked out, and she liked the gray and white mountain design that was to be tattooed on the back of her neck. Unfortunately, when the artist was done, the tattoo looked nothing like the sketch.
“It looked like a kid had drawn it,” she said. “It wasn't what I wanted. It didn't look like the drawing, and I was unhappy with almost everything about it.”
Six months after she had it done, she wanted it covered.
Finally, in December 2012, a licensed tattoo artist and friend of hers was in town from San Diego, Calif., and rented a spot at a local shop in Johnson City called Jinx Proof Tattoo Emporium. He covered the old tattoo with a new, colorful and professional design that she loves. She had seen both his portfolio and his work in person.
To people considering getting a tattoo, she recommended, “Go in knowing what you want and what your standards are, and don't let the artist talk you into something you don’t want to do because they might be intimidating. Do your research, and ask people their opinions who have been tattooed by that artist, and ask to see the work that's actually on their body, because seeing it in person is almost different than looking at a portfolio.”
Some people just want to save money and go to a non-licensed tattoo artist or even tattoo themselves with a gun and ink they purchased online. Jarrett said a lot of people get them done at friend’s homes, which is illegal and unsafe.
As people age, their tastes and beliefs often change, and some decide they no longer want that band name, religious symbol or person’s name on their bodies.
And then what?
The safest two options to remedy the problem are either covering the tattoo with a new one from a quality, licensed artist or laser tattoo removal.
Because laser tattoo removal can be much more expensive than getting a cover-up, Jarrett said that they always try to give people ideas for a cover-up design.
He said that in some cases, covering a tattoo will only make it worse. If talented artists tell you that your tattoo cannot be covered, Jarrett said to listen to them, and not to keep asking others till one is willing to try.
Pratt emphasized the importance researching various artists’ styles.
“Certain artists specialize in certain things, so you want to find an artist that fits you and what you want,” said Pratt.
He recommended using social media to research artists’ work, but said that looking at the artist’s portfolio is the number one way to determine whether he or she will be the right artist.
He also said that if you see a tattoo that you like, ask the person where he or she got it done.
Jarrett said to be certain that the artists work in a clean, professional facility and that they have done plenty of cover-ups in the past.
Pratt said that, generally, the cover-up will need to be two to three times the size of the original to cover it up and to allow space for shading and coloring.
“Some are easy and some are hard depending on the area, what the design is, and how much freedom and space the person will allow you to do,” said Pratt.
A common misconception is that cover-ups must be dark ink, but both Jarrett and Pratt said that they can be covered with colored ink, as long as the design is larger than the old design.
Pratt said that using color can help distract the eye from the original image and attract it to the new design.
Artists occasionally incorporate old designs or model the new design after the old one.
Sometimes, before a tattoo can be covered, it must be faded by laser tattoo removal.
“One of our biggest sources of referrals are from local tattoo shops who need tattoos faded to do a cover-up,” said Laser Tattoo Removal Specialist Briggs Allen of Lose the Too in Bristol, Va.
He said it is the safest and most effective way to remove a tattoo, and it leaves the least chance of scarring.
Allen said almost all inks can be removed, but some are more reluctant to break up than others.
The laser is a frequency of invisible light, and when it strikes ink, it causes it to shatter, allowing small parts to be absorbed by the body. Darker colors disperse faster than light colors.
He said the number of treatments depends on the size and color of the tattoo, but typically he will do a treatment on an individual tattoo every 30 days. The number of treatments and cost vary based on the size of the tattoo.
Whether you want to get your tattoo removed, faded or covered, know that you are not doomed to have a tattoo you hate. But heed Jarrett’s advice, and “Don’t get bad tattoos in the first place.”