There will always be people who hear the siren call of permanent ink on their eighteenth birthdays. I opted to hit the local adult bookstore instead, where I learned that an “adult arcade” involves a lot of Kleenex and no pinball, but we each walk our own paths. On that journey, you’ll see scores of people who decide to spontaneously get their first tattoo on a vacation or a drunken night out or by sticking their arm in a hole and waiting for a surprise. In general, these spur-of-the-moment tattoos hold sentimental value for a variety of reasons, but the art is rarely something of which the wearer remains proud. Deny it all you want, your tattoo of Drake as Bart Simpson isn’t aging well.
It’s time for me to make a confession: I don’t have a tattoo. Piercings were my rebellious self-expression of choice. So, I had to seek out an expert on the subject of first ink. Enter tattoo artist and all around super cool nerd girl, Karla Yvette. Though she started her career in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she now works at Adorn in Portland, Oregon — a city where you are legally obligated to have at least one tattoo, and it better have some whimsy dammit. Who better to ask for insight into making the best decisions about your first tattoo?
Instead of pointing to some tattoo line-art at a walk-in shop — which is like being told you are going to get a haircut that will last for the rest of your life and pointing to an image in The Big Book of Generic Haircuts while you sit in the waiting area of Fantastic Sam’s — consider the following:
Thankfully, you no longer have to go to the tattoo shop and flip through literal portfolios (although, that is still really fun). Artists and shops now have extensive websites with images of work. And, never overlook Instagram. If you would Google the crap out of a potential job or that guy you are supposed to meet for tiki drinks and discrete “cuddling,” you can give an equal amount of energy to researching the person who will mark you for the rest of your life.
You need an artist who works in the style you want. “For example, if you would like to get a Japanese style sleeve, but the artist has mostly black-and-grey realism in their portfolio,” Yvette points out, “they will probably not be a great fit for your project. There’s no fun in waiting weeks for a consultation only to have an artist decline your project because they don’t feel comfortable taking it on.”