Know what you want. Don’t walk into a tattoo shop for a consultation and tell the artist you want, like, a starfish, but are also interested in mermaids, but also, like, think seahorses are really cool and I dunno…what do you think…it’s so hard to decide??? They don’t know what you want. Only you know what you want. Doing this will most likely end up with you bearing a tattoo you didn’t really want, done at the hands of someone who is not a mind reader. Have an idea in mind, even if it’s vague as hell, but just pick one thing — like “a ghost jerking off” or “an owl with four dicks and a monocle.” While asking for insight is okay, don’t rattle off a list of ideas and expect the artist to pick one for you.
Be open to suggestions. Trust your tattoo artist to give you input on your ideas. If he or she says that a bald eagle devouring a fairy won’t look good on your shoulder because the way your body contours in that particular area will distort the image, you should probably listen. If he or she tells you that orange and purple is not the greatest color combination for an entire chest piece, take heed. You are, obviously, ultimately free to do as you please, but good tattoo artists are experienced and talented enough to give you some useful guidance and it’s wise to take their advice into consideration.
Check out portfolios. How are you supposed to know if an artist is any good unless you look at their portfolio? Don’t base your decision on your high-ass friend who has a blurry tattoo of what could either be a pit bull or an apple pie who tells you how great his “free hook-up” is.
Choose someone good at what you want. If you want a hyper-realistic portrait of a monkey eating a woman’s face off, try to choose someone who does realistic portraits or is skilled at animal tattoos.
Expect to pay. No one is going to haggle with you unless you’re getting tattooed at a flea market. If you have a serious budget, find out your artist’s hourly rate before you get started to make sure you have enough or know what to save up for.
Mutual respect. While most tattoo artists are nice people, there exists the occasional snob who is quite simply no fun to work with. Don’t put up with an artist who is rude, a jerk, or a rude goddamn jerk. Some outside of the newish too-cool-for-school tattoo “culture” may be intimidated by the blasé attitudes radiating off so many dickheads with full sleeves and knuckle tattoos, but remember that getting a tattoo should be a positive experience for everyone involved. And that those people have really low self esteem. A plethora of highly talented tattoo artists work in NYC, so pick someone who is kind, friendly and respectful.