Even though the popularity of tattoos has grown through the years, misconceptions and lack of access to information are still problems for first-timers. If you’re thinking about getting something permanent, you want to be fully informed about the latest in options. For advice, we turned to tattoo artist Kevin King from New York City’s Bang Bang, a monochromatically decorated tattoo shop that's packed with cool vibes and trendy artists with an impressive clientele list. Owner Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy has tatted celebrities including Rihanna (see her "Shhh ..." tat above), Adele, Cara Delevingne, and Kylie Jenner—just a handful of the A-listers who've trusted the parlor with their ink.
According to King, the shop has such a great reputation first and foremost because of the high quality of service provided by employees. “It’s just a professional atmosphere. It’s a very clean space and anything that the client needs, we provide it for you; we’re very thorough. There isn’t an artist here who doesn’t care about this craft or the way they treat their clients. You want to make clients comfortable coming in and happy coming out,” he says.
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He answered our most pressing questions and dished on everything from finding the right parlor and tattoo placements on the body to aftercare products to help the healing process. Read on for his full break-down.
1. First, do your research online and in person
Look up the parlors you’re considering and do a firsthand examination of the digs. “You want to walk into the shop and inspect everything for yourself. Look around, look at the work, and see if things look clean. For example, if a restaurant looks dingy, it’s most likely not a good place, same goes with a tattoo shop," King explains. "It’s really important that the place you decide on is sanitary because we’re basically performing mini surgeries; we’re breaking through skin so things need to be clean and comfortable for a client.”
According to King, it’s best to find an artist whose work fits the kind of style you want. “Sometimes people will go into a shop and tell an artist how much they love their work but want something that doesn’t fit that style of work. And in that case, you need to make the connection before you go through the tattooing process,” he says.
2. ... but don't solely rely on reviews
“I’m for reviews on certain things, like certain products and maybe specific services, but when it comes to tattoos—I mean it’s worth taking a look at, take them into consideration, but don’t make a decision out of them,” he says.
"Reviews are often based on big extremes—where people either had a really good experience or a really bad one,” King says. "Getting a tattoo is a relative experience, and your experience will not always match someone else’s. So don’t leave too much emphasis on what other people might think. Gather up your own judgment through a balance of research."
3. Figure out your budget
King advises figuring out what you can afford before an appointment. “Some people will walk in and want a big piece or want something that will take a lot of time, and after a long consultation and throwing around all these ideas, at the end, they tell the artist that they don’t have the funds to cover what they want,” he says. “With that said, definitely don’t price shop. You don’t want to hop around different parlors and compare prices.”
Since tattoos are permanent, it’s worth considering the quality you’re paying for. “There are people who will pop their heads in different shops and ask for a minimum; that’s how you end up with a bad tattoo,” he explains. “Discuss with your artist the design you want and your budget, and the both of you can figure something out from there.”
4. Decide on designs you like and then go in for a consult
"You definitely want to come in with at least an idea of the subject you want, where you want to put it, and the kind of style you want," King says. "Sometimes people come in and they don’t have any direction.
"Sometimes that works if they’re open," he says, but you don't want go in for a consultation and waste time. "We can help clients narrow down an idea, but we can’t read minds and decide something for them," he says.
5. Know where you don't want the art
“To be honest, anywhere is going to hurt a little bit; it’s all up to the individual and all part of the experience. Even if it does hurt, it’s going to help you remember it even more. You shouldn’t let fear sway your approach to getting a tattoo,” King says.
"Apart from being asked about the pain, he also gets questioned about the placement of tattoos. “Often, customers will ask if a tattoo will look good in a certain area, and if it will look good later on, like: ‘If I get my tattoo here, will it look good if my skins sags?’ If the tattoo is best suited for another area, the artist will tell you that, and they will give you the reasons why.”
6. Don't neglect the aftercare
"Normally, an artist or shop will advise you verbally or give you a breakdown sheet, regarding aftercare products. “Basically, you just want to keep it clean, use antibacterial soap, and keep it moisturized,” King suggests. “I recommend using Dial liquid gold soap because it doesn’t carry any extra stuff; you want to stay away from any scented stuff during the early care stages. Products that are great for moisturizing are Hustle Butter or Sorry Mom, and the most standard that I tend to recommend to my clients is Aquaphor.”
Try to stay away from using random ointments. “Some of them are too thick and it will slow down the healing process or might ruin the ink of your tattoo all together,” he says. “Also, don’t do things that will cause friction on the tattoo, like heavy lifting at a gym.”