I often get asked how I decide what to get tattooed, and for a lot of people (mainly untattooed people) this is a common question. If you have never decided on a tattoo design before and actually gotten it done, you might not know where to start.
I have gathered 5 ways to go about picking your next tattoo design. These 5 steps can be done in any order and all you really need is one of them to be able to figure out the rest! They go hand in hand.
1. Pick a Spot
Where do you want your tattoo? If you have always dreamed of having an upper arm tattoo or a thigh tattoo, this is a good place to start. Once you know what body part you want tattooed, you can move on to decide on a shape that would be flattering for said body part. For example, a tattoo that looks great on an upper arm will not look as great on someone's chest and vice versa. If you are unsure of what shape is flattering, think about your body's natural shapes and curves. You can always google tattoos on that specific body part and see what shapes speak to you!
2. Pick a Design
For some, this might be the cause of the dilemma. What do you really want to get tattooed? For others this is the only thing they have considered and they completely forgot about the rest. The "design" in this case is what the image looks like. Is it a fox? Is it a key? Is it a hamburger? Choosing the design is not the same as choosing the style of the tattoo. A design can be interpreted and tattooed in most different styles available!
3. Pick a Style
A tattoo style is the way your chosen image is designed. Some different styles include old school, neo-traditional, tribal, Japanese, realism, trash polka, minimalist, new school, stick n' poke and so on. The style of the tattoo should somehow speak to you and represent what style you are into. A lot of people are afraid to mix styles on their bodies, but in my opinion the mixture on your body is your personal style as a whole! My personal style is a mixture between old school and neo-traditional, with a splash of realism haha. But of course, if you are in love with only one style and want to stick to it - that is okay too!
How do you pick a style? Well, either choose what artistically attracts you the most, or take your chosen design into consideration. For example: If your chosen imagery is a dragon - maybe look into Japanese style tattoos. If your chosen imagery is a ship - look into old school/traditional style tattoos.
4. Pick an Artist
Tattoo artists are artists, not tattooers. Or at least they should be. For some people, choosing the artist for the job is step number one. This could be the case if an artist has a very unique, individual, rare style that someone really wants on their body. Another reason could simply be because you like the person, you want to get tattooed by them 'cause they are your friend and you appreciate their work.
What is important to remember is that most artists are specially trained in their specific styles. Some might claim to be all arounders, but personally I would rather go to someone who is an expert in their field than go to someone who is average across the board. 'Cause I only need one specific skill for my one tattoo, therefore I am not interested in what else they can hammer out! But of course that is a personal choice for me. I just recommend that you really go through your artist's portfolio and if you cannot find a tattoo in the style that you are interested in, I'd say go to someone else.
Do not trust the artist's self-awareness when saying "I can totally do that, even though I have never done it before!". That will leave you with a half-ass tattoo.
(Apprentice tattoos are not included in this section. If you are aware that someone is an apprentice and they want to practice their tattooing on you with your consent - that's great!)
5. Pick a Theme
Maybe you know the spot you want or the artist you want, but still have no clue what you want to get tattooed. Then this section is for you! Pick a theme you want to base your tattoo off of. An example of this is my Game of Thrones sleeve. I knew I wanted a traditional/neo-traditional sleeve with a bunch of designs. Instead of choosing random designs to fill up the space I thought "Hmm, what do I enjoy?". The answer to that at the time was Game of Thrones! So the Seven Gods became the theme of my right sleeve. I did not get Daenerys, dragons and Winterfell tattooed on my arm, I just got different traditional designs inspired by the Seven Gods.
So what do you enjoy? Cooking? Nature? History? Space? All these things can become the foundation of a tattoo, without being the meaning behind it. My sleeve is not a representation of my love for Game of Thrones. It's a concept, a theme, that I chose to work with when picking the designs I wanted.
In my case, this sleeve does not have any particular meaning, but if I was forced to come up with one, I wouldn't say "I love GoT". I would say something like "The Seven Gods represent all the parts that make a decent human being and that is something I want to be reminded of when I feel sad or weak bla bla bla". Do you get how it all fits together? Kinda does, kinda doesn't. The great thing about tattoos is that you get to make up your own rules for what themes, designs and meanings you want behind them.
I know this was a long read, but I hope those of you struggling got better insight into the decision making that goes into getting a new tattoo! If you have any other requests or suggestions, feel free to comment and I can make more posts like this in the future.