Choosing a tattoo artist is not as simple as walking into the local tattoo shop and taking the first available chair. Your tattoo is permanent; forever, lifelong. Sure you can have it removed but that is painful and far more costly than the tattoo will be. So be sure. Be really sure. Do not make the decision on a design and artist based on price or timeliness. Anything this important is worth the wait.
First of all, choosing a tattoo artist is closely linked to your choice of design. Your design is very personal, an expression of you, even a statement. Since you will carry this piece of art around with you for the rest of your life, you need to be especially sure that you will always like it. If you are the kind of person who likes to be trendy, consider your choice of design extremely carefully. Stay away from designs based on current fashion. It is likely you will begin to dislike it within a year or so. A good rule of thumb for choosing a tattoo design is to wait a year, then if you still like it, go for it. Plus, the year of waiting is a good time for searching out an artist.
There are three main factors in finding a good artist: hygiene, specialty and reputation. The level of hygiene in the tattoo shop and the habits of the artists are the most important aspects of getting a tattoo. There are laws in place all over North America dictating certain standards for tattoo shops and artists. Biohazard containers must be used to dispose of items coming into contact with blood or bodily fluids. An autoclave must be used for sterilizing tools and equipment. The artist must sterilize their hands before and after the procedure, plus wear surgical gloves.
Some states require artists to complete a course in health and safety, others do not. Be aware of what the local regulations are in your area and that the artist you choose has adhered to them. For example in some states and countries it is illegal to tattoo a minor (even with parental consent), a person impaired from drugs or alcohol, a pregnant or nursing woman, a person who has a contagious skin disease, and anyone incapable of consent due to their lack of mental capacity.
A tattoo artist's specialty is an essential factor in your choice. Consider a scenario where an artist specializes in tribal and Celtic designs, but you persuade them to do your cherry blossom tree. It requires a different technique to do something as delicate as a cherry blossom, and an artist who normally does geometric shapes and lines may not be suitable. Portrait tattoos are highly specialized. It's very easy for a portrait to come out all wrong, and there is no means for erasing it. Be cautious when pursuing a portrait tattoo artist, there are only a few in the world who are truly gifted at this kind of tattoo. Shop around for the appropriate artist for your design. In the tattoo community there are people known for certain styles, match up an artist with your design and you may come out with an incredible piece of art.
Word of mouth is precious in the tattoo world. If an artist is inconsistent, too picky, unclean, or just mean, then people will talk and their reputation will suffer. One of the worst things an artist can gain a reputation for is inconsistency. For the client, it is like playing Russian roulette with your tattoo: you might get a good one, but there is no guarantee. Listen to the chatter in the tattoo community. Ask around. If you see a tattoo that you love or hate, ask the wearer who the artist was. After all, they are artists. The design they do on your body is just as much a statement of their talent as it is an expression of yourself. So choose carefully