What I Wish I'd Known Before Getting a Tattoo

Sometimes it's just a matter of trust.

Byline: By Nicola Dall'Asen

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I started getting tattoos just about the second I turned 18. Back then, I thought it was as simple as taking a picture from the internet, bringing it to any artist, and simply having it copied. I was so, so wrong.

They're called tattoo artists for a reason: they each have individual skill sets and visions they use to make their customers' requests a reality. Once I accepted that and began selecting my artists more carefully, my tattoos became fun, collaborative projects that better reflect who I am.

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I gave artist Molly McKinnon in Dallas a short, vague description, and she came back with this: my favorite tattoo.

Asking for the tattoo of your dreams doesn't have to be complicated or incredibly specific. It's simply about figuring out your style and finding the artist near you who can pull it off. From there, all it takes is a few keywords and a little trust.

Want a tattoo but don't know where to begin? Here are five popular styles and artists to help get you started.

American Traditional

Gramophones like this one by Jonathan Montalvo in Puerto Rico are common in the world of American traditional.

For People Who Like: Their grandfather's tattoos, consistency.

Who to Follow on Instagram: Jonathan Montalvo, @montalvotattoos

What It Is: Originating from the WWII era, this style is one of the most popular in the tattooing world and supposedly one of the easiest for an artist to pull off due to its stark simplicity. "It's bold lines, lots of shading, a lot of black," says the artist known to the world only as Big Steve, who owns New York City's historic Fun City Tattoo. "When I do traditional, I do four colors at the most." For these, an artist uses just one type of needle, so that all lines are the same width, and then uses another to shade and fill in the color.

Neo-Traditional

For People Who Like: Neons, Surrealist art.

Who to Follow on Instagram: Devin Coley, @devincoley

What It Is: This style lies between American traditional and full-on Surrealism, which relies on colorful shading and doesn't use black lines. Just where on the spectrum a neo-traditionalist tattoo lies depends on the artist doing the work. "Neo-traditional [tattoos] are more colorful than regular traditional," says Steve. "The people who do neo-traditional stuff will do multiple line widths."

Stick and Poke

Asking Jenna Bouma in Brooklyn for a cat with patches of dot-work would get you something like this sassy little guy.

For People Who Like: Notebook doodles, white space.

Who to Follow on Instagram: Jenna Bouma, @slowerblack

What It Is: For a tattoo like this, an artist uses either a regular tattooing machine or a sewing needle, and draws an image dot by dot. Stick and poke tattoos are usually on the smaller side, but Steve says that if you're going for this look, be prepared to sit for a while. "I've seen some pretty detailed ones—they must take forever," he says. "I think it depends on who's doing it, just like anything else."

Maritime Style

For People Who Like: Notebook doodles, white space. Who to Follow on Instagram: Jenna Bouma, @slowerblack What It Is: For a tattoo like this, an artist uses either a regular tattooing machine or a sewing needle, and draws an image dot by dot. Stick and

For People Who Like: Animals, intricacy.

Who to Follow on Instagram: Pony Reinhardt, @freeorgy

What It Is: These tattoos are done entirely in black lines of differing widths, with no color and no shading. "If you're trying to get a tattoo like that, you've got to find someone who does really good line work," says Steve. That means someone with a history of thinner, sharper lines; the thick lines of a Traditional artist won't work here.

Cartoon Style

For People Who Like: The '80s, pastels.

Who to Follow on Instagram: Lauren Winzer, @laurenwinzer

What It Is: The wacky color palette and pop-cultural references associated with this style make it ultra-specific. "If the artist doesn't specialize in that, you'd have to look at their portfolio and make sure they'd be able to pull it off," says Steve. "The best thing is to bring in references of stuff you like. The customer has to do a little preparing, too."

Still on the fence about getting a tattoo? Add me on Snapchat @nicoladallasen and feel free to ask me any of your ink-related questions!

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