Getting a tattoo can either be thrilling or nerve-wracking for some, especially if it's the first. Tattoo artists can easily tell if it's a person’s first time or not, first by them not having any tattoos but secondly how clients act on the day of. These tattoo artists reveal their worst encounter with a first-time tattoo client. Content has been edited for clarity purposes.
A Minor And Her Mom
“I had a teenage girl, about 16 years old come in once. She wanted a tattoo of a rose on the side of her neck. Now I was certainly not going to even entertain a neck tattoo for a teenager period, but she didn’t even bother to bring a parent with her to sign for her so it went from a certain no to an absolute never in a million years. She got pretty upset and made a scene in our front area, so I told her to leave. After a lot of arguing she finally left, but not before making some idle threat. Other than sharing the story with my coworkers over drinks later and having a laugh at her audacity, I didn’t think more of it. Until the following week when an incredibly angry middle-aged woman came barging into the shop, screaming how she was going to have us all shut down and sent to jail.
Everybody in the shop was pretty confused and after we got her to stop screaming at all of us, we finally got it out of her why she was so angry. Apparently, her daughter had gone out and got a neck tattoo without her knowledge. It was around then that I recognized the girl from the week before peaking in our front windows. Then it all clicked.
She had found some sketchy artist in a kitchen to tattoo the rose on her neck that I said no to. I told the mother to call her daughter in to which her daughter pointed to me and told her Mom I was the one who did it. The tattoo was terribly done, to say the least, so the Mom definitely had several reasons to be so livid. She started getting upset again and yelling about how this was going to get me fired and sent to jail. I let her yell until she had calmed down enough to listen. Then I explained to her how the week before I had told her daughter outright that I wouldn’t give her a neck tattoo.
Her daughter screamed that I was a liar, so the mom started up with another round of yelling, this time about how I was calling her daughter a liar. It was around this time that I just decided to point to our CCTV camera in the front area until the mother noticed what I was doing and stopped. I told her if she would like to, she could review the footage of me denying her daughter, the temper tantrum, and then her daughter leaving the shop. We usually kept footage for a week or two and then deleted it so I knew it should still be on the computer. Her daughter started looking pretty nervous around this time, but she didn’t say anything.
Meanwhile, I found the footage from the day and the mom watched the entire interaction that I described. Then with the coldest look of anger, betrayal, and disappointment, she turned to her daughter. She took her outside of the shop quietly and then screamed at her outside for basically everything that had just happened, and how humiliating it all had been.
After a bit, the daughter came in and gave me a very sarcastic apology and then left. Now at this time, I had been considering a ‘No minors at all’ policy, but this experience solidified that in my mind. Aside from one or two exceptions, I haven’t tattooed any minors for the last 13 years now.”
The Bathroom Incident
“Around 19999-2000, I had a lady in her 40s come in for her first tattoo. A walk-in butterfly on her left shoulder blade. She was a server at a sketchy club in town and was pretty haggard. She also had her 16-year-old son with her.
We were about 20 minutes into what should’ve been a 45-minute tattoo when she said she needed a break. Now I know better than to leave a client alone when they ‘need a break, but I was pretty green, so I stepped out for a smoke.
When I came back in, she was standing up, bent 90 degrees forward at the waist, with her face on my workstation. As I got closer, I saw that she was standing in a puddle of her own urine, and was passed out standing up. She was leaning forward with enough weight on her face to keep her from falling to the floor. Her son was frozen in his chair and didn’t say a word. Fortunately, she was wearing a skirt, so she didn’t get her clothes all soaked.
When I got her conscious again, she said she needed to go to the bathroom to clean up. During the approximately 20 minutes she was in the bathroom, I mopped my floor a couple of times and got everything good to go if she was still feeling up to finishing. Normally, I’d just tell her to come back another day, but I was pretty new. I just wanted to finish, get paid, and get her the heck out.
Anyway, after 20 minutes or so, she came out of the bathroom and said, ‘Don’t worry, I cleaned the bathroom.’
Oh no, what did she do to the bathroom that would require her to clean it? She proceeded to say she wanted to finish the tattoo, so she sat, and I started working again.
About five minutes in, I noticed something on the outside of her knee. I looked again and saw that it was a little chunk of turd. Not on the front of the kneecap, but on the side.
I was thinking, ‘How does that even happen?’
As I looked away from the turd, I saw her 16-year-old son noticed it too. He looked at me, and then at the floor for the remainder of the tattoo. I didn’t know if I should say anything about it, or just finish the tattoo, get her out of there, and proceed to drown myself in a bottle to try and kill the memory. I decided not to say anything, partially to save her kid more embarrassment.
Anyway, I wrapped it up, got paid, got her out of there, and proceeded to the bathroom to see what she did to it.
The bathroom had a urinal and two separate stalls. There were circular smears over the entire floor, and toilet paper in both toilets, as she got down on her knees in a desperate attempt to clean it up. That must’ve been how she got the turd on the knee.
I’ll still curious how it ended up on the outside of the knee. I’m still curious if she ever noticed it there, and I’m still amazed that I didn’t quit tattooing right then and there.”
“She’d Been Thinking About This Tattoo For 10 Years”
“I was a pretty fresh apprentice tattooer at the time. A woman came in and said she had been referred to me by a guy I knew. I told her I hadn’t been tattooing very long, but if she was comfortable with that, we could move forward. She immediately got weird and kind of aggressive, saying he told her I’d been tattooing for a year already. I was kind of taken aback by the out of nowhere escalation of the situation. And just said he must have been mistaken.
I’m a very anxious person and truth be told, I was already nervous at this point, but being an apprentice I didn’t know how to politely decline work. So I tried to move past the awkwardness and ask her if she was comfortable working with me, no pressure. I was new, and she could work with my mentor if she felt so inclined.
She said, ‘No, I’m fine.’
She launched into what she wanted and with every sentence, I was getting more nervous because I knew I’d never meet her expectations. She’d been thinking about this tattoo for ten years. It meant the world to her. She wanted to incorporate all this music imagery with her kid’s names into a big calf piece. I could just tell that she’d seen an image in her head for ten years and I was just never gonna match it. But I desperately tried. We set up a time for her to come in and look at the design, then I drew and made any changes/moved forward with making an actual appointment. I didn’t know what in the world she wanted from me.
She was so bad at explaining what she wanted but got aggressive about insisting it looked some exact way. Like she’d act like I was an idiot for asking clarification questions. And I was still confused. I was so anxious, thinking about it every day leading up to the point. I tried my best to interpret all the elements she wanted. I thought I got an okay design, out of the million elements she wanted to be incorporated (I wouldn’t accept this kind of work now.)
So she came in, took one look at it, and broke down sobbing, while intensely staring at me in the eyes. This wasn’t like, ‘Oh my goodness! This is perfect! These were absolute ‘I hate this’ tears.
I said it was okay if she didn’t like it and she could just work with my mentor. Meanwhile, my mentor also desperately didn’t want to work with her. You could just tell nothing would live up to what she had in her head. She was still bawling and I was panicking because I dunno what to do.
Finally, my mentor came over and tried to talk her down. She ended up taking this woman on and did an acceptable job of designing something she wanted. The lady set up an appointment and got the outline and then we just never see her again.
I will never forget her because she was so intense and made me feel like utter trash after that experience.”
“All my clients so far had been friends, or friends of friends, so overall very low-pressure situations. This one girl was someone I knew casually from college, and she was getting just a little quarter-sized outline of something on her ankle. It was actually a chibi-Totoro.
It was the most nerve-wracking experience. She okayed the drawing, I had the stencil, and everything was set up. I placed it with no issue. She laid down on the bed, and as soon as my foot touched the pedal and my machine started, she screamed. Not a little yelp of surprise, or a little gasp, it was a full-on scream. I immediately stopped the machine and asked her if she was okay.
‘Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just a scary noise!’ She said.
I replied, ‘Okay, I understand. It’s loud and it’s intense.’
I tried to soothe her and said that she wouldn’t have to hear it for more than ten minutes. But as soon as I turned on the machine again, she screamed again. My nerves were shot and my heart was pounding. At this point, I was telling her that maybe she shouldn’t get tattooed today. (Or possibly ever.)
‘No, it’s fine. Just tattoo me through it!’ She said.
‘Alrighty then,’ I said.
I turned on the machine and she cued a small shriek, but I still went to make one line. She immediately squirmed across the table, yanking her foot away.
This back and forth ensued for another twenty minutes. When I would go to tattoo her, she would scream, writhe on the bed, and keep physically wrenching her body away from me. The needle wouldn’t even be in contact with the skin yet.
But she still argued with me, saying ‘Just do it. I can handle it. I don’t want to leave without a tattoo.’
At one point, after half-standing to physically hold down her foot, I made a little line.
This line was literally the size of a sewing stitch in a jacket. It was one centimeter long, but she burst into tears. I entirely gave up on the whole tattoo. I told her she clearly wasn’t ready, it was not a big deal, and she could just come back to finish it another time. So I bandaged it up (it was still a wound, after all), and she went on her way.
The whole thing was excruciating. Ironically, she did come back and get it finished a few weeks later with minimal fuss.”
“A few years back, when we still had flash all over the walls, this 18-year-old kid and his dad came in. Right off the bat, they were definitely weird; the dad was looking through the flash and giggling, calls over my coworker, still giggling. My coworker asked if he could help him.
“There are drawings of clothless ladies here!’ The dad said.
I thought, Uh, yeah, calm down sir, this is a tattoo shop, that’s traditional flash, and you’re an adult with a kid, so presumably, you’ve seen one before.
So imagine my joy when the dad lighted up when I said I’d be tattooing his kid.
He creepily said, ‘Oh! A female tattooist!’
The kid was the one getting tattooed, and he finally settled on this hideous, Insane Clown Posse (ICP) -esque ‘creepy clown’. We were talking that old cherry creek flash, so this was spectacularly gnarly. I redrew it to at least correct some things I felt needed correcting, and stenciled it onto his stomach. From the moment needle touched skin, it was like tattooing a bucking bronco. On top of that, the kid didn’t have the best hygiene.
So when he started sweating, it stunk up the whole shop. And that took some doing seeing as how the smell of green soap and weed are not easily overpowered. The apprentice ran the sink and poured bleach down the drain and opened the windows to try to tame the smell. Oh, and not to mention that the kid was moaning non-stop. It was terrible.
The tattoo was supposed to be full color, but two minutes in I knew he’d never make it, so I finished the outline (one of the worst I’d ever done) and told him we’d make an appointment to do the color another day. He agreed, so I wrapped him up, half expecting him to never come back. Surprisingly he did, and he sat so much better that second time. We took a break about halfway through and he said he was going to grab a soda. He never came back. The weirdest thing was that he’d already paid in full, so it was not like he ripped me off or anything. I always wondered about that, it was so strange.”
“There’s No Way I’m Paying”
“The worst experience I have had with a client was this 30-year-old lady who wanted a ‘Hello Kitty’ type tattoo. So essentially the design we were working on was Hello Kitty riding a pink Dragon as a half sleeve (shoulder to elbow). Now I specialize in Japanese tattoos which for the initial consultation, she expressed how much she loved my style of Japanese Dragons.
So here I was thinking, ‘Sick! I can smash this dragon out of the park and just put a hello kitty on the dragon.’
It would be easy peasy, so I booked her in for a full eight-hour day.
When we began tattooing, we started talking about how much we both loved art. She also was heavily praising the tattoos I did and my tattoo style. She was super friendly and we were hitting it off. However, she talked kinda loud, which I thought was because she was understandably nervous, meaning my workmates could easily hear her speaking as well.
Fast forward to our 20-minute lunch break, I finished eating and walked out to the front reception where one of my workmates told me, ‘Hey man! I was outside having a smoke with your client. Not too sure if she knew I was an artist as well, but she was really upset with how the tattoo is going. She says it isn’t hurting as much and that you’re not doing the tattoo properly because her skin is not red or irritated. She said, ‘There’s no way I’m paying all that money for a tattoo that isn’t done properly.”
I was completely caught off guard and it went against everything we were talking about. So when we came back to tattooing, I made sure to be overly reassuring, letting her know exactly what I was doing and why I was using certain inks which she insisted were ‘too light of a shade of pink,’ but I knew this pink was going to heal exactly the way she wanted it.
Anyways we finished up and I went home. When I checked my emails, there were two huge paragraphs on how much of a horrible job I’d done and that I never did what she asked for. We both clearly agreed to the design beforehand.
I replied reassuring her that the tattoo would heal as planned, that the colors would settle, and that it was easily fixable. She replied with another long paragraph on how I should tattoo and listen to my clients’ wishes which I didn’t reply to because at this point I knew she was overreacting. It was her first tattoo.
Two weeks later, she emailed me back, saying how much she loved her tattoo, it healed perfectly, the pink was the right shade, and that she wanted to book in to finish it up.
I ended up palming her off to another artist. Basically told her I felt uncomfortable that I wasn’t going to meet her expectations (purposely worded it that way), but in reality, I wanted nothing to do with her. She also never apologized or didn’t even acknowledge her behavior.”
“About five years ago when I was apprenticing in a college town, this girl came in with her boyfriend for a traditional butterfly above her elbow. I was still super new so it took me way longer than it should have (maybe two hours). I laid her down on her stomach with her arm bent at her side.
Anyway, we started tattooing and within maybe 10 minutes she started getting a string of texts from her freshman friends, telling her they were essentially ousting her from their group and they didn’t want her to contact them again. It was super mean stuff, and obviously, it upset her. As she was relating all this to her boyfriend, she started crying, then full-on sobbing. I asked her if she wanted to stop, but she insisted on me continuing. I felt too awkward to counter her.
She continued to sob on and off for probably another hour, while I just kept plugging away at this dumb little tattoo. At this point, she had cried so much that her tears had gathered where her arm was pressed against the massage table and had started to spill over into my lap. So I was feeling very uncomfortable, and now also damp.
Then, as I was within 30 minutes or so of finishing, she began whimpering, then moaning loudly.
At one point, she told the boyfriend, ‘This is more intense than hooking up.’
I wanted to die.
As soon as I finished and checked her out, my coworkers (who had all been waiting on me to close) were like, ‘What in the world was going on? Why did you keep going?’
But at the moment, all I could think about was to finish the tattoo as soon as possible.”
“A couple of years ago, I had a girl come in for what was supposed to be a simple little seahorse. I mean it was only about four to five inches long. This was going to be her first tattoo and she told me that she had a severe fear of blood. She always passes out whenever she sees blood or even thinks she’s going to see blood. After that, I should have never agreed to tattoo her, but she said that she wanted to do this so that she could get over her phobia.
Well, the outline itself should have only taken me about 20 minutes or so, but it took me well over an hour and a half to get through. This girl passed out about a dozen times. And after each time, I had to revive her, get her some water, hold cold compresses to her forehead and back of the neck, elevate her feet, and get her calmed down.
And no, you can’t just keep working on someone after they pass out. But I couldn’t just leave her with a couple of random lines that would look awful, so I had to finish the outline. The worst part was that I had gotten what I think was food poisoning the night before, so I was just going to do this little tattoo and then go home and get some rest because I still felt awful. I didn’t think I’d ever get that outline done.”
“There was this client who asked for a portrait of a rabbit in a frame with some blossoms. That was as much detail as she gave me (I do my communication and designing over email generally). I drew up her design and emailed it to her. She said she liked it but asked me to redraw the rabbit’s body shape, give it ears that stick up rather than hanging down, add more flowers, and redraw the frame to be more simple. So, literally, change everything.
I told her I would start over but that I already spent hours on her first drawing so I was going to offer it as an up-for-grabs design to other clients so I could still make money for it to which she said that was okay.
So I spent another three-ish hours redrawing her tattoo and sent it to her.
She responded, ‘Eh, I don’t like it. Can I just do the first design?’
I told her, ‘Heck no.’
She just had such a specific picture in her mind but she could not communicate it. And when I followed her instructions, she still wasn’t happy. I ended up having to have her come in and watch me draw it at the shop so she could give her opinions in real-time. The cherry on top was that once she was happy with it and I finally tattooed it on her, she didn’t tip anything.”
Mr. Lover Boy
“I had a 19-year-old lad in the studio, who wanted ‘Laura’ in large letters on his forearm. I took my time to quiz him, turns out Laura was his sweetheart. I also spent a long time explaining to him that tattoos are for life, and girlfriends come and go. He remained adamant and clearly explained that if I didn’t do it, he had a friend with a ‘tattoo device’ who would do it.
So I did it, wrapped it up, and explained aftercare. As he left, I checked the time, and thought, ‘Great! I have 22 minutes until my next client.’
Twenty-two minutes later, my client turned up on perfect time, followed less than a minute later by Mr. Lover boy. Apparently, he’d met Laura at the park who instantly dumped him for being so stupid. It would appear she wasn’t as in love with him as he assumed.
Twenty-two minutes from requesting a tattoo to requesting a cover-up.”
The Police Were Called
“I’ve seen quite a few people who had no business getting tattooed, but by far my favorite was this one guy who wanted to get some script tattooed behind his ear. He had come in before to get priced out but absolutely refused to make an appointment or drop a deposit. He came back a few days later as a walk-in, so we squeezed him in that day. He was a mess getting done, shaking, sweating, and basically crying in the chair. The tattoo itself took maybe 15 minutes. Well, the reason why this dude refused to put a deposit down was that he planned on getting tatted and leaving without paying.
As soon as the artist put ‘saniderm’ on his tattoo, he jumped up out of the chair and bolted for the front door. Then promptly passed out as he ran through the lobby. He ended up breaking his nose as he hit the ground, so we called the cops. The best part was watching this dude cry like a baby because he was just a few days from getting out of the military and the local police department notified his command. Best shift ever.”