Tattoo artists give their advice to those wanting artistic skin

This weekend, the tattoo nation descends on James Brown Area for the third annual Augusta Tattoo Expo, bringing with it acclaimed artists, well-inked enthusiasts and, invariably, novices ready to have pin put to skin for the very first time.

Jeffrey "Fro" Smith, a co- owner of Augusta's 1st Amendment Tattoo, said he would rather work on a well-prepared client than take the easy money for a tattoo both parties might sooner or later regret.

He and tattoo pros Mike Ferguson, Chris Earl and Twana Ferguson offered this advice to patrons looking for that first ink.

- Research. Look at artist portfolios and ask around about shop reputation. Talk to artists. A tattoo can be time-consuming and, Mr. Smith said, it's important that it be pleasant for both artist and client.

"It's an extremely personal experience," he said. "It really is bonding."

- When looking at an artist's work, pay particular attention to lines (they should be clean), shading (it should be smooth) and composition. It's important that each piece works as art and as a tattoo.

- Look at an artist's older work. See how it holds up over time.

- Start with training wheels. The giant tattoo might not be the best choice for a first-timer.

"Start with a leg," said Mr. Ferguson, an 18-year tattoo veteran. "Get something concealable before you go out and get that sleeve."

- Be original. Tattoo artists joke about the large number of Tasmanian devils they cover up, and tattoo art can become quickly dated.

- Listen to the artist, and make sure the artist listens to you.

"You don't want to come in looking for a rose and get talked into a dragon," Ms. Ferguson said.

- Prepare the skin. If there is hair, shave it. If it's dirty or covered in a cosmetic, clean it. If it's injured or unhealthy, a sunburn for instance, wait.

- Come in well-rested, hydrated and having eaten. Bring water and a snack. Tattoos are stressful and first-timers often feel light-headed.

"I still get stressed," Mr. Ferguson said.

- Stay away from names. Old girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands are commonly covered tattoos. "Life is a long time," Mr. Earl said.

- Be prepared to pay. Tattoos are art and can be costly. A full arm tattoo, commonly referred to as a sleeve, can cost several thousand dollars.

- Take care of the tattoo. A tattoo needs time to heal and, like any other wound, some tending. Mr. Ferguson said the responsibility of the artist is to make sure the client understands how that is done. The responsibility of the client is to ensure it is.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

INKED IN

WHAT: Third annual Augusta Tattoo Expo

WHEN: Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: James Brown Arena, 601 Seventh St.

COST: $10; for information, visit centralvalleytattoo.com

More