You know what really grinds my gears? TATTOO THIEVES. It is becoming a pretty serious issue. Tattoo artists of low integrity are giving in to clients and not using their own skills to create a custom pice. Most of the time you can look at a tattoo and know exactly who the artist is; peoples’ styles have become so obvious thanks to the internet.

Clients are now searching online and printing, or bringing in a publication of a tattoo and saying, “I WANT THIS.” Instead of the artist telling them, “That’s a cool idea, but it was drawn specifically for that person. You don’t want the exact same thing as them. I can use this as a reference and draw you something entirely of your own,” they make a stencil of someone else’s hard work and tattoo it!

Even better, some skip the tattooing part all together, stealing the picture and putting it into their portfolio and claiming that the tattoo was done by them! I have had this happen to me countless times now, as have many other artists I know.
I love when I get emails like this: “I got a Kristel knock-off, can you make it brighter and make some changes?”

The best one yet was someone sending me to a link to a guy in New York with a picture of the “Hello Kitty Candy Ass” tattoo I did in his portfolio. I emailed him and asked him to please take the photo down since it wasn’t his work. He sent me a pretty rude response, on top of threatening to “cut my face up.”

Last month a girl contacted me about a tattoo that she was not happy with, asking if I could re-do it or cover it up. I asked for a picture of the tattoo—imagine my surprise when I saw it was two tattoos stolen straight out of my portfolio! They went from shoulder to elbow and were totally jacked! She found pictures of my work on the internet and got them done by a guy tattooing out of his house, then when she wasn’t happy with it wanted me to fix it. After I told her I wouldn’t touch the tattoo, she emailed me back to call me a B#$%h. Really, you stole my work and now you’re mad I won’t fix it for you? I told her it’s called KARMA!!

I can’t even believe how often this happens. You’d think people would know by now that you’re going to get caught eventually. Beyond that, it makes you look like an asshole who can’t draw! Is it really, really worth the few hundred bucks you “might” make off of the tattoo, rather than drawing something from your imagination using this subject matter and making a name for yourself and progressing your talent?

The people who have stylized their tattooing and become known for their work didn’t start off just tattooing rad shit. We all started out tattooing jacked up lines on grapefruits or our friends. With work on ourselves from colors, to gray washes, to the style we wanted to head toward, using a body instead of a flat canvas, to using our own imagination to create something for our clients rather than tattoo flash, this all came with time and pushing ourselves.

When it comes to tattooing, imitation is not flattery–it’s a insult. Push yourself and the limits of your skills. NO ONE TATTOOS PERFECTLY. WE ARE ALL STILL LEARNING AND MASTERING OUR SKILL WITH EVERY TATTOO WE DO.

Being a copy cat does NOT lead to artistic progress! As far as dealing with an insistent client is concerned: as a tattooer, you are in control of this situation. You know how to sell your product–and yourself, I’d hope. (If not, take a course or read a book about it.) Unfortunately people see tattoos online and decide, “OH, that’s it! That’s exactly what I’m going to get!” People like this will never know by watching Tattoo TV shows about our real industry and what collectors/clients should be doing when they look for inspiration, not to mention how to select an artist.

I understand there are folks working in street shops that just tattoo what’s brought in or flash on the wall before moving on to the next tattoo of the day… But as an artist, do you always want to be at that level? I get that picture is exactly what the client says they want, but they must not “really” know what they want if they’re trying to get an exact replica of something someone else already has on their body.

I can’t help but wonder about some of these clients, too. Do you really want a tattoo from a person who couldn’t even draw you something custom? This person is supposed to be a tattoo “ARTIST”!

Many people are getting into tattooing these days for tattooed chicks/guys, cool points, because someone on TV is doing it or their mom said their drawings are good (Really? You going to rock that fanny pack they said looks good, too?), and a life where they think it’s all “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”

It’s disappointing, to say the least.

I can only speak for myself, but I’d like to think the artists I see pumping out dope pieces at conventions, on blogs, in magazines and books got into it for the same reason I did: because tattoos… well, there’s just something about them, isn’t there? When I see an amazing tattoo, it’s like the rush of a first kiss or taste of an amazing desert—it’s that kind of chill that tells me this is bliss.

Tattoos are beautiful, scary, amazing, astonishing, life-changing. It’s art on a body, and it should be making a tattoo artist think, “Hell yes! This is me, my life, my skill and my future.” I never want to be afraid to humble myself to push to be better at my skill. Every tattoo should be something that I can look at on that last wipe before I let the client see, and think, “Yep… I am a tattooer–not a tracing thief!”

–Guest blog by Kristel Oreto

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