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Ask Guy Aitchison

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Q) I have a question about clientele approach...

I work in a (custom) street shop where most of our clients want to get tattooed the same day or shortly after.  I find this suffocating and wish I had more time to research their art and play with different ideas and mediums before their appointment.   I'm criticized by my coworkers for being emotionally vested in my clients and their art.  It kills me to just slap some on-the-fly design on someone.  Even if it's good, I want it to be great.  I can't help it.  I care about them, even if they're not "cool" or interesting, or easy to deal with.  I'm not sure this kind of environment is right for me, and would love to work in a shop that is as concerned (if not more) with the art it sends out than the amount of money they're bringing in. Do you think I should look for another shop, or is there a lesson I'm missing in this that is helping me become better some how?  Any thoughts you have on this would be greatly appreciated.

A) Well, let me start by speaking one of the basic truths of the tattoo industry: It's hard to find the right gig. Most tattoo artists, custom or otherwise, will spend the first 5-15 years of their career trying to find a work environment where they feel at home and can work in just the manner that suits them. In many cases, artists end up opening their own shops just to avoid the pitfalls of working in the wrong environment- and this ends up often being an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation, with a suddenly unexpectedly high overhead, co-workers or employees with the wrong attitude that you have to count on to keep the doors open... whole different bag of worms. Some artists are now working just in private studios (myself included!) but in my own case this was after a dozen years working in various shops, including my own street shop, and literally hundreds of conventions, which I continued to attend for the next decade after going private. Working alone is the wrong thing for an up-and-coming artist, as you'll miss the rich opportunities for inspiration and new perspectives offered by being around other artists.

So as you can see, any of these situations come with one kind of cost or another. You simply can't avoid it- law of the universe! So you have to ask yourself where you are at in your career, if you are prepared to take on the headache and expense of creating your own work environment, if you are prepared for all the unexpected costs, financial and otherwise. Then ask yourself if your current shop environment isn't something you can ride out- or even improve- for a while, until you're ready for the big move. In the meantime, network with other artists as much as you can and see what other kinds of opportunities come up.