What To Do If You Don’t Like Your Tattoo Design


You’ve chosen your artist, given them your reference images, and waited for your appointment… you arrive on the big day only to find… you don’t like the design they’ve drawn.


Before we go into a full-on panic, let’s breathe. You’re probably not actually reading this while dealing with this situation, so how do we prevent it in the first place?


Preventing the problem:

There are lots of ways to help avoid this whole ordeal, here’s are some ideas:

  • Vet your artist. ‘Good’ art is super subjective, a better question is; Do you like their art? If you scroll through their feed seeing picture after picture that you love, then this is the artist for you!
  • Choose the right artist for the right project. Liking your artist is only the start, you need to be sure that what you’re asking for is something they can do well. You wouldn’t go to your favourite pizza place and ask them to make you sushi or a burger! Likewise, no matter how much you love your colourful illustrative artist, don’t ask them to do a black and grey portrait – find a portrait artist.  
  • Be clear with your expectations. The consultation is your chance to convey all of the information necessary to your artist. If you give them one reference image and no information, they’re going to have a hard time figuring out what you want. Likewise if you send 15 reference images that are all different, they may also get confused. 
  • Never say ‘anything you want’ unless you really mean it. Like, really think about how broad anything is. Anything could be a fern, anything could be a panda bear, anything could be a postage stamp or a bleeding skull or a plate of spaghetti. You probably don’t want anything tattooed on you, so narrow it down a bit. Every when you say ‘any kind of flower is fine’ you could get spikey roses or round daisies or long sprigs of lavender.
  • Never make assumptions. Whatever you are assuming your artist will do or not do, stop it. Even if your last artist did things a certain way, you just can’t assume everyone else will too. It’s always best to ask clarifying questions.


How to ask for changes:

Your artist shows you the design and you’re just not that into it. Well, all is not lost. Take a moment to try and figure out what’s not working for you. Sometimes a small detail can make or break a design. Do you really not like anything about the design, or is it that part of it is bugging you?


Example feedback:

  • The expression is off, I wanted them to be happier, can we change that?
  • I thought the script would be at the bottom, but it’s at the top, can it be moved?
  • This part is supposed to be the focus, but this other part feels too big, can we change the scale?
  • I like this part here, but that part doesn’t sit right with me, can we change it to something else?


What if I still don’t like it?

The absolute majority of the time, your artist can make the necessary changes and your tattoo will be awesome. But if you find yourself in a situation where you really do not want to get the tattoo, listen to your gut.  


No one (including your artist) wants you walking around in the world with a tattoo you don’t like. Remember, your artist is a professional, and they will not die of sadness if you don’t like their design. (It’s not even a reflection of their worth as an artist, it just means it wasn’t the right design for you.)


Example phrases:

  • I don’t feel that this design is right for me.
  • I would prefer not to get tattooed today. 


What happens next?

Generally, one of two things will happen next:


1) Start again.

If you can both understand what went wrong and reach clarity on what you do want, the artist may be able to draw you something new. This could require a new appointment on a different day.


2) Part ways.

If either you or the artist do not think they can do what you want, you may elect to end it there. Your artist may recommend another artist or you may have another artist in mind.   


In either case, generally, your deposit would be forfeited to the artist to compensate them for the time they spent preparing this design and their empty chair that day. (If you’ve elected to rebook, they will need a new deposit.) 


Either way, there don’t have to be hard feelings. Art is subjective, and it’s better to pay the artist for their time and start again than to accept a tattoo you don’t like.


If your artist refuses:

The artist is providing a service and has a responsibility to provide a tattoo that will heal and age well. This can limit some types of changes, like making things too small or too detailed.


But it’s also the artist’s job to give you a tattoo that you’ll actually like, not something that strokes their own ego.


If your artist refuses to make changes because they prefer their design and want to do it ‘their way’, your artist is an asshat. It may be time to seriously reconsider if it’s a good idea to work with someone who puts their own interests above yours.


I hope you never find yourself in this situation, but if the artist is pressuring you to get a tattoo you don’t want, get out of there any way that you can.


Fake an emergency. Step outside to take a call. Pretend you forgot something in your car. Pretend you forgot your money at home.


It may sound dramatic, but there are soooo many people out there with tattoos they got because it was too awkward to say no, or the artist would not accept no as an option. It’s better to leave and feel silly than to get a bad tattoo in an unsafe shop.


Final note:

Communication is key, and 95% of the time, a good conversation and some design tweaks will result in a great tattoo that you’ll love! You’re got this!  


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