A guide to important questions about getting the right ink for you

tattooThumbYou think you’re ready to get tattooed. Then come the questions.

Are you eighteen years old?

Do you know what you want?

Do you realize it’s permanent?

Do you have enough money?

Although these are important things to consider when you want a tattoo, few realize the most crucial part of the planning process is choosing the artist.

I have just over a thousand dollars worth of tattoos. If you know anything about tattooing, you would know that isn’t much.

At $150 an hour, this process is expensive. If I had more disposable income, I’d be absolutely covered in tattoos. Hopefully one day I will be. But in the small taste of this industry I’ve experienced so far, I’ve created connections, friendships, and relationships that I really value. As a journalist who asks way too many questions, I’ve also learned a lot about the realities of this industry that seem to fly under the radar for most.

Understanding your tattoo

When somebody asks you what you want, you have to understand what that means.

There are all kinds of tattoos. There is room for everything and anything. For you, the canvas, it’s a form of personal expression. But it’s also a form of expression for your artist.

If what you want falls along the lines of a simple graphic, logo, or a copy of a well-known symbol or picture, you mustn’t feel the need to go on a long hunt for a customized artist. Any good street shop that does a lot of walk-ins and smaller pieces can deliver.

When it comes to wanting a bigger piece, finding a custom tattoo artist becomes necessary. These pieces can vary from an entire back to a quarter sleeve. Essentially, any sort of image with flow and many elements will require you to understand exactly what you’re looking for in your completed tattoo and which artist you think can develop the best work for you.

This is where the research comes in.

Of course you can look up an artist’s portfolio online and find countless examples of their work.

However, knowing which artist will best work for you begins with understanding your tattoo.

What do you really want?

Knowing the styles

It isn’t necessary for everybody to become a tattoo aficionado just to get one piece done. That’s not what I’m saying here. I’m suggesting that it’s beneficial for every client or prospective client to at least understand that there are a number of different styles. It’s shocking how many people don’t realize this.

The styles differ in how colour and line work are presented, how an image flows, what the focus of the piece is, and how the art moves with the body. To me, they are all beautiful, but what you may like and want for your own art on your body may differ from what you admire on others. You should really consider all of this before you consider what type of tattoo you want to create with your artist.

That’s right. I said create with your artist. When you get a piece, this requires your artist’s input and ideas. These people aren’t printers, or photocopiers — they are called tattoo artists for a reason. You need to allow yourself to be open-minded to their ideas in addition to yours. Yes, this is going on your body, but it is also a showcase of their work and abilities, so it is important you are both on board from the start.

This is why some artist-client partnerships dissolve before a drop of ink has hit your skin. It is fully within an artist’s right to reject doing your tattoo. If your idea doesn’t necessarily fall within their style, or is something they are uncomfortable pursuing, expect them to pass.

However, with Calgary being a tattoo city — with plenty of artists and a friendly culture — it’s likely the artist you’ve approached will leave you with a recommendation of the exact artist they think will be the right match for the type of tattoo you want.

Tattooing, like anything else, goes through phases and trends. There are classic styles, like American Traditional and Japanese inspired art. As tattoos become more commonplace, these classic styles are more popular than ever, and other styles with modern takes of geometric and abstract art are making their way onto the scene.

Plenty Of Choices

There are over 100 tattoo shops in Calgary.

When you are looking to get your tattoo, and think you know which style or type of artwork you like, you’ll start browsing online through the most-mentioned artists in the city.

For those on the outside just poking their heads into the industry to browse, names you’ll likely hear will be Paul Jefferies of Smilin’ Buddha Tattoo Ltd,, James Tex of Deadly Tattoos Inc., Dan Cameron of Deadly Tattoos Inc., Doug Fink of Bushido Tattoo, Nick Luit, Jay Breen and Sam Smith of Scythe & Spade, Stacie Rae Weir, currently out of The Arthouse, Fraser Wright of Mission Tattoo and Chris Moniz of Asteroid M Tattoo.

There are hundreds more, I’m sure. But these are the names I have heard mentioned time and time again in my six years of getting tattooed.

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What’s incredible is that the ages of these tattoo artists ranges from the late 60s to the early 20s. Their styles range from classic Japanese Tebori to New Age geometric art. These examples alone show how rich and vibrant the tattoo culture in this in this city.

I’ve chosen to highlight three artists, and they allowed me into their shops with my video camera recording.

Through these short segments, I hope to introduce them to you, and also give you visual insights into their unique work and personal stories. Some of these artists have travelled across the world to learn more about their craft, while others didn’t even think it’d be possible to become an artist.

The artists 

Doug Fink

DougFink2Photo by Veronica Pocza Doug Fink is the owner and operator of Bushido Tattoo, an established shop in Calgary on 17th Avenue. He’s been tattooing in Calgary for almost 20 years, and has recently shifted his focus into learning the craft of Tebori tattooing, a classic Japanese technique. His education is being guided by his Japanese master, Ryugen. Fink has been pursuing this latest form for the past 3 1/2 years.

Stacie Rae Weir

StacieRaePhoto by Veronica Pocza Stacie Rae Weir has been tattooing for 20 years, including the past 12 years in Calgary. She now works out of studio space in The Arthouse, a shop in Kensington. She’s considered “a Jack of many trades,” because she’s had experience in almost every style of tattooing over her career. She tries to take on clients who come to her with a variety of different style requests. For Weir, it’s about expanding her skills. For reasons close to her heart, Weir has also extended her skills into providing mastectomy patients with specialized scar tissue tattooing, a story I covered for the Calgary Journal in Dec 2013: Using tattooing as healing

Nick Luit

NickLuitPhoto courtesy of Nick Luit Nick Luit is a born-and-raised Calgarian. He’s been tattooing for eight years. He’s considered to be young in the industry, but is making waves with his unique and recognizable folk-art inspired take on the American traditional style of tattooing. His work has led to a full client list, and his success has allowed him to open a shop with friends and fellow tattooers, Jay Breen and Sam Smith, called Scythe and Spade, which is operating out of Kensington.


Editors Note: Veronica Pocza is a tattoo enthusiast. In an effort to be transparent, it’s important to note Veronica has been a client of Stacie Rae’s and Nick Luit’s.

To contact the editor responsible for this story; Ato Baako at abaako@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail image is a screen shot from Stacie Rae Weir video.

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