Tattoo Artists Share Their ‘…Are You Sure?’ Stories
Tattoos are really nothing new. Body art has been around for centuries. The first evidence of tattooing was found on mummified bodies from the 4th millennium B.C. Although equipment, tattooing styles, and even sanitary practices have evolved throughout the years, body art still holds a very eminent place in our society. From “I Love Mom” tattoo hearts to intricate, colorful sleeves, body art can literally be whatever you make of it.
Having open reign to put whatever ink you want on your skin is cool. But many people forget that this kind of art is permanent— just ask the Otzi the Iceman. We all like to be impulsive from time to time, but a new tattoo can be one pretty poor life decision. Just ask these tattoo artists. These artists shared their true accounts of out-of-control tattoo client stories with us. A coverup is definitely in order.
#1 A Classic First Tattoo Catastrophe
I actually refused to do this one— an 18-year-old girl came in wanting her boyfriend’s name on her lower back. She had never met him; she was his prison pen pal for a month, and he was being released in a couple weeks and she wanted to get it to surprise him. No judgments on ex-cons or 18-year-old girls, but I got the impression the relationship wasn’t going to last!
#2 Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Tattooed
Guy comes in with his girlfriend and they want each other’s names. I protest, they insist. We know they’ll get it elsewhere and I’m in a walk-in shop at the time so I say whatever, let’s go. Gets it across his stomach in old English, the moment we’re done she yells something like: “Next time, you’ll think twice before sleeping with some girl behind my back!” And runs away.
It was awkward to ask for the money.
#3 Some People Never Learn
A guy came in and got his wife’s name covered up with a portrait of his new girlfriend. My coworker used part of her shirt in the picture to cover up the name. Two months later, he turned his now ex-girlfriend’s portrait into a demon.
I started working at another shop and in came the same guy with a third girl and they were getting matching tattoos on their hands. When I walked to the front and saw him he totally pretended he didn’t know me.
#4 A Fairytale Ending
Dude came in and asked me to tattoo a portrait of his girlfriend. Only the portrait was a duck face selfie. I jokingly suggested adding her holding the phone, taking the selfie, but he thought it was a great idea. They’ve only been dating six months and he didn’t tell her he was going to get it.
He came back a month later to add her name above it.
#5 A Daily Reminder
A friend of mine had the anorexia symbol tattooed on her neck. I know it’s supposed to be a symbol of recovery. But now, when she looks in the mirror, all it does is remind her of her disorder and how horrible it makes her feel.
#6 Kind Of Tacky, Sort Of Clever
My ex-tattooist tried to convince me to get a broken prophylactic with the word “Whoops” above it. Obviously, I declined.
He ended up tattooing it on his own upper arm with his son’s birth date below.
#7 Hindsight Is 20/20
My friend had to tattoo a picture of Bill Cosby on a guy’s back in the mid-2000s. Poor guy probably regrets that now.
#8 Close Call
My tattoo artist told me a story about a guy who was balding and wanted his bald spot tattooed over in black. My artist coloured the bald spot in with a sharpie and told the guy to come back after he’d showed it to his wife. Guy didn’t come back.
#9 Parent Of The Year Over Here
I was booking a tattoo one day and a woman came in to buy her soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter a tattoo. Owner and tattooist says, “Sure we can sort something out, what is she wanting?” Mother says: “She wants to get the Playboy bunny on the inside of her wrist.” Artist refused and said: “I don’t want to be responsible for something so cliche and visible on such a young girl.” There was an argument, but the woman leaves yelling she is going elsewhere where her money is good enough. He had strong views on neck, face, and hand tattoos.
My tattoo artist’s most notable was a guy who wanted a solid bright blue “speedo” tattooed on. Over every square inch that a speedo would cover. Said it was super awkward as it was one of his first tattoos but he made good money off of it. Nothing has really fazed him since.
#11 To Each Their Own
I know this guy who tattooed a “cutie mark” on a guy’s rear end. A cutie mark is the marking the ponies have on their rear in the My Little Pony series.
#12 Sounds Like The Next Hangover Movie
Last year, while doing a guest spot in Portugal, I had a guy come in while he was on holiday for his stag party. The guy wanted all the names of his friends tattooed on his butt cheeks. Thirteen names on each cheek and three of his mates wanted to sign their own names. Sure buddy… sure.
#13 I Think I Know How To Spell My Own Name!
I was a shop girl, so it was my job to get everything set up for the tattoos. I had a couple come in and want each other’s names tattooed on them— okay, no problem. At this shop, we had a rule that anything involving words has to have the person sign a copy of the lettering to make sure everything is spelled correctly. So, they write their names down and the artists draw up the lettering and I give them the copies to double check spelling and sign off on it. The woman looks at the man’s name and says it’s spelled wrong. We double check and that’s how he spelled it and he looks at it and says it’s right, and they argue about this. I go back and look at how it is spelled on his ID and sure enough, it’s spelled wrong. So he decides maybe it is spelled wrong, and the artist redraws it. On all his paperwork he had spelled his name wrong, the way he had written it for the artist. His name is pretty common, I think he just really didn’t know how to spell his name. This was a couple probably in their late 20s, early 30s with a few kids together.
#14 He Thought Long And Hard About This
We had this lovely exchange student come into the studio for about a year to get all sorts of piercings and then the day finally came that he turned 18. So, he asked to sit down and chat with him about what he wanted. Now, the way he asked me made me think that it was going to be this big elaborate design. He asked for a math equation on his foot. He wanted 3+4=8. I cautiously asked if he knew that was the incorrect answer to the equation. His response was “Oh yeah I know, I just think it’d make a funny tattoo.” So yeah.
#15 Bad Idea 101
My friend wanted angel wings tattooed on her back and asked me to go since I was the only person she knew with tattoos. We walk into a pretty well-known tattoo shop in LA and she explains to the artist what she wants. As she explains, it gets even more elaborate with the wings starting to decay the farther down her back they went and the artist shows us some pretty sweet wings he’d done before. He explains how it will be done, he’d do the outline first and after a few weeks she could come back and he’d start the detail work.
Fast forward to three days later and she’s topless lying on his chair and he’s laying a stencil down. He asks her what other tattoos she has besides this one and she tells him that this will be her first one. Tattoo guy’s face drops instantly and he starts saying how he’s going to end up tattooing some of the most painful parts you could tattoo (the ribs mostly) and he asks if she can handle it. She says yes and after a little more talking it happened. She cannot take the pain at all, she’s crying and gripping the cushion like she’s about to die. Artist looks at me and his face reads like ‘is she really going to do this the entire time?’.
After half an hour of tattooing with the occasional break he says he can’t deal with her screaming in the shop so he stops. He had probably 10% of the outline done on the right wing. We leave with another appointment set so another person could help her with the tattoo and make it something smaller. I didn’t go back but she went with two female friends and from what I heard, it was another ten minutes of tattooing. So, she ended up having a nice wave outline on her back.
#16 This Ain’t Nothing To Mess With
I know a girl who self-tattooed a Wu-Tang ‘W’ on her upper thigh. Only after she finished and looked in the mirror did she realize that she had done it so that she could see the W but to everyone else, it looks like an M.
#17 Never Scared, Not Once
I know someone who went in to get “unscarred” across his chest. He messed up the spelling and now has “unscared” tattooed across his chest.
#18 Teens Do The Darndest Things
During the Twilight craze, a mother brought in her fourteen-year-old to get vampire bites tattooed on her neck. Little holes with blood streaming down. We refused and they got angry. A few years later, I saw that girl in public, she must have gone to a bad shop. She had two quarter-sized black dots with red strings all the way down her stupid neck.
#19 Very Spicy
Guy came in and asked for a bottle of sriracha with little wings tattooed on his back.
#20 You Go, Grandma
There was an 85-year-old woman who came into my tattoo artists shop, saying exactly: “I WANT A SKULL WITH DAGGERS AND FIRE”. My artist said: “Yeah!” and now she’s an 85-year-old grandma with skull and daggers on her chest.
#21 This Is Just Too Sad
Not a tattoo artist but I know someone who got her boyfriend’s name tattooed on her neck. Her first and only tattoo.
Later found out that same boyfriend molested her kid. So now she is walking around with her kid’s molester’s name on her neck. I don’t know why she won’t get it covered up.
#22 What Do You Expect?
I tattoo eyebrows specifically. I’ve had a few clients come in and not know it’s a tattoo.
I had an older woman come in with her paid deposit and think that I was going to wax her eyebrows. She thought the deposit was the price of waxing eyebrows ($110). I felt terrible. I waxed her eyebrows, showed her how to fill them in with a pencil, and then refunded her deposit.
Other than that, there’s the usual “freak out” before starting. So, I’ll always ask “Are you sure?”.
#23 Very Clever… And Strange
I know a girl with a camel tattooed on one of her toes— it’s only an outline and it’s hidden most of the time, but I do wonder what motivated her to have a tattoo with the theme of ‘camel toe’.
#24 Young And Dumb
My friend’s baby sister got ‘Anthony’s b***h’ in big gothic lettering on her lower back (tramp stamp) when she was 16. They broke up not long after.
#25 Typical Husband Move
My dad has a terrible tattoo on his arm of his and my Mom’s name. Years ago she told him to get something around it to make it look a little nicer and he came back with a dolphin on his pec!
#26 That’s What Friends Are For
My good friend who is also a tattoo artist talked me out of getting Spiderman swinging from one nipple to the other. I’m still not sure he was right.
#27 Alrighty Then
I once tattooed a stick of butter with wings attached— get it? It’s a butterfly. It was dumb, but fun.
#28 Super Wholesome
I had four artists refuse to do mine. Fell a few years back and have a gnarly scar on my wrist that reminds me of a flower steam. Decided I wanted a white ink vintage tulip on my wrist/hand to look like an extension to the scar. Finally found someone and I absolutely love it. It hurt a lot though because it was right on top of a screw in my wrist, vibrated my entire arm.
#29 Silverlings Do Exist
Distraught dude came in wanting a portrait. I asked to see the reference photo that he wanted to get tattooed. He showed me a bunch of low-resolution Webcam shots of this lady from a dating sight. I assumed he was trying to impress some online woman he met. So, without telling him that was a horrendous idea, I instead said it wouldn’t work due to the low quality of the pictures and the heavy filters she used. Later learned that the pictures were of his ex-wife from her new dating profile. He was having a really hard time getting over her so I convinced him that this probably wasn’t the best way to get over someone. He ended up booking an appointment to get his sons’ portraits instead… and then didn’t show up for the appointment. So, happy ending?
#30 They Call Me Mellow Yellow
My friends called me ‘Banana man’ in high school…
I had long blonde hair that I ‘Manic Panicked’ totally yellow. When I sat on the couch, vegging out, it was often the scene of me with my hair over my face looking like a banana… hence ‘Banana man’.
Fast forward a beat and you have me, in the Army, no more long hair, drunk, on my first ‘phase 3’ outing. I’m feeling homesick and tired— typical moody new Army recruit. I stumble into a tattoo parlor outside of Ft. Lee, Virginia and ask for a ‘banana man’ tattoo.
A lady there says she’ll do it. Her excuse is she has fantasy items she wants to tattoo. Last month she got to tattoo a toaster on someone and now she gets to mark ‘banana’ off her list. She draws me up a cartoon of a smiling banana half out of its peel and I loved it! Bam! Before I know it I’m back in the barracks rubbing ointment on my upper arm.
Now I’m in my late 30’s and have had to explain this dumb tattoo far more times than I’m comfortable with. I’ve got a few more tattoos now and I love them all except this dumb ‘drunk purchase’ that I can’t get rid of.
I’d love to cover it up but it’s that perfect size and shape that all my ideas amount to ‘big black dot’ on the upper arm. I’ve even gone to a few tattoo parlors and had artists tell me it’s either going to be a ‘big black dot’ or you’re going to see some of it.
#31 Spring Break Horror Story
Saw a dude at Senior Frogs in Cancun, Mexico, getting “spring break” in big Gothic letters tattooed on his forearm.
#32 Straight From The Source
A long time ago when I had first started out in this industry, freshly out of my apprenticeship, I used to secretly do these girlfriend/boyfriend names with a dark gray wash instead of pure black so they’d be easier to cover later.
After nine years, I do them as bold and black as possible and make sure that whoever has to cover it up six months later (once they’ve broken up) has a hell of a time doing it. If they come back to me, I make sure to charge extra.
I think I developed this bit of misanthropy after almost a decade of “Hey you may not want to get this, I cover these up all the time and it can be an expensive mistake” warnings being blown off, because this guy you’ve known for six months is the one and it’s going to be true love forever.
#33 Some Serious School Spirit
A few years back a young man from the wonderful area of Inverness, FL, stumbled in while we were taking a break on my leg piece. As part of a high school senior class scavenger hunt (and the top points prize), he wanted a simple tattoo:
<— EXIT ONLY
On his right butt cheek.
We asked him a few times if he was sure, considering he originally came in asking if the shop did “semi-permanent” tattoos. Once we explained to him that the shop did not offer that, he shrugged and said: “Alright, let’s do a real one.”
Artists asks me if it’s okay if he knocks that one out quick, I say sure. They do the tattoo, kid thanks us all for not being mean and leaves.
Three more showed up that night since we were the only shop open on a random Sunday. We turned them all away.
The others didn’t take that part of the scavenger hunt seriously (thought nobody would do it) until the kid who showed up first started texting the photo of it around.
Plus, I wanted to finish my leg piece and go home.
#34 Listen To Your Stomach
My buddy got the Simpson’s donut tattooed on his shin. It was really big with the pink frosting, sprinkles, and bite taken out of it. I went to visit him a few weeks later and he’d added a huge slice of bacon on the other shin. I asked him what for? He said he really likes bacon with donuts.
#35 How Heavenly
In the little college town I live in, all these girls want a cross on their wrist to show how “spiritual” they are. Whatever.
Every one of them wants me to put the cross so it’s facing them.
That’s upside down to everyone who sees it. These sweet college girls are getting upside down crosses and looking like Satan’s little devils.
I do ask them if they know it’s upside down. In true self-centered college girl fashion, they invariably reply, “it’s right-side-up to ME!” Like the other billions of people on the planet don’t matter.
Okay, Brayden. One upside down cross, coming up.
#36 A Sad Tale
Well, I was halfway through the tattoo when I had the “are you sure “question go through my mind.
A guy in his 50s comes in wanting “RIP Melinda Bethany Jason” (names changed for anonymity).
Not wanting to prod him about this sensitive tattoo I got to work on his arm. After a few minutes, he starts bawling his eyes out and shaking like crazy. I tried to comfort him, and we got to talking about what happened to them. He says, “No they’re not dead. I’m dead to them”. He goes on to tell me he’s just gotten out of rehab and children and now they will never speak to them again. Pretty awful stuff to hear so I’m not going to go into detail.
I tattoo a lot of stupid jobs as well, mostly boyfriends names on 18-year-old girls. I do it because I talk them into getting small, tiny script somewhere hidden so cover-ups or laser will be a great option in 3 months’ time.
#37 Surfing In The USA
I’ve had 3 tattooists’ ask me ‘Are you sure?’ All because of the same tattoo. Long story short, I lost a bet, ended up with a phallic shaped a surfboard tattooed to my behind. Well, it turns out this is a great conversation starter and always gets a giggle from everyone who sees it. But the tattoo itself isn’t great, so I’d like to tidy it up and make it look better. Every single tattooist I’ve asked has looked at me like I’m crazy. One went as far as to tell me a young woman should not have surfing genitalia on her butt.
#38 Wrenched Up
Not a tattoo artist but the last time I got a tattoo I overheard the guy in the stall next to mine getting a tattoo of 3 wrenches along his forearm. His tattoo artist was asking why wrenches, like was he a mechanic or an engineer? Nope, dude was a chef.
Maybe he wanted to be a mechanic? Or it was a hobby or something? Nope, dude had always wanted to be a chef and loved his work.
Then why the wrench? Turns out the dude just really liked wrenches.
#39 Why Not?
The guy that does my tattoos said a very tipsy man came in and asked for an anatomically correct tattoo of a female private part on his rear.
The shop doesn’t usually allow intoxicated people, but it was slow, and my artist was like “why not,” so he did it. When he was finished, the man was so moved by it, he wanted ANOTHER anatomically correct tattoo of a female private part on the other cheek. Above that one, he wanted the words, “It is what it is.”
He paid and tipped him, and my artist never saw him again.
#40 Red Meat Kinda Guy
I had a guy come in that wanted a raw T-bone steak on his chest. I told him, no, but the guy insisted, so I finally let him make an appointment to come back in a few days when he was more clear-headed and talk about it.
The dude actually came back and was still insistent that he wanted the steak. I told him okay, put together some sample art, still thinking this guy would change his mind and not show. But he comes back, and he loves the art that I show him.
So I said, “Why not?” and do it.
#41 Kick In The Face
I worked in a tattoo shop for a few months learning to be a body piercer. The owner was this gruff older guy.
Anyways, this girl walks in and wants a tattoo of a daisy on the top of her foot. It was her first tattoo. The owner tried for a good ten minutes to talk her out of it, explaining how painful it was to get a tattoo there. She basically told him “shut up and do the tattoo old man”. So, he did. She got about a half inch line done before she screamed and kicked him right in the face. She started balling her eyes out about how bad it hurt. She left with nothing but that half inch line as a “trophy” to her own stupidity.
#42 A Little Late
Oh man. My dad and my stepmom got tattoos the day before they got impulsively married in Vegas. My stepmom, she got his last name tattooed on her inner forearm, about three inches long. My dad? Got an enormous full-body portrait of my stepmother in lingerie, it covers his shoulder and almost all of his upper arm. I was about thirteen at that point and I was livid after they came back and showed us their new ink and their rings. At least they’re still married now.
#43 Not One, But Two!
I knew a soldier in my unit who wanted “Florida” tattooed on his chest (where he was born). Tattoo artist put on the stencil, asked him to check it out. He looked in the mirror and declared it was backward. The artist began to explain how mirrors work and he quickly responded with “Look, I can see it’s backward. Just flip it, OK?” So, the artist obliged. When he proudly showed off his new tattoo the amount of laughter that ensued embarrassed him into wearing t-shirts every second of every day for months. However, he redeemed himself by getting the word Cavalry tattooed on his back because, as I’m sure you guessed, he was in the cavalry at the time. However, he once again messed it up by getting the word Calvary tattooed on his back with is a very subtle but very important difference. Both tattoos were big, bold block letters absolutely impossible to cover him.
#44 Finger Licken Bad
My ex-husband is in the medical profession and came across a cadaver with a tattoo above her private area which stated, “It’s Finger Licken Good”.
#45 I Rather Not
Kind of an opposite story, I have a fair amount of tattoos and I generally give the artist full control over the tattoo they give me without much input from me, I just like cool ink. Some artists even go so far as to simply freehand stuff without telling me what which is fine and has ended up in some tattoos I love. There was one issue once though. One artist said he drew up something awesome and no one had gotten it yet so he would do it cheap, awesome for me right? Nah, it was just a female chest with a bunch of flowers and some extremely vulgar phrase around it. I don’t know why he was so pumped about it. then he gets offended when I said I’d rather have something that might not offend someone.
#46 We Don’t Do That Here
Had a guy walk in looking to get a particular German symbol (about the size of the palm) on his neck. We’re a fairly large shop and all 9 artists looked at him and thought it was a joke. When we realized it wasn’t, he was told to straight up get out. He had something else he was wanting but after that ordeal we refused. Our owner Mike put it best, “at some point he’ll find someone that will put the symbol on him. Then my work, right next to it? Certain things will haunt and restrict you. We try to avoid those on a daily basis, but morons will always exist.