Michael Brousseau, owner of Hope Street Tattoo in Providence, Rhode Island, takes his job seriously. When he apprenticed at Newport’s Anchor Steam, he didn’t sit around waiting for the walk-ins no one else wanted. “We treated it like office hours,” he says. “If I had an appointment at 1, I was expected to be ready to go when the customer walked in the door, not an hour later.” This strict professional regimen helped him to build a client base and purchase his own shop. He shared a few pointers on how you can pick the right shop and get the total experience you’re looking for.
1. Look at the tattoos: “In this day and age, there’s no excuse for not having at least a shitty WordPress site,” he says, adding that shops should also have an Instagram and Facebook presence. “The only thing you have in this business is ‘What have you done lately that’s good?’” While you’re doing your Internet due diligence, check out their Yelp reviews. “I have solid five-star Yelp reviews and my place is a broom closet,” he says.
2. Go to the shop: According to Brousseau, tattooing is becoming more of a customer service industry. To that end, tattoo parlors need to be more like barbershops or even nail salons. “If anyone gives you some ‘cool guy’ attitude, turn around and walk right out.” Talk to them about what you want and don’t go to a place that gives you attitude. “The guy who comes in and wants an infinity symbol that says ‘love’ above it on his foot deserves as much attention as the guy who wants Spider Murphy sleeves.” Another red flag? “Shops should be open when they say they’re going to be.”
3. Take a look around: Tattoo shops are really fun places, but one thing that’s not fun is blood-borne pathogens. It should smell a bit like a hospital. Brousseau says that looking for little things, like empty trash cans, dusted walls and nicely mopped floors is one of the best ways to make sure that you’re in a shop that takes cleanliness (and your health) seriously.
4. Take a look at the portfolio: In the age of Photoshop, taking a good look at physical, hard copies of tattoos is just as important as checking out a shop’s website. “People don’t know what a bad tattoo is, but when they see one, they fuckin’ know,” he says. “A lot of my business is people who come in from other shops and say ‘this doesn’t look right.’ ” If an artist’s tattoos look a little wonky, you’re better off hitting the road and going somewhere else. Remember—a tattoo is forever!
5. Look for a broad range of work: “Tattooists tend to do stuff that they themselves like,” he says. This is cool if you’re looking for a super bold, heavy lined, traditional tattoo, but not everyone wants a panther with a dagger through it. “I do traditional stuff, but I can also do delicate little flowers and butterflies with nice clean lines,” he says, adding, “I paid for my tattoo shop by doing tribal half sleeves.”
6. Sit in during the drawing: Brousseau is a big fan of having the person sit down with him while he draws their tattoo. That way, they know why he’s drawing it the way that he is. They can also offer input while he’s doing it to make sure that it comes out just right. “You watch them as you draw and they look at you like you’re Gandalf the Grey. It’s magical.”
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