Tattoo shops have it all - wild tattoo ideas, clients, and stories. These tattoo artists share their most unforgettable tattoo session with a client. Content has been edited for clarity purposes.
How To Tick Off Your Partner 101
“One day this guy came in wanting a Pin-up of his wife tattooed on his thigh. Okay, not something I would get but it common and understandable. The client told the artist he wanted her in the “Stay Puft” costume from Ghostbusters, so the artist took this as her in a sailor’s uniform.
So he drew up a few different ones and showed the client who told him, ‘No, No man, like, THIS-‘ and retrieved a drawing out of his pocket that was his girlfriend who was made to look like the Michelin Man and the ‘Stay Puft’ man were her biological parents. She had a triple chin and everything.
So the artist went, ‘Your body, your choice, man.’
And while he was getting tattooed his wife showed up and yeah she was for sure thick but nothing like what the drawing depicted. Every time she looked at the work in progress, I could see the mixture of embarrassment and frustration across her face. Never saw them again but heard a few weeks later, they got a divorce. I wonder what he did with that ‘Stay Puft’ tattoo.
I’ll still never know what in life possessed him to think that was a good idea.”
Paul Blart Forever
“I’d been inking for about five years when this guy swaggered into the shop. I say swaggered because I could tell he’d had a bit to drink that night. Enough to make him feel bold but not enough to be completely out of it, which automatically would have gotten him kicked out of my chair. I was not going to deal with people so tipsy they weren’t in control and no one needed 10 am buyers remorse. Not for something like a tattoo.
So he came in and I could tell he was new. So I directed him to my book of options but he didn’t even look at it. He just sat in my chair and said, ‘I want you to draw a troll. He should be fishing using one of those plumbs to balance the line.’
I asked, ‘So you want a net?’
He asked, ‘What?’
I asked, ‘A net. A trolling net for fishing?’
He said, ‘Ha! Is that where it comes from? Heck no, man. I want a troll. Big green under the bridge troll! And make sure he’s got a plumb. That’s really important. I want it on my arm.’
I rolled my eyes but started sketching a few things out.
I was halfway through outlining something and I said, ‘So what type of fish is this troll catching?’
He said, ‘Fish? Heck no, man. He’s catching an alpaca!’
I asked, ‘An alpaca?’
He said, ‘Heck yeah.’
I said, ‘In the water.’
He said, ‘Now you’ve got it!’
I asked, ‘With his fishing pole?’
He said, ‘Don’t forget the plumb!’
I said, ‘How could I?’
So I sketched it out and the guy was like going bonkers over it. He loved it. So I started it up and went for an hour and got a third of the way through before we stopped.
‘What are you doing?’ He asked.
I said, ‘Stopping man. Large tattoos have to go in pieces. It’ll be better for you.’
The guy slapped down 2,000 bucks in cash and said, ‘Keep going.’
I stared at it. I stared at him. I kept going.
‘And don’t forget the plumb!” He said.
So three hours later and this guy hasn’t so much as whimpered on the chair but I was finally done. The weirdest tattoo I’d ever done but my god was it a masterpiece. The troll was an ugly pale green. The alpaca a fluffy off-white, fur glistening in the water. And the plumb. Well, who could forget a thing like that?
So he thanked me and walked out the door. But I stopped him on the street because I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t.
‘Hey, dude. What’s up with the tattoo?’ I asked,
And he looked at me with these instantly sober eyes and said, ‘So I never forget.’
‘Forget what?’ I asked.
‘That ‘alpaca plumb troll’ is an anagram of ‘Paul Blart Mall Cop’,’ he said.
She Needed More Than Luck
“When I was still an apprentice, a girl came in to get tattooed by my boss. She had a four leaf clover tattooed right below her stomach, and she wanted my boss to go over it, and was saying that it was pretty faded. She seemed normal at the front desk and we exchanged small talk, and then I went back with her and was setting up my boss’ station. To make casual conversation I asked the client if it hurt a lot to get tattooed down there.
This question changed something in her, and she turned to me with this crazy expression and said, ‘Honestly, I like the pain.’
I nervous laughed and luckily was done setting up and got out of there. My boss goes into his office with her and closes the door. Then, not even five minutes go by and I hear the door open and she fast walks out and leaves the shop.
I was like ‘What on Earth’ just happened as my boss walked out, and he explained to me that the tattoo didn’t look faded at all. It was perfectly legible and looked recent. But the whole time she was begging him to go over it ‘just a little bit’ and got extremely pushy until she just flat out started trying to seduce him until he told her to leave. It happened all so fast but I know I’ll never forget that one.”
That Was A Hard No
“A former friend of mine was a starting tattoo artist and didn’t have his own studio nor was he making enough money so that he could rent some workspace. So he would swing by people’s houses, sterilize the working space and get to it. He had many weird stories as you not only get personal with the client, you are also in their home. This makes them feel more comfortable and you get into really weird situations.
One time he had an appointment to go to some guy’s house and tattoo him and some of his friends. So when he got there, the ‘house’ seemed to be some mediocre, eroding shed. And the guys appeared to be from a foreign country, they didn’t speak his language nor did they speak English.
So, they did bring some pictures to show what they wanted to be tattooed. So my friend took a look at the prints and saw that they wanted portraits of dictators and other questionable stuff. He told them he forgot something in his car and bolted the heck out of there.”
He Got More Than A Tattoo
“We had several ‘customers’ who liked to come in and discuss ideas and see them drawn up but dithered around about actually deciding on a final design and getting it done. This guy was one of the worst. However, we were very tolerant about it, for several very valid reasons. First, he had multiple scars that were clearly bullet wounds. Second, in spite of being in his mid/late 60s, he was what is commonly described as a bear of a man. Third, he had a strong Russian accent. Fourth, he described his arrival in the United States, and subsequent gaining of United States citizenship, like him ‘defecting’ from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And finally, we saw how he reacted to the security light we had outside our shop.
To set the scene, I have to give you a bit of background first: see, the smoking section at the tattoo shop was outdoors and so a group of both smokers and non-smokers would often hang out there when no tattooing was going on. The group gathered at the front door of the shop, so anyone looking for the artists would see the group as they approached the shop. There was a motion-activated security light to illuminate the front door, and it was set such that if we stayed relatively near the shop, it wouldn’t come on; it would only come on when someone approached from the road.
I also should mention that my tattoo mentor (the shop’s owner) was a Marine (Second Reconnaissance Battalion). That said, my mentor had more than enough training to recognize our Russian client’s reaction to our security light.
Like almost every customer, our Russian friend would join the group outside. We were often out there at night. Usually, the security light wouldn’t get triggered. Our shop was a bit of a hangout place, but usually by nightfall, everyone that was going to come to hang out was already there. But when it did get triggered, and the Russian was there, ‘WOW.’ ‘Trigger’ was definitely a word that came to mind. He instantly placed himself in shadow, and as my Marine mentor pointed out, later on, it wasn’t so that he could hide, but he was about to ambush somebody, and they were about to die instantly.
I have heard of flashbacks, but I’d never seen one happen before. When the security light came on like that, this Russian was instantly back in the Cold War, and he was about to take on the entire Red Army single-handed. And he wasn’t going to lose this time, either.
After this happened a few times, we decided to leave the security light off.
This Russian, well, I should call him this American, who happened to have been born in Russia, was extremely patriotic about his adopted country. The tattoo that he wanted and dithered over, and tweaked the design over and over again was a hyper-patriotic arrangement of American symbols. He wanted it to be centered around one of his larger, more impressive bullet scars. We didn’t get the story behind the scar, but we got the strong impression that it was a memento of his defection.
The tattoo itself wasn’t that memorable. I will never forget the man, nor the intensity of his feelings about his new homeland.”
He Was Ready To Drop 100 Bucks
“I’m an artist someone wanted to commission to draw a tattoo for them. This was maybe ten years ago. The dude offered me 100 bucks to draw an obese raccoon in a diaper.
I said, “Okay. Sure. Whatever. Anything specific you’d like regarding color or whatver?’
He replied stating that he wanted the diaper to be ‘very full and leaking.’ Now mind you, I have drawn worse things for money. When I was a teenager and into my early 20s, these more ‘questionable’ commissions kept a roof over my head. So I wasn’t particularly shocked by the idea that this guy had a furry diaper scat fetish, but what shocked me was that he wanted it tattooed. That just seemed like the worst idea imaginable.
I ended up telling him that I wasn’t comfortable drawing that and refunded the 100 bucks. He replied with a massive wall of text about how close-minded I was.
I’m sure he found someone to draw him the thing but I just couldn’t do it. Not for a tattoo.”
Tattoo Session Turned Into Boxing Match
“I spent the better part of the workday freehanding and outlining a dragon backpiece on a woman in her early twenties. She had several pieces on her back she had received from a kitchen wizard that we were covering as well so that raised the difficulty level a couple of notches. Her boyfriend and a best friend hung out, chatted, and watched movies all evening while we worked. All in all, not a bad time until it was time to pay.
As we finished up and put the bandage on, she turned to me and said, ‘So I get paid next Tuesday. Is it ok if I come back then and pay you?’
I laughed because obviously, she was joking. She had to be joking. She better be joking.
When I realized she wasn’t I said, ‘No, that’s not how this works. Somebody is going to pay before any of you leave.’
She turned to her boyfriend and asked, ‘You’ve got this, right?’
He laughed and said, ‘You know darn well I don’t have any money!’
She looked to her best friend who conveniently found something interesting on the ceiling so she was no help.
The client then turned back to me, puffed up a bit trying to look more serious than I did, and asked, ‘Well what are you going to do if we just leave? You can’t keep us here!’
I figured this was going to be her next course of action. She was right, I couldn’t detain them. It got into a grey area near the border of kidnapping and not something I wanted to chance on but what I did do was point out to her that I had her release form with all of her information and a photocopy of her ID. I let her know the second they walk out the door, I would contact the police and report them for ‘theft of services.’
Thinking it over for a few minutes, they sat back down and she started making phone calls trying to scrape together the cash to avoid police involvement. About an hour later, a half-hour past closing, a guy showed up with a fist full of bills for me and that was when it all went downhill. Her last-ditch effort it seemed, was to call the guy she was cheating on her boyfriend with.
The guy threw the money on the counter and started a screaming match with the client and the boyfriend, while the best friend just stood there yelling at everyone. Their use of adjectives was impressive. Somehow I managed to wrangle this herd of cats out the door so I could lock up the shop. By the time I got everything closed down, the screaming match had turned into a fistfight in the parking lot and someone at the fast-food joint a few doors down called the cops anyway.
I got the shop locked up, had the money in hand, and I hopped out of there and let the cops do their thing. Thankfully I never saw any of ‘em again.”
What Was In His Drink?
“I worked in a shop for nearly ten years and only had to throw out a couple of people.
This one dude came in with his girlfriend and 16-year-old daughter. He decided on what he wanted and ran to the gas station before we were getting started. While the artist was doing his thing, the guy would have his girlfriend bring in his drink for him so he could take a couple of sips. He was also talking about making business with her out after he got his tattoo because he wanted to recoup his costs. This seemed a little awkward with the teen right there but whatever.
So he was working on plans to make money out of his girlfriend and kept sipping on his drink every few minutes. About halfway through he started saying the tattoo didn’t look right. The artist explained that that was because it wasn’t finished. He became more belligerent and then it hit me that he wasn’t just drinking soda.
So I tell her she couldn’t take him any more drinks. The artist was ticked off but just wanted to finish the piece, but the dude was getting more agitated each time I reminded him that he wasn’t getting any more to drink while he was in our shop.
Finally, with a half-finished tattoo, he decided to let us know he was going to kick all of our butts. I think he went for his drink first because he walked out into the lobby area and was looking around while I grabbed the whomping stick and helped the artist run him out and locked the door. The guy was outside yelling while the artist was on the phone with the cops. The girlfriend was saying she felt like we were kidnapping her and the teen was obviously very embarrassed and occasionally mumbling that everyone was stupid.
I explained to the girlfriend that she could leave but the dude wasn’t coming back in without getting his wig split. So we let her out when guy had wandered around a corner. I apologized to the teen on the way out for her unfortunate home life.
The dude would occasionally call to let us know he was going to come back and shoot us all, but after a few weeks that stopped.”
It Was Her Only Birthday Wish
“Several years ago I tattooed the words ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’ in bad, scratchy writing on a girl’s neck for her 18th birthday. She had been coming into the shop a lot with her friends as they got tattooed and talking about it. She had the letters drawn up exactly as she wanted them and everything. The answer was always the same, ‘No way.’
When she finally turned 18, she came in with a few friends and asked again. I told her politely to get lost with her shenanigans. A few minutes later, her friend told her he could just tattoo it with the ‘tattoo device’ he got off eBay at home. I made the hard choice to do the tattoo to ensure that it wouldn’t get infected or be all scarred up if she ever decided to have it removed.
It has been circulating around the internet for several years. I still feel bad about it, and hope she got it removed.”
Everything Went Downhill After The Tattoo Session
“A couple came into the shop I worked at a few years back, and they told us they wanted to get each other’s names on their shoulder blades. Not really a big deal in this line of work, it’s by far one of the most requested types of tattoos. Although we spent a good 15 to 20 minutes trying to talk them out of it, they were very adamant that that was what they wanted.
Apparently, they were getting married the following week, as well as each being deployed to different places the week after that. She was going to Korea and he was going to Afghanistan.
So while they moseyed around the shop, looking at some of the flashes on the wall and waiting for an artist to become available. We noticed that they were whispering to each other, specifically him.
He kept repeatedly saying,’Are you sure? I mean like are you really sure about this?’
It seemed they were having a change of heart, possibly choosing actual matching designs as opposed to each other’s names. Oh boy, how wrong of an assumption that was.
After the artist, who was to work on them, cleaned up his station and came out to talk to them, that was when she dropped the bomb.
She said, ‘I want to get his first and last name in Old English font, ACROSS MY BACK.”
Our jaws dropped.
All three or four of us were utterly taken back by these words that had just resonated in the air. We shook our heads and asked her to repeat what she just said. Surely nobody could be that stupid.
Again, that was a very wrong assumption to make.
So, without much more hesitation, mainly because ‘Ok, you asked for it,’ the artist got the design ready (Thirteen inches across in two lines, this was a MONSTER of a name) and got down to business. All the while the fiancé, watched with a face, which I can only describe as calm, but in disbelief.
Around four hours later, the tattoo was done, but the shop was closing. The fiancé had to schedule his for two days later. So that was what he did.
But lo and behold, when he came in two days later, her name was not what he requested.
No, he said he would rather have a grim reaper. As he knew, the whole time, that his soon-to-be wife, had been cheating on him with his brother. So he decided to confront her with this knowledge only after they got home from her getting his full name tattooed across her back in huge, bold, uncoverable, black letters. The wedding was called off. And they were shipped halfway across the globe.
Good luck lady, I can only imagine what you would’ve said now, thinking about that seemingly simple question, ‘Are you sure?’
Most Wanted: Pirate
“My artist was tattooing me, she told me about a guy she tatted named Pirate. No joke, Pirate. So Pirate apparently wanted basically his whole face tatted in black ink, just big blocks of ink all over his face. Well, she did it for him. She had to call in a few extra people to the room because this guy was a weirdo and she didn’t want to be alone with him while she was working on his face.
She finished the tattoos and never saw him again until he hit the news. He was arrested in Alaska. If you look up ‘Pirate Alaska Arrest’, it’ll show up with this guy’s mugshot and all his tattoos. Super creepy.”
Oops, Someone Made A Mistake
“My father is a tattoo artist. He regularly tells a story about when he was much younger, and still new in the business. Once, a man trotted in the parlor, with more hair on his arms than his shiny head. The man wanted to have his bald head tattooed, with a cricket.
My father asked him how he wanted it done, and the man answered in a bawling Australian accent, ‘However you want to, mate. Make it good, and surprise me.’
So my father got his tattoo utensils and hesitantly began the process of tattooing a cricket on his gleaming head.
Well, when it was completed, my father pulled out a mirror and showed the man his new permanent feature. The Australian gawked, mouth drooping with horror.
It turns out, he had wanted something involving cricket – the sport put onto his forehead. He played on a team in Australia and was in America for vacation with a few other buddies when he went to the parlor to get a tattoo.
The Australian just kind of stared at himself for a few minutes then burst out in laughter. He loved it. He paid, and left, with a huge smile on his face. Later that afternoon, he brought one of his buddies who wanted the exact same tattoo, but on his bicep.
Turns out that the bald man had lost a bet involving a cricket game, and had to get a tattoo of the game cricket. When he came back with an actual cricket tattoo, his buddies thought it was hilarious.
My father wishes to say that those were the only crickets he ever tattooed, but people do have odd requests.”