Finding a good tattoo artist takes time, and it is not the sort of thing you want to rush into. By finding a qualified and skilled artist, you can ensure that your tattoo turns out exactly like you want it to. Be prepared to do some extensive research, and be aware that really talented tattoo artists often command high rates for their skills, and they may be booked months in advance, so once you find an artist, it may take some time to get an appointment.
The first thing you need to do is to think about the kind of tattoo you want. There are a wide range of styles in the tattoo field, ranging from extremely realistic portraits to old-fashioned nautical tattoos. Many tattoo artists focus on a particular technique, growing extremely proficient and talented, and you want to find an artist with a style which matches the design you want. You do not necessarily need to come up with a specific tattoo design, and in fact you may want to let the artist design your tattoo after discussing it with him or her, but you should know what sort of design you want.
You can search through tattoo portfolios online, looking both at individual artists or shops and large sites which feature tattoo photography. This can give you some inspiration for tattoo designs and styles, and it is often a good initial research step for finding an artist. You may be able to narrow down your preferences to a few artists, and then set up meetings with them to talk about your design.
One of the best ways to find a good tattoo artist is to ask around. If you have friends with tattoos in a style you like, ask them about the artist who did the work. Many tattooed people also enjoy talking about their tattoos, so if you see someone with a particularly stunning tattoo, do not be afraid to walk up to him or her and ask about it. Word of mouth recommendations often lead to a great tattoo artist, and they allow you to see the artist's work in the wild, rather than neatly presented in portfolios.
You should be prepared to travel for a good tattoo artist, especially if you live in a rural area. Some artists also periodically travel to meet clients, so if you find an artist you like in a far-off location, you can ask him or her about travel dates. Tattoo festivals are often a good place to meet with several artists to at least discuss your design and perhaps narrow down your choices.
A good tattoo artist should be enthusiastic about the design and interested in the process. He or she should also be able to put you at ease by answering any questions and concerns you have. Many artists will meet with prospective clients for free to discuss the tattoo and its placement, and within a few days or weeks they will present art for approval. If you like the art, you can set up an appointment for the tattoo; if you don't, you and the artist can return to the drawing board.
In the event that you meet with an artist who is not enthusiastic about the design you want, he or she may be able to recommend a more appropriate artist for your project. In any case, when you meet with an artist, you may want to ask about his or her experience and training, and always ask to see a portfolio. If you meet with the artist in his or her shop, take some time to look around. Make sure that the shop is clean, and that tools and inks are stored in sterile containers; needles and so forth should be in autoclaved packages, and the shop's autoclave is often visible. You may also want to feel out the mood of the shop; look for friendly staff and an atmosphere that you feel comfortable in, as you may be spending a lot of time in the shop if you have a large or detailed project.
Once you find a good tattoo artist, establish a good relationship, as you may find yourself returning to that artist for more work. Make sure to tip your artist well for his or her work, and pass on recommendations to people who ask about your tattoo. You should also trust your tattoo artist to come up with recommendations for design and placement, as he or she has years of experience in tattoo design, and something which seems like a great idea to you may not actually be workable. By being flexible and trusting the artist, you will end up with a far better tattoo.