Before Getting A Tattoo: For Ink Virgins & Tat Experts Alike

Posted by Cynthia Moreno on

colorful tattoo across girls chest above her breasts

How I Came Up With These Super-Secret Tattoo Ideas.

When I was in high-school, classmates asked me to design tattoos. If they didn't want a hand-drawn design to take to the parlor, then they'd ask for a temporary one drawn right on their skin.

One of these requests was from a gun-toting, 'Triad' gangster named Kenny. He saw my work and approached me to design two massive dragons that he was planning to have inked across his body. It would have been a lucrative job, but it didn't pan out -- which was a good thing, 'cause it probably kept me from getting involved with the wrong crowd.

But... it also nudged me away from a career as a tattoo-artist.

Instead, for a while, it turned me into a 'body-elitist.' I was dead set against tattoos and piercings. I judged people who got them. But I've put that limited view behind me in favor of a more open-minded one that celebrates decoration and untouched skin equally.

I love tattoos now. But even though I love them, I have never personally inked anyone, and I don't have any ink on my body. So why take advice from me?

Well, because I'm better at advice than I am at art. I'm advisor to multiple CEOs a variety of subjects, and I've designed all the clothing here at Ryze Gear.

While I may not be the world's leading expert on tattoos but I *am* the world's greatest at helping people make decisions that elevate them. I'm incomparable at helping people ryze up and live more artful lives.

That applies to all topics, including body art.

We'll start with Skyler's Story.

My friend Skyler has a tattoo that she considered 'stupid.'

It was a tiger, and she usually hid it from people, if at all possible. She was embarrassed because she felt the tiger had no meaning for her when she had it done. We were out on a date when I saw and commented on it, and she began giving me silly excuses for having it done, while trying to pretend that it didn't bother her.

She attempted to be blasé about it but I could read her body language, and hear the hidden regret behind her words.

After she was done explaining her rash tattoo-decision, I said...

"It's silly to be upset about a tattoo, and yours isn't stupid, Sky."

"It's totally possible to add meaning to your tattoo even now that it's done. I know it didn't turn out the way you expected but you can change that. Just because you consider it lame, doesn't mean it has to stay that way. Attach some meaning to it now!"

"...well my grandma liked tigers."

"Yes! See? There you go! You just added some meaning to it. Doesn't it look better to you already?"

What's the point?

The point is that there are many ways to 'fix' a tattoo that someone is unhappy with, including Skyler's. If you already have ink that you're not quite happy with, there are ways to change it into something truly beautiful. It's easy to do if we just dig a little deeper.

Tip #0: Mistakes Aren't Always Mistakes.

You're here for tattoo ideas that really take your ink to the next-level. It's possible you haven't even gotten a tat at all yet.

Why am I starting with a tip about fixing ink mistakes?

Because you can't create truly great designs if you're fearful of making mistakes. You need to be at peace with the ink and know that no matter what happens, you can make it meaningful, just like Skyler.

Here's how to transform your crappy tattoo into one that matters.... using only your mind.

Know what you love.

You need to know what brings you happiness. Things that you've loved since you were a kid or teenager, things you've thought about often.

Think about the people, hobbies, values, goals and dreams that you love. Make a list of things that make you happy. Highlight the ones that stand out the most.

For example, Sky impulsively got a tiger tattoo on her leg, and she waved it off as a silly, meaningless tattoo, but if her list of things she loves looked like this:

  • Values: beauty, spontaneity, attention, expression & growth.
  • Hobbies: dance, travel, charity, texting, & games.
  • Things: animals, family, stories, cats, & art.

Knowing what she likes and what makes her happy flips the script on her ‘mistake’ tiger tattoo.

If you want to get to know yourself better and find your purpose check out this exercise that J-Ryze created on..How to find your purpose.

Sky’s tiger gets attention as a spontaneous form of self-expression, and it may lead to an even better 2nd tattoo (growth.) Maybe she got it in another city (travel), and now she has an animal story that relates to her grandma (family/love).

All Skyler did was use her mind and creative self-awareness. Embracing your personality can turn a mistakes into a masterpiece. Often times the things we think are random experiences are really driven by our deepest or hidden desires. Sometimes they lead us to meet and interact with someone amazing that we might have missed.

There are countless stories of people who went through something that ‘looks’ at the start to be a terrible regret, but ends up being a huge gift.

That ex-boyfriend's name that you got in high school? It may seem terrible until it becomes the reason you meet your loving, tattoo-artist husband. Or maybe it leads to your new best friend; 'Joe Laser-Surgeon', who makes you laugh and brings you years of joy.

When we look back, tattoos we once considered mistakes can be huge blessings that we wouldn't trade for anything because it led us to a better, happier life.

What if changing the meaning of a tat isn’t enough?

Well, there are wonderful artists who offer some amazing cover-up work, or you can get laser tattoo removal.

Your ink doesn’t have to have deep meaning.

If you don't want to have a tattoo on your body that has meaning to you then you don't need my help. You would probably like a 'cool tribal tattoo' or whatever makes you happy. Do whatever feels right. But if you do want some meaningful ink, it's easier than you think. 

I’m not going to cover every meaning under the sun, but we’ll look at some examples and hopefully after we dig into all seven together, we’ll have a world with more meaningful, beautiful, high-impact ink.

7 key things you control that impact your tattoo.

amous faces tattooed across a mans knuckles
  • 1. Lines – Curved, straight, open, closed, none, etc.
  • 2. Color – Mono, duo, more, vivid, none, etc.
  • 3. Size– Giant, full-back, half-sleeve, ankle tat, etc.
  • 4. Location – Neck, finger, lip, calf, etc.
  • 5. Typography– Font, size, boldness, spacing, location, etc.
  • 6. Content – Story, metaphor, multi-level, etc.
  • 7. Artist – Designer, famous tattoo-artist, self-drawn, etc.

Now, you may not know what these mean, but tweaking them can be a game-changer.

1. Lines are just lines, right?

thick and thin lines tattooed across and down a mans back and side

Not exactly.

They’re communication & expression.

You can have open lines, closed lines, straight ones, curved ones, thick, thin, frequent, sparse, crossed, separate, parallel, converging, and more.

Straight lines tend to be more masculine, curved more feminine.

Thick lines are used for emphasis and to draw attention to important stuff. They’re often seen as ‘loud’ or ‘firm’.

Thin lines are used for detail, subtlety, and to add texture to things without overshadowing them. They’re often seen as ‘soft’ or ‘delicate’.

Keep this in mind when designing your tattoo, some line-types will suit your piece better than others.

If you’re a badass biker dude, maybe you want extra bold lines on your giant eagle feathers. If you’re a playful, girly-girl, maybe you want fine, precise lines for your cute hummingbird tattoo.

But maybe we wanna get extra creative.

Let’s say Sky gets an artist to draw a gorgeous tiger across her back using only thin lines.


“Hey Sky, why’d you get your tiger inked with all those little lines?”

“Cause I wanted to show how the most badass majestic animals… are actually a perfect blend of nature’s inspiring finesse & subtlety.”

You just need to remember that thin lines send a different message than thick. Make sure the desired lines that are the ones that are used.

Suddenly, Sky’s tiger-piece has off-the-charts meaning, just from playing with the lines.

2. Imagine what you could do with color.

colorful full sleeve tattoo on naked lady

Or don’t —lol— Black and grey can be great too.

Whether you get colorful body art or stick with shades of grey, have a purpose for it.

It could be as simple as “My heart tat is purple ’cause it’s pretty,” but there’s room to go beyond that.

Using no color can let lines & shapes speak for themselves.

Using a tiny splash of color on a black & grey piece can give a ton of focus to whatever’s in color. Using a rainbow of colors can signify inclusion, unity, acceptance

You can even explore what each color symbolizes and inject it into your tattoo design.

There are sites dedicated to the explaining the psychology of color in detail where people have covered the meaning of color deeper than I will. 

These sites usually don’t talk about cultural meanings of color though, for example, red means something a bit different in China than it does in America. So if you care about that you’ll have to break out some Google-Fu.

Let’s say Sky wanted to give her Tiger more meaning through color, she could have an artist go back over the Tiger’s eyes in… purple.

“Why does your Tiger have purple eyes, Sky?”

“The tiger says I’m courageous and the purple means I see life through imaginative eyes.


It’s worth noting that color ink has unique properties and can look quite different on certain skin tones.


3. Size always matters ;)

giant full body tattoo

Picture meeting a girl with two fully-inked arm sleeves.
Now picture meeting a girl with a tiny butterfly on her cleavage.

Do you feel the difference in vibes both girls' project without even seeing the tattoos? 

"Got so many tats, you can’t even count ’em up. In the shop every week, I can’t seem to get enough" ~Wiz Khalifa

And since body art is a personal expression, you want the size of your ink to send a vibe that matches your personality.

Express mystery and social flexibility with a tiny, easy-to-hide tattoo.

Express daring boldness & social rebellion with giant, in-your-face ink.Rick “Zombie Boy” Genest... who died in 2018... but he knew exactly how to do daring boldness. 

Tiny, dainty tattoos often have a feminine feel, while big, impactful tattoos often have a masculine feel.

Either way, size counts.

Maybe you get a giant chest-piece of scrolls, roses, and skulls winding around each other, but hidden inside it is a tiny little musical note.

“What’s with the mini music-note in your skull-rose tat, Sky?”

“It’s a nod to me dancing to my life’s rhythm no matter what my journey brings, and only certain people are aware of it"

"OMG, that’s awesome.”

It may seem like a small thing, but the size of your tat makes a big difference.

So there you go, size on the ryze ;)

4. Location, Location, Location...

GMG tattooed on inner bottom lip of man

Is Cara Delevingne the reason behind the ‘finger-tattoo’ trend?

What does it say about you if your tat is on your neck? What about a half-sleeve?

Some people know where they want their tattoo to be, but often placement is whatever is easiest.

I've heard stuff like “I’m trying to make it hide-able,” or “I want it somewhere that won’t hurt.”

But that’s not exactly ‘deep’ criteria. I’d love to hear lines like these:

“I got a tombstone with a happy-face on my hand ’cause I want a highly-visible reminder that we all die, and to make every moment count.”

“I got L-O-V-E tattooed on the inside of my middle finger, ’cause I wanna show love even when I’m flippin’ the bird.”

“I got Marilyn tattooed on my ass ’cause I want my boyfriend to see my beauty, be inspired by beauty, and a tribute to beauty.

Meaning is an individual thing, but as in the above examples, I encourage creativity. If you want to look further into tattoo placement this post is a decent start.

Speaking of unique placement, Billboard-charting rapper Fetty Wap, has ink on his face, focusing attention to his missing eye...I don’t give a fuck, who cares if I have tats on my face…” 

Where most people would cover up their missing eye with a patch, he flaunts it and adds ink to accentuate it. 

Changing the location of your tat can turn something standard into something symbolic.

Which brings us to the next tip about symbols from a to z.

5. Text in tattoos can be telling.

three lines of text tattooed

You could study typography for a long time and still not learn it all, but if you understand the basics of lines, you’re on your way.

Bold, angular fonts send one message.Thin, curvy fonts send another. And then there are various degrees in between.

You could just walk into a tattoo shop, give no guidance, and say “I want the word ‘Soul Sisters’ inked onto my skin”

Or… you could put some thought into it, some intention, some meaning.

For example: “Soul-Sisters” in a heavy, headline font has a different meaning than “Soul-Sisters” in a handwriting font, so you could specify one or the other.

Another possibility: use one font for ‘soul’ and another for ‘sisters,’ and overlap them. Eventually, someone will ask about the meaning:

“Why is ‘soul’ a big font in black, and ‘sisters’ in a handwriting font, in grey?”

“‘Cause the soul is a strong foundation for sisterhood, and only in soul are Alessia and I sisters.”

“Nice! Now I want one, can I be a ‘soul-sister’ too?”

And that’s just two words.

Imagine adding an inspirational quote or a resonant phrase like “Carpe Diem” or “When we’re drowning, all water is an ocean.”

 Typography matters.

6. From the inside out.

two half sleeve symbol tattooed

Most people understand that WHAT you get tattooed is pretty important, so I don’t need to say much on that, but whatever ink you get, make it a great outer-expression of who you are inside. A basic heart tattoo can be meaningful if you’re a simple, loving person, and that’s what you want to express.

a list of  47 small, meaningful tattoos

Let’s say Sky creates a heart that also has her star sign in the middle, on a background splash of ink.

“Hey, I get that you’re a Gemini, but how come your heart has a splash background?”

“It’s a splash of ink, ’cause my heart’s at the center of my writing.”

“Oh snap, that’s awesome, wish my tattoo was that cool.”  

Adding more elements to a heart tattoo shows that Sky is an affectionate Gemini who loves to write, but keeps life simple.

When you’re thinking of what elements to include in your body art and Zodiac signs aren’t your thing, consider these:



7. No “Tats off the rack.”

fabrizio divari giving a tattoo

Imagine someone impulsively walking into the nearest Walmart, pointing to something from the Walmart Tattoo book, and getting inked by whoever happens to be available.

Now, there’s no actual ‘Walmart Of Ink’ that I know of, but people often get their work done by the lowest common denominator.

Going that route can be a big step for them, something they needed, and like Sky, it’s totally fine to add meaning after the fact. 

Yes, you can totally make it meaningful, post-parlor, but that route isn’t for everyone.

So why go to an artist?

Pride. Identity. Self-worth. Because you deserve it.

Do you know anyone who absolutely adores their ‘off-the-rack jacket from Walmart’ for more than a couple years? Sure it can help you stay warm when you need it, but it’s not exactly an item of lasting pride.

Tattoos last forever— so hiring whoever is easily available may not be your best bet.

Sometimes you deserve a nice piece of designer clothing, and sometimes you get Walmart clothes. 

When dealing with tattoos, treat yourself right, do yourself a favor and dive deep into the world of tattoo artists, there’s plenty of them out there.

Connect with one whose personality, style, or creativity gets you excited!

You have many options.

You can aim-high for a famous tattoo-artist or go for the designer studio experience, or you can connect with a local artist you believe in, or you can even draw your own.

Here are eight artists, each with their own style, to get you started.

1. Keith Underwood Keith Underwood ship tattoo 2. Fabrizio Divari colorful birds tattoo
3. Ami James black and grey rose tattoo 4. Jasmine Rodriguez green cartoon tattoo
Corey Miller dragon and clouds tattoo 6. Petra Hlaváčková colorful geometric watercolor tattoo
7. Tine De Fiore black and grey sharp sticks tattooed on inside two hands 8. Lisa Sinner color water bong with smoke tattoo

A great artist can replace tips 1-5.

It’s worth connecting with a great artist because they know how to convey your message well and express what you want.

They’ve dedicated their lives to mastering their craft. They're experts on line, color, size, and other principles of design.

You tell them your story and the meaning of your tat as best you can, and they translate it into a visual story on your body. 

Most great artists prefer minimal direction and as much trust and freedom as possible. You want an artist who takes pride in their work and style.

I would encourage you to find one where you can say: “I want a tiger on my calf, but I want it to be sexy and feminine,” and they’ll blow your mind with the results.

Doing the same job or artwork every day is boring, artists get excited when you present them with a fun, creative challenge.

If you’re working with a local artist or an artsy friend, if you both really care about creating a meaningful, work of art, you’ll be able to get great results.

But you’ve gotta be attractive to great artists.

Great artists can easily turn down ‘fluff’ jobs.

They are usually in high-demand, and bold enough to turn down jobs that don’t sound inspiring or aren’t a right fit.

If you can tell a story that shows how your tattoo matters, that it offers creative opportunities, and that you’ve thought deeper about the things we’ve talked about here… that’s way more enticing than “Uh, I think I want a rose please.”

Bring something to the table if you want to collaborate with anyone.

Once you get your ink done by an amazing artist, imagine the exchange:

“Wow… Sky, that tiger tattoo is riveting! So elegant. Where’d you get it?”

“Oh, it’s a great story— I ended up collab’ing with famous Toronto-artist, Fabrizio Divari!”

“OMG. I. Can’t. Even— wait, is your tiger shaped like Africa?”

“Yep! That was Fab’s idea, cool eh? So honored to be a canvas for that genius.”

Better artists, better tattoos, better life.

You don’t have to do it all.

All this may seem like a lot of thinking, a lot of work to put in, just to get a tattoo.

Injecting some meaning into something that's going to be on your body permanently is important so at least apply one of the tips above.

I know you’ll be happy that you did. 

And I’ll repeat it one last time, at the risk of being annoying—

Quick, fun, easy tattoos are fine too. I respect them. There are different degrees of meaning, and it’s all a personal thing.

Maybe you’re happy to put more thought into your tattoo placement, but you wanna leave line-types up to the tattoo artist.

It's all good, whatever works for you. 


First-Time Tattoo Resources.

Sometimes people find this article because they’re super-new to the tattoo world, so I felt like offering some bonus resources that deal more with the nuts and bolts and practical steps of getting a tattoo.

Since I’ve never gotten my own tat, I also don’t really feel qualified.

For now, I’ll link you to stuff that’d speak to me if I were looking into getting ink done, I’m pretty discerning with my information sources and viewpoints, so hopefully my high-standards point you in the right direction.

Tattoo Shops
You’d think googling “How To Choose A Tattoo Studio” would turn up a bunch of great results, but honestly, most of the sites on the first page are annoying, not helpful.

I searched all over the internet for a decent article already written about how to choose a tattoo studio. But I got so mad at the ridiculous information that was being presented as blog posts and articles that I decided to write my own. No one should have to look for help and find the crap that I did. So here's an in-depth article on how to choose a tattoo studio!

Common Tattoo Mistakes
Lack of research is number two on This list of 8 common mistakes before getting a tattoo. Glad you're here researching so you don't make the same mistake ;)

Tattoo Aftercare
Like most forms of healing, advice varies widely here, and everyone has their own preferred method, but I’m happy to share the most comprehensive aftercare guide I’ve found. It’s broken down into eleven sections covering almost any question you might have on how to take care of your tattoo. I hope it helps you!

Tattoo Aftercare Bible by Dan Hunter from Authority Tattoo.

Wishing you tons of tattoo-success!

Soooo how could I write all this and still not have my own tattoo? lol!

Hmm… we’ll see in the future. 

This post was inspired by J-Ryze's original Tattoo Primer article he wrote years ago. Though he may not have any ink, I certainly do. I have 13 tattoos spread out on different parts of my body and I plan to get more. I wanted to re-write this because the information in this article is timeless and incredibly helpful for anyone wanting to get tattooed for the first time or the millionth time. 


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  • Thank You so much Dr. Banner! I couldn’t have done it without You. I appreciate the honor of re-writing such an epic article! I had a lot of fun with this!

    ~cyn on
  • Holy. The love that went into this is incredible. Absolutely BEAST-MODE tattoo post, Cyn. Well done. :)

    J-Ryze on

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