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Tattoos on a Budget

So Dubya and his troop of self-righteous cronies blew five trillion dollars on a war no one wanted and stuck America with the tab. Now we're facing the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression and no one really has any extra cash to spare for a little luxury. We are all 'cutting back' and 'making sacrifices' to stay afloat in a time where jobs are hard to come by and the bills are piling up.We shouldn't give up on enjoying ourselves just to save a buck. Life only happens once, as far as anyone can say for sure, and what if the world ends tomorrow? Will that piggy bank full of change be more important than your life experiences? Probably not. If you are dying to get a tattoo, but your artist's price was just out of your range there are a couple options to still get your ink.

You can always get your work done in stages; get the outline and go back in a few months for the color. Depending on the size of the artwork you can even divide the outline and coloring into multiple sessions. That's what I'm doing for my quarter sleeve. I've had 2 outline sessions and 3 color sessions so far with at least one more to go. Instead of paying $800 up front, I was able to space out my payments in smaller, budget-suited chunks. Drawing out the process is often frustrating but also provides the opportunity to go under the needle multiple times, instead of just once which is a perk for those who love the sensation of getting tattoos. Breaking up the work is also beneficial to those of us who's pain threshold doesn't last long enough to sit under the needle for hours on end.

Angel feeding a Child (Work in Progress)

Angel Tattoo in Progress
Photo Courtesy of

If money is still too tight for the above option, there are apprentices who change significantly less than their superiors. Yes, they are still learning and there is a risk in going to an apprentice instead of a license artist. However, an apprentice is working in a, hopefully, clean shop under the supervision of professionals. He or she most likely has done other tattoos and you won't be the first 'victim.' Everyone I've met in the business has either started out tattooing themselves or their friends and an apprentice is not allowed to tattoo the public until the boss gives the OK. Plus, apprenticeships are extremely hard to come by. You either get in from knowing the right people AND having a knack for tattooing or you pay upwards of five grand to earn the right to learn in a professional environment. They should have examples of their work, even though there won't be all too many, for you to decide if their style and ability are right for what you want.

Most apprentices are just trying to gain experience and since they are so low on the tattoo artist food chain, they really can't change too much or they wouldn't be tattooing anyone. Shops that take on apprentices often make them pay for their gun and supplies, so generally an apprentice will charge you near the cost of supplies, maybe a little extra because they're not paid hourly. So if you're willing to take a chance on someone starting out, you could pay $50 for a $150 tattoo or even less. So if this sounds like a viable option for you, call your local shops, or even go on their websites, to find out if they have apprentices who are ready to tattoo you for cheap!

The road to take, if you really don't have the cash to shell out, is the classic stick-and-poke. This is how tattoos started and, when done professionally, can have quality comparable to a tattoo done with a gun.

Hand-poked tattoo by Ferank Manseed of Mudra Ink (Newcastle, UK)

Handpoked tattoo by Ferank Manseed

Photo Courtesy of

But we're not talking about professionally administered stick-and-pokes in this situation. We're talking about an at-home solution to getting a tattoo. Self-done tattoos are dangerous health-wise and artistically. The process is a long, arduous one and the results are very often poor in quality and blotchy, for lack of a better word. Home grown stick-and-poke tattoos look clumsy, even if the artwork is spot-on. (That's a pun!) The ink cannot be regulated and some areas will probably be darker and than others. Line thicknesses will vary and there will be gaps, resulting in a stipple-like tattoo. Plus, if the needle isn't pushed far enough into the skin, the ink will not stay and your time will have been wasted.That's not to mention the risk of infection from dirty needles and unstable environments.

Home Stick-and-Poke (in progress and complete) lacks the quality of a professional tattoo

Stick-n-poke in progress

Photos Courtesy of

The risks involved in stick-and-pokes far outweigh the satisfaction of getting a free tattoo. Most important to remember, if done properly, a stick and poke will forever be on your body and even though your friend might be a decent artist, if they've never tattooed before, the chances of walking away with a masterpiece in bodyart are less than Dubya and his conspirators paying for the debt they caused.

What it all comes down to is that, even on a restricted budget, getting a tattoo is still a possibility if you are willing to make some sacrifices. Aren't you already doing that by buying store brand instead of namebrand and walking or taking the bus instead of driving your car? Why not find an alternative route to get tattoos instead of denying yourself the pleasure altogether?!


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