One of the common things I hear from people when they are thinking about their next tattoo is that they have an idea of what they want but feel stuck as to where to place it on their body.
The first thing I want to say is that its ok not to know! By no means should not being sure of placement hold you back from moving forward with your tattoo idea. If you have your basic concept in mind, your tattoo artist should be able to talk you through options as to where to place it on your body.
Because placement is important there are a number of things that I consider when working with my client to find the best place on the body for their new piece of art. Below are five questions to help you think about the placement of your next tattoo and to spark helpful dialog between yourself and your artist.
1. Is the tattoo something that you want to be public or private? For example, if you get text on your arm people are going to ask you what it says. This may be great if it is an affirmation that you want to discuss and be reminded of. It may prove not so good if the tattoo is about something personal. Ask yourself, do I want to perform the story of this tattoo to strangers? If the answer is no then avoid tattooing the design in areas that are most readily seen like the wrist or forearm.
2. Will the tattoo affect your work or other aspects of your life? Although tattoos are more accepted in the workplace then ever before, stigma around tattoos is still very real. Especially when it comes to hand, face and neck tattoos, consider that depending on your profession an interviewers bias could mean that a tattoo looses you a job. I may ask my clients questions about their reasons for getting a tattoo in one of these highly visible places. This is not because I am trying to judge them worthy of getting this tattoo. I apprenticed under a tattooer (the incredibly talented Natan Alexander) who instilled in me the concept of “do no harm” when it comes to tattooing. I want to have real talk with my clients about what visible tattoos can mean for their life. If my client is young and/or not very tattooed I want to make sure that I am not aiding in them making choices that might negatively affect them. I suggest not placing a tattoo in one of these 3 places if you know that you will need to cover it up to keep your job, work in an industry that does not accept tattooing or are unsure of your professional goals. Odds are there is an alternate location that will cause you less stress in the long term.
3. How does the placement support the intention of the tattoo? Switching now from the practical to the more esoteric. When it comes to intentional tattoos, the intention of a given piece can be enhanced by placing it on a corresponding energy center. If you are getting a piece about opening to love or protecting your heart, why not put it over your heart chakra on the front or back of your body? In some esoteric models the left side of the body is the feminine/lunar/receiving side and the right is the masculine/solar/acting side of the body. Knowing this you might choose to place an design that is about what you want to bring into your life on the left hand side or put a sword or more martial element on your right. In doing so you can align your tattoos with the energetic patterns that are already present in your body.
4. Does the design fit with the anatomy of the body? This is a huge one. Just like the lines of clothing, tattoos can visually enhance curves and musculature or detract from them. The overall shape of the tattoo design should fit the body part both in size and geometry. For example, the curve of the top of the shoulder/deltoid suggests a round or oval shape whereas the back of the arm/triceps wraps diagonally and will distort a round design. Your tattoo artist is skilled in knowing what shapes will fit well with particular parts of your anatomy and may have helpful feedback when it comes to this particular consideration.
5. What is your long term plan for your tattoos? If you are getting your first few smaller tattoos but plan to get larger work in the future, don’t compromise your canvas. Placing a small tattoo in the middle of a limb or back means that you might be forced to cover up or work around the tattoo in the future. I suggest that my clients place smaller tattoos near a joint rather than in the center of a limb. For example, on the wrist or near the elbow crease as opposed to the center of the forearm.
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<3 <3 <3 Gratitude as always to the history and tradition of tattooing for all it has given me and to my two best teachers, the school of hard knocks and my teacher and partner Natan. <3 <3 <3