tattoo artist giving a tattoo
Photo by Genesis Castillo on Unsplash

Trust yourself

I’ll never forget the first tattoo I gave. I was lucky to have lots of friends that were young and wanted free tattoos. My roommate at the time was the first to step up to the plate to let me practice the skills I’ve been working on for the last year.

I got my tattoo station all set up. I had my ink poured and my machines covered in protective bags and wraps. I prepped my tattoo machines and set up the needles where I knew they needed to be so I couldn’t press too far into the skin.

I paused and visualized the tattoo just like I had done at least 100 times the night before. The owner of the shop stood by patiently and gave me my last bit of advice before starting. He told me, “Just trace the lines from your stencil. The lines will move as you stretch the skin, so you’re going to have to trust what you see”.

I press down on the foot switch and the familiar buzz of the needle started to hum. I dip the needle in the ink, rest the base of my hand on the skin and slowly ease into drawing a straight line.

I hold my breath and pull that first line. Ink covers the line I traced and I wipe away the ink to reveal my perfect line.

I wish that was true.

Things don’t always go as planned

What actually happened was I wiped that ink away and see nothing. I drew the line. The ink was in the tube. Ink was left on his skin even. It just wasn’t left IN his skin. I look up at the owner and he just laughed.

It was a simple tattoo of a cartoonish elephant. Black outline and an easy gray body.

Later on in my career, this tattoo would be done in under 10 minutes. That day though, I was there for over an hour. In order to get a good tattoo, the artist needs to pull and stretch the skin so that it’s taught and the needle can easily leave ink in the skin.

What I didn’t realize was that skin can stretch in every direction. So that straight line I’m looking at can quickly turn into a highway sign for curved roads ahead. In order to get that straight line, I had to draw a curved line with my machine.

It goes against everything your brain in telling you based on what your eyes are seeing. I started drawing and committed to following the line I saw on the skin and not the line my brain thinks is straight.

Trust is huge. Some might call it faith. Believe is the word I use.

You have to believe

We made a few adjustments to my needle bar tension and tried again. This time, there was a line.

There were two very important things I learned that day about trust. The first was the obvious one. Trust the tattoo pattern. In your business it might be trust the business plan. Believe in your training and preparation.

When things “feel” like they’re going sideways, step back and make sure your pattern is straight regardless of what you see in the moment.

The other lesson I learned was to trust the owner of the shop. All of the prep he invested in me was just as exciting to him. He was there for every line that day. Offering advice and insights that he had learned in his 20 years. I knew that no matter what happened, he would be there giving me advice and helping me get better.

I’m reminded of that scene from Karate Kid where Daniel thinks he’s just doing chores for an old man, but in the end, those chores made him into a pseudo ninja. It was in the middle of the tattoo that I had flashbacks to drawing tattoos with a pencil in my machine instead of a needle.

I was reminded years later of why it was important to learn how to make my own needles when the big supply houses ran out of needles. While others were stuck not making money while they waited for fresh supplies, I was working non-stop picking up the walk-in business.

Trust your vision for your business.

Trust your business plan

Trust your mentor and your training

Trust yourself

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