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Want A Tattoo? Advice From a Professional Tattoo Artist

Updated on September 13, 2019
AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

The Artist and his Studio

Richard Cosgrove-Bray began learning how to tattoo when he was aged only eleven. He was taught the trade by his great-grandfather, grandfather and uncle who were all tattoo artists, making Richard a fourth-generation tattoo artist.

Richard's studio was located in the heart of Liverpool's busy city centre, having been established in 1993. It was on the corner of Newington and Renshaw Street, on the first floor of a building he shared with a tailor and, at various times, a travel writer, a dressmaker, a dance studio, and a security camera shop.

Richie was a professional artist, fully insured, and a certificate from the city's health inspector was displayed on studio wall. His library of traditional and contemporary tattoo designs runs into the thousands. Clients were invited to bring along designs of their own, and custom designs were one of his specialties.

No-one under the age of 18 was allowed in the studio. This included babies and children, partially because they soon got bored and started wailing - you try creating art with a howling infant in one ear! - and partially because the studio was accessed only by a tall, narrow, twisting Georgian staircase which made carrying pushchairs or prams risky.

The Photos on this Hub

All the photographs on this HubPage were taken by Richard Cosgrove-Bray and show tattoos created by him for his clients. More photos of Richard's work can be seen on his website (link below.)

Richard Cosgrove-Bray, AKA "Richie Tattoo Artist", in the street-level entrance to his Liverpool studio.
Richard Cosgrove-Bray, AKA "Richie Tattoo Artist", in the street-level entrance to his Liverpool studio.

The Studio

Richie Tattoo Artist's studio at 24 Newington, Liverpool.
Richie Tattoo Artist's studio at 24 Newington, Liverpool.
photo: Richard Cosgrove-Bray
photo: Richard Cosgrove-Bray

Who Has Tattoos?

People decide to be tattooed for many reasons. For some, it's a way of remembering a particular event, such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. They may wish to celebrate a favourite band or sports team, or to disguise scars.

Other people view being tattooed as a rite of passage, or as a sign of their allegiance to a specific cultural tribe. Religious themes are not unusual, whether mainstream or otherwise. Still others view tattoos as a form of self-expression which modify the physical body in a unique way.

Forget out-dated stereotypes about which types of people are likely to be tattooed! There is no set type. Richard has tattooed soldiers, monks, MPs, famous musicians and footballers, housewives, legal secretaries, dog trainers, university professors, shop staff, nurses, pilots, actors, catwalk models... And the list goes on. All sorts of people, from all walks of life, have tattoos.

Tattoos have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Africans, Maoris, and the ancient Celtic tribes all used tattoos.

Royal Tattoos

King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales, who was Queen Victoria's eldest son, had many tattoos which were created by Sutherland Macdonald and Tom Riley. Prince Albert Victor and his brother George, (later titled George V), both chose to be tattooed with the same designs as their father, Edward Vll.

Prince Harry and Prince William's royal cousin Lady Amelia Windsor has several visible tattoos, and Princess Sofia of Sweden has a sun tattoo below her neck. Princess Stéphanie of Monaco has several tattoos including a dragon along her spine, while Prince Frederick of Denmark has a shark tattooed on his leg plus other tattoos.

Tattoo For You?

Choosing a tattoo should not be done in a hurry. You're going to have to live with your choice. Lasers can remove the tattoo, but they're expensive and will leave a scar.

Unwanted tattoos can usually be covered up with other, bigger tattoos. If the original tattoo is very dark, this option may not be possible as it would show through the newer one. It makes more sense to make the right choice for you in the first place.

Select an image which means something important to you personally. You're much less likely to grow tired of the image if you do this. Take the time to think carefully about your choice of design.

Avoid gimmicks like the name of your current lover or a new favourite band, or witty images which might seem cool right now but which will look rather silly in decades to come

Enhance your look, not hinder it.

Some people dislike tattoos intensely and will be prejudiced against people who have them. Visible tattoos could heavily impact on your employment prospects. While it is easy to talk about not judging people by first impressions, most interviewees are apparently chosen within the first few seconds of entering the room.

This is worth considering seriously, especially if you wish to climb the corporate ladder. How many top executives have you ever seen with a tattooed neck, face or hands? Maybe your ambitions lie elsewhere, so this does not apply to you - but will your priorities change as you get older? It's totally your choice, but do give it thought.

The usual solution is to opt for tattooing a part of your body which can easily be covered, such as the shoulder, hip, upper thigh or upper arm. This is not a new idea. Japanese culture has a many centuries-old tradition which leaves the hands, wrists, ankles, neck and face clear of tattoos while the rest of the body has been densely covered in designs.

Choosing a Tattoo Artist

It is illegal in Britain for anyone under the age of 18 to be tattooed. Even if your mum or best mate or some bloke in a band says it's okay, it really isn't. Grumble to your MP if you like. Grumble to Richard and he'd turf you out of the studio.

Richard always had tales of people who tried to hoodwink him into believing they were older than they really were. He'd show them out of the door faster than they'd walked in through it.

If you're young, or look young, a professional tattoo artist will ask to see legal proof of your age.

What To Look Out For

Personal recommendation is by far the best way to find a reputable, skilled and experienced tattoo artist.

Failing that, watch the artist at work if you can, as a studio wall full of photos proves nothing. These could easily have been downloaded off the internet.

Research the studio and the artist as thoroughly as you can. Look into reputation, customer satisfaction or any law suits from unsatisfied clients.

A fancy, showy studio does not automatically mean that the artist is good. Traditionally, tattoo artists tended to have small studios tucked away down a side street in order to keep overheads as low as possible. Many of the old school tattooists worked out of just one small room, with a hand basin in a corner and with a simple curtain to draw across to protect a client's physical privacy if needed.

What follows is Richard's advice, based on his 30+ years as a professional tattoo artist.

Hygiene Rules!

Look carefully at the studio.

  1. Is there an official hygiene certificate on display?
  2. Is there an insurance certificate on display?
  3. Can you see an autoclave in use?
  4. Can you see a sharps box?
  5. Is there proper provision for the disposal of medical waste?
  6. Does the studio look and smell clean? Is it tidy?
  7. Does the tattoo artist use different needles for each client?
  8. Can you see medical wipes and medical sprays?
  9. Does the artist use sterile gloves, and wear different ones for each client?
  10. What is the studio's after-care advice?
  11. Does the studio have a complaints procedure in place?

If the artist objects to polite questions about any aspect of their service, take your custom somewhere else.

photo: Richard Cosgrove-Bray
photo: Richard Cosgrove-Bray

How To Become a Tattoo Artist

Richard never accepted any apprentices, though this is the traditional route into tattooing and one which he himself went through.

If you're interested in a career as a tattoo artist, then he recommends that you first take a business studies course. The art side of things is only one side of the business. You will need to know the practical skills of how to run a business, including book-keeping and admin.

The practical aspects of running a tattoo studio do not differ from running any other business.

Richard advises taking an art course to at least college graduate level, ('A' Level Art, in the UK), and that you develop an extensive portfolio of finished drawings, and not just of sketches. The portfolio should include as wide a variety of drawing styles as possible, (and not merely copies of Manga!).

Create your own designs.

Regularly practice drawing from life.

Develop a good working knowledge of colour, and which colours look good together and which don't.

Develop skills with several kinds of shading with pencil and ink on paper. If you can't do this on paper, you certainly won't achieve this on human skin!

T-shirt available from Sprindirft Gallery
T-shirt available from Sprindirft Gallery

© 2009 Adele Cosgrove-Bray


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    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      9 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      That would be your local Trading Standards board, in the UK. Other countries probably have an equivalent official body.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      who is the awarding body for health and hygiene if working from a home or shop

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      9 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      San, Richie's had his own tattoo studio now for close on 18 years - he's done countless backs, and indeed whole body designs, in that time. :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      hi adele been lookin for ages havnt come across anything yet but still lookin.hopefully should have something b4 i call in if not how do you fancy designin sommit 4 me its up 2 you but there is a large space on my back that needs fillin in maybe something that's not been done at richies studio yet.thnx again and c u soon san

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      9 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Hello San, and thanks for your message. Richie has a huge range of tattoo designs available, including many Native American images of people, symbols and totemic animals. All you need to do is come into the studio and ask.

      Alternatively, you could browse the internet for a design which catches your eye, print it off and Richie will re-draw it for you.

    • profile image

      san "the stalker" 

      9 years ago

      hi richie ill be in thru the week have you got any new indian designs in as i still not found out yet or if u have anythink in mind its for rite side of my back a rather large tattoo would b good thanks san


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