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I got a tattoo, and it is wicked awesome!  The artist did an absolutely phenomenal job.  I have been wanting a tattoo for basically my entire life.  So, my expectation were pretty high.  Nevertheless, this thing cleared the bar with great ease.  It is better than I had ever hoped.  That got me thinking.  Many people have a difficult time finding success and satisfaction with their artist (be it tattoo, graphic, painter or otherwise).  In fact, we creative and artistic people notoriously make the worst clients.  So, what makes the difference?  How do we get the most out of creative people?

In November of 2012, I wrote an article for AlbanyCEO.com about how to get the most out of your designer.  There will be some overlap, but in the present post I want to talk about my tattoo experience and how it relates to other creative arenas.

Find the Right Fit

I have wanted a tattoo forever, yet I have waited until now to get one.  I tried desperately to design my own tattoo.  I tried and studied and sketched and experimented and came up wanting.  As it turned out, I was not a tattoo artist.  The style that I created was not the style I wanted in a tattoo.  I needed someone I could trust to create what I wanted in a way I could not.  That was by far the most difficult part.  Finding someone I could trust to permanently mark my body in whatever way he saw fit was truly a challenge.  I met this guy at a Nights @ dtown event.  I loved one of his paintings and even tried to buy it.  He turned me down and said that he just wanted to showcase some stuff for his new tattoo parlor.  I knew right then.  This was going to be my tattoo artist.

Lesson to learn: Don't refuse a creative person their own sense of style.  That expression is often the very reason they are good at what they do.  Hold out for an artist who has the style you desire.  Find a style that fits your message.

Cast the Vision

Once we started on the tattoo project I did my best to let him know what it was that I wanted.  I did not restrict his style at all.  In fact, I wanted it to shine through.  I told him the concept and only one particular element that I wanted to be incorporated.  I told him the short term and long term plan.  I let him ask questions.  I showed him things that I like.  I showed him things that I didn't like.  We discussed on more than one occasion what would look cool and what would be lame.  When we were finished we both knew exactly where we were going, but neither one of us had any clue how to get there.

Lesson to learn: Be very clear with what you want.  Be sure that you have properly communicated your message to the artist or there is no way he will be able to communicate it to everyone else.

Give Creative License

It's ok that neither one of us knew how to achieve our goal.  We both knew what it was.  I trusted him to get us there, and I made sure to let him know that.  When a creative person tries to communicate someone else's message, they try to fit themselves into the box in which they see the person.  However, when they are given creative freedom, they release themselves from the box to be who they truly are.  This is often times the birth of creative genius.  My artist shunned the constraints of the past that were killing the piece and embraced the very freedoms that gave it life.  The tattoo was not me, nor was it him.  The tattoo was my message from his mouth!

Lesson to learn: Give creative freedom!  Don't try to control the way things are done.  Don't even try to control the end result.  Our job is to let the artist be the artist.

Communicate Opinions

He showed me the first draft of the tattoo, and it was spectacular.  I let him know all of the things that I liked as well as the few things I wasn't sure I liked.  He made a tweak or two and it was even better.  I added one element that I wanted incorporated into the design.  He added it in, and it became nearly perfect.  He was not frustrated or insulted by my last minute suggestion.  He knew that I trusted him and that he had creative freedom to accomplish the task at hand.  He knew what I liked and what I didn't like.  Furthermore, he loved and was invested in the piece.  So, he wasn't going to do anything to compromise the integrity of it.

Lesson to be Learned: It is important to share your thoughts.  Any commissioned work is an act of collaboration.  You should be clear on your opinions while remembering that you can't always get what you want.

Sit Still

The time came for the first of three sessions.  It was long.  It was irritating.  It was not what I expected.  The second session was the same, but the colors were just way too dark.  The third session was even longer and going to cost more than I had expected.  Through it all, I sat still.  Through it all, I trusted that the artist knew what he was doing.  And he did.  He gave me a discount on his time.  The colors turned out perfectly.  It was worth all of the irritation.

Lesson to be learned: Don't change the creative direction.  Establish a vision; cast it, and then sit still.  Don't get cold feet; don't make adjustments mid-swing.  Sit still, and let the man work!