An increasingly common part of a tattooist's life is reworking or covering up old, unwanted tattoos. It could be the name of an ex-partner or political insignia that is no longer relevant to you. Of course it could jut be that the old tattoo just isn't very good and you'd like something else in its place. As with everything involved in tattooing this needs thought and discussion with your tattooist. Perhaps most importantly, you have to manage your expectations.
Reworking An Old Tattoo
Sometimes your tattoo isn't what you originally hoped for or perhaps it's just old and faded, something that happens to all tattoos eventually. Whichever it is, maybe you are considering getting your old tattoo redone, if it is just because the ravages of time have faded it, things should be fairly straight forward. You like the old design and you just wanted it to look new again, your tattooist can simply redo what is already there and restore your ink to its former glory, if not here's some points to ponder.
While reworking is easier than a cover up, you have to be ready for the news that your tattoo may never be what you originally hoped for. In some cases there is scope to completely redo the tattoo and it is possible that you will finally get the tattoo you originally dreamed of, however it will depend on how far the original is from what you hoped for.
As the name suggests, reworking is quite simply going over an old tattoo with the same design. Assuming you have now found a great tattooist to do the work, they will be able to clean up the old design, refresh the colours, add detail that was previously missing and hopefully give you that tattoo you always wanted but they cannot work miracles.
Talk to your tattooist, be clear on what you want to achieve but also listen carefully to what they say can be achieved. While it may be disappointing to find out they can't produce exactly what you want, assuming you don't want to go to the expense of having the old one faded with a laser to allow a complete reboot of the original design, you may have to come to terms with the fact that it will be better but never quite right.
I'm currently in the process of having my first tattoo reworked and extended. I've mentioned on another page that while I still love the design, the original tattoo was never quite what I wanted it to be, the same was true of my second. It's a few years now since I had the second one reworked and now it's time to redo the first. It will never be what I had in mind, but it will certainly be closer to it.
Covering Up An Old Tattoo
Cover ups are an entirely different kettle of fish. Good quality cover up work is an art form in itself and not every tattooist can do it. If you have an old tattoo that you want to have covered up make sure you find a tattooist who has a number of examples of their cover up work to show you.
There are many tattooists that claim to be able to do cover up work, but I would avoid anywhere that proudly displays a selection of tattoos that are primarily solid black. Once upon a time, black roses and black panther heads were very common cover ups, solid black will cover up a multitude of sins however, as with everything else in tattooing, cover ups have moved on considerably and there are usually far better options than just a mass of black to cover up your unwanted tattoo.
You do have to manage your expectations and prepare yourself for the news that the design you have chosen my not be a viable option for the the tattoo you need covered up.
Skilled cover up artists will incorporate the lines of the old tattoo into the design for the new one, you may find you need a considerably larger tattoo than the one you want to disguise. To illustrate, during a recent session my tattooist, who is an exceptional cover up artist, was shown a photograph of a very faded old design that was no longer recognisable as anything in particular. The customer wanted a wolf design to cover it up and wanted it to be about the size of her hand. The only way that particular design could successfully hide the old tattoo would have been to make the wolf's head about the size of a basketball. As the client did not want a tattoo on such a scale and was adamant that the wolf design she had chosen would be what she had, the only option left was to have the original faded with a laser first.
Another thing to remember is that sometimes the design you want simply cannot be covered by what you want. If the colours in the old tattoo will show through the colours in the new one, no matter how big you make it, you either need a different design or again, laser treatment to fade the old one. If your tattooist is good at what they do, they will be able to give you ideas of what can cover up what you have.
The next thing to bear in mind might sound like a complete no-brainer but when you have chosen a design, make sure you tell the tattooist that it's for a cover up. In my last session a client had booked three hours with one of the other at the studio to have an intricate coat of arms done on his upper arm. It was only when he rolled up his sleeve, after the artist had spent hours drawing up the design that it was discovered that the design was intended as a cover up. When the client was told that there was no way that the chosen design would successfully cover up the old tattoo, he bluntly said that he didn't want it done at all and left. This cost him £60 in lost deposit and left the artist with a three hour gap in his Saturday afternoon, the most sought after time slot. By omitting the vital information that the tattoo was to go over an old one, the customer left himself and the artist out of pocket and created ill-feeling all round.