Before I start bitching, let me give you a transcript of a conversation I had this morning on the phone:
Me: “Golden Rule”
Caller: “Hi, I was wondering if I could get a price range for a tattoo over the phone?”
Me: “We can try.” (I hate doing it, but we don’t have a ‘no phone quotes’ policy.)
Caller: “Well, I want an anchor, like the navy anchor, but not a manly anchor, with my husband’s name. I mean, I want the anchor to look like the navy anchor, but more feminine.”
Me: “Ok, and how big do you want to do it?” (already knowing the answer I was going to receive)
Caller: “Well, I want it on my shoulder.”
Me: “…ok. How big?”
Caller: “You guys did a rose on my other shoulder, and I want it about the same size.”
Me: “…ok. How big?”
Caller: “I don’t know. Medium size.”
Me: “…ok. In inches?”
Caller: “Oh, I have no idea.”
There was more to the conversation, but that’s the relevant bit.
Here’s the problem: “Medium” is a relative descriptor, based on an system that predefines a series of sizes. The system requires a definite “Small” as well as a definite “Large” to be complete. Without visual reference, there’s no real understanding of the size. Even then, those sizes are defined in other ways. A “Medium” drink is really X ounces. It’s defined with a numerical system and an established volume. It has to be. That size may change from time to time, but it’s always a measureable thing. Telling someone over the phone “medium sized” without some other quantifier means nothing.
To define a size, you need an established system that all parties understand. Inches are good, if only because they’re still taught in school and we use them everywhere in the U.S. I even understand centimeters and millimeters, even though I really just do quick conversions to inches in my head to use them. Hell, if you told me “half a cubit” I could still figure it out. But don’t say “Medium.” A “Medium” tattoo to me may mean one that takes 3 hours, “Medium” to you may mean one that takes 45 minutes. The words mean different things to different people. That’s why we invented units of measurement in the first place.
While we’re on the subject, body parts are not very good indicators of size either. Sometimes they’re not so bad. If it’s a word across a wrist, I can get a pretty good idea of size. If you just say “on my shoulder,” then you’re leave a LOT of room for error. What we picture may be completely different from what you meant, so don’t get mad when you say “a medium tattoo on my shoulder” and we give you a quote that’s more than what you expected. Odds are, we’re picturing something bigger and more detailed than you are.
So please do your tattoo artist a favor: don’t describe a tattoo if you don’t know HOW to describe it. If you need to get a quote on a tattoo, GO TO THE SHOP and talk to them face to face. Even if you somehow missed every third grade class about using a ruler, and have never encountered one in real life, you can make hand gestures. It’s much easier that way. If for some reason you absolutely cannot get there and cannot wait on a quote, then figure out how to use a damn ruler. It’s not hard. Whatever you do, just please don’t say it’s a “Medium sized tattoo.” You’ll save your artist a lot of frustration, and probably get a better tattoo in the end.