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Do Tattoo Artists Have the Right to Sign Their Work?

By December 23, 2007

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In a recent news story, a Swedish tattoo artist is being charged with willful bodily harm after he signed his name on a tattoo he did for a client. According to the "victim," the artist asked if he could sign his name on the tattoo. She says she declined, but then later discovered that he had done it anyway. Now the client is mortified and wants the tattoo removed.

Hmmm. Interesting.

If the above situation happened as the client claims, then the artist is in the wrong. He asked, she said no, he went against her wishes. But! This brings up an interesting point. Does a tattoo artist have the right to sign his name to his artwork? Should he even have to ask permission, and does the client have the right to refuse?

Any other form of art is expected to be accompanied by a signature of the artist - a sketch, a sculpture, a painting, whatever. But most tattoos are not. But why not? Doesn't the tattoo artist deserve the same kind of credit and have the same right to sign his work as any other kind of artist? Or do the rules change since the "canvas" has a mind and rights of its own?

Personally, I'm not sure if I'd want signatures under all of my tattoos. But at the same time, I think an artist that works hard to create a beautiful picture should have the right to sign it. What do you think?


December 23, 2007 at 5:04 pm
(1) angela lowry says:

actually, i think it would be ridiculous for some little piece of ink…but a big piece with time and sweat devoted to it? i would allow it. i proudly tell any who ask who does my work and would be honored to have it signed.

December 23, 2007 at 5:12 pm
(2) Jack says:

You’ve already made the point of my position: the canvas is a person and not paper, with a mind and will. Furthermore, the canvas is the one paying the bill. If it were a very large tattoo I were getting, I would possibly allow the signature, depending upon whether it would be intrusive to the work or not. But since I have to wear it and I’m paying for it, I have the right to accept the signature or not. I would never get a tattoo if this weren’t understood.

December 23, 2007 at 5:35 pm
(3) Andy says:

Well, although Iam pretty much covered, I would have only two signatures. 90+% of all of mine were done by the same man. As for whether or not they have the “right” to sign their work, I would have say NO!

Unless, of course, it is agreed to that effect long before the tattoo is undertaken. Giving the client enough ime to make up their mind as to whether or not they want the chosen artist to do the work after all.

Should the artist insistthat all of his work is signed, then making it an integral part of the disclaimer form may be one way that the artist could do it without recourse.


December 23, 2007 at 6:04 pm
(4) Renegade says:

I find this signing a tattoo a very interesting subject. this is my 50th year of tattooing. I have been ask to sign serveral of my tattoos in the past and did. a backpiece I done in ’86 the signing of it was part of the art work from the beginning. the one’s that are the most interesting to me is the customer that come in with his/her art work usually pencil on a napkin or lined paper. from that I do my very best to turn this crap into a tattoo design, then tattoo it on them when it is finished and they are happy with it. then they ask me to sign there name on it!

December 23, 2007 at 6:21 pm
(5) Jennifer says:

I do think tattoos are art, and artists normally should sign their work, but I don’t believe that tattoos should be accompanied by a signature unless that is what the customer truly desires. One could say a plastic surgeon is an artist, creating and modifying the body in a way to make it look the way the customer wants it to look. I certainly would not think it would be appropriate to have a plastic surgeon sign someone’s chest after they get implants. A tattoo is not only art, but it is also a product and a service that a person pays for and the whole point of getting one is to have it look a certain way, so unless that signature is part of the look you are going for, you shouldn’t have to feel obligated to let the artist sign it. If a tattoo artist feels a right to be able to sign every piece he or she does, they might rethink their occupation and do the work only for their pleasure, perhaps on a different medium that isn’t so personal as someone’s body.

December 23, 2007 at 6:28 pm
(6) FairyBear says:

Hmmmmm…it seems to me that so many problems in our world could have been solved if the people involved just talked to each other. If an artist wants to sign her/his work they should make it known right up front. If a client wants his piece autographed she/he should say so right up front. That way there are no surprises. I have four tattoos, all done by the same artist, George Dobson, I wouldn’t mind having one signed and the others initialed. I’m proud of George’s work and he is too.

December 23, 2007 at 8:26 pm
(7) stewartdene says:

If the tattoo is original artwork by the artist themselves then its there,s to sign, but if not they should ask.Why sign someones elses creation. Remember that signed copies of books by the author are of greater value,Remember that as soon as the ink goes in its a type of signiture anyway.

December 24, 2007 at 3:17 pm
(8) Peggy (Ladytattoo) says:

How pompous to think one has a ‘right’ to sign their name on someone’s body!! If they think their ‘art’ is so valuable and so personal…put it on canvas and hang it on the wall where one can admire themselves daily. If invited to sign, that is another story. Creepy, but another story.

More of the rockstar/tattooer/loser mentality. geeesh louise!!

Old school all the way,

December 26, 2007 at 6:07 pm
(9) Daniel (blue) says:

I think that is a stupid question. U can look at a artist work and can tell who did it. Yes I expect to see a signature on a painting but if someone puts their name on me than we have serious problems. If you hire somebody to draw a family portrait of you and your family you would not want to see his/her name written on it (maybe the artist would write his/her name on the back but not on the piece itself. I personally don’t believe in having anybody’s name on me, I have three tattoos, one of them I did myself – should I write my own name on me? When I do tattoos their is a signature mark that I use that is unrecognizable to other people, and I ask all my clients if it would be alright for me to do first, if they say no than I wont use my signature mark.

December 26, 2007 at 9:36 pm
(10) Roland says:

Of course they have the right to sign it. Of course I have the right to find another tattoo artist. I agree about communication. It should never be a surprise. If the artist wants to sign it, they need to make it clear up front. If the “canvas” doesn’t want to have the signature, they don’t get the tattoo from this artist.

December 30, 2007 at 7:15 am
(11) Bunkerbee says:

I agree, the key is to discuss the issue.
Just like angela said for some small bit it would be a waste of time.
The signature mark would be the way to go. If the artist is truly an artist they would be able to develop a mark that was distinguishable as theirs and would be easily incorporated to suit both parties.
Actually the more I think about it a special mark somewhere on a persons tattoo might be very cool. Just imagine taking time to truly look at the piece to see if you could find the signature.
I think the artwork would get more of the appreciation it deserves that way.

April 3, 2009 at 1:29 am
(12) Amy Lou says:

“Or do the rules change since the “canvas” has a mind and rights of its own?” Actually, they do, idiot. If I’m paying you to draw only a specific thing on my body, and your signature isn’t part of it, than you do not go ahead and sign it anyway. That is a violation of my rights. You’re not doing me a favor, you’re the one making a profit, so actually I owe you no promises except to pay the bill. Period. If you have a burgeoning desire to sign your art at all times, than try doing it on actual canvas instead of people. You cannot be so arrogant as to think you can override people’s personal wishes and do what you feel like simply because it satisfies your ego. I chose you over many other artists to tattoo me, you should consider yourself grateful that I took my business to you. That should be more satisfying than a right to put your signature on me. Besides, isn’t the unique artwork a signature in of itself?

September 23, 2010 at 4:11 am
(13) damien irving says:

i don’t think he should of put a signature but yeah has a tattooist myself you want to leave your trade mark i.e corey miller doe’s a skull has he’s trade mark myself i do 666 has my name is damien but it’s each to there own i guess.i always ask can i put my trade mark on i always blend it in to the tattoo so its hard to see.

December 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm
(14) Cheryl says:

If BOTH parties are in agreement why not?

If you think about it…the art work is the signature. Everytime you look at your work or some else admires your work you’ll remember your artist.

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