Tattooist Moved To Miami Before Finishing Inking, Now The Shop Wants Me To Pay $400

    My brother went to a tattoo shop in Dallas and paid for a tattoo to be placed on his arm. He paid the shop $500. The artist designed and inked the tattoo. He told my brother that he would have to come back after it healed to have it filled in completely. So, when my brother went back to the shop, he was told that the artist who had worked on him was now living in Miami. My brother asked if anyone else could finish the shading and there was quite a few guys who volunteered, for an extra 400 dollars. You see, the shop said that they only rented the seat to the artist, and the contract was between my brother and the artist, not the shop. They felt no obligation at all to finish the job. What recourse does he have?


Not much, we think. Your brother could see about getting in contact with the original artist. Maybe he would be willing to cash a favor with another tattooist in that shop or in your area to fulfill his obligation. You might also try talking with the shop manager more, and mention how it might be bad for business if their parlor got known for housing a fly-by-night operation. This is one you’ll have to flex a little negotiating muscle on to make the mermaid dance.

Any readers been in similar situations or have relevant tattoo parlor experience to share? — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: Megabn)


Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    This is similar to a salon owner being held responsable for the actions of a stylist. Most stylists- as I understand it- rent the chair and are subcontractors.

    Might not be a bad idea to do a little research on cases where the owner was found responsable and take this to the owner of the parlor. You contracted his parlor to do the work, not a subcontractor directly. The parlor is responsable.

    If he knows you’re willing to pursue small claims action- he may cover completing it.

  2. tonkyhonk says:

    I bet the tattoo in question is something unique like a tribal/celtic band, Chinese/Japanese characters or a butterfly.

    The guy’s brother had better pony up the dough. The original “artist” is probably coked-up and turning tricks on the streets of Miami Beach by now…

  3. zibby says:

    If he used a Mac, this never would have happened. Thank God I use a Mac! I’m so awesome.

    Wait. Wrong thread. My advice is to save up for a nice vacation to Miami, you know, make a week out of it, get some sun, maybe a little action, then find tattoo guy and have the no doubt uglyazz thing finished.

  4. legerdemain says:

    Tricky. You don’t want angry tattoos from angry tattooists. I love the consumerist, but asking at BME (NSFW, so not linked. Google it. You’re feeling lucky.) might get you a valuable second opinion.

  5. rdm says:

    Was the artist the guy who is married to Kat (formerly of Miami Ink)? If so I’m sorry :(

  6. dbeahn says:

    This is why for a big job, you pay as you go.

  7. dresden says:

    Time to book a trip to Miami.

  8. KatieKate93 says:

    Good lord! $500 for an arm piece? It better have been huge. That’s why you make friends with your artist.

  9. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Definitely pay as you go. You can pursue the shop but like someone else said, don’t piss of your artist.

    @zibby Forget the Mac, I would have gone with a credit union.

  10. mgiampapa says:

    This is a case of the reader not doing his research. The shop is in no way responsible for this. I have never seen a shop where the shop is liable. You are strictly making a deal with that artist.

    Time for a cheap flight to Miami, may I suggest

  11. aka Cat says:

    The artist never should have asked for the whole payment in advance. Don’t bother going to Miami — my guess is that he never had any intention of finishing the work.

    Tell your brother to save his shekels, and see if Tattoos by Gary in Terrell TX, is still in business. He’s a better artist than 99.9% of the artists in Dallas, and because he’s not paying Dallas rent, his prices tend to be lower. (Not a paid endorsement. And it’s been twelve years since I had work done by him, since I moved to the east coast ten years ago.)

  12. emjsea says:

    What’s wrong with Kat from Miami Ink? She did great work on the show and she’s cute and she didn’t put with the testosterone-laden this-my-shop-me-scene-mark-you from the caveman.

  13. jhpope says:

    why would you pay for the whole thing up front? all mine i’ve paid for after the work was completed…minus a $20 deposit i left the day before. granted they were all one session tattoos

  14. Falconfire says:

    Actually Im wondering if rdm is right and this is Oliver Peck, Kat von D’s husband, which would actually mean he is in Hollywood now (as Kat left Miami Ink and started her own shop there now)

    Did your brother get his tattoo from Elm Street Tattoo (which would be a sure sign that his artist was Oliver)

    Also as pointed out, pay as you go, NEVER NEVER pay the tattooist for the entire job. They are like nomads. You can come to a agreement for how much its going to cost, but only pay for what they are doing right then and if they dont like it, leave.

    Not worth playing around with money over something thats going to be on your body forever.

  15. Wormfather says:


    forget the credit unioin and the mac. This is why you should never get tats from people claiming they work for ConEd when they show up at your door.

  16. chipslave says:

    I bet if you call the CEO he can get this problem fixed.

  17. DeeJayQueue says:

    #1. Kat moved back to LA.

    #2. If you were getting ink done from someone who was thinking of moving from Tejas to Miami, he should have said something before getting started on a tattoo that he knew would take multiple sessions. That’s a dick move.

    #3. Depending on the size of the piece, $500 is not unreasonable for just the outline work. There’s a shop near me , Studio One in Norwood, PA, that charges $400 per 4 hour session no matter what gets done. It’s steep but you get what you pay for. The work is amazing. If this is the case then the $500 that was spent is gone and the shading/coloring would have been additional anyway. This might have been a misunderstanding between the client and the artist.

    It sounds like lots of things were misconstrued and misunderstood. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot that can be done except pay the extra money and finish the tattoo, or try to contact the artist wherever he went. His old shop should have is contact info, especially for someone who’s got half a piece done. Maybe take a vacation down there and get the shading finished at the same time.

  18. Yaotl says:

    Uh yeah, the shop is under no obligation for this. There is no “contract” here, just like there would be no contract for a haircut or a pedicure. How long between when he got the tattoo and when he went back was there? How big was what he actually got? The shop isn’t going to care about bad publicity. And what “fly-by-night operation” could this be? It’s a freakin’ tattoo parlor. Tattoo artists come and go, but the shop is obviously still there.

  19. LawyerontheDL says:

    While I’m not familiar with Texas law, generally, a business can be held responsible for an independent contractor if they held them out as an employee – in other words if it would be reasonable for a customer to believe that the person serving them was an employee. Of course, there may be a sign or something up in the shop that states that the artists are independent contractors. However, you still could seek redress in small claims court. But if you do that, I wouldn’t recommend accepting services – an angry tattoo artist is not a good thing.

  20. lore says:

    Time to launch an email carpet bomb!

  21. xkaluv says:

    Get the shop manager to give you as much contact information as possible; he should have no problem doing this since he clearly doesn’t have any obligation to the artist either.

    Then, use this information and file a suit in small claims court IN YOUR COUNTY, have him summons in his existing location. He will be forced to return to go to court or miss court and you win automatically… either way, you will win.

  22. kidnextdoor says:

    @KatieKate93: $500 isn’t that much for a tattoo, depending on the detail. Besides…I don’t think it’s wise to be scouting out bargain bin tattoo artists when your going to be displaying their work for the rest of your life.

  23. freewhelb says:

    Try to find the shop in Miami and contact the tattooist first before you starting going legal with it. I live in Seattle and my tattooist moved to Eugene mid-sleeve, so I know what a pain it is…but hey, it’s an excuse to get away for a weekend to Miami, right?

  24. alk509 says:

    @Wormfather: Credit unions? macs? Con-friggin’-Ed??? forget about those! EECB FTW!

  25. bbbici says:

    sue the shop for the $500. then go elsewhere to have it finished– ideally to the original artist.

  26. bbbici says:

    and oh yeah, what kind of idiot pays up front for the whole work? in the future pay only according to what work has been done.

  27. VG10 says:

    it depends, did you pay the shop or did you pay the guy to do the tattoo? if you paid the shop, its their problem and they need to finish it, however, i wouldnt want someone pissed off finishing my tattoo.

  28. alk509 says:

    Aw, shit… lore beat me to it! :-

  29. lincolnparadox says:


    You have a lot of choices, but few of them are going to be free. You could get your work done close to home, preferably at a different shop. You could contact the artist and drive to Miami. You could even ask the artist for a partial refund (not going to happen).

    The important thing for you to realize is that tattoo parlors live and die on word of mouth. If you decide to get your piece done near home, walk around for at least two weeks with your shirt sleeves rolled up. Let people know why your work is unfinished, where you got screwed over, and where you went to get some decent service. If you’re going to Miami, get your work done first and then, regardless of how awesome it looks, stay a few extra days to show off your tat in Miami, just so that you can tell your story and steer people clear of the artist who left you in the lurch.

  30. cde says:

    Sun + Fresh Tattoo = Bad

  31. sodium says:

    As LawyerontheDL said, the shop could be liable if they created the impression that the artist was their employee. This is called “apparent agency” and is not a cut-and-dried question. It is shaped by several factors, all having to do with the *impression* you got when you walked into the store.

    When it comes to apparent agency, it does not matter what the actual legal relationship was – the store cannot fall back on that. If you reasonably relied upon an impression (created by the store) that the artist was their employee, they are on the hook.

    Another important question has to do with collecting on a judgment. You can go to small claims court and get a judgment against the artist or the store, but if the artist is in another state or has no assets, or if the store is a fly by night operation and can easily shut down and “re-open under new management”, then your judgment will not be worth anything.

    Best to get a personal judgment against someone local who has an ownership stake in the store (that is, if the store is not a corporation but is a sole proprietorship or a partnership), and who has assets you can collect on locally.

  32. Ideapimp says:

    1) Artists are almost never employees. They are, for all intents and purposes, like most hairstylists. They rent a seat and form these “contracts” with their customers on their own.

    Hate to say it, but your brother will be taking this one on the chin. Next time he’ll know to pay by the session. You NEVER pay up front like that.

    2) “quiet” is not the same as “quite” check your posts. :)

    3) Oliver Peck (Kat’s husband), if that’s who we are talking about, has screwed quite a few friends of mine, and not just in the tattoo biz. Those two are trouble. Unreliable, shady, and just bad business people. It’ll catch up to them one day, I promise you.

  33. mathew says:

    I’m in agreement with a few other folks:

    Contact the tattoo artist. Tell him he can refund a portion of the money by a specified date (give him a few weeks), or he can deal with small claims court. Point out that he’ll be facing the hassle of dealing with an out-of-state legal case.

    If he doesn’t cough up, go ahead and file a small claims action in Texas. Assuming you have a receipt for the payment and half a tattoo, it should be an open and shut case.

  34. Rahnee says:

    Just got to 2nd and 3rd and 4th the comments. NEVER pay upfront for the whole thing. The shop I use charges $100 per hour with a $50 shop min. Get to know your artist and be his friend. A REAL friend. I have sat for 4 hours and was charged $40 before. This is where the friendship and really good tipping under the table come into play! The artist can usually charge what THEY want above the shop min. Find out the shop min and you can do the math on how much the artist is making off you. Most important. A GOOD TATTOO AIN’T CHEAP AND A CHEAP TATTOO AIN’T GOOD!!!

  35. juniper says:

    I’m with legerdemain; check out what you can on BMEzine (nsfw, not linked) to see if the artist has contacts there. The owner, Shannon, might be willing to post your story on Modblog and it could get some press.

    Unfortunately, there is no APP ( for tattoo artists.

  36. livefastjohnny says:

    OK, lots of good info and some questionable stuff on here. Background: I have worked in 2 tattoo shops over the last 3 years as management, own a minority share in one now and will likely open my own in the next 18 months. I have a full body suit that runs from the bottom of my throat to my toes. So while not an artist, I do know and live in the industry.

    First of all, the claim that tattoo artists are independent contractors “renting space” ala a Salon is true in about 90% of cases, but not always. Some bigger cities are seeing shops where the artists are acutally “employees” w/benefits. For some shops this makes more sense because it lets them retain their top talent and then get some tax breaks for offering bennies. However, in this case it sounds like the shop is traditionally run with “independent contractors” providing the owner a percentage of their work as “rent” for working there.

    The first reasonable course of action would be to find out either from the shop or from the tat community (does the artist have a myspace?) the location and contact info from the old artist. Once your brother has that he needs to get in touch with that artist and see if he can reasonably arrange for the work to be completed. It’s not uncommon for an artist to come back to his old market and finish stuff on established customers where possible. He might also be able to arrange a trip to Miami to get the work finished there in the artists’ new shop.

    If an arrangement cannot be brokered between the artist and your brother, small claims court is NOT the answer. For one, should the artist or shop show up to defend themselves, they’re going to make your brother roll up his sleeve, show the judge the tat, and say your brother misunderstood that what he paid for was services rendered at that time and that future sessions would be availible at an extra cost. They will then say that that is the industry standard and they will be right. The judge will take one look at the piece and dismiss the case. And even if they don’t show up in court, your brother would be very lucky to get a judgement. Not only would he be without a written contract specifying the scope of work, but the reality of the matter is, judges (and doctors) HATE tattoos and want nothing to do with them or their owners. I guarantee you the judge will ask to see the tat, be repulsed, state that there looks like there’s a tattoo in that spot and he will leave with nothing. Furthermore, while the tat community may be “nomads”, it is a tiny little world where everybody pretty much knows everything about everybody else. And I don’t think your bro wants to be “the guy that tried to sue a tat artist.” It’s likely what would happen is that nobody in that town would even tattoo him, for fear of a lawsuit and just generally not wanting to deal with the type of person who would take an artist to court. He doesn’t want to be that guy.

    Here’s what he CAN do. First, if he can’t get a deal with the original artist, go back to the shop and see if there is another artist there that has a similar style that he would be cool with finishing his piece. If there is, he can then try to work out a deal between that artist and the management that mitigates some of the costs due to the situation. Remember, this is only a viable solution IF there is an artist there doing similar style stuff. The other option would be for him to get on the internet, find another artist in town that specializes in whatever style he got and then go to him and lay his cards on the table. He would need to tell the artist about the other artist flaking and the shop not making good. 9/10 times the new artist will see this as a chance to boost themself by doing the “right thing” and cut his/her rate a bit because of the circumstances and finish the piece. The icing on the cake here would be what somebody else mentioned, and that would be heavy, under the table tipping, which will always cut the costs of what the upfront “shop” cost is.

  37. healthdog says:

    @alk509: Never get a tattoo from a Nazi-t-shirt-wearing cat who’s sitting on a pile of last year’s tax forms.

  38. Shadowman615 says:

    Just file a small-claims lawsuit for the entire $500. Perhaps he’ll get all or some of that money back, maybe none, but it’s worth a shot, right?

    Then go somewhere else to have the tattoo filled in.

  39. Elvisisdead says:

    Well, and the other item of note is that if he is successful in obtaining judgment, it will sit on the artist’s credit report until the judgment has been satisfied.

    So, it’s not necessarily a matter of collecting. If the person who has the judgment filed against them values their credit, they may pay you willingly to satisfy the judgment and have it removed from their credit.

  40. Lordy says:

    I wouldn’t recommend court…simply cause of this reason. If you take the man whose gonna do your tattoo to court what makes you think hes gonna wanna actually put all his effort into it? shit they would probably have the shop apprentice tattoo you as pay back for taking them to court

    My recommendation
    Contact the original artist and talk with him about finishing the piece

  41. iMike says:

    Tattooists are “artists?”

  42. lestat730 says:

    Gotta feel bad for this guy, but come on… who pays for the entire tattoo up front? He should have paid ONLY for the work he had done that day and payed the rest after the fill work has been completed.

    When my friend wanted a rather large and intricate tattoo, it took him about 4 separate visits to complete it, and after each session he payed only for what has been done.

  43. normalstreetstudio says:

    I am a shop owner/tattoo artist in the Dallas, Texas area, and unfortunately I’ve heard similar stories like this over and over again. The client usually just chalks it up to an expensive lesson learned and finds a more stable artist. In fact, that is probably the #2 reason (quality of work being #1) that customers become “regulars”. While I do not advocate making friends with your tattoo artist for cheap work (this seldom works…trust me, we are not that desperate), building a relationship with your tattoo artist can insure that problems like this do not crop up. The poster’s brother would have been informed of relocation in that instance to maintain him as a customer. I have customers that have moved across country and make trips to come get work done. As for legal action, I’ve never seen it do much good in this particular industry, EVER. As for attempting to track the artist down: more than likely, he/she is employed by a new shop that would not take too kindly to them giving out “free” work that was paid for prior to their employment at the new establishment. In most cases, they won’t even allow it. It is how shops safeguard their ability to make money, bottom line.

    Next time, when making that kind of an investment, go by word of mouth. Find someone with great tattoo work, and ask them about it. It’s hardly ever the most “well-known” shops around. If the poster’s brother is wanting to finish his work with someone new, I’d be happy to give him a better experience–if for no other reason than to simply right a wrong. I hate it when our industry lives up to it’s stereotypes. Find me on

  44. normalstreetstudio says:

    @iMike: You should investigate this medium further before passing those kinds of judgements.

  45. I don’t feel bad for this guy; I think he got confused over what he was paying for.

  46. snowferret says:

    “What recourse does he have?”
    I hear having a man’s legs broken only costs 50 bucks.
    In all seriousness if he can track the guy down he can ask for his money back, if the guy wont that’s what small claims court is for.

  47. Falconfire says:

    @iMike: STFU yes they are artists, while anyone can stick someone with a ink covered needle, a tattooist can do it so well as to be nearly painless, AND create some awesome artwork, which if you have ever drawn on something thats not a smooth piece of paper is difficult to do.

    That being said, as artists they like just about every artist I have ever met in my life (which is many) suck at business…

    let me reiterate that point THEY SUCK AT BUSINESS

    I cant tell you how many people I know trade shit for tattoos or make deals that end up never being filled because something happened, or who just end up going out of business cause they wheeled and dealed for things so much they couldn’t pay rent on their shops. There are a few good heads out there who can be artists and keep their obligations in check, but most live day to day with no clue what they are doing other than spreading ink.

    Its nothing against them, musicians and painters are the same damn way which used to annoy me to no end when my band used to just buy shit without thinking about if we could afford it from our next gig. Its the nature of the beast sadly.

    That being said you got two choices pretty much, track down the guy, or suck it up and forget it because you fucked up. You can try the court route but seriously the amount of time and money your going to spend pursuing it, its just not going to be worth it principle be damned.

  48. rdm says:

    I wasn’t talking about Kat but Kat’s husband with the handlebar mustache. Seems like he wouldn’t be all that great.. or they’d have him on the show.

  49. a_m_m_b says:

    sad to say the person is quite likely SOL.

    this is why researching the artist (yes, the best ones are artists &/or craftsmen) + shop in addition to the artwork is so important. i mean we are talking about a permanent bodily addition after all.

    for both my tats i spent time checking out such here in town before paying 1/2 down & 1/2 upon completion. totally satisfied with both!

  50. Rocketoner says:

    First off, If the owner of the shop was at all interested in saving face, he would suck it up and finish the tattoo. In tattooing, a large deposit for professional custom work is pretty standard, but it sounds like you you got conned at a street shop that makes its money through sheer volume, as opposed to quality custom work. Best advice, look at some portfolios, find a nice, established artist in a clean shop, and suck it up and pay the money.

    As for price? Any good shop is going to be anywhere from $100-$150, and it only really goes up from there. If you are serious about good work, you will have no problem paying a well trained artist.

    On to the Kat/Oliver connection, Oliver OWNS Elm St. tattoo, as well as works in hollywood at True Tattoo. Miami Ink does not really exist beyond the tv show, and has an offset location staffed by people you have probaly never heard of, so egos and wrong doings aside, it was certainly not Oliver Peck who welched on this particular debt.

    Research your shop and artists, the tattoo industry has exploded and there is no excuse for not doing research and finding quality work. Most good shops have a website, and ALL good shops will have a portfolio. Do your homework!

  51. Jerim says:

    The question here is who did you give the money to? Did you give the money to the artist, who turned around and paid the shop their share? Or did you pay the shop who turned around and paid the artist his share? That is the fundamental question of who is in charge here. If you paid the artist directly, and he was going to turn around and pay the shop out of that, then your beef is with the artist.

    You can try suing the shop, but if the guy was a contractor as they allege, then all they are obligated to do is give you any contact info for the guy. I wouldn’t worry about pissing off the artist, as he seems to have moved out of the area. What are the chances you will use his services in the future anyway?