Get Affordable Body Art in These 5 Cities

A tattoo collector reveals his adventures.  
Get Affordable Body Art in These 5 Cities 1
Being a tattoo collector (left) can get expensive, especially if one gets inked in cities like New York, Paris or London; Vila Mariana and Vila Madelena are two of São Paulo's most eclectic neighbourhoods with excellent tattoo studios and groovy street art (right). Photo By: Marie Killen/Moment/Getty Images (girl), Karol Kozlowski/Imagebroker/Dinodia Photo Library (Street)

Instead of magnets, it is tattoos I collect as souvenirs from every place I travel to. Every one of them started with a simple Google search and chat with locals—two steps I highly recommend to find a good tattoo artist. While New York, Berlin, Los Angeles and London consistently feature on any list of top places to get inked, they are also among the most expensive. Not surprising, since the best tattoo artists reside in, or tour these cities frequently. However, this list is for those who want to get inked at affordable rates. I must confess though, of my 11 tattoos, there are a few from New York—I got my first, a Calvin and Hobbes, in Goa—but the rest will definitely not break your bank.

 

Bogotá, Colombia

I got chatting with Caesar Bacchus, a Colombian tattoo artist, at East Side Ink in New York while he inked my back in November 2016. I learnt that Colombian artists ply their trade across the globe—they’re just that good—and the capital, Bogotá, is a hotspot for local artists. After paying him the rather high New York prices (about $150/Rs10,500 per hour) for the fresh work of art, I decided to get my next tattoo in Bogotá. In December 2017, there I was.

I went hunting in the capital’s Zona Sul, Zona Rosa and Zona T neighbourhoods for a good studio—my research suggested that these are home to plenty of safe and clean studios. A friend suggested Dr Calavera Tattoo Studio in Zona T. When I walked in, artist Diego Calaca (@diegocalacatattoo on Instagram) greeted me in Spanish while a metal buzz from behind a portable screen filled the studio. A 30-minute consult later, Diego came back with a design that he drew freehand. After I gave my assent, he took about an hour and half to transfer the intricate design (it’s a pizza-slice-shaped line-and dot work depicting some of the places I’ve travelled to) onto my back. The first glimpse, and the bill of COP6,00,000/Rs14,000, justified my decision to get inked in Colombia, and to follow Caesar’s advice.

Where to go: Dr Calavera Tattoo Studio (@drcalaveratattoo on Instagram)

Average Cost: From COP1,50,00/Rs3,350; prices vary per design and artist.

 

Bali, Indonesia

Get Affordable Body Art in These 5 Cities

Bali is famous for party spots like Rock Bar (top). It also is home to studios which blend Balinese mask designs with geometric patterns. Photo By: Sirintra Pumsopa/Shutterstock

Apart from being a party hub, Bali is renowned for its inexpensive sculptures, art and good furniture. There are also, I found during my trip last year, quality tattoo studios that dot this Southeast Asian tourist heaven. The numerous expats from across Europe and South America who call Bali home, have brought many styles and traditions with them to their studios. Encouraged by the success of the initial studios, a lot of local artists have also taken to tattooing and they bring their knowledge of ethnic art to their designs. Here, I saw colourful geometric patterns blended with the traditional Balinese mask designs to create unique patterns. My very first night, I accompanied a dive master while he got his tattoo. Unfortunately, since I was there for a diving course, I couldn’t get one. But considering that I found Bali to be one of the safest and cheapest places for tattoos, I am going to make a trip here soon just to get inked.

Where to go: Notorious Ink, Seminyak (@notoriousinkbali on Instagram)

Average Cost: From IDR6,00,000/Rs3,000; prices vary as per design.

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

I really wanted a tattoo when I visited Paris in January 2015, but the prices for artists I liked were prohibitively expensive. Later that year I decided to make a pit stop in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, en route from Budapest to Prague. A quick pint at a local pub was enough to notice that body art is pretty popular here too. Next morning, I decided to do a Google search for tattoo studios—it was time to collect the next one. Rooster Tattoos, by the banks of the Danube, caught my fancy. Bastard Vlado, the artist whose black line work I liked, intrigued me with his first name. Bratislava is small enough to walk everywhere and a 20-minute walk later, I was chatting with Vlado, whose English was limited but art-speak was magnificent. With other artists acting as translators, Vlado understood the design I wanted. In the time it took for me to step out and withdraw money, he had drawn two options for me to pick from. I chose the edgier free hand design for my “Courage, Dear Heart” tattoo. The €50/Rs4,000 spent was worth it.

Where to go: Rooster Tattoo (@roostertattoocom on Instagram)

Average Cost: From €50/Rs4,000; prices vary as per design.

 

São Paulo, Brazil

Get Affordable Body Art in These 5 Cities 2

The best tattoos are the work of artists whose designs merge your vision with their own. Photos By: Orlok/Shutterstock (artist), Ege Gocmen/Shuterstock (Inks)

There is a running joke in Brazil that says you can identify whether a person is Brazilian by looking at their piercings and tattoos, making the country an ideal place to get inked. The demand for body art has resulted in the increase of tattoo parlours across Brazil, with some of the country’s best artists plying their trade in São Paulo, the financial centre of South America.

Whether you fancy a delicate piece or a huge dragon, there are plenty of establishments that cater to all tastes. Some of the best can be found in the eclectic neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, popular for its bohemian and artsy vibes, and in groovy Vila Mariana. In July 2014, I got a large black ink piece running from above the waist till the shoulder blade at Scorpions Tattoos in Vila Mariana. Claudio, a skinny and skillful artist, was patient and uncompromising—he did not let me stop midway. I am glad that he completed it, because that tattoo, which took close to six hours to finish and cost me just a little over BRL1,200/Rs22,000, is still my favourite.

Many artists don’t speak English; so carry as many reference images as possible, keep Google Translate handy, and if you’re lucky to have made a local acquaintance, ask them to tag along.

Where to go: Scorpions Tattoo Studio (@scorpionstattoo on Instagram)

Average Cost: From BRL200/Rs3,800; prices vary as per artist and design.

 

Vilnius, Lithuania

Since Lithuania adopted the Euro in 2015, its capital Vilnius has gained popularity as the city with the most affordable beer in Europe. It was my biggest reason to visit Vilinius in October 2018. While walking from pub to pub in the old town (the average cost of beer is €3/`250), I passed a lot of tattoo studios. Chatting with the locals, I found out that tattooing is on the rise in the Baltic city and local artists have been making their mark at tattoo conventions in the U.K. and Europe for a few years now. Currently, there is also a rising trend of tattooists specialising in hand-poked tattoos here.

Going by local advice, and online articles I gathered that Angis Tattoo Studio and Eddy Tattoo Art Studio were among the two most popular ones here. Both have award winning resident artists but it seemed like Angis had artists with a wider repertoire and styles. What really stood out for me was that in a male-dominated tattoo world, Angis Tattoo Studio also has women artists. Inga Luk (@velvet_needles on Instagram), a resident artist specialising in geometric designs, black work and watercolours, gave me my most recent piece of art. She took a little over two hours to transfer a geometric dot-work design onto my back and charged just €100/Rs8,000 for it.

Where to go: Angis Tattoo Studio (@angistattoo on Instagram)

Average Cost: From €50/Rs4,000, hourly rates vary as per the artist.

  • Shrenik Avlani is a newsroom veteran on a break from full-time work since 2012. He uses his newfound freedom to travel, get fit and undertakes odd jobs, including writing, to pay his credit card bills on time.

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