Oliver Peck’s Do's and Don'ts of Elm St. Music and Tattoo Festival

Yet another Elm St. Music and Tattoo Festival is upon us, which means that hundreds of inked Dallasites will flock to Deep Ellum for a chance to collect a new piece of body art from one of the country — nay, the world’s — best tattoo artists. There will also be live music, plenty of booze and even more people-watching, but the focus here for avid festivalgoers is all about the ink.

If you haven’t been to Elm St. Music and Tattoo Festival before or don’t have any ink of your own, though, you shouldn’t let the dedicated, heavily tattooed patrons discourage you. The atmosphere is all about education and art appreciation according to Elm St. Tattoo Festival founder (and reality TV star) Oliver Peck. We chatted with Peck to get some important do's and don’ts for festivalgoers, whether it’s their first time or their fifth.

Do come in with an open mind.

Going to the Tattoo Festival isn’t like rolling up at your neighborhood tattoo parlor. “These artists are some of the best in the world. They were all hand-selected and invited to come here,” says Peck. “It’s not just a bunch of random people who paid for a booth.” As such, you can be sure that the artist you choose will be able to give you a good tattoo — Peck is confident that every one of the 50-plus artists is worthy of his hearty recommendation.

Don’t bring a boring picture of a tattoo from the Internet.

“If you want some little picture you pulled off the internet, this is probably not the place to do it,” says Peck. This fest is all about celebrating the art form that is tattooing, and you didn’t see Picasso out there painting replica Monets. The artists here are looking to share the creativity, and that doesn’t involve putting that dumb tribal band on your arm. (Do people still do that?)

Do shop around.

Think of the Tattoo Fest as a sort of Wal-Mart of tattoo artists, only the quality is about a million times better. At the Festival, you can walk around and browse the portfolios of the attending artists, and find the one that best fits your idea. If you want a traditional Japanese dragon, it doesn’t make much sense to go to a guy who spends his time doing modern, metaphysical designs. For many festival attendees, that is the exact appeal. “Collecting tattoos is like collecting art,” says Peck. “Most people don’t want 20 of the same artists paintings on their walls — they want variety.”

Don’t get offended if an artist doesn’t want to tattoo you.

Sometimes, a tattoo artist just isn’t going to want to help you realize your dolphin-at-sunset tramp stamp dreams, and that’s okay. Every artist has the right to decline work that doesn’t jive with their own style, and you should respect that. “If it’s something the artist doesn’t want to do, it’s nothing against you,” says Peck, who frequently turns down tattoo ideas that aren’t right for him. “This artist has a specialty, and they’re going to do what they do. They’re just not the right artist for you.”

Do stay relatively sober

It’s pretty much common knowledge that you can’t get wasted and then roll up at a tattoo shop expecting to get a full back piece, but some of you are inevitably going to try to drink away your inhibitions and finally go for the art you’ve always wanted. Unfortunately, getting drunk frequently results in a bad tattoo. “The biggest problem with being really drunk and getting tattooed is that you have to sit really still and that’s hard when you’re drunk,” says Peck. “It’s not even about health and safety from my point of view, it’s about being able to concentrate and sit still for a good tattoo.”

It’s also true that drinking too much means that your blood will get thin and you’ll bleed a lot, which makes it more difficult for the ink to stay in the skin. Most tattoo artists can spot a drunk from a mile away, and according to Peck they’ll just happily turn you away. “It’s not worth the money to wrangle someone for twice as long to get their tattoo done.”

But don’t be afraid to have a few drinks. 

Getting drunk is a bad idea, but Peck says that a cocktail or two to calm the nerves and relax won’t kill you. You’re going to be in Deep Ellum, there’s going to be beer everywhere, and having a few isn’t going to stop you from getting tattooed. Just make sure to grab something from the food trucks to ensure that your blood sugar doesn’t get low and you don't end up passing out during your tattoo session.

Do get there early to set your appointment. 

The artists at the Elm Street Tattoo Festival are in high demand, and many have made appointments with eager canvases well in advance of their arrival. If you really want a shot at a particular artist and didn’t plan ahead, Peck suggests buying a weekend pass so you can come to the festival on Friday and make an appointment before the artist is booked up for the weekend. “Friday is generally the slowest day, but by midday Saturday, a lot of people are booked up through the weekend,” says Peck. “The earlier you get there to set up a time, the better.” As a bonus, that weekend pass will get you unlimited in-and-out access to all the bands, beer and other happenings in Deep Ellum this weekend.

Don’t be afraid to get your first tattoo at Tattoo Fest.

It might seem intimidating to get your first piece of body art at a convention that’s all about celebrating tattooing, but Peck seems to think it’s actually an excellent opportunity. “A lot of people might think if they’re not in the scene they shouldn’t go to the convention, but this is the perfect event to go and put your feelers out and learn about what tattoo you want to get or who you want to do it,” says Peck. “I always try to push for newcomers to come to the festival because they’ll see more this weekend than they would in 20 visits to the tattoo shop. So many people are blown away by the creativity.”

Do some online research before you go.

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you can check out the Instagram and Tumblr accounts — aka digital portfolios of the modern era — online before you make your appointment. That way, you won’t walk blindly into a room of tattoo artists and have to do on-the-scene research while battling festival goers for appointment times with the most in-demand artists. If you’re looking to get tattooed by one of the more popular tattooers, Peck even suggests making an appointment in advance of the festival. “If you know exactly who you want to get tattooed by, you can call the shop or email and set up an appointment in advance,” he says.

Don’t forget to bring plenty of cash.

It’s an old saying in the tattoo world: Good tattoos aren’t cheap, cheap tattoos aren’t good and you always get what you pay for. The artists assembling this weekend aren’t your usual street-shop ink-slingers, and some will be commanding premium prices for their art. “Minimum for a small tattoo would be around $100, depending on how big you want to go,” says Peck. “There will be people getting $1,000 tattoos if they get 5 or 6 hour tattoos all in one day. If I had to give an average, the average tattoo would cost around $200 or $300.”