TAP 2.0 – The new qualification jury system

The TAP background story

For more than five years I have managed TAP all by myself. I’m not fishing for applauds or praises in any way, I just want you to understand that TAP is not a big ass company with lots of people working and with an enourmous amount of money spend on advertising, merchandice and God knows what. No, TAP has been my own project, and I have kept it as that. What I never in a million years could’ve expected starting this tattoo art project was that I would get so much positive feedback, attention and respect from both tattoo artists and other awesome people.

I had a hunch when I started this, that the tattoo industry was in great need of serious attempts to bring back the focus to the actual craft and tattoo art.I chose to only focus on the realistic genre, and I believe that was a wise choice. I respect and admire all kinds of genres in tattooing, but realism was the one that I fell in love with. So what seemed to others like a stupid narrow path, was logical and smart wide road to choose for me! Five years later, I see a plethoria of web sites and social media pages going bananas trying to cover every single genre there is and to promote and every artist all over the globe! I can still smile when I see new FB and IG pages pop up saying they are “promoting the best tattoo artists in the world”. It’s a widely missunderstod achievement, but I do wish them all the best of luck!

TAP is now moving on from version 1.0 to 2.0. It may sound a little nerdy to name it like we’re talking about a computer software upgrade. I like the simplicity of it, and instead of always using the real name (TAP Qualification Jury Process)  I’m gonna use 2.0 here and there instead.

I have a tendancy to write very elaborate on every little tiny thing, It’s a curse, I know! I thought that this time I will not chock you and write any less…oh no. But I will instead try and make it slightly easier to grasp the basic concept of the article without you spending a week reaing every single word. Therefore I will write “excerpt” paragraph texts and in the end of every text there will be an expandable text box option to klick, for those who want to dig deeper and really understand what I am trying to explain.

How did the old TAP Qualification system work?

The old TAP qualification system was uncomplicated to say the least. There was only One person responsible for deciding who qualified to be a TAP artist or not, and that was me! Of course anyone could give suggestions for a tattoo artist that they believed should be in TAP, but it was always up to me to decide if the artist was “good enough” or not. I was always frank with everyone that I’m no tattoo artist, and that every decision was made from subjective perspective. I do believe I know a few things about tattoo realism, even though I’m not tattooing myself.

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Anyway, after I had found an artist that I thought was good enough based on what I’ve seen, I contacted that artist with an official invite and explaining how TAP worked and what I was trying to do. I explained everything about the promotion and information process. Everything from the TAP profile page with gallery, biography texts etc, to the Social media promotion. Everything of course free of charge, no money involved at all! That’s pretty much how it worked, and I did everything by myself, apart from managing the Instagram account which I since 2015 have had help with by my first TAP Agent, Johanna from Vienna.

The basic idea with TAP was for me to manage as much as possible in each artists promotion process, and that they would not have to do that much in order to be apart of TAP. I never demanded that they would tag, lable or promote TAP from their part. I never demanded anything else in return either, it was just on some occations that I made a few interviews with them. But then again, that was in their interest as well since they got even more promotion from it.

I estimated that I work at least three hours every night and a lot of free time on weekends etc with TAP pretty much every day of the year for five years. I’ve tried to calculate how much time that I spent on every artist all the way from the initial research to the ongoing promotion work. I came up with a rough estimate that I spend about 7-9 hours in average per artist, per year. Some artists have gotten more time since they are more active posting work themselves. Some artists has gotten less for the opposite reason being very passive.

I said earlier that I never demanded anything in return, but when I start the new TAP Jury process, I will demand that every TAP artist spend at least 10 minutes in return. I will explain what I mean by this in the next chapter.

How will the new TAP Qualification Jury work

About a year ago I came up with an idea to gather a larger TAP jury with a mix of professional tattoo artists and other hand picked experts like tattoo collectors, magazine editors etc. They will all be a part of the grand TAP jury who will decide who will be a part of TAP or not.It’s all depending on how well I believe they know the art form or not. It’s the way I intend to make this all work together that is the neat part. I believe that a jury with the mix of both professional tattoo artists and external experts is the best solution. I want the wide perspective, not just the artists technical insights.

I know that perhaps some of the artists think that they own the competence and expertice, and in many ways they do since it is a lot about technical skills. But there is a very relevant perspective that need to complement this, and that is other peoples expertise and way of looking at tattoo art that also makes a very important insight. Tattooing may perhaps mainly be about how skilled the artist is to make the tattoos look good now, and over time, but the art lies in the eye of the beholder. This is why I believe it’s extremely important to have both sides insights in the mix.

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The idea with the TAP qualification Jury is this: Every jury member has access to a “TAP artist suggestion box” where they can submit any artist that they believe has a sshot at becoming a new TAP artist. Every week a name of an artist is drawn randomly from the database with all the artists names. If the artist looks interesting enough, and I’m pretty sure every artist in that database will be, then I will put together an online survey with a gallery of about 10-12 representative tattoos from that artist. Along with these tattoo photos there is six main areas that need to be graded from 1-5. Shading, Saturation, Design, Composition etc.

Every jury member then grades the artists overall quality and skills, and that will generate a percentage result. When all, or at least the majority of the jury members have voted, there will be a total sum of their votes and grading. The “approval level” is set to 70%, and that means that then the total sum of all the jury members has to be 70% or more for the artist to be an official part of TAP. And if the artist gets 69% or less…then he or she is out, for this time. That doesnt mean that the same artist cant be suggested and enter the jury process later on if for example the artist has improved their skills a lot since first time. So, when at least 10 jury members has all voted on the survey, there will be a final verdict based on the total percentage. This will rule if the artist qualify or not. As an addition the percentage result can also work as a “badge of quality” that can be added to the TAP artists’ profile page on the official web site and promotion them on Social media like Facebook and Instagram etc.

So what about the already existing TAP artists? Well in the process of this new system it also means that everyone of the aprox 170 official TAP artists that are already in the projecthas to go through the new jury process. So it’s a calculated risk that a few of them will not make the cut, and drop out. But that is a risk I’m willing to take in order to make it a “fair trial” so to say. This re-qualification process will start parallel with the new artists being added. Logically this re-qualification process may take quite some time to finnish.

In the future, hopefully not too distant, the next level of this survey concept is to get the customers of these officially approved TAP artists to also give their subjective opinions and eperiences in a separate survey. This part will have another approach, and the survey will contain other questions and not focusing on grading. That survey will instead focus on how the customers experienced the relationship, the booking procedure, the actual session, before and after communications, healing etc, etc. This will probably bring another level of engagement to it.

Let’s say for example a certain artist has customers giving a very bad review and saying that the tattoo healed badly, over charging, shopped up sessions etc, etc. Then I will try and communicate with both the customer and the artist in order to try and help come up with a way for them to work out a solution. The idea is not to bash anyone or take anyones side, there is no intention of like a police chasing clues of proof for either sides. The idea is just to bridge between artists and customers if possible to try and solve any eventual problems in a constructive way. I want the customers to feel that they get what they pay for, and the artist to maintain their TAP badge of quality.

What is the main idea with changing the system?

Since I have for five years been running TAP almost completely by myself so there has been a simplicity i make all tn having to make all he decisions. But there has always been gnawing at me that I haven’tt had the views and insights from other experts with me to make the right decisions. I do not consider myself in any way to be ignorant, on the contrary, I think I judge realistic tattoos very well. But I have come to realize that there is a big win in all get a group assessment based on the same criteria. An assessment based on several criteria of tattoo quality, but done by people with different perspectives, from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.

There are several reasons for changing from the old system to the new one, Have you read the background story here and also on my “about tap” section on the site, well then most of you can probably figure out where this may be heading. But I will describe the most important ones:

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The Dictator’s chair:

As with almost everything I do in TAP, there are two sides of the coin. When it comes to artists and visitors accepting the fact that I have for five years been the only person who subjectively decided who qualified to be an official TAP artist. There was always someone who got annoyed and questioned who I was to make that decision. I have never tried to set myself up to be anyone else than I am. I have always explained very clearly that I’m not a tattoo artist, only a very dedicated tattoo art enthusiast. And since I have kept the focus on the tattoo art form and the actual tattoos, the majority of people have accepted TAP and seen that It is actually doing what I said it was gonna do. The minority of people who were criticizing me for being a non-tattoo artist dictator, often got one simple answer from me as an explanation: – I’m not actively criticizing or bashing any artist for not being good enough to be in TAP. I’m just promoting those artists who I think is really good!

Those who have questioned me for why I for different reason have banned artists that I once added to TAP are perhaps the ones who have had the hardest time to accept what I did. But since these decisions are made based on totally different reasons, they don’t really fit into this description. If anyone is interested in getting a deeper explanation of this, they can read this article >> that I wrote on the subject. The main reason that I want to get out of the “Dictator’s chair” is not because I don’t think I’m qualified to make the decisions by myself. It is because I want to make the decisions more accurate, from more people based on the same criteria every time.

The power of many: 

When I begin the TAP Qualification Jury process, I will have 16 jurors, the majority of whom are professional tattoo artists, and the remainder is a mixture of dedicated tattoo experts. There is no better term for the variety of skills that these jurors possess. I only know with certainty that they will take with them a very important part of the assessment process.

I have for a long time researched whether it would be an advantage or a disadvantage to have all the jurors made public. I have come to the conclusion that the most ethical and progressive is to let them remain anonymous. I set no strict rules for each member, and if they want they can say themselves to others that they are a TAP jury member. But I have informed all that there are certain risks in the form of lateral impact and nepotism that weighs very heavily to the negative of the names are published. Moreover, it is not all people who want to sit on that chair who publicly assessing whether a tattoo artist qualifies or not.

It is very important that I clarify that this jury process does try in any way that publicly bash those tattoo artists who does not qualify. Noone of the Not qualified artists will be made public. In fact, every artist that are suggested to the TAP jury are kept secret and only after the artist has passed thourgh the jury process and has gotten 65% or more, that specific tattoo artist is contacted in order to know if he or she is even willing to be a part of TAP. This is not something that I take for granted. I think it’s important to show every artist that respect.

What will happen now?

Pretty much all the technical stuff with the Jury surveys and results is fixed and ready to go. There is still not 100% clarified how often the new artist surveys will be sent in a newsletter to every jury member. This is also closely connected to how likely it is to afterwards get in contact with a qualified artist in order to get his/her approval to be a TAP artist. Another aspect is when the jury in future has grown even larger, it will not be as crucial for the same jury members to always be active right away, and that will also render an easier task to limit the time every survey is open for voting.

As I mentioned earlier, when an artist has qualified for TAP I will also try to contact that artist in order to get the approval. This is the part where I will demand a little help in return from the artist. If I get in contact with the artist, and agrees to be a part of TAP, then he/she have to fill in a simple e-form with contact information to their social media pages, web sites, biography text etc. Some of these things will be optional, but most will be mandatory. I have learned through the years that it has been a lot of work trying to put together all the TAP profile pages, and when it is missing links, and biography text etc, it just looses the professional touch. I don’t like that.

This after process will probably make the time from an Jury approval to the actual launch of the TAP profile page vary a lot. Tattoo artists are extremely busy and not everyone prioritize these things. So it’s pretty much a matter of how interested every artist is to help out or not.

The next step – The customer jury

This will be the next step in the TAP 2.0 process. Letting customers of already qualified TAP artists, fill in an online interview form and to have them describe their unique experience of getting tattooed. This will have no effect on the actual qualification process, but it will help build a better understanding of how an artist works and what makes them professional. This customer part will have another approach and purpose, and the survey will contain other questions and not focusing on grading. It will instead focus on how the customers experienced things like communication, artist-customer relationship and everything from the booking procedure, the actual session, before and after communications, healing etc, etc.

I also really hope that every TAP artists are willing to help out finding customers for TAP to interview. This is not either something that is set out to be a bashing contest or negative in anyway. It is focused on letting customers telling their stories, uploading photos of healed work and trying as much as possible to give other people a good view what really makes a professional tattoo artist stand out, and what keeps the artist as a renowned TAP artist.