After seeing a lot of ‘tattoo advice’ posts/videos from people who have one tiny ass tattoo, I thought it might be worth to create one given that I have several tattoos and have spent a fair few hours getting stabbed by those needles.
“Do I actually want a tattoo?”
There’s no such thing as thinking about it too long. There’s always the chance that you’ll regret it later, just like there is with any decision you ever make in your life. There are ways to remove or cover tattoos that I’d advice you to have a look at before deciding to get a tattoo at all. You need to know what your options are if something goes wrong. Getting a tattoo is a calculated risk, it can be very rewarding but it can also end badly. If the thought of going through the procedure to have a laser treatment is something you can’t stomach, then maybe don’t take the risk.
Some people get a tattoo with no other meaning than “it looks good”, for others they have deep cultural or personal significance. If your tattoo is one of those tattoos with a lot of meaning, think very long and very hard before going through with it. Never ever get the name of a living human being tattooed on your skin. Why? Because your relationship with that person can turn sour over the course of a lifetime. This doesn’t just apply to the name of your spouse or partner, but also to family members and friends. Imagine getting a tattoo of your sons name when they’re born and as they grow older they reveal that they’re actually trans and that their male name is incorrect. Or if they change their name for another reason. There’s so many things that can go wrong in long term relationships of any kind.
The second category of designs you should be careful with are religious or political designs. So many people lose faith, change religions, or change their political beliefs over the course of a lifetime. This is why I strongly advice against getting things like crosses, political symbols, or bible verses as tattoos. If you want a religious or political symbol, make sure that it goes deeper than religion or politics. Two of my tattoos have links to religion but the meaning isn’t inherently religious. One is for protection from evil and a ward against enemies. The other is for finding your way through mist/when lost. Get them for meanings like that and not “I want to do this as a sign of how religious/dedicated I am”.
The third category of designs you should think hard about are things that are popular. Firstly, do you really want to be one of the tens of thousands of people who walk around with the word “love” written on their bodies? Are stars really something you’ll find decorative for the rest of your life?
And for the love of the gods, take a moment to think about what your tattoo actually is. If you’re getting an anchor combined with the text “refusing to sink”, you’ve just marked yourself as an idiot for life. The only purpose of an anchor IS to sink. Get something that floats if you’re refusing to sink. Think about the design, don’t just grab it off of pinterest without thinking.
First thing to consider: skin loses the battle against gravity. Your tattoo will move slightly as you age. Secondly: life affects skin. If you plan to have several children, or even one for that matter, and you want to carry those children… Don’t get a tattoo on your stomach unless you’re prepared to deal with it being stretched during pregnancy.
Third thing to consider: you may not plan to get a specific type of job, but be aware that there are times when you might need to cover your tattoos. I strongly advice against getting tattoos on your hands, face, or neck. Again, your life can change at a moment’s notice and your current profession might not be one you’re able to have for the rest of your life. I have 6-7 tattoos depending on how you count and if I wear a t-shirt and a knee length skirt, they’re all covered.
Selecting an artist.
Firstly, never ever get a backyard tattoo. Don’t get one at a party. Don’t get one when drunk or on any sort of drugs. Don’t get one at a market. Don’t get one from a friend unless they’re a professional artist with a studio. Don’t get one in exchange for favours. Don’t get one from someone you’ve had a disagreement with. Professional environment, professional relationship. That’s the way to go.
Go to an established studio with proper sanitation and safety practices. You do not want to end up with an infection or a more serious illness because they didn’t use sterilised equipment.
Have a look at photos of their tattoos, see if you like what’s being made at the studio.
Here’s where I’ve gone wrong: look up the specific artist and not just the studio. I have one tattoo that I’ve had three artists work on, two of those artists were far worse than the studios themselves. If it’s a guest artist, ask to see their portfolio. Always check the individual artist, better safe than sorry.
Another important factor is style. Just because someone makes amazing classical tattoos doesn’t mean they’re good at portraits. Find someone that is good with the style you want. If they usually do black and white, maybe don’t go there for a watercolour style tattoo. Just like how you wouldn’t go to a restaurant with a Japanese style menu and order a risotto. People specialise.
Actually getting the tattoo.
There are two things you should do on the day itself before getting a tattoo. Have a meal. Have a shower. Maybe not in that order.
If you want to, in the weeks leading up to the appointment, moisturise that part of your body extra well. In my experience, your skin heals faster and better if it’s in a good condition when you get the tattoo.
When you get dressed to go to the studio, stop and think. If you’re getting a tattoo on your leg, maybe don’t wear skinny jeans that day. If it’s on your ribs, maybe avoid dresses. You need to wear clothes that don’t get in the way of the artist, or you’ll be asked to remove the piece of clothing that makes their job difficult. You might not want to spend hours in just underwear in front of strangers because you decided to wear the wrong thing that day.
If the tattoo is going to take a few hours, make sure you’re dressed comfortably.
Make sure you and your clothes are clean and don’t smell strongly. The artist is going to have their face inches away from your skin. Be nice to them by avoiding BO and perfume.
Why the meal?
Firstly, if it’s going to take hours, you don’t want to spend some of those hours being hangry. Hunger + pain makes anyone grumpy. Your body handles pain better if you’ve eaten, I don’t know why but it’s a pretty well known phenomenon and chances are you’ll be instructed to do so by the artist. Secondly, consider bathroom breaks. You might need a break or two for that purpose if you’re heading in for a six hour session. Think about the timing and schedule meals that way. If you have a tiny bladder, then don’t have several coffees before going in.
Be honest with the artist. If you know you don’t handle pain very well, let them know. If they’re good, they have the interpersonal skills needed to make the session easier for you by adapting what they do and explaining the different stages.
If you struggle to remain in certain positions for a long time, tell your artist. They’re more likely to be understanding if you need to stretch or shift more often than the average customer if you’ve mentioned it before they start. That also means they can schedule extra time if needed.
Be honest about any health conditions you have, even if it’s just that you’ve got a cough. If you have a serious health condition, for the love of everything holy, mention it. If you have an allergy, mention it.
What happens when you go there is that you’ll get a stencil drawn on you before the tattooing begins. This is your last chance to ask for changes. Do not agree to sit down unless the stencil/sketch gives you a good idea of what it’s going to look like when it’s done. It will be there for a long time and you need to be happy with it. If the placement is slightly off, you’ll be annoyed by that fact for a very long time. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to say things like “It might be slightly too far to the left, can we try it a bit further out?”.
“What’s it like?”
This question usually means “will it hurt?”. Here’s the thing, everyone’s pain levels will vary. It varies depending on the placement, the size, the type of needle used, the artist, and how you’re feeling that day.
You’ll have a lot of needles breaking your skin at a very rapid pace for a prolonged period of time. You’ll feel it. It won’t be completely pain free. A lot of people describe it as having your skin scratched by a nail and that gives a pretty good image of the standard pain level. The longest I’ve sat for is 9 or 11 hours straight and that gets to anyone, if you have a very low tolerance for pain try to schedule shorter sessions.
Another thing to consider is how long it will take. If you’re heading in for a six hour session and it’s your first tattoo, you’ll probably overlook this fact. Six hours is a long time to lay still. Boredom will probably kick in after two or three hours. Bring a reasonable distraction. Maybe an audio book on your iPod, maybe a portable gaming system, maybe a book. Bring a distraction that won’t interfere with the tattooing. Also, ask before doing anything that either blocks your hearing or creates sound. The rule is that you shouldn’t interfere with the environment other people are exposed to. Chances are you’re not the only customer there. If the artist needs you to change position shortly, they might want you to wait until then to start distracting yourself. Be respectful.
If it’s a really long session, ask if it’s a good idea to bring a snack. If you do, pick something that doesn’t smell, doesn’t make a mess, and that doesn’t stink. Eat during a break, not during the tattooing itself.
In regards to the level of conversation your artist is happy with, it will vary from person to person but don’t rely on them for entertainment. They’re kinda busy. The more complicated the piece is, the more likely it is that they’ll need to focus fully on tattooing. Keep the conversation light and easy, at least to start with.
You’ll be cleaned off and wrapped in glad wrap. They’ll let you know how long they want you to keep that wrap on. After that time has passed, take the wrap off and have a shower. There’ll be excessive ink everywhere if you don’t. Use a very gentle soap or similar product to clean the area if needed. Moisturise with an appropriate product afterwards, ask your tattoo artist what they want you to use. Sleep on clean sheets and wear clean clothes to minimise the risk of infection, remember that the area is pretty much an open wound.
Moisturise in accordance with instructions as it heals.
Here’s advice no one will tell you. It will itch like hell. It’s a wound healing, and the healing process itches. It might also make it difficult for you to perform certain movements. I’ve got tattoos that wrap around my thighs, when I walked shortly after getting those, I had to walk carefully to avoid irritating the area. It looked bloody hilarious. It will feel a bit odd for a few days if you have a tattoo like that. If you’ve gotten one on an area that doesn’t move much, you probably won’t notice it. It will still itch though.
Just like when a wound heals, there will be… crust. It will look like your tattoo is peeling and you’ll be leaving coloured flakes in your wake. This is completely normal. Leave it alone. Don’t try to hurry it, resist the temptation to pick at it. If you do, that can cause scarring that makes the tattoo look a bit worse than it should. I had this happen with my right thigh where parts of it were slightly scarred due to me not being really careful about things like wearing jeans that nabbed at it…
Other things to consider is to be careful with sun exposure, baths/pools, and things that cause infection. Before moisturising it, wash your hands. When you’re inside, let it air. Like wounds, they heal better if you let them air rather than cover it up. Avoid heavy exercise or exercise that involves a lot of movement that affects the area. This usually takes about a week, some people say four days, others fourteen. Once it’s healed, you can go back to your normal routine.
Long term care: sun screen. Keeping the skin moisturised and healthy makes it easier for the tattoo to look good longer.