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Yes it hurt. And so much more. The experience of getting a tattoo.

Updated on November 29, 2012


Did it Hurt?

Yes. It hurt. Yes. I know it will be on me forever. Ask me something you don’t already know the answer to.

“What does it feel like?” That’s a good one. In my brother's words, “It’s like someone drawing on you with an Exacto knife.” For me, its harder to explain.

“Why that design?” There might be as many answers to that question as there are tattoos in existence. Each experience is unique. This is one of my experiences.

The Design Process

All I had was a concept and some pictures from the internet. Flowers. Lilies. But what to do with them? My tattoo artist is a former coworker of mine. I have known him for years. I have seen his work. Most of it I like. And I trust him completely. I would let him doodle on me if that’s what he wanted to do.

The instruction I gave was: a few lilies, feel free to throw in a skull or two but nothing too creepy. His drawing was pretty rough. Black and white outlines. Lilies, skulls, smoke. I loved it. I knew I would. He showed me how I could expand it in the future. I didn’t ask for that. He must have remembered when I said I want to cover my entire back.

Now, what color? All I could come up with was “My favorite color is purple, but I don’t know about that.” Before I could even suggest pink I hear, “I was thinking purple and pink.” My favorite color and second choice. He knows me that well. At times better than I know myself. Good thing. I am a little nervous about giving him so much liberty. But I am keeping my word. He is the artist. I will trust him. Finally on to my favorite part.


The Experience

I am impatient as he lays out his materials. He applies the template to my back. “OK?” I look in the mirror. My heart skips a beat. No. Two beats. “Perfect.”

“Have a seat”. I sit. Straddling a chair as he turns on the stereo. He pulls up behind me. Close. "Ready?" The buzzing of the machine begins. It’s a quiet buzz, yet sharp. I love that sound. After a while it becomes like white noise. Barely noticeable.

I can’t see him, but I know just what he looks like back there. I have seen him work. Bent over. Tattoo machine in his hand. Ink pots just within reach. Complete concentration. The world could be exploding around him and he wouldn’t notice a thing besides his work. I feel the needles moving across my skin.

There is no real pain. Not yet. Just the feeling of someone drawing with a sharp pen. Long deliberate lines. No talking at first. The music is playing. Hard rock. The kind I like. The singer’s voice is low and rough. Excellent choice. The buzzing continues.

Then, out of the blue he shouts. “You Asshole!” "What did I do?" “Not you. Me. I forgot to lay out the green. No big deal. I’ll get it later”. Then silence. Maybe a minute of small talk here and there. The lines are done. Time for color. The feeling is hard to explain. Like coloring with a sharp crayon in tiny circles.

Now it’s starting to hurt. My skin feels raw in spots. Like scratching a sunburn. I start making small talk. Partly as a distraction. Partly to catch up on things. Mutual friends. Our old job together. His kids. Significant others.

The shop owner and his customer pop in eager to show off the latest addition to what is a very complex sleeve. Nice work. And what about mine? They like what they see. As much as I trust the artist, I am glad to hear their comments. I can tell they are genuine and it eases my mind. Whatever is going on back there it is looking good. He wipes off my back. Slow and gentle. “Done already?!” He chuckles. Not even close. After a pause he starts again.

Every now and then I can feel my spine vibrate with the buzz of the machine. That’s odd. Is it supposed to feel like that? I don’t ask. I just listen to the music. Ouch. Is that my elbow that hurts? Time to adjust my position. Not better. Wait. I’m not even leaning on my elbow. It’s him. He must be near a nerve. Uncomfortable, burning pain. Boy I hope that spot is done soon. More small talk.

I’m getting restless. How long have I been sttting here? I forgot to check the start time. New spot. Some relief. He wipes again. “No. We’re not done yet”. Guess he figured he’d answer before I could even wonder.

His leg presses against mine. It’s oddly comforting. Like someone’s arm around you. I wonder if he did it on purpose. Doesn’t matter. I’m not moving. More wiping. "Not done." Now i think he is being obnoxious. Is he grinning? He can't see me smile. The buzzing continues. It hurts consistently now. He is working on the fine details. Moving from spot to spot.

I start enjoying the pain. Concentrating on how it feels. The touch of his hands, his leg, the music. I'm smiling just slightly. Relaxing. Breathing. I could sit like this for hours. Wiping again. Finished. I knew that would happen. Just when I was enjoying it again.

Time to take a look. I examine his work as best I can in the mirror. I smile. It’s awesome. Photo time. He takes a picture. The owner comes in again. Takes a look. He wants a picture as well. He notices my other tattoo. “I remember that one. I gotta get a picture of that too.” A few quick shots. Photo shoot is finished.

He cleans my shoulder one last time. Careful to be thorough but gentle. Time to bandage. Paper towels? Is that painter’s tape? Really? I don’t complain. After all, that’s what he used last time. Silly of me to expect different.

I thank him and give him his tip. “Sorry it isn’t more.” "Thanks." He doesn’t count it. Just puts it aside. At that moment it’s not about the money. “Fingers crossed that it doesn’t get infected.” “You’ll be fine. Just keep it clean”. More thanks from me. And that's it. But "it" is alot. I will have this experience for as long as I will have my new tattoo. Forever.

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    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      nmdonders - I am up to four tattoos. They all hurt. Some more than others. I think the healing period is worse.Not painful but inconvenient. If you are still uncertain what to get then you aren't ready to get inked. It took me until I was 31 to get my first one. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it. I am glad I waited.... If you do decide to get a tattoo, I hope it is a great expreience for you.... Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. :)

    • nmdonders profile image

      nmdonders 5 years ago

      Sounds like an interesting experience. I know people with tattoos covering their bodies and I'm still too scared to get one. The pain is one thing to be afraid of then it comes down to deciding what to get. One day! Thanks for sharing this is was enjoyable to read :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      fpherj48 - Thanks for reading this one. It doesn't get much traffic. An early attempt by me at a descriptive work and a way to share my tattoo experience. So glad you enjoyed it.... The second I saw that pigytail skull ina book I knoew she would be my frist tattoo. My artist made a few changes to the original to make her cuter. He has great taste..... Thanks again. HUGS!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      A fascinating jaunt through your tattoo experience....and told so well, I think I was there with you!.....Your skull tattoo is cute..to say nothing of unique! I can honestly say.....this is my first glimpse of a skull 'n pigtails!!....beats the heck out of crossbones!......UP+++

    • profile image

      TaliaR 5 years ago from Colorado

      My mom would do the same thing! She doesn't know I tattooed myself yet, waiting to see her in person to show her, she'll be thrilled...not.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      TaliaR - Thanks for reading. And for the compliments on my tats. He gave them to me as gifts because I buy him reference books and have helped with designs. So gald you think the skull is adorable. My friends and family all think she is creepy. My mother calls her "that thing"! If I had any drawing ability at all I would love to learn how to tattoo..... Keep writng and keep up with the tattooing. Hoping to see some great work from you.

    • profile image

      TaliaR 5 years ago from Colorado

      He did a beautiful job! I love how in depth your description was, made me think back to my very first tattoo. I also love the slight smoke and how feminine the lilies are until you see the middle, very cool. And your skull chick is adorable!

      I have one professional tattoo and one I did myself, and boy what a different experience tattooing yourself is :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks. Mine didn't hurt until after about 40 minutes. I can be hypersensitive, so I think I notice the pain more than others do. I don't think people realize how important the right artist is. You aren't just sitting there for a few minutes while some guy draws on you. I think its hilarious that you were laughing. Good for your artist to not make you feel akward or bad about it.... see u around hubpages.

    • xlorna profile image

      xlorna 5 years ago from Western, MA

      Great hub! The experience is different for everyone. Mine actually tickled. I know, that's odd, but I'm very sensitive while having a high pain tolerance. So it tickled more than hurt and I couldn't stop laughing. Thank God my tattoo artist knew how to deal with me!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Definitely take your time. Whatever you decide, I hope you are happy with the result.

    • MissKatieLynne profile image

      Katrina 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks for the suggestions! I wish I had a close connection to a tattoo artist like you do haha. I'll have to take some more time to really think about it - gotta save up the money anyways :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Not annoying at all. I get it. And I will anser any questions you want because I know how frustrating it is when you try to talk to people that don't get it!... Both of my tattoos are on my back. For two reasons. 1) I wanted them somewhere they could be hidden in case I want a career that does not "allow" tattoos. I am young and recently unemployed, so thta might have been a good decision. 2) I am not the thinnest person. So my back is one of the least flabby parts of me :) If I can get more I will consider my upper arms as well... It takes me forever to commit to a tattoo. If I have too many doubts or keepo changing my mind I take that as a sign that I am not ready... Talk to the tattoo artist. The experienced ones have seen and done it all. They will have some good advice I'm sure.

    • MissKatieLynne profile image

      Katrina 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Very interesting - I love hearing the meanings behind tats :) And there is nothing wrong with quirky!

      I'm in the process of planning my next tat, which, to me, will probably have the most meaning behind it compared to the others I have. Because it's so important to me, I'm having difficulties deciding where I want it and exactly how I want it to look.

      How did you decide where you wanted yours?

      Sorry if my questions are annoying lol, I just love hearing others' thoughts on the topic of tats

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      They do have meaning for me. I refuse to get a tat that is not meaningful... I love skulls. I happen to think they are beautiful. And I am quirky. I have a fascination with "cute creepy" things. When I saw a sketch of a skull with pigtails I knew that was going to be my first tattoo. The artist made some adjustments and the color choice was totally his... For the second one I was intending to get something "normal" or "pretty". But it evolved into what you see. That is my personality and his personality coming through. Lilies happen to be the most common flowers at weddings and funerals. I love that. Most people think one has nothing to do with the other. After working at a cemetery, I have come to the realization that weddings and funeral are practically the same, except in one you get married and one you get buried.

    • MissKatieLynne profile image

      Katrina 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Do your tats mean anything to you, or are they just things you like? I don't think I read anything about that in the hub and I was curious :)

    • MissKatieLynne profile image

      Katrina 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Oh no, that's not fun! At least it wasn't totally ruined and you're okay :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      I totally understand the sharp pen feeling. It ever feels even remotely like needles. Hard to explain to people when they know its needles that do that work... Thanks for the compliments. I am glad I could share. And I will let the artist know you like it. He is a great guy. He gave me both of the tats pictured as gifts... Unfortunatley, it got infected. I am very prone to infections. It has since healed and only a tiny spot of the tat is damaged. I notified my artist, and apologized for "ruining his work". He told me no more tats without a doctors note. :(

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pretty fascinating to read about the process. Thanks for sharing and making it real to someone who has never experienced it.

    • MissKatieLynne profile image

      Katrina 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Great hub! Everyone experiences tattoos differently. None of mine really hurt - to me, they felt more like someone was drawing on me with a sharp pen, which is strange since a slight poke from someone can hurt! lol

      Tattoos mean something different to everyone - thank you for sharing yours :)

      Looks beautiful btw - he did a great job!

      Keep it clean and don't bother it, and it will heal just fine, nothing to worry about at all.