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Tattoos: Advice and My own Personal Stories
Tattoos are an ancient art form but have recently gained in popularity, aided in part, no doubt, by television shows such as Miami Ink and L.A. Ink. While a generation or two ago tattoos were associated mostly with the rougher crowd: gangs, bikers and sailors, tattooing is now regarded by most as legitimate, commercial art form. Many among us-- myself included-- are proud to carry art work on our bodies. We are walking works of art, who appreciate art and appreciate the art of others.
In 2003, 16% of US adults claimed to have at least one tattoo (roughly 1/6 of the population. Source: New York Times)
Unlike Henna, tattooing is permanent and, as such any tattoos should be taken with consideration and thought. What follows are some tips on how to select and care for a tattoo, followed by the stories of my own tattoo experiences.
How do Tattoos work?
Selecting your design
This is important. Your tattoo is going to stay on your body for as long as you live (or, until you laser it off, or somehow lose the body part whereon the tattoo lies). Choose something that is going to be meaningful to you fifty years after you get it. People don't regret tattoos, people regret stupid/meaningless tattoos.
I recommend that no one get a tattoo until they are at least twenty five years old. When you're eighteen and rebellious, your interests and the things you find cool are vastly different then when you are twenty five. I was twenty eight when I got my first one, and I even have some regrets about aspects of it. There's no harm in waiting.
Also, for the love of God, do NOT get the name of your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend on your body. I have a tattoo that symbolizes my wife, but it also symbolizes me and the things I love. The shop I frequent refuses to tattoo a name on someone unless it's a parent, child or memorial tattoo. Don't do it.
Also, don't pull a design off the wall (flash) and get it. If you like the design on the wall, modify it, make it your own. Make it mean something. More then that, understand it's meaning. This is especially important with tribal tattoos. Unless you are a member of a tribe and/or have the tattoo put on your body by a tribal member using tribal method, you are being disrespectful (Comment police: This is one man's opinion. Leave your hate mail at the door).
Also, perhaps you like Justin Bieber and think he's great. Fine. Don't get him tattooed on your body. You won't like him when you're capable of understanding musical talent and you don't want to put him on your body.
You want something that you can look back on years later and be proud of and that marks a certain point in your life. Something that's permanently on your body should have meaning.
Getting Your Tattoo
After you have selected your design, the artist will draw your tattoo, and then make a carbon copy of it using tattoo transfer paper. He will then set up his (or her) tattoo station, which includes sterilization of the tattooing surface and preparing the ink and needles. The tattoo transfer paper is moistened and then the paper is placed onto the skin. Watch the videos below to see this process.
This is your last chance to make sure you like the placement and design and to check for any spelling errors. If you and the artist are satisfied, your body part is shaved, and cleaned with alcohol. The tattooing begins.
Prepare for Pain
Tattoos hurt. There's no way around it. Vaseline is used to help guide the needles along and into your skin, and this may help with the pain somewhat, but it's only a minimal help. The pain is hard to describe, but, it's sort of a burning, pinching, vibrating annoyance. Your tattoo artist has tattoos. He knows it hurts. Don't whine. After fifteen or so minutes, you will adjust to the pain and the endorphin's kick in and it stops hurting as much. Don't fight the pain... go with it. Enjoy the experience. it's only going to hurt for a while and you'll have something nice to show for it.
If you're getting a bigger piece, break if up into a few sessions or take a break in the middle. If you find yourself getting faint, notify your artist. Take five minutes, drink some water, eat a sandwich, get some fresh air, smoke a cigarette and come back.
Also, it is crucial to eat a nice, protein heavy meal and be well hydrated before you begin your tattoo. This will keep your energy up and will make it less likely that you will faint during your tattoo.
During the tattoo, talk to your artist. Have a conversation. Talk about why your tattoo is important to you. Talk about pizza. Talk about baseball. Talking helps you not to think about the discomfort you feel and makes the work more enjoyable for your artist.
After your tattoo... (care, etc.)
If you'd like a picture taken of your tattoo (sometimes the artist will request one, for his portfolio) do it before the artist wraps you up. After the session, the artist will wrap your arm with bandages and saran wrap. This should stay on for 12-24 hours. After that, it is very important that you let your tattoo breathe (It can be painful removing this bandage (which is adhered with medical tape so, either be gentle or be quick.). Before you leave the shop, remember to tip (at least 20%) and remember that most tattoo shops are cash only for tattoos.
Different artists have different advice on tattoo care. These happen to be mine:
After removing the bandage, wash your tattoo very gently with lukewarm water and scent free soap. Then apply an ointment (I use Aquafor) to aide in the healing.
Wash your tattoo 2-3 times a day for three days, followed by application of the ointment. Use unscented, anti-bacterial liquid soaps. Do not use bar soap, washcloths or loofahs, as these can harbor bacteria and cause infection. You have an open wound, and it is essential that you keep it clean.
After this, keep it lubricated with scent free lotions (scented soaps and lotions can cause infection). Do not towel dry your tattoo until it is fully healed. Air drying is best, or you can use paper towels and gently dab it.
Do not bathe or use hot tubs until your tattoo is fully healed (roughly 2-4 weeks. Mine usually take just over two) as standing water can harbor bacteria.
Once the itching starts (and it will) do NOT scratch your tattoo. Instead, slap it. Trust me, it helps.
You'll know it's healed when it stops flaking and feels flush with your skin.
Keep your tattoo covered with at least SPF 30 at all times, of your tattoo will fade. Keeping it lubricated with lotion will also increase the life span and health of your tattoo.
I hope you found these tips helpful. What follows are pictures and stories behind my tattoos. Enjoy!
Tattoo Number One: Treble Clef
I was a late bloomer when it came to tattoos, not getting my first until I was twenty eight years old. I recommend this since most of us change drastically from age 18 to age 28 and what you thought was cool when you were 18, you might find stupid or trite later on. This little piece on my left wrist, was and is my only spontaneous tattoo, and, several years later, I do regret the placement. On piano, treble clef is played with your right hand, not your left, so, it's a little off putting for me, but, what can you do? Let this be a lesson to give your tattoo a little time and thought before going through with it.
The morning of the tattoo, I woke up and said "Today is the day i will get a tattoo." So, I drove down to Black Cat Tattoo, talked to Tom, he drew up this simple piece and stenciled it. I didn't imagine my wrist would be a painful place for a tattoo... but it was.
If you've never had a tattoo, the pain is shocking. It's like a burning vibration that's almost more annoying than it is painful. Generally, with a longer session, you have time to go with the pain and deal with it. This tattoo took ten minutes, so, that never happened.
But, there you have it. I was inked.
Warning... contains some graphic Images
Tattoo Number Two: Bass Clef
This is the sister tattoo to tattoo number one, and my least favorite. The artist made it too big, and, those who are not musically inclined often think it's a tribal piece, which makes me mad because I hate tribal tattoos. Also, when I got this tattoo, I got my first touch up, which was not very pleasant... scratching old scar tissue with a vibrating needle. Ouch.
They look cool together but I still wish I would have inverted what wrist each one is on. There is a possibility in the future that I will cover up both of these, though with what, I don't yet know.
This was my least painful tattoo.
You don't want to be on this list...
- Tattoo Failure - Pics of Funny Tattoos
Tattoo Failure Pics. Funny pictures of tattoo's that fail.
A terrific, contemporary worship album
Tattoo Number Three: Custom Design
This tattoo is my biggest and my first original design. The text, "Don't let me drift away" was inspired by a song called "Anchor of my Soul" by Telecast. Josh White, who was the worship pastor at my church in 2008, is the singer for Telecast and he wrote the amazing song, and I connected with it. My faith may be interesting, but I'm not afraid to admit that I need God to anchor me. The tattoo serves as a reminder that God is always with me, even when my faith wanes.
I've always loved the ocean (which is odd for someone who gets seasick) and, even more so, old school, Sailor Jerry inspired tattoos. I originally approached the artist about doing an anchor with a banner, like what you see. As he was drawing it, I mentioned at some point I'd like a pirate ship. He said "Why don't you combine them?" and he drew what you see below.
I did the first two hour session with Derek in April of 2010. He did the line work and the red crosses, like you see in the first picture. Money was tight, and I had to wait a year to get the coloring done. By then, Derek had moved to Florida and I got Jay. Jay owns the shop (Blackhole Tattoo Body Piercing in Portland, Oregon) and is the drum tech for NOFX. As such, he doesn't tattoo much and the color session took well over three hours, which is quite a long time.
I had very vague ideas about color, but Jay knew exactly how it should look. I love the purple on the flowers, the way he mixed blues and greens for the ocean and the gold on the rope. I think he did a fantastic job and, aesthetically, it's my favorite tattoo. it was also one of the least painful. This is likely attributed to the long session. When you sit for a long time getting a tattoo, you learn to go with the pain and not fight it. Further more, you get a natural high from the endorphin's, and get a sense of euphoria. This explains, at least in part, the addictive nature of tattoos.
After this one healed, I wanted another one. It's a good thing I'm not rich, or I'd be covered (Which still may happen. I want to sleeve my right arm). I forget sometimes how big this tattoo is, until I see pictures of it, or really look at it in the mirror. Oddly enough, sometimes I forget I even have it.
I'm proud that all my tattoos mean something, at least to me. This is probably another factor in my slow, but steady, rise in tattoo count.
The song that inspired this tattoo
Tattoo Number Four: State Puzzle Pieces
My wife always says we fit together like two puzzle pieces. We talked about getting puzzle piece tattoos but were never able to find designs that we were thrilled with.
Then it hit us. At the same time. Great minds think alike.
I'm from Oregon and she's from Washington. These are natural puzzle pieces. We decided to get each of our states, so they'd match up when we held hands (my forearm, her upper arm). Further more, we each have half a heart, which also match up.
My wife, who had no tattoos, called Xavier at Blackhole and set up the appointment. He did a great job, matching them up perfectly, and doing more with the shading then we could have ever envisioned. We get lots of compliments on these pieces, so it's very rewarding. I'm very pleased with how they turned out!
Tattoo Number Five: Life In High Definition. A Memorial Tattoo.
My Uncle Dale passed away from lung cancer on April 16th, 2011. He was a lifelong non smoker who lived his life serving God and others. How could he be stricken with terminal lung cancer? (I wrote of his passing in my poem Free Spirit and also reviewed one of his two books, Two Copper Coins , if you'd like to learn more about him.).
After his diagnosis, his life took on new focus and he took on the motto "LIfe in High Definition." He was a very important man in my life, a second father really, and when he passed away, I wanted to memorialize him.
My brother Cory, my sister Becky and I all went together to get these memorial pieces. These were their first tattoos. We didn't get the same tattoos, but they all have, essentially, the same meaning. My brother and I got the same font, and my sister and I got the same text (though hers includes my uncle's birth and death dates).
It was not only a special experience to get that tattoo with my siblings, it was also a very painful experience physically. In order to create thicker lines, a thicker gauge was used and the tattoo stung a lot (Oddly, the first few minutes, I nearly fell asleep, before the sucky part began), but, any amount of pain I endured is nothing to what my uncle experienced and it was worth it.
My brother very nearly ended up with a misspelled tattoo. He got the verse James 1:3 on his (huge) bicep. The verse reads "The testing of your Faith Develops Perseverance". I happened to look at his arm right before the artist was about to tattoo a misplaced "E" ("Developes" vs "Develops") on his arm and the artist stopped and redid the stencil. I get sick, even now, thinking about how close he came to have a misspelled tattoo. This also serves as a reminder that it is not a tattoo artists job to spell or grammar check your tattoo... it is yours. His job is to trace the lines and put the ink into your body.
All in all, I'm very pleased with the experience and extremely happy to have a permanent tribute to my uncle on my body.
I would love to include stories and pictures of others' tattoos. If you have a good story and some good art work, please e mail me. maybe you'll see it here on the hub!