Category: Tattoo

Oops I inked me again


Tattoos hurt.

Depending on where on your body, and what your pain thresholds are, the sensation of getting a tattoo can range from an almost soothing buzzing feeling, to a mild ‘scratchy’ feeling, through to a sharp cutting pain.

I don’t mind the pain. It’s part of the parcel and becomes an intrinsic element of getting a tattoo, adding a visceral element to the trust you are placing in the artist. After all, you are allowing them to hurt you.

There is also a formulaic/ritualistic element that comes to bear when I am getting a new tattoo. It all helps me get into the right head space I guess, and whilst each artist is different I’ve found they all go through the same basic preparations, so you can use those steps to prepare yourself.

That’s presuming you’ve had a tattoo before, if not, read on…

If you are getting a custom piece of work done then step one is to book a consultation with the artist. You’ll have to have done some research into what style of tattoo you want, then find a tattoo artist who works in that style. If you are like me, you’ll then have some rough idea and try and draw it up… don’t worry if you can’t draw, you aren’t the artist here, and you get to explain your idea to the artist at the consultation. You will need to pay for this, but typically that payment is also the deposit for the tattoo itself.

The consultation is usually a quick chat and a chance to ask questions and then, book your appointment. It’s getting real now!

But don’t get too excited just yet… If you’ve picked a good artist they’ll likely be very busy and you won’t get to see the tattoo design they’ve drawn up until a few days before your appointment (or in some cases the night before!). Before you know it though, the day has arrived… NOW you can get excited!

Presuming you’ve got an agreed design – or as near as, all good tattoo artists should be happy to work with you if there is a last minute adjustment needed – then on the day of the tattoo itself you have your own prep to do. The good news is that means eating tasty food! Do make sure you’ve eaten well before you go, whilst you may just be ‘lying around’ getting tattoo’d, it’s still a traumatic experience for the body and you’ll need good energy reserves to help with the recovery.

As much as pre-tattoo noms are important, the provisions you take in with you can be just as vital. If you are going to be getting tattoo’d for longer than an hour I’d suggest you take some sweets, for me that means Haribo, and a bottle of water but each to their own. And yes, tattoo days are always ‘cheat’ days!

All set? Time to head to your tattoo parlour of choice.

Once you arrive, you’ll sign some forms (disclaimers and medical confirmations), and with a last check on the design you are all set.

Each artist will have their own working area – some places are open plan, some places are separate, all will have the option of screens for discretion – and once there the artist will look to prep the area to be tattooed. It’ll be shaved smooth (even if you’ve already shaved it, they’ll do it again anyway to be sure), and the first cold rub of whatever cleaning/antiseptic liquid they use hits your naked skin.

An important note here on health and hygiene. All reputable tattoo artists make sure their equipment and areas are clean and sterile. The artists will use new (unwrapped in front of you) needles, and will wear latex gloves throughout (changing them when needed). They’ll also wipe down the area getting tattoo’d now and again (cold and a little bit stingy!). If you have any doubts, ask!

OK, now you are ready to get the tattoo. The first step is to make sure design/placement is correct. The artist will use a stencil of the design to make sure the placement is right. They gentle smooth it into place, then carefully peel it off and you get the first impression of what your new ink will look like. This can take a couple of attempts to get right, depending on the size/location/design. For example, my last one was on my back but as my spine isn’t perfectly straight (whose is?!) it took a couple of placings to get it looking right.

Presuming you are happy, and this is your last chance to say so, you get comfortable and the sharp buzzing needles begin. A few minutes in the artist will pause, and ask if you are ok. Regardless of how many tattoos I’ve had, it’s always the same and I take as a good sign given that some people, when experiencing a new type of pain, shut down completely so you can’t rely on them saying to stop.

After that, depending on the location of the tattoo, time ebbs and flows. Once you are past the first ten minutes or so, and are used to the sensation, the pain is usually tolerable, and sometimes hardly noticeable. I’ve run the gamut from almost falling asleep to tapping out after four hours because I was starting to shake, everyone reacts differently and there is no shame in asking for a break. Again, good tattoo artists will stop now and then and check in with you, handy when you do actually doze off…

I know some people take in a book, or headphones, to distract themselves but whilst I’ve tried that in the past I actually prefer to just lie and zone out as best I can. My most recent tattoo was the first one I’ve gotten since I started meditating regularly and I found at times I was a similar experience, it’s wonderfully relaxing although the slightly ouchy bits (on my spine) did have a tendency to bring me back to reality.

Once your new tattoo is finished, it’ll be wiped clean (again that cold antiseptic fluid that always makes me gasp) and a barrier cream will be applied (something like Bepanthen) and the tattoo will be wrapped in clingfilm. Remember, as horrible as it sounds a tattoo is essentially an open wound, so this is all to protect you from infection.

It’s worth pointing out that, whilst the tattoo itself is clean the surrounding area will be covered in ink. It washes off easily enough though, don’t panic.

Your tattoo artist will give you after care advice which will cover how long to keep it under clingfilm, how to keep it clean and protected. For me I tend to clean it – a very VERY gentle process that does NOT involve soaking the tattoo just a gentle rub down with hot soapy water and the palm of your hand – then cover it in a thin film of bepanthen and re-clingfilm for the first couple of days. It can be a little awkward but it seems (for me, YMMV) to help the healing process.

After that, as long as it’s healed/scabbed over, you can switch to a good thick moisturiser. Again not too much, you are not just keeping the ‘wound’ supple and moist enough that the thin inky ‘scabs’ don’t pull off. This should keep your tattoo looking good, just be careful not to scratch at it, or bump it too hard. Not only will it hurt but it’ll lift some of the ink and leave your tattoo looking less than pristine.

However if that does happen, just let your tattoo artist know, all will happily touch-up the tattoo if needed.

And then you just have the itchy itchy phase to get through (mostly as the hair regrows) – remember, no scratching!! – and you are done!

I got my first tattoo as an act of quiet rebellion. These days I get them for a variety of reasons, but mostly because there are so many amazing artists doing custom pieces in a huge variety of styles. And yes, also because I enjoy the entire process, from the excitement of the first consultation to the first reveal of the finished job.

Now I just need to decide what the next one will be… and yes, I’ve got a few ideas in mind.

Buzz Buzz Buzz

The anticipation builds as I eat breakfast. A large full plate of not so healthy options. Sustenance for the coming hours, energy to deal with the adrenalin rush to follow.

My mind races ahead, what will the design look like? The final version awaits me at the studio and as I head there my pace quickens in time with my racing heart.

Once inside the design is revealed. Final tweaks discussed and then the cold wipe of alcohol and the sharp blade of the razor preps the skin. A cold shiver.

The design is lined up, checked and double checked. In the mirror the first glimpse of what the future holds. Excitement levels peak.

It begins. Positioned on the bench, the spotlight in place, the inks laid out. A short buzz to check the equipment and the first sharp drag on my skin.

The noise amplifies the sensation as the needles drive the ink into my skin. I breath deep as the gun moves to a tender area, breathing through the pain. The gun moves on and the dull pull on my skin becomes a calmng balm. I close my eyes and fade away into the sensation.

Hours later it’s over. Swathed in protective gel and clingfilm, I thank the artist and tenderly make my home.

I feel elated but wrung out. The buzz buzz buzz of the needle reverberates still as the chemicals in my system kick-in. Sugar needed to avoid the drop.

More sessions in the weeks to come. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The final art on my skin a permanent reminder, a badge.

Mine.

My beautiful Geisha

Many years ago my Mum, an avid crafter, completed two large tapestries depicting Japanese Geisha. From the moment I saw them I loved them and they kick-started my fascination with Japanese culture. I loved the style of them, the scenes they depicted and the era they represented. They hung in my parents living room for many years and I’ve always coveted them.

Recently, my parents sold the ‘family home’ to downsize and as part of the decluttering my Mum asked if I’d want the tapestries. I’m still not sure she realises how much it means to me to have them; memories of my childhood, the house I grew up in with the ever present needles and threads in one corner of the living room (she always has something on the go), and the daydreams they inspired (what was the story behind the scenes? what was life like in feudal Japan?).

Geisha tapestry

Around the same time I was swithering over what to get as my next tattoo, I’ve always got a few ideas in my head and a geisha was on my list but receiving my Mum’s tapestries confirmed it. The hunt was then on for an artist, although I already had half a mind on who I wanted to tackle it.

Given how pleased I was with the work he did on my arm, my first thought was Kevin, but then his new apprentice Rachel started posting some of her sketches and designs on Instagram, I loved her style and wondered if she’d be the right person for the geisha. She posted this sketch of a geisha a while ago and I knew I wanted her to tackle mine.

I popped in to Lucky Cat*, mostly to let Kevin take some photos of my now healed arm and as Rachel was there I ended up talking her through what I’d like and without a second thought I booked in for the first session.

Sidenote: Once you’ve gotten past your first tattoo nerves, it becomes almost a little TOO easy to just book up for another one…

About a week before the first appointment Rachel emailed me and after a little back and forth to tweak the design it was all set. Six hours later (two sessions of 3 hours) and it’s finished and it’s almost healed.

I am absolutely thrilled with the result.

Geisha Tattoo

** It was a lovely coincidence that Jane, who introduced me to Kevin in the first place was in getting more work done by him at the same time!*

Deconstructing my tattoo

Some people get tattoos because they think a certain design or image looks good, some tattoos are about collecting art from an admired artist, and some tattoos are chosen because they have meaning or intent. Most of my tattoos fall into the latter camp but I’ll admit that the first two tattoos I got, many years ago, were purely because I thought it was cool and ‘different’ (which, to be fair, it was at the time). More recently though I’ve considered my choices a lot more.

I hadn’t planned on getting a half-sleeve done when I went in to Lucky Cat. I was there on the recommendation of a friend who already had some of Kev’s work on her arm, I’d checked out the website and loved what I saw so I made an appointment for a consultation.

In progress

On my left arm, near the shoulder was my second ever tattoo. It was of a two headed dragon/serpent curved in a circle. It had no meaning other than I thought it was cool and the person I had a major crush on was getting one that day as well so I was trying to impress her (I was 18 and yes, it was a stupid reason).

It was old and faded so when I asked about covering it up, Kevin said it shouldn’t be a problem but when I told him I wanted a Daruma he pointed out that it wouldn’t work. The shaping and colouring wasn’t right… he thought on it a bit and suggested I could place the Daruma lower down my arm on the bicep and have a traditional Japanese flower above it.

Kiku-no-hana (Chrysanthemum) *

Probably the only piece of my half-sleeve that was originally chosen purely for decoration, I loved the style that Kevin used to draw it and trusted his judgement that it would be in-keeping with the Japanese theme. Thankfully he knows his stuff as this flower is a used as a symbol for the Emperor of Japan.

Daruma *

I can’t recall where I first saw a Daruma, probably wandering through Chinatown in London, but the bright colour caught my eye as did the various expressions and variations I saw.

Traditionally these dolls are given to people as a good luck charm. Once received the owner decides on a goal and colours in one eye, colouring in the second when they have achieved the goal.

I’m very goal oriented and I love Japanese culture so this seemed like a perfect fit for me. My Daruma only has one eye coloured to allow me to continue to strive for new goals.

Half-sleeve *

My original intention for the tattoo was just the Daruma but with it being quite a large piece, plus the flower above it, Kev asked if I was going for a half-sleeve and if so what else might I want? The first decision was what to put on my inner bicep, another large area to fill but an easy one as I already had half a mind to getting a separate tattoo featuring another piece of Japanese culture so why not just include it in now?

Koi *

I decided on a giant koi for my inner arm and with the main components decided I left Kevin draw things up.

The koi symbolises a lot of how I try and live my life, best summed up by Dory from Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming’. I’m old enough to know that life will always throw you a few curveballs, and all you need to do is keep going, doesn’t matter if you aren’t making any headway, as long as you are trying to go forward. Koi tattoos symbolise the battle upstream the fish undertakes as it heads to its mating grounds.

I was starting to get excited about how it was all coming together and the minute I saw the first sketches I excitedly booked in for my first session.

Completing the design

As I hadn’t planned a half-sleeve, there were some gaps so after the first session we started to discuss what else to put on my arm. There were some obvious candidates.

Maneki-neko *

These cute little guys are told to bring good luck and have been a part of Japanese culture since the turn of the century. There are some great folktales about where they originated (check the Wikipedia link) but no-one is really sure.

In a nice bit of circumstance, the tattoo parlour that Kevin owns is called Lucky Cat so I was more than happy when he used his logo as part of my sleeve (hmmm maybe I should charge him advertising fees?)

Lotus *

Buddhist symbology states that the lotus represents rebirth; that can be a change of ideas or the adoption of new beliefs. In my ongoing quest to learn and adapt my behaviours to be a better person in this world, it was perfect to include in the design. Kirsty has one on her forearm for similar reasons, and as we’ve both learned a lot from each other it seemed fitting to get on too.

Kokeshi doll *

Whilst they don’t have the same symbology associated with them, Kokeshi dolls are an integral part of Japanese culture. My Mum has a small collection of Kokeshi style dolls, so there is an element of tribute to her in there as well. Plus, they look so cute!

Getting inked

We started the first 4 hour session and completed the cover up of my old tattoo and the outline of the Daruma. The next session outlined the lotus and koi, the session after that coloured in the Daruma and started on the koi, and so on. In total it took a little shy of 24 hours to complete the half-sleeve, and whilst I won’t say I loved every minute of it (inner-arm section was pretty close to my pain threshold, next time I’ll look to some of the pain-numbing gels I think) it was wonderfully to watch it evolve. Very much a collaboration, deciding what to put where, what colours each element should be and so on.

Finished Tattoo

I am absolutely thrilled with the results and, several months later with everything nicely healed, I continue to get compliments and questions about it. I was so happy with the service I got I’ve since gotten another tattoo by a different artist at Lucky Cat… more on that later!