Thursday, November 05, 2009

tattoo advice

okay. i was gonna to reply to Paul's recent query in the comment box, but i realise there's too much to say. so here's my list of tattoo rules.

assume from this, that i'm not interested if you want to have Tweety Pie tattooed on your hip. unless of course you have developed a philosophy of Tweety Pie that guides your life. you have every right to do want you want. after all, it's your body and your money. but i'm not interested. i see tattoos as wearing your heart on your sleeve. and it's an art form.
so, this set of rules are very much my rules and reflect my personality.

1. there is something in you you want to express. it's inside you. something you want to be reminded of each time you see it. i imagine it floating up to the surface and the artist tracing over it.
2. don't get a design to express something for someone else. express you and you only.
3. design it, print it out on a computer or draw it and then pin it somewhere and then wait for at least 3 months, if not 6. if your conviction holds, go for it. but you might want to change it. don't tattoo a temporary idea. because the tattoo is not temporary. this time also allows you to save up to pay for the best work you can afford.
4. research research research. scavenge for ideas everywhere. be creative and imaginative.
5. if you are worried that you might not think, feel, believe the same way in the future, that the tattoo will be out of date or become irrelevant, then think about whether rather than regretting it, this will mark out an important place or time in your life, that it will act as a reminder of who you have been, where you have come from and the journey you are on. will the meaning of the tattoo be one that can adapt over time as you reflect on it? (that's a lot of expectation to put on Tweety Pie. ;) )

1. research, research, research. any decent tattoo studio will have their portfolio and an artist bio on the web. note: not all tattoists are artists. look at each artist's style. are they experts in detail, or colour work, or shading, text, or reworking existing tattoos? tattoo artists specialise in the same way hair stylists do. i, for example, want artists who know how to craft very clean text on my right wrist was done by an artist that used to be sign writer and loves doing text work for that reason.
2. you get what you pay for. you want a tattooist who knows their craft and the industry, is using the latest inks and is passionate about their art form and wants to represent the craft well.
3. even if they do not share your ideology or worldview, a decent tattooist will respect you. but they will also know who they are. some tattoists have a very definite philosophy of the craft and have limits on what they will tattoo. for example, i have a bird. the artist, robin that inked it, would never, like many tattoo artists ink a bird or any moving image that wasn't facing the world with you, moving in your direction. ie. it can't face backwards. *that's* the kind of thing i appreciate. thought. care. an ideology. others will refuse to depict images of evil or satan. because they beleive it harms them as an artist. a good tattoo artist wants to respect their clients. the only way you can get a sense of a tattoo artist's philosophy is to talk to them. get their vibe. ask them about their work. you are paying them, so expect nothing less than the best of them. you know what it's like to have your hair cut but someone that doesn't care or hasn't tried to be an expert, or who's not interested in who you are as a client.

who do you want inking your body? making a permanent (unless you laser it off) statement of their art on your skin? someone who doesn't care who you are? sees you as just another in a line of paying customers? or do they want to connect with you and give you the best of their craft as they can?

right up to the moment you sign the consent form, you can walk away. in fact, at any point you can make them stop. meet the person first. do an advance trip. this is quite normal and any decent studio will let you meet the artist and talk to them. get a sense of them, their rapport, their attitude, let you see that they are professional, clean, that the studio has your health and comfort and safety at the forefront. they should love what they do with a passion and be experts. it is *very* easy to tell when someone hasn't gone to the best.

any decent tatooist will understand physiology, and musculature in particular, and they will be meticulous about placement and will not start inking til the design is in *exactly* the right place. your body is their canvas. and it is not flat. and it moves. a good tattoo will enhance your musculature because it will follow the natural shape and lines of your body.

*really* do your research on this. there are different techniques. follow them to the letter. if your tattoo result is muddy and dull, it's down to 1. the inks used, 2. the application and 3. your aftercare.
having had several done i now know the method i think works best, with least pain. i'll definitely be looking to use the same product again. so when you are choosing a studio, ask them for explicit instructions and get them to explain their preferred method. it's not just about healing, but about yeilding the brightest cleanest results. it makes all the difference.

1. avoid any alcohol and caffeine in your system. both affect the blood and thus affect the result. plus, neither make you feel good during the process.
2. eat, so you are not on an empty stomach and drink lots of water. and take water with you or some should be provided. you might want to have a snack - a oatmeal bar or some nuts or something of that sort - in your bag. but i'd avoid high sugars. go for slow release energy foods. if you are feeling a little drained after as they high wears off that'll be good for you.

a good studio will take care of you and will want you to feel at ease, comfortable, minimise pain and the tatooist will talk to you constantly and ask you for feedback. if you are getting a large piece done, they will pace it for you and do it in stages. i find it's surprisingly relaxing. it gives you an endorphin rush and after only a few minutes you might even feel a little sleepy.

a big job will leave you, however, feeling drained. there is a limit on how long your body can keep producing adrenalin. common wisdom seems to be, 4 hours max before you'll crash and then the pain then increases exponentially. most tattooists have a time limit. plus it's tiring for them. so, the bigger the job, the more your health and comfort is a factor. a good tatooist will pause, will allow you moments to breathe and relax your body, move your limbs a bit so you don't cramp and will keep on checking you feel okay.
having tatoos of their own, they will also help you understand why it feels the way it does, and will be responsive and sensitive to your own reactions. even on a short, say 20 minute, tattoo and especially on a first tattoo, any good artist will be ultra careful to make sure you are guided through the experience so you don't feel nervous.
it is not half as painful as you think it will be. pain would never be a reason for me not to get a tattoo. some parts of the body are more painful than others. even on the least painful places, it is a physical experience and a strange one at that.  no one can tell you how it will feel but it's a unique sensation. i find it best not to look at the needle while it's working.

make sure you allow yourself rest afterward, and avoid being bumped into. that really is painful. afterward i think it's like having had an injection for a tropical disease. the pain is deeper afterwards. a kind of heavy ache. but it is very temporary. avoid sleeping on it and in the morning it should feel much better. it'll just be tender rather than actually sore. the tattoo itself will sting a little like a fresh graze. so be very gentle when you come to washing it. have scrupulously clean hands when you clean and moisturise it.

so, that's my advice.
take time to do your research. arm yourself with information and find someone you think you can trust. taking time to research the studio you want to use gives you the time to be sure you know what you want done. you'll be happier with the result if you do.

keep it moisturised. and always wear *very* high factor sun screen over it or keep it covered. this is especially vital when it is new. depending on time of year and how tanned you are will also affect how bright it looks.

oh, one last thing: go for bigger than you initially design. most people go smaller than they should. the results are nearly always better if you size them up. the studio can scale it up on the transfer. 

remember, it's your tattoo. don't give a damn what anyone thinks. just make sure you love it.
and enjoy it. :)

and yes, it really is addictive. 



  1. Wow. This is the best summation of the ins and outs of tattooing that I have seen. Great advice about choosing the design. I'm moving towards my next one, and while I know the basic design, still tweaking it a bit.

    Regarding my latest one 'create pulchritudinem' inside my left wrist, a friend said, "I feel like you needed that for yourself this year." Exactly. I did.

    Wait til you get to see NBW's latest - Lazarus on her right arm. Fabulous.

  2. wow wow wow... I feel in good hands, thanks you lovely humanoid.

    Am in Cardiff for a week so won't be going to see people til after - I value all you have said and will send you a copy or post a copy of what I decide :)

    love always

  3. wonderful. glad to be of assistance.
    looking forward to seeing what you come up with. i have no doubt it'll be a tattoo layered with meanings that'll only transform and deepen over the years.

    enjoy cardiff.


  4. S&C
    i LOVE NBW's new inkwork. absolutely amazing. :)

    glad you are so happy with your own.


  5. Anonymous11:20 am

    Hi, I am a journalism student in Cardiff University. I am doing my assignment which is a feature writing about tatoos.I saw your artical today. Do you mind giving me your email address? Can I make an email interview with you? Thank you very much. Hope I can get your answer asap.

  6. hello cardiff student,

    there's an email address at the bottom of the page. just scroll down.
    i'll not be able to respond to the interview until this time *next* week, due to having deadlines myself and travelling, but yes, if that's not going to be too late, then ask away and i'll see what i can do to help.


  7. Anonymous7:34 pm


    i'v never got a tattoo before, but for some reason i really really want some ink on me.. its not even as if i hav the perfect design.. or even a basic idea in my mind abt WHAT it should be.... i'v been looking for ideas all over the web, but nothing really clicks the way u imagine it would when u see the one, the way u just described one should be certain of it representing smthing in u......

    but i just really want a tattoo..
    why is it that one would feel this way...? what do u suggest i do with this strong desire?? should i ignore it? or should i just go ahead n get one if i want it so bad... n then again, what?

  8. hey anonymous,

    i think it's a very subjective process. what i wrote is very much how _i_ approach it, and also those i know who've got tattoos that (in my opinion, or to my taste) really work well and look great.
    the sequence for me has and i think will continue to be:
    1. having something i want to express - i.e. what the tattoo would symbolise
    2. a basic visual idea that expresses that idea
    3. knowing where i want it placed

    for me, the mere desire for inkwork is just not enough to spur me to get one. but maybe that's just me.

    which is a long way round to saying, i'm not sure what to say other than perhaps you should think through why you want a tattoo. and personally i think that's something only you can answer. and perhaps your stumbling block is you are looking outside yourself for an image - in other words, you're putting your energy into step 2 before you've found out what it is you want to express.

    maybe you could trying doodling or sketching and see what shapes and images you are drawn to. or look at the kinds of themes and images that you already surround yourself with and that evoke positive emotions in you, e.g. what art work you like, album covers that appeal to you, things you stick on your fridge. and for inner meanings, song lyrics, poetry, or books can tell you a lot about the what themes means something to you.
    that you can't find anything might of course mean this just isn't the time in your life to get any inkwork done. i know i've got a vision of a tattoo i'd like to get done but i suspect it's a year or two away before i'll commit to it.

    dunno if any of that helps.
    good luck,

  9. Seems like you are quite educated on tattoos Leftofnarnia. I have always wanted a tattoo ever since I was a young kid, I just love our I can become a piece of art. On average about how much does a tattoo cost and the time involved? I would love to get a dragon on my left shoulder.

    George Puzo |