So Ya Wanna Sit?
For most of my life (and for five of the eight), I only bothered with tattoos when I was traveling. I walked into that first tattoo shop in central Florida, 17 and with emancipation papers in hand, and pored over books of designs. I had a sense of what I wanted, but I also knew I didn’t want something that hundreds or more other people were walking around with on their body. This particular tattoo was going to represent my new-found freedom and so, I had the artist slightly alter a tribal band for my ankle. It only goes halfway around, symbolizing – to me, at least – that I was no longer chained to my past.
Over the years I collected tattoos as souvenirs. Where most other people bring back trinkets, gaudy t-shirts and tote bags with the name of their destination scrawled all over them, I sought out tattoo parlors and brought back permanence.
Prior to moving to NYC, it was a butterfly – showing how I grew into something beautiful from the creepy cocoon in which I had been contained. From Chicago, an anchor and a compass – reminding me of where I came from and how to get to where I want to go. From Kentucky – a pit stop along a very long road trip – a chameleon; she reminds me of my fluidity. From Hungary, the words ‘bekesen elni’ meaning ‘live peacefully’ on the top of my foot as a general reminder for life and my path. Anger is such a wasted emotion anyway.
Perhaps my most prized memento came from Atlanta. I was there for a conference and on my only free night, I set up an appointment with a local artist. I wanted a phoenix on my chest. By this point in my life, I had gone through more than anyone else I personally knew, and I succeeded beyond what anyone – myself included – believed possible. I mean, a 16-year old runaway doesn’t have a retirement account and stock options. Girls like me typically end up as cautionary tales on Lifetime.
Because I only had one evening available and it is an incredibly large tattoo, we did the entire thing in a five hour sitting. This was the first time anyone had told me what I great “sitter” I was. In tattoo speak, this means that at least as far as being on the table is concerned, I’m an easy client to handle.
My other tattoos are small, easily hidden and never took more than thirty minutes from stencil to bandage. This was a marathon, both for me and I imagine for the artist himself. We finished close to midnight. I called a cab for myself and crashed in my hotel room before needing to catch my outbound flight not long after.
Recently, as I laid face down on a squishy table, my head resting comfortably on a hygienically covered pillow, I realized that there are a lot of things that newbies getting their first tattoo probably don’t know. So, with needles repeatedly piercing me and my new favorite local artist bent over my back to work on an elaborate design a friend drew for me, we shared a few chuckles about some of the Do’s and Don’ts I thought about when it came to getting them. And so, because I’m just so generous, I’m sharing them with you.
- Drink plenty of water, particularly the day of your session
- Make sure to eat something – there’s nothing fun about getting light-headed mid-session
- Be on time for your appointment; in fact, be early
- Schedule consultations with artists to get a sense of their style and to make sure they are going to be the right match for you
- Feel free to ask a lot of questions – are they licensed; do they sterilize their equipment, etc. If the answers to any of these important questions is ‘no’, don’t risk it.
- Remember that you get what you pay for. If you can get a great deal from a great artist, go for it. If you’re getting inked in someone’s basement under a fluorescent light, well…you see where I’m going with this
- Wear something comfortable with easy access to the place you’re getting tattooed
- Consider choosing a small design for your first tattoo; talk to your artist about placement because they can give you a better idea of what you’ll be in for. Everyone’s pain tolerance is different but placement can have a big impact as well
- When it’s all said and done, TIP YOUR ARTIST. So you just paid $500 for that lovely skull on your shoulder? Too bad. That money doesn’t all go to the artist; businesses have overhead costs. Folks in this type of industry depend on tips and it’s customary so if you’ve had a great experience with your artist (and that does not mean an easy tattoo, it means you got what you wanted the way you wanted it), then don’t be a cheap ass. TIP. If you’re unsure how much to tip, think of it like a restaurant and tip at least 15%. Key words: at least
- Give a lot of thought about putting someone’s name on your body. After you think you’ve thought about it enough, go back and think some more. Yes, some tattoos can be covered. Some of them cannot. [This applies to besties getting the same tattoo because you know, they’ve been BFFs]
- Also think about how it’s going to look when you’re 80 years old. Oh, that tattoo on your breast is going to look great until you’re about 25 (or have plastic surgery)
- Ask your artist to avoid using soap on you while they’re tattooing. This last time was the first time we had tried not using it and the results (and lack of stinging) were amazing
- Follow your aftercare instructions from YOUR OWN ARTIST. Yes, you can search online and you’ll get myriad different ways to care for it. Your artist knows their own work and how it heals best. Follow their instructions and not what you’ve overheard from other people or from the interwebs
- Bring an entourage with you for your sitting. A significant other or a friend can make the experience much more fun, but don’t bring more than one other person with you unless you want them to sit in the waiting area
- Be afraid to ask your artist to change the design or to move the stencil as many times as it takes until you’re happy with the placement. This is permanent (or at least very expensive and painful to remove). You should get exactly what you want
- Drink booze or be in any other ‘altered state’. Most parlors will ask and will know if you’re not being honest. There’s a very high likelihood that they just won’t tattoo you
- In fact, don’t be hungover. Hangovers are dehydrating and that’s really the last thing you want to deal with while you’re repeatedly being stuck with needles at lightening speed
- Take aspirin or any sort of blood-thinning medication or pain reliever 24 hours before your sitting. You don’t want to become known as “The Bleeder”
- Be afraid to ask for breaks. Those guns get hot, it can get uncomfortable and sometimes you just need to get up and get some air. With that said, try to be respectful about them. Don’t just ask for breaks every five minutes because you were unprepared for the experience. You’re likely not the only client on the books that day
- Make a big scene while you’re there. Some of us just want to talk to our artists, listen to music or hell, even sleep during them (and yes, this is possible. I actually nodded off a few times while getting this last one done). It’s really not cool to be The Drama Queen/King and ruin everyone else’s experience
I always knew I wanted tattoos and piercings. In my younger and far more rebellious days, I did not have much concern about where to get them or what size, etc. I am fortunate that at least subconsciously, those few are small enough as to be easily hidden. It’s entirely possible for me to go to work in an extremely professional and gratifying job and have no one know what’s going on beneath the fabric. I can go to formal events and not look like a circus freak. And yes, I have a facial piercing that is hidden 99% of the time.
My desire for such things is not to piss other people off. For me, it’s about allowing my body to be a canvas for the things that are important to me. One of the most important things about my body is the art. It reminds me where I came from, who I am and where I am going. It houses reminders of the people I have loved and lost – in symbolism, darlings, not names – and helps me feel closer to them now that they are gone.
I have a grey and white tree of life on my upper left shoulder. It’s not just a bent or wispy thing. Its deep and circular roots remind me of the people that helped me get here – my deceased parents in particular. The tall branches, stretching out above my shoulder remind me that each of us is connected, even when it looks like we’re on our own. They are my roots and they have helped set me on a path to reach my full potential.
This is who I am. And for that, I make no apologies.
Tattoo design by the ever talented and stunning Jessi Williams.
Making dreams into reality: Good Mojo Tattoos