Ahh, tattoos. Love em or hate em, they are pretty popular things at the moment. Once the preserve of criminals and ne’er do wells, they are now well and truly mainstream. The good thing about that is that there are now professional, hugely talented and downright awesome tattoo artists everywhere. The bad things about that is the rise of hideous programmes like Just Tattoo Of Us and Tattoo Fixers. Call me old fashioned, but I think that tattoos need considering, after all, they will be on your body forever. Now I’m no expert (I only have 3 tattoos) but I thought I’d share the process I go through when getting a tattoo so you know what to expect.
My tattoos have always started with an idea – something has popped into my head that I’ve just known I want immortalised on my body. Not everyone is the same – sometimes they love a particular artist and want a piece by them, sometimes they see a style they like and want something in that style. But for me it’s always been an idea.
For my first tattoo, I wanted script to celebrate my ability to go travelling on my own after years of being depressed. For my second, a tree to symbolise my family and for my most recent, my wedding flowers.
When I get an idea for a tattoo, I start to look for reference images that I like everywhere – instagram, google, illustration, magazines, pinterest – anything and everything that might visually represent what I like. Not only is this great stimulus for your artist, when you find them, but it also helps you hone in on exactly what you want. You might save an image one month and then actually decide that’s not right for you (I’ve done this many times). That’s why I think it’s always best to take some time and consider what you want your ink to look like.
Think about placement
The body is a very large canvas and you can tattoo pretty much all of it! So where do you begin? Think about what size you want your tattoo – bigger pieces of skin (e.g. thigh, back, leg) are better spaces for bigger tattoos. Think about how visible you want your tattoo to be – do you want to be able to cover it up, do you want it to be something only you can see, or do you want it out there for the world to see?
Be wary of current trends – I see the helix tattoo is now a cool thing, as was the finger tattoo a few years ago. Yes these tattoos are undeniably beautiful, but they also won’t actually last forever – they will rub off and fade unevenly meaning you either have to keep going back to get your tattoo re-touched or you accept it will not look fantastic forever.
Also think about your pain threshold – everyone feels pain differently, but there are some places of the body that are pretty much agreed by everyone to hurt, just to varying degrees. For me, my foot tattoo was excruciating but my back pieces were largely fine.
There are so many styles of tattooing out there – dotwork, traditional, realism, watercolour, tribal – it is worth doing your research before you decide what style would work best for you. Often, if you already have an idea, it’s just a case of finding which style best delivers the picture you have in your mind.
Deciding on your style will probably lead you towards specific artists. You might have heard great things about a local tattoo parlour, but if none of the artists there tattoo in the style you’re after, you might not be able to get what you want.
For my wedding flowers, I wanted an artist who is passionate about tattooing flowers. I also knew I wanted mine to be black and white, no colour. Narrowing it down to that helped me come across the incredible Rebecca Vincent, currently at Parliament Tattoo.
Instagram is an invaluable resource for finding tattoo artists – search through hashtags or repost accounts that focus only on the style you’re after and you’ll no doubt find someone you love. Start screenshotting or saving down their images.
You’ve done your research, you’ve found your artist. It’s time to get booked in! Depending on how popular the artist is that you’re after, they may have a very long wait list.
A few tips on popular artists like this:
- Be prepared to wait – I waited 6 months for my tattoo with Rebecca. She only opens her books a few times a year and when she does, she books up for the next 4 – 6 months really quickly.
- Have an email drafted of exactly what you want – idea, size, placement, reference imagery. Then it will be quick to fire off when your artist’s books open.
- Follow them on instagram or wherever they make their main announcements – if they are nearby, keep your eye open for cancellations.
- Be prepared to travel – I went to London for Rebecca.
- Look out for guest spots – sought after artists often guest at other tattoo studios that may be closer to home or have sooner availability.
- Be prepared to pay a hefty deposit. Many artists ask for £100 to secure your slot- this deters time wasters and shows you’re really keen about getting your tattoo.
It might be that the artist you love is in a studio close to home and you only have to wait a few days or a few weeks, if so, lucky you! Again, just give them as much information as you can.
You’ve booked, you’ve waited, now it’s time to get inked! Yes!
On the day, have a good old wash so you’ve got clean skin. Don’t overdose on deodorant or perfume, just keep it clean and fresh.
EAT a decent (big, hearty) meal before you go in and bring high energy snacks. YES this is the perfect excuse to eat chocolate and sweets and drink full fat coke. Your body is essentially going through trauma and you will use up more energy than usual dealing with the inevitable stress of the situation. Nobody wants a fainter on their table!
Spend plenty of time up front chatting with your artist and getting the design drawn up. If it isn’t quite right, SAY SOMETHING. Don’t feel embarrassed or awkward, artists are used to it and they don’t want to do something you don’t like. They will draw it up, talk to you about it and then position it on your body. Double, triple check everything. If you have questions, ask them! What your Mum said was right in this instance – better safe than sorry.
Dealing with the pain
There is no easy way to describe the feeling of getting tattooed. You’ve just got to accept that it isn’t going to be a pleasant feeling and that it might bloody well hurt.
- Distraction helps – talking to someone, watching someone else get tattooed, tapping the skin on another part of your body.
- Keep your energy up by eating snacks – but check with your artist if you’re moving lots, you don’t want them to be slowed down by your fidgeting.
- If it really gets too much, or you feel faint, then ask them to take a break. There’s no shame in it and it’s infinitely better than keeling over on the chair.
Your artist will give you very specific instructions – follow them to the letter! Pay attention to how long they want you to cover it with cling film and when (and when not) to apply cream. Only buy the creams they recommend, not one you’ve heard is great.
Like I say, I’m not an expert, but this is what I did.
- After you can take the cling film off, give it a gentle rinse in the shower. It will be covered in a gooey mix of blood, ink and lymph, that’s normal. Rinse that off to stop it forming a scab. Don’t soak it for at least 2 weeks.
- After a few days it will get itchy (it’s a wound, it is healing). DO NOT scratch it! Give it a slap if the itching is too much.
- Apply cream (I used Palmer’s cocoa butter for the first week) in a thin layer to protect the tattoo and encourage healing and moisturisation of dry bits. After a week I used Bio Oil and man that was like a dream. It stopped the peeling pretty much overnight.
- It may take a couple of weeks to completely heal. If you have any blistering, raised areas or infection, go back to your tattoo artist or send them pictures if you can’t. They will advise on what to do next – I can’t because it’s never happened to me!
So there you have it, my rather epic blog post about the whole process of getting a tattoo! If you have any questions you want to ask, shoot them below and I’ll do my best to help!
Have you got any tattoos?
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