Should I give advice about getting a tattoo? Probably not. But I got my first tattoo recently and I wanted to share my experience, tiny tidbits of advice, and what I learned from the process.
If you read about my brain tumor, you would know that the back of my head looks like this:
Even though I don’t like to admit it to myself, a period of anxiety-induced mania convinced me I wanted a tattoo. Really, I’ve always thought they were beautiful, and as a lover of art and teenage rebellion, the idea of having a wearable piece of art was something to be desired. I also grew up religiously, and I was familiar with the proverb “your body is a temple,” so there was a bit of inner turmoil on that front, but I came to the decision that turning an ugly scar into a beautiful tattoo was a thing worth doing.
My philosophy is wait 24 hours before making a big decision, and in this case, I waited about six months. I mulled it over, explored lots of Pinterest designs, and eventually commissioned a friend of mine to create the design.
After that I did my research on tattoo care, what the process is like, other people’s experiences (basically I watched a lot of Inked videos on youtube), and eventually I visited a tattoo parlor in person to have a consultation about my tattoo.
I had been mulling it over for a while, so eventually I decided to make the leap before I moved out of the city. I got a friend to go with me, and together we walked into the parlor.
Once in the parlor, I met with my tattooer, who asked me about my tattoo and any ideas I had. Since I already had the design on my phone, I air dropped it to him, and then he printed out a sample size of what it would potentially look like. This took a bit of trial and error to find the right size, but we did find the right one.
Before the actual tattoo, I paid in advance and signed a waiver that said I’m willingly getting a tattoo. Then, we walked past the reception area and to an area with several adjustable chairs. Since I was getting a tattoo on my neck, I had to sit in a kind of neck-massage chair–sorry that’s how I’m describing it–where my neck was exposed and my face was put into a kind of massage-cradle thing. It was quite comfortable, and it was the right kind of position to let the tattooer do his job.
Then the actual tattoo began. First he shaved some of the stray hairs on my neck for a clean surface (but not the actual, long hair), used a nice-smelling sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to disinfect the area, and set to work.
Did I mention he gave me a Minion stress toy to hold? I was a bit nervous.
Frankly, the first 45 minutes were not bad at all. It was a bit uncomfortable, but not searingly painful like I thought. If you’re looking for a first tattoo, I would recommend to keep it under this time frame and in a less sensitive spot. After that, since my skin is particularly sensitive, the whole area of my neck started to get sore. I had to stop around the 1 hour mark for a short break, but then it was back to the chair. I transitioned from “ow” and “mmm” to a vocabulary that I won’t necessarily repeat here, and for the last 20 minutes, just repeated a few choice words over and over. But then it was done!
The whole tattoo lasted about 2 hours and cost $200, and for me, it was incredibly worth it. When I saw a picture of the finished product, I cried. Just a little of those tears were from relief, but mostly it was awe and happiness that I was able to turn years of trauma, surgeries, and pain into something beautiful that I could see for the rest of my life. Not all tattoos have to have meaning–it’s your choice–but I’m so happy that this one was my first.
Afterwords, the tattoo looked like this:
Ignoring my sweaty hair, you can see the lines are really clean, my skin is pretty red (aside from the awkward sunburn marks), but it looks really great. I wanted the design to look really organic, which is why the top of the design (the brain part) seems to disappear into the hairline. Initially I wanted the scar tissue not to be covered, so it would be worked into the design, but it looks much better as a whole piece.
After the initial picture-taking, my tattooer put a layer of thin, sticky plastic over the tattoo to protect it over the next little while. Ideally it stays on for about three days. After those three days are up, I came back to get a replacement layer, and this one stays on for about 5 days. You are also given a set of instructions for how to take care of your tattoo, like don’t expose it to direct sunlight (you don’t want it to fade or for the ink to disperse under the skin), you can wash it using warm water and hand soap, don’t scratch or itch it, and keep it moisturized. You don’t want to get it infected. In a few days you might see a bit of ink leaking out where it shouldn’t (I did and promptly freaked out), but this is normal, because your body is trying to expel a foreign substance. If the tattooer does their job, there will be enough ink in the second layer of your skin to keep your tattoo looking the way it should. In all, your tattoo should heal in about 2 weeks.
This was my tattoo three days after I had it done. It’s starting to scab a bit, which is why the lines appear a bit darker and thicker, but I completely love it.
So you wanna get a first tattoo? Here’s how you go about it:
1. Be sure about your idea (please don’t do things impulsively)
2. Put together some reference photos or ideas, or get a drawing of what you want the piece to look like. If you don’t have the complete visual but just some ideas, your tattoo artist can draw one up for you.
3. Get informed. You don’t have to know all the details of the process, but you should feel prepared and comfortable (though nerves are natural).
4. You don’t have to, but I’d recommend a consultation if you can. Talk to the person who you want to do your tattoo. You might have questions, or they could have suggestions.
5. It will hurt, but it won’t kill you. There are certain parts of the body that are more sensitive because they’re closer to bone or have more bundles of nerves.
6. Follow the after-care instructions! Listen to your tattooer, take care of your tattoo, and take care of yourself. It might be a bit sore the next day, but since you just got a literal tattoo it won’t be nearly the same. Plus, it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself!
(also if you have any ideas for my next tattoo, don’t be shy and share them below)