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We've all heard the horror stories: I didn't get what I wanted; the portrait looks nothing like my grandma; there's a spelling error in the quote; I passed out; it cost a fortune... Getting a tattoo can be scary, especially when you don't know what to expect. Anyone who has seen me since my freshman year of college knows I'm inked up. It took a lot of time and courage for me to get my first piece done, and it could not have gone better. Now I've got ink all over my body. Here are some tips, from a somewhat expert to all the novices, because I wish this article had been around when I was looking to get my first tattoo...
First and foremost, trust your artist. Your artist is the professional and they know what they're doing. Most of us have never tattooed someone, so we don't know what we're doing. If an artist says, "Hey, I think this will work a little better," give it a shot. Your artist has tattooed so many bodies, they kind of have an idea of what will work.
On that same note, make sure you've found an artist you click with. Look up artists and their portfolios. Most tattoo shops will have each artist and a portfolio of their work so you can see their style. Some artists specialize in watercolor tattoos; some focus on portraits; some love working with shading and fine lines. Each artist has their own style, and depending on what you're looking for, you might need a specific artist. If you want a flower on your hip, you probably don't want to get tattooed by a guy who only does people portraits. Do your research and make a connection with the artist. Tell them everything on your mind.
Think about where your design would look best on your body. Do you want vines snaking around your arm? Do you want an owl perched on the outside of your calf? Do you need your tattoo easily covered for work? Or can it be out in the open on a daily basis? People weren't lying when they said location is key. You can't pick up your skin and move it over the next day if you don't like where your ink is. Put some serious thought into where your tattoo is going.
Make sure you are well hydrated the day of your appointment and eat a hearty meal before! You want to ensure your blood sugar is in good standing so you don't get faint during the session. Many people will take painkillers, but painkillers actually work as blood thinners and can make you bleed more while you're getting tattooed! Skip the pills and drink tons of water. You'll be much better off. If you're worried about becoming faint, bring cough drops, Jolly Ranchers, or some other type of hard candy that has sugar in it to suck on while you're getting tattooed. Also, make sure to talk to your artist about your fears.
It probably seems like common knowledge, but make sure you bathe before your appointment. Don't wear any scented lotions or perfumes in case your artist is sensitive and has allergies. You two will be very close to each other for possibly several hours. Depending on where you're getting your tattoo, your artist may have to smell something kind of rank... Do them a favor, and scrub up before.
Be prepared to go back for more than one session. Depending on how intricate your piece is and how well your skin handles the ink, it might take multiple tattoo sessions to complete your design. Sometimes, our skin doesn't like the kind of ink being used and rejects it all completely. An artist will not work your skin until it is raw, because that will complicate the healing process. That also isn't very fun for you to sit through. Skin needs time to heal and breathe before moving forward. It's possible that your skin accepts the ink wonderfully and you get everything done in one session. It's also possible that you get five minutes into the tattoo and you have to stop for a break. Everyone has different skin that is going to react differently, so be prepared for any scenario.
Invest in an unscented soap and lotion to use for the healing process. You should wash your tattoo one or two times a day and moisturize whenever you notice it's dry. It's totally normal for your tattoo to be itchy while healing, but don't itch it! You might tear off a scab, which can ruin some of the design. Every person and design is different, but expect 5-14 days for the tattoo to heal. I know, that's a big window. But if you got a tiny semicolon behind your ear, that's going to heal much faster than a pair of wings spanning the entirety of your back.
Tattooing Is an Art
The artists spend time sketching the designs, making stencils, and then tattooing. All of this takes multiple hours. Don't haggle an artist when they tell you their price. When you go to Target, and the price tag says $14.99 for a shirt, you either have the money or you don't. You don't walk up to someone and start trying to haggle the price. Tattoo artists are trying to run a business and make a living. They set the price based on what their art is worth. You're paying for a lifetime investment, so yes, it will be expensive. That's just how it is. However, being on a budget is a reality. Just like you sometimes shop at Walmart instead of Target, you can find an artist that's a bit cheaper. You don't have to go with the Louis Vuitton of tattoo artists if you're on a Saver's budget. Work with what you can afford, and explain your budget to your artist. But, remember it is also courteous to tip your artist, to show your appreciation.
Keep in mind what exactly a tattoo is: it's someone taking a needle and pushing ink into your skin. Ouchies! Yes, it's going to hurt. Pain is inevitable. That's just part of getting a tattoo. There are some places on your body that will be more tender and hurt more than others. A rule of thumb: the more sun exposure your skin has, the less it will hurt. For example, your arms probably get more sun than your chest. Even though your chest is a very fatty area, and people say fatty areas don't hurt as bad, it would hurt much more to get your chest tattooed than your arm because your arm is exposed to elements far more than your chest. A lot of people say that anything directly on a bone, like ribs or the top of your foot, also hurt more than other spots. In my personal experience, places with stretch marks hurt more than anywhere else!
I am a total baby when it comes to pain, but I was still able to get tattoos. For me, the top three most painful places to get tattoos were: my breast, my lower back (tramp stamp), and directly over my pelvic bone. The three easiest places for me to get tattooed were: my shoulders, my calf, and my thighs. But every single person is different! You are the only one who will be able to say what is painful and what is not.
Even if you are afraid of pain or needles, do not let that fear deter you from getting a tattoo if you truly want one. Tattoos are magnificent pieces of art, and they can be so incredibly meaningful to every individual. I cherish all of my tattoos, and there isn't a day that goes by that I am not thankful for them. I like the way I look with tattoos. I like what they represent and the way they make me feel about myself. The pain is temporary. The tattoo needle honestly looks more like a fountain pen than a needle. It's doable if you do your research and take the time to prepare. There's no need to rush into this commitment. Your artist will be with you every step of the way.