Luckily tattoos have come a long way in the last 10 years, but there are still plenty of pitfalls to avoid if you don't want to like a guard from a Siberian Gulag...
I think of them as body art, beautiful expressions of my personality marking significant moments in my life and OH MY GOD MOM, IT’S NOT A PHASE WHY DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND ME, I’M GOING TO WRITE ABOUT MY FEELINGS IN MY MOLESKINE. Whatever you think about them they are no longer just the preserve of repeat offenders, sailors and psychopaths called Andy that are really into body building/ throttling women down alleyways. If you pick wisely the needle could be your new best friend. If you pick like this girl you’ll probably end up turning to hypodermic needles.
PICKING A TATTOOIST
The most important aspect of all. Aside from wanting someone that’s a great artist you’ll want someone that is not a complete tool. Having another human willingly inflict pain on you while possibly in a compromising position, you’ll want to be in the hands of someone that you can both imagine going to the pub for a pint with and could also trust enough in a pub fight combat situation. So while you can now research and stalk their portfolios from the comfort of your computer if it doesn’t feel right in the studio itself ie. blood splatters up the wall, no customers, tattooist looks like they wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire, walk away.
FACE, NECK, HANDS
There have been times where I regret the ACAB tattoo I had emblazoned along my top lip. But really, all reputable studios will refuse to tattoo newbies anywhere a suit can’t cover unless they’ve had a windfall of money and there’s absolutely no possibility that they’d ever have to look for gainful employment ever again in their life. Though if you really have your heart set on it balaclavas and full body latex gimp suits are going to be really on-trend this Spring.
Don’t get anyone’s name…maybe your Mums but it’s probably best to wait till she’s dead so there is no possibility that she can cut you out of any will/ murder your pet dog/ go to prison for molesting children and leave you feeling nonplussed about your ink. Don’t get anything funny, the novelty will wear off as soon as that rainbow clad unicorn with semen dripping from its mouth and a penis as a horn has finished being etched onto your skin permanently. Don’t over complicate anything, getting a blonde pin-up girl to symbolise your girlfriend with shamrocks over her nips for your heritage and riding your childhood Alsatian that died last year is going to confuse people. In fact don’t get too hung up on the deep and meaningful, tattoos are for you and not an audience, so long as you know why you have it you don’t have to cram in as many images as possible for a running commentary. Lastly, don’t get whatever the latest tattoo craze is, stick to the classic designs, designs that could stand alone as a piece of art you’d keep in your home. Emo stars are the Myspace of tattoos and tribal are like, them shiny Adidas trackie bottoms with the poppers up the side.
LISTEN TO THE TATTOOIST
I did A Level art, so I’m pretty much an authority on all things creative and could probably win the Turner Prize if I entered on a whim, but it still hasn’t stopped my first tattoo from looking like an aborted foetus tramp-stamp. However touching the idea of drawing your own or printing off some shitty, faux profound picture you found off Tumblr sounds, the tattooist should always have the last say. They will always want to make it about three times bigger and it will always end up in a different position to what you had planned. While you’ll be thinking of your ink on your young nubile skin, they will know what is going to look like a crumpled mess in ten years time. Suffice to what a lot of snobs think, tattoos no longer have to age looking like they’ve been done in prison by Raul with his surgical needle, biro ink and a battery motor.
It hurts, of course it hurts, it just doesn’t hurt how you think it will. Dragging pulsating needles through your skin sounds like it should be pinchy but it’s more of a gnawing surface pain, much like a really aggressive case of herpes…or, erm, shingles, whichever way you want to put it. While the tattooist will occasionally check to see how you’re doing, the worst thing you can do is sit their flinching and asking how much longer it is going to take, so man up. You could cheat and use a numbing cream but much more effective should be the shame associated with looking like a great big pansy. Personally, I welcome the adrenalin high of it all but I’m sure that’s more indicative of my own deep-seated psychological problems.
ON THE DAY
Don’t booze for Dutch courage, don’t not bother eating, don’t take painkillers, don’t turn up hungover and definitely re-arrange if you think you’re coming down with ebola. I shit my pants as I sat down for my first substantial ink because the 18 stone man next to me was shaking, hyperventilating and clutching a can of Red Bull like it was that cup from the face melty scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Turns out he was on the brink of passing out because he was hungover, hadn’t eaten and sort of deserved to shake and cry throughout the pain.
Generously. People tip for haircuts they’ve hated and restaurants that have given them the skitters out of social decorum and yet it’s not common practice to tip your tattooist.
For me this is the part that sucks most. Treat your new tattoo as if it were chicken pox. Wash it gently, pat it down with lots of nappy rash cream and if the itching is killing you…smack it, never scratch it. Your tattoo will thank you for it and most importantly won’t scab over and heal like a drunk toddler coloured it in, instead you’ll be left with a beautiful piece of art on your body which if menacingly flashed right still has the power to ward old ladies away from sitting next to you on the bus.