Today I went for my fourth tattoo which completes my "half sleeve". This will not please my husband or my mother or my brothers but it pleases me. Tattoos are forms of self expression and in most cases (mine) they are meaningful on various levels. I now have a bird flying out of my tree that is being splashed by a dolphin and all of this life and wonder emanates from the main image - my dog Buster.
Have you ever been tattooed? Do you know what it feels like? Well here, I'll run you through it.
So first you have to pick a tattoo artist/shop. It's sort of like looking for a new hairdresser. You want the hairdresser to look really good and for the people he/she cuts/styles to look even better. It's usually word of mouth or you can just walk in and watch them work and see for yourself. In terms of a tattoo artist, many have tattoos all over the bodies however in all likelihood it's not their work so best to ask to see their portfolio.
I also feel it is important to be comfortable and to trust the artist. They are extremely talented individuals who have to be able to sketch and bring life to your "I want a tattoo of a flower" (not realizing there are hundreds of thousands of possible renditions of flower tattoos). For example, someone could come in and say, "I want a tattoo of a tiger with a rose in his mouth" (happened today - not me). The artist has to render a sketch and then make it fit proportionally on the right part of your body. If you have a tattoo in that area already, it's even trickier because he has to make sure the shape and colours blend in with the rest.
Getting a tattoo hurts. Here's a comparison. Many years ago I was rock climbing in Squamish, British Columbia. I was on a ledge prepping for my next ascent when a family of bees came out of a crack in the rock that was directly in front of my stomach. The bees stung me several times as I hung in mid-air screaming for help. By the time I was belayed down, my stomach was swollen red and burning/stinging all that same time. So the feeling of being stung by several bees is similar to the feeling of the needles penetrating your skin for 1 to 2 or more hours (depending on the detail and size of the tattoo). Oh and another thing - you can't move - I mean not even a bit or you will have one crazy ass tattoo for the rest of your life.
In any case the tattoo artist holds down your body part with their weight and I have yet to meet a small tattoo artist. I have only had men work on me and they were big boys.
Some tips: Chew gum incessantly, listen to your ipod at top volume, don't watch - turn your head the other way, think about something that really pisses you off or someone you are really angry at and feed that anger with the pain. Drink water - it's important to hydrate because chances are you will sweat.
Once the tattoo is completed, the artist will spray it with anti septic and then gel it with Vaseline. It will be wrapped in something that resembles a piece of a garbage bag - oh wait, it is a piece of a garbage bag and then you will have to take very good care of it for the next few weeks. It's like having a sunburn except it's a sunburned image that will accompany you throughout the rest of your life.
Lots of people make jokes as to how that tattoo is going to look on someone when they are in their 80s hanging out in a seniors home. How do you think the rest of me - never mind the tatts - is going to look when I am 80? And who cares? Am I going to be asked out on dates by some hot 20 yr old orderly? I don't think so.
My tattoos are just that - they are mine - they are for me. There's a lot that we do in our lifetimes that is for someone other than ourselves - that is if we are half decent people and most of us are.
It's important to add our own little flavours and offerings to this one life. It makes it more special and unique and it brings us closer to who we truly are beneath and above the surface of our skin.
Being ourselves does honor to our lives and everyone who is part of it. We are here for such a short time and so we may as well put it all out there for everyone to see...
After all, we are everywhere.