The Tattoo Artist, Design and Experience

Tattoos have become far more acceptable by society in the past few years. Gone are the times when ink was reserved for bikers and convicts. Today, anyone you pass on the street may be hiding a permanent expression of themselves under their clothes. Also gone are the days of the plain black tattoo. These have been replaced by vibrant colors, making the artwork even more dazzling and expressive than it had been in the past. Some artists have even had their work featured on the walls of prestigious art galleries around the country.

Three years after receiving my first little blue flower, I am off after another tattoo. When it is all said and done it will still be only one tattoo, only done in two sessions, three years apart. This second session will decorate my lower back with a black haired fairy in a suggestive purple dress.

As it grows closer to time to get the work done I am growing weary. I don’t remember the first one hurting but my companions in the world of the inked retell the stories of getting theirs done and how badly it hurt, making me question my memories. I pride myself on being able to take a fair amount of pain but what if this time it is more than a fair amount? I walk into the parlor nervous but I tell myself I’ve done this before, I can do it again.

After choosing the perfect design the next step is to decide where to place it. Some people go for more obvious places where everyone will see the art no matter what the person is wearing. Places such as the back of the neck and forearms are harder to hide than others.

Many things need to be considered when choosing a location for a tattoo. Will I have to cover it in my career? Do I want it somewhere I can see it easily? Do I want to be able to show it off easily or is it going to be just for me and my significant other to see? Will it hurt here? What kind of expression would it make here?

The artist, Nick, leads me back to his station, my friend following to watch. Nick has transferred my sketch to a new piece of paper, with a machine called a thermal-fax. The ink from the fax will transfer onto my skin. I pull my shirt up and tuck it under my bra to hold it in place. Nick first wipes down the area around the old art with rubbing alcohol to sterilize and clean it.

At this point the skin is moistened, some artists use soap or water for this process, Nick uses stick deodorant. He spreads the deodorant onto a paper towel and rubs it onto the area. This will help the sketch to transfer onto the skin, leaving a purply-blue outline that will soon be permanent.

One thing that few people think of when planning to get a tattoo is the time of year to get it. The summer months are already cruel and abusive to your skin; sun-tanning, swimming, and over all exposure to the elements cause your skin to be more tender and will irritate a new tattoo. Winter is recommended for tattooing because the skin is more likely to be covered and protected.

The word tattoo originally comes from a Tahitian word “ta-tu” which means “to mark something.” Almost every culture of the world has some form of body art which they use for different purposes. Many tribes in Africa and Asia use tattooing to symbolize strength, courage, and adulthood. In the mainstream culture of the more industrial societies such as Europe and North America, tattoos are used to symbolize individuality and possibly even rebelliousness.

The outline is done with a single needle. I can feel the needle penetrating my skin, it feels like being pinched with fingernails. Others have described it like a cat scratching them, I don’t think it hurts even that bad. I have a high tolerance for pain. The shorter lines are more unbearable than the longer lines. When Nick pulls the needle along to draw the longer lines the pain subsides as the needle moves. He uses a wet paper towel to mop up the puddles of ink that are left behind by the process and I watch in the mirror for traces of blood on the towel. So far there are none.

There are seven layers of skin, Nick explains as my friend is also noticing the lack of blood (he can see the actual process and doesn’t have to rely on the towel to know what is going on). It isn’t necessary to go any deeper than the first three layers which is more shallow than most paper cuts. The deeper the needles are pushed, the more blood and the more pain result.

In Miami, there is a parlor specifically for higher class vacationers. The art is often very expensive and fades almost completely away in three to four weeks, the average length of their vacations. The process is the same as receiving a permanent tattoo but the ink is different. These tattoos are for lawyers, doctors, and politicians to name a few to show off on the beach without having to live with them the rest of their lives. I personally think, if I am going to drop the cash and endure the process, the tattoo better be permanent.

Soon the outline is done and Nick has gone to look at what his partner is doing to another customer, giving my skin a moment to rest. I get up and look at it in the mirror behind me. So far I am pleased, and my friend seems to be as well (not that it would matter much if he wasn’t but I am glad to have his approval). As I have mentioned before, I don’t remember from my own first experience but from listening to friends I think that the color will be more painful than the outline.

When doing the outline the needle usually only goes over each area once, where as the coloring is done much like coloring in a coloring book; back and forth over the same places. I take a few deep breaths before Nick returns; I have been tough up to this point, I don’t want him to know that I am worried about the next part.

Now we begin adding color to the design. The elf is seated on a toadstool (to avoid suggestions by my readers of drug use), which is going to be colored turquoise. Her dress, which is revealing but still appropriate, will be purple and, naturally, the stem that is being added to the old flower will be green.

Aftercare is an important part of the tattooing process. While artists may vary in their opinion of what is the best way to take care of the fresh ink, the consensus is that it should be kept moist. Some recommend a glycerin or water based lotion that won’t clog pores and that will let the tattoo breathe and heal. Others recommend Neosporin to eliminate the very slim risk of scarring.

Another thing to remember is that after the first couple of days the tattoo will begin to peel as it heals. It is important at this point to keep it clean; this will help to keep it from getting infected as well as helping to keep it from itching, which it will also begin doing at this point

If you get inked in the summer it will be tempting to show it off by wearing minimal clothing out in the sun. If you must do this, put sunscreen over the tattoo to protect it. Just like it affects the color on the upholstery in your car, the sun will also affect the color in your new tattoo. You may end up with strange tan lines around your tattoo where the sunscreen was applied heavier than it was to the rest of your body but it is a small price to pay to keep the brilliant color you paid for.

There is even a product on the market for those tattooed folks who can’t bare the pain of pasty white skin in the summer heat. Tattoo SuncareâÂ?¢ is an SPF 30 sunscreen in stick form that can also be used on other sensitive areas such as your face or even in the part of your hair.

Nick finally sits back in his own chair and tells me that he’s finished. I stand up and look at the completed product in the mirror and am, for a moment, stunned. I just got another tattoo. The end result is gorgeous, I have to say, and I am very pleased with my decision. And now that it’s finished, I am ready to start designing the next one. I would estimate 75-80% of the inked world would agree that tattoos are addicting. Once you get one you just want to keep getting more.

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