Reasearch your tattooist – find out what they love tattooing. If your tattooist is not a fan of intricate Polynesian, go elsewhere for that. Your tattooist may be notorious for Black and Shade portraiture, so go with that flow.
Travel – make it a holiday. You can go anywhere in the world. There are ways around ‘cash only’ parlours, as long as you have followed step one and your research led you to a reputabe establishment.Request a skype consultation and feel free to fire away any questions, reservations or concerns you might have. A consultation should be like trying on a pair of walking boots- make sure it’s a good fit? Network, reasearch and do the legwork before you take the leap. The longer it takes to get into the tattoosit’s chair, the better?
Be an eclectic tattoo collector. My favourite tattoo-time was at Mo Coppoletta’s Family Business. It’s a great story about my experience there as well as a beautiful, favourite tattoo. I have tattoos from a diverse varitety of tattoo artists. My body is a map of where I have been and a marker of my own paradoxes, complexities and aesthetic interests. I am diverse, unusual and my aesthetic tastes change over time – I hadn’t figured that out at any point during my twenties. In my early twenties I looked dressed every day for the funeral of my own psychoses. As it goes, as time marched on I matured and grew into an early image that left an indelible mark on my being. In the early years of the internet I would trawl the BMEzine website and one of the founders had poker straight Scandinavian blonde hair and a single, large, turquoise rose neck tattoo. I fell in love with, the simplicity and elegance of a bold and beautiful tattoo on a natural beauty. I find neck tattoos jarring and awkward to take in. I can feel the pain and discomfort of having that tattoo, as well as knowing that it will always be in the eye of the observer. The neck tattoo punctuates the gaze, however non-judgemental that might feel and so does long, blonde, natural hair. I wanted that juxtaposition of natural, naked beautiful elegance and the boldness and magic of ink.My hair is long and sun-streaked, au-naturale, for now and I like that a lot. My days of dressing like a voodoo cigarillo are few and far between.
What do you want out of the experience? My least favourite tattoo came from a tattooist that turned up 1.5 hours late to the appointment and manhandled me. He made me feel like a slab of meat and that feeling stayed with me. I never went back and a part of me regrets that tattoo – it doesn’t sit right on my body either. I encourage you not to learn that lesson. I had zero rapport with this tattooist during the session. He suggested moving it before we started but I was not in the zone of thoughtfullness as I had been stood up for 1.5 hours. This is my most regrettable and easily forgettable tattoo.
Ask yourself if you have the patience and nature to start and finish a large piece. It could be a sleeve or a full body suit – are you in it for the long haul? Are you a highly organised individual that can plan and budget for a large number of day-long sessions? If you’re a bit of a Cadbury’s flake and drop plans left, right and centre, you might want to have a long, hard think about that. You will need to show up and the chaotic trail you leave behind you will bite you in the ass. Large pieces are expensive and need to be well planned. My full-sleeves have been unfinished for 5 years of my life, my next appointment is in March. My first appointment was in January 2011.
Tell yourself that you will be discomfortable for up to a week after the tattoo session. Remind yourself that the healing process can often be just as uncomfortable as the tattoo itself. I can tell you that getting full sleeves black lined in a back to back session was an experience that I never want to re-live. Yes, it makes me feel fierce on the inside to share that but I hated the healing days that followed. Sleeping in the clingfilmed crucifix position is unnatural and insomnia inducing. I had also vastly underestimated the number of sessions that the completion of both full sleeves would take. 5 years on and they are almost finished! A lot can happen in 5 years, life breaks free, life breaks through to new territories, life expands painfully, perhaps even dangerously. Life finds a way to de-rail the best laid plans. Go easy on yourself.
Choose your season wisely. I had the sleeves lined in Winter. It was snowing. It was icey cold in Edinburgh where I’d travelled to be tattooed. I felt like little Orphan Annie trudging through the sleety streets to get from my hotel to the studio. And that feeling stayed with me for a long time. When I made the appointment I had a good job and savings. By the time the appointment had come around all of that had changed. I had a crappy job and was in a dire situation. My good fortune was brief and like wind, all that turned on a sixpence gradually and then suddenly. Grit and resilience come will come in handy if you have your heart and soul set on a full-body piece, in my humble opinion.
Choose a good book – audio or kindle. Paper books can be cumbersome to read depending on what body part is being inked. A kindle is easy and wipe clean. An audio book is ok but then you lose out on banter with your tattoo artist. Know what kind of banter you are likely to expect. Turn up early for your consultation and you might get to see your tattooist’s real personality, that’s when audio has its perks. When I had my first tattoo, also in Edinburgh, I was reading a Marilyn Monroe biography. This was pre-kindle but I had my back to my tattoo artist so that didn’t matter. As mad as it sounds, I had the name of my first book inked across my back. It was a turning point in my life and the first steps of escape out of the cess pit booby trapped mire of self-harm. I got to the part where Marilyn Monroe was having an affair with JFK and life felt good. That tattoo changed me. Afterwards I sat in a cafe along Clerk Street and inhaled a banana milkshake, feeling like I could turn my life around in the next ten years. (I didn’t know at the time that it would take me ten years but that’s ooh K). I had moved on from self-destructively decorating my body with scars (an addiction, a coping mechanism, a realease) to art and that was significant. The pain had transgressed into something creative and beautiful. Tattoos moved me forward and gave me the confidence to wear my bare legs out in public, the Elvis and Priscilla wedding day tattoo on my left leg covers my last ever episode of self-harm.
There’s a book I’m reading at the moment called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow.’ The author talks about depletedness and the effect that this has on your congitive functioning. Check-in with yourself when you are thinking ink. Your impulsivity and self-control are dented when you are exhausted, stressed or on auto-pilot becuase shit keeps hitting the fan. Those post-break up David Beckham wings on your back might seem like a bad idea in 5 years time. Having the name of my first book tattooed across my back was odd – the tattoo artist asked me if it was the name of a Bed & Breakfast. I did finish writing the book and I published it on Kindle – this month I had a royalty cheque! Woo hoo! At the time I had my first tattoo I was talking to an agent from Canongate Books but all that fizzled out fast. The banter for my first tattoo was good, female and on the whole subtely inspirational. Again, the banter you have with a tattoo artist leaves an indelible mark on your cogintive grey goop. Check-in with yourself, your life, who you are, who you want to be and try to imagine your life ten years on. I’m still mad to want to be a writer and I’m ok with that, that’s unchangeable and it’s not something I will ever outgrow.When we are depleted our impulsiveness can be louder than our rationale.
Can you grow with your design? We change. Every seven years the cells in your body have fully renewed. Can your ink plans live with you? A f**k it and see approach might not always work out for you. Yes, you can get painful expensive laser treatment but you might want to pull out all the stops to try to avoid that. One time, I had laser treatment on my nose for some broken veins and that fucking hurt a lot. Lasers are painful. It is like being pelted with tiny, fiery elastic bands. Lasers are expensive and there is also the healing times after and that can be rough. I walked around like I had an out-of-control coke habit for two weeks until my enflamed nostricles settled down, that was awkward and unkind for me, in equal measures.
For me, tattoos have been a means to end self-harm and to cover up my scars. I don’t very often get them all out in public. Yes, I have a few that I regret but most of the time they are layered with cool fabric in the summer and long sleeves in the winter. That’s my nature, I like hiding things and keeping secrets. Sometimes I enjoy parading them out in the open, this is usually when I am on holiday or on a day-out and I love all of those feelings. I wish that I could cover my whole body in glorious, delicious, peachy bright patterns but life expands, life breaks free, life finds a way to get in the way of the best laid plans. At the moment a full-day tattoo session for me is a chance to devour a book in its entirety – I don’t often get the chance to do that. And then I carry on with my life and most days I forget I even have tattoos. I am having regular day sessions to finish the sleeves and it all got a little ‘sleep. tattoo. study. work. sleep. tattoo. study. work’ with little imbetween… And that made me a little bit sad on this inside, so I spread the sessions out a little. It’s not easy being tattooed and that final stretch to finish a piece can be brutal.
Tattoos come but they never go. Finding out why you have what you wanted, is part of the journey. Don’t stop believing that a tattoo might heal your broken heart or make you popular. You live in your body for your whole life. Your body is sacred and I think that tattoos too often tap into an element of compulsiveness and foolish fancy, that is human nature to fall into. Yes, I had my chest tattooed to remind me that I have had to be my own superhero. Yes, I said that I would never get my legs tattooed and got them tattooed without thinking. Yes, tattoos. Yes.
“By the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes–a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes.”
― E.M. Forster, A Room with a View