If you've never had a tattoo done and you're curious about the process, or if you're interested in possibly having one, this post is for you. I wanted to journal the entire tattoo experience, so come along and join me!
About 3 or 4 years ago, I started thinking about getting a tattoo. I mentioned it on Facebook and all those same people who were shocked I did it all laughed. They swore that I'd never go through with it. My mom crossed her fingers that I'd change my mind, I think. But once the hoopla died down, they started showering me with info and advice.
I can't remember exactly where the desire started or what the impetus was, but once I got the tattoo itch, there was no turning back. I started thinking about what sort of design I'd want and where I'd put it on my body. I wanted somewhere that a) didn't hurt TOO much and b) would be a spot that would be covered by clothing 95% of the time, so that I could hide it at work or when I am around someone who might not be entirely comfortable with tattoos. BUT I also wanted it in a place where I COULD show someone the tattoo if I wanted to -- without having to take off clothes or reveal too much skin. AND, if I was going to do it, I wanted it to be meaningful and special -- not just some random image chosen from a wall of designs at some random hole in the wall tattoo shop. That's a hefty burden for one little tattoo. So for the next several years, I put it off, saying that I'd get the tattoo for my 40th birthday.
I created a Pinterest board of possible tattoo ideas. I looked at tattoo pain charts. (and wondered WHY anyone would put one THERE!!) I researched local tattoo shops. I talked to people who had tattoos and looked at a million tattoo pictures online searching for inspiration. It didn't take long for me to narrow down my search of designs to these three. I knew I wanted this basic design, but with "Larry" in place of "Love".
I loved the idea of the heart made with the curvy, swirly cursive L. I loved that it was still girlie and dainty looking. And I liked the idea of paying tribute to my 20+ year marriage by putting Larry's name in the heart. The last picture (above) ended up being my final choice inspiration picture.
Earlier this year, it dawned on me that THIS was the year I'd turn 40. That meant I had to get serious about this if it was really going to happen. I located an email address for the particular shop I planned to use and emailed a pic of the design to them, asking how pricey it would be, how long it would take to do the tattoo, etc. I sat on that information for about six months. In early October I mentioned the tattoo to Larry (for the millionth time) and he surprised me by saying he wanted to get a tattoo as well. I think my reaction was "What??????????" Until that time, he had never seemed overly interested in having one himself, so it was a surprise! Plus, he is not a big fan of pain. At all. So I wondered how he'd handle things. We decided we'd do it together! As the day drew near, it got a little scary & nerve-wracking that this was really happening. But I was also very excited!
Saturday, November 14 was the big day. When we arrived at the tattoo shop, Larry and I were pleasantly surprised by how clean and nice the building was. It looked more like a doctor's office in the waiting area. When we moved back into the actual tattoo rooms, they were still very sterile looking, but they took on a more edgy look with their decor. My tattoo artist, John, was into pirates and renaissance fairs, so his room was decorated with things of that nature. This is his room, below. Still very clean and tidy, but a little more like what you'd expect from a tattoo shop. But even so, both of our artists were very clean, normal-looking guys. There were no creepy biker gang types hanging around and both of our artists were ex-military guys! Sam had come with us, so he loved getting to talk to them and hearing about their time in the service. (He wants to go into the Army when he graduates from high school.) It felt safe and comfortable and the guys were men who didn't leave us cringing when they spoke to our son.
John, my tattoo guy, was very attentive, super nice and made the experience ALL ABOUT ME. He took the picture I gave him and created an outline that I got to look at before he ever set up the chair I'd sit in. He drew it on the lighted desk you can see on the right in the picture above, made sure I approved it, shrunk it down to size on a copier, then ran it through a machine that printed it out on transfer paper. That paper was then applied to my cleaned, shaven, bare skin where the tattoo would be done and I had one last chance to confirm it was in the right place, turned the right way, looked like I wanted....or back out if I was going to! LOL! Then it was time to get started!
John set up the chair in the right position, put sterile paper on the part where I'd sit and lean my head back. The part where my foot/lower leg would be touching got covered in plastic (several layers of it) and then a sterile paper drape covered where my foot actually touched. He also wrapped my foot in sterile paper too so that really only the area I was having done was showing.
He showed me each piece of equipment and each bottle of ink/cleanser/etc as he opened it -- to prove it was brand new, still sealed, clean and sterile. I was impressed with how much time he spent making sure I knew I was safe. (I never questioned that but it was nice to know it was all "safe" after reading horror stories on the internet.) As he began the tattoo, he explained each step, described what he was doing and made me very comfortable. Well, you know, as comfortable as you can be when someone you don't know is piercing you with needles --- over and over!
When he began the tattoo, I took a picture, then handed Sam my phone to snap pictures of what he was seeing. This was my view as he worked.
And Sam's view:
To the right of where Sam was sitting, you could see into the room where Larry was having his tattoo done:
He went back and forth between the two rooms snapping pictures and recording videos for us to each see how the other was doing.
Here, you can see my outline getting done.
As my tattoo progressed:
And as Larry's progressed:
His final product:
The next few days, it oozed plasma, a little blood and some ink. According to the tattoo artists & all the internet, that is totally normal. We put A&D ointment on it for the first 3 days. (as prescribed by the artists)
We were told to switch to a product called Tat Wax after those first few days, which I promptly broke out from use of. The internet (and my tattoo artist) said it was likely due to using too much of the product, but I used it exactly as they suggested & as the product's container said. So I really felt like I was allergic to it. Of course, I also have pretty sensitive skin, so I think the combination of the skin irritation in general (from getting a tattoo) and then the use of products my skin is not accustomed to just threw it into a tailspin. And I got THIS.
These little red bumps popped up a couple per day. They itched & bugged me. They made the whole area sensitive and tender. One evening the whole tattoo area was inflamed and red, like it was the night I got it done. That scared me a little, but it was short-lived and went away on its own. But the bumps remained. After a couple days, I went to our school nurse and asked her if I should be concerned about a staph infection or some other sort of tattoo-related horror story that would mean I should go to the doctor for heavy duty antibiotics. She said she believed it was just skin irritation & allergic reactions to the products I was using. She suggested I put Hydrocortisone cream on the bumps themselves (not ON the tattoo) to dry them up. I did that and began taking Benadryl at night as well. (And a non-drowsy antihistamine during the day.) I quit using the Tat Wax altogether to see if it would help get rid of the bumps and began alternating between Vitamin E oil and coconut oil instead.
And now, about 2 weeks after the rash began, it's just about all dried up and my healing tattoo is getting back on track with what everyone else experiences in the first week or two after the tattoo is done.
It's peeling like crazy and looks pretty kind of scaly. According to the 673 pictures I've found online of healing tattoos, it's pretty standard. But now I have to get the skin better moisturized so that it can finish healing. This is what it looked like tonight, just before I began typing this post. Don't laugh at the stubble. I can't shave on the tattoo for 8 weeks, so the closely surrounding area & on the tattoo itself are beginning to look a little Big Foot-ish.
Now that I am just about 3 weeks post-tattoo, my feelings about the whole experience are as follows.
1. I would do it all over again. (Although at least for now, I don't have any particular plans to get a 2nd tattoo. But then again, 10 years ago I didn't plan to get this one, so you never know!)
2. I love my tattoo. I love what it stands for. I love that it is a physical, visual reminder of my permanent, forever commitment to my husband.
3. Did I mention that I would do it all over again? Seriously, it's been a great experience. Even with the skin irritation!
If you think you might want a tattoo, do your research, spend some time figuring out what you want/where you want to put it. Find a reputable place to get it done and perhaps even visit the shop to check out the environment and artists. If you feel creeped out, find a different place to go. These days, there are plenty of them.
To young people considering a tattoo, my advice is to wait until you're married. And preferably over 30. By then you will have a decent head on your shoulders (I hope) and you can make a reasonable decision. You're less likely to get a funny Gummi Bear tattoo on your butt or a rose growing out of a skull on your forehead. And since your body becomes 'shared property' with your spouse, make sure it's something they are comfortable with as well. After all, they'll be the one walking next to you on the street if someone stops to stare at your super cool inked arm. While it is certainly more commonplace these days, there is still plenty of judgement and uncomfortable feelings by many where tattoos are concerned. So if your having a tattoo makes them uncomfortable, you need to deal with that prior to sitting down in a tattoo artist's chair.
If you have any questions about the tattoo experience, feel free to email me! (See the top right of this page where my email address is posted.)
In a few weeks when the tattoo is completely done healing, I'll post an updated picture below.
UPDATE: Someone pointed out to me that I didn't cover the ever popular question "Does it hurt to get a tattoo?" so here goes.
YES it hurts. But everyone's pain tolerance is different. What feels excruciating to me might just be a minor irritation to someone else, and some parts of the body are more painful than others. So here's what I have told everyone and the way Larry has described his experience.
When the tattoo first began, I recognized that it was an strange sort of feeling. Not particularly HORRIBLE but sort of like "Hmm....it would be nice if you'd stop that." It felt sort of like a scratch--but a thorn or a cat scratch. Not the worst thing ever, but tolerable. Definitely something I could put up with if I knew it wouldn't last forever. But occasionally he'd hit a spot about an inch or so long that really HURT. Like a "Why are you using a hot scalpel & cutting into my leg?" sort of hurt. But then just as soon as I felt that way & tensed up, it would be over. Larry's artist explained that there are little bundles of nerves here and there and when you hit those, it's like every pain sensor in the body goes off & it just hurts. But most of the tattoo was not like that. I noticed I had more of those sorts of spots on one side of the tattoo. My artist said "Most people say that one side has more of a bite to it than the other." Also, on my tattoo, when the artist went from doing the outline to filling in the solid black parts, it hurt less. I'm not sure if my leg just sort of went numb because the needle is truly piercing over and over, 1 millimeter at a time or if it was just an entirely different sensation and that didn't hurt as much to me. Whatever the case, Larry and I had a similar response to the pain level on both of our tattoos. However, Larry's took much longer to do than mine.
And that leads to a 2nd question that people have asked me a lot, so I'll answer that here as well.
How long does it take?
WELL.... my tattoo is about the size of the palm of my hand. So maybe 3"x3". From the moment I walked into the front doors of the shop until I stood up out of the chair and was completely done was approximately an hour and ten minutes. I think. Some of that was signing papers, paying, getting the tattoo drawn on the light board, making sure it looked right, setting up the chair & equipment, talking.... so really it was only about 40 minutes of actual needle work. Larry's tattoo, however, is quite a bit larger and has a lot of filled in black space, so his took quite a bit longer to do. I'd say his is about 5"x4". Perhaps slightly larger. He was in the chair being worked on for nearly three and a half hours.
So, keep your pain level and size of the tattoo in mind when you plan yours!