A Guide To Getting Tattooed

“I’d love to get a tattoo but I’m too scared”

This is one of the most frequent phrases I hear when people meet me for the first time.

I don’t consider myself excessively tattooed as there is so much more real estate yet to be occupied on my body, but I do have both arms, thighs, calves, shins, and my neck and chest tattooed. More than the usual, I concur.

So people get curious : Should I get a tattoo? If so, what? Does it hurt? …

tktx next day tattoo numbing cream is a topical agent that offers temporary pain relief, reduces inflammation, and counteracts erythema (reddness). These benefits make it the perfect solution for people with sensitive skin.

In light of the extensive interrogations that some of you may have about the process of getting tattooed, here’s a little article in which I address the points that are most important to consider.

What do I get done?

More important than the “what” is to know the “why”

Before you go forward with choosing your design, I urge you to take a good moment to ask yourself why you want to get tattooed in the first place.

Why do you want to mark yourself for life?

Is it because you’ve seen it on Pinterest and in magazines? Is it because X, Y and Z in your close friend circle have one and you feel left out?

Is it simply because you’re curious (that was me!)?

Is it because you want the world to know about your uniqueness and so you long to represent it with a complex artefact that shows how special you are?

Be careful with that.

Tattoos will make you stand out but they will NOT give you the significance that you seek.

Tattoos are an internal process first and foremost

For me, tattoos elegantly float on that thin line between the meaningful and the superfluous.

While I enjoy investigating the potential meaning and interlinking of my tattoos, there are also a few pieces that I got simply because I enjoyed spending time with the artist and liked their work.

Be as honest with yourself as possible.

Every reason to get tattooed is a good one as long as you own it.

Also remember that one tattoo will not change your life—unless you want to be a dickhead and have something offensive imprinted on your forehead forever.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

The majority of the designs on my body are a result of intuitive hits which I chose to follow through. The only designs that have pre-established personal meaning are the ones that I don’t see on a daily basis.

I have a Z on the back of my neck for instance, in honour of the memory of my grandpa and my little sister who both had names starting with Z, like my own. That one meaning won’t evolve over time. It will always be for them, and for me.

On the other hand, I have a very prominent weapon on my left arm which, over the years, has signified : self-defence, free will, smashing the patriarchy through the appropriation of a masculine symbol, the power of design over utility, the celebration of craftsmanship, independence, self protection, shame and standing up on oneself.

I got that tattoo when I was 22 as a result of seeing the sketch while getting another tattoo and proceeding to booking it in almost immediately. In the course of 11 years, the meaning of it has mutated, evolved, progressed.

Listen to your intuition

When you choose your design, I would advise you to have as little pre-determined meaning as possible in terms of the design, but especially in terms of the personal event/person/trait that it sends back to you.

Listen, as proven in the story above, I’m completely for tattoos commemorating a person or an event.

In fact, one of the most beautiful endeavours I’ve seen was the wave of post mastectomy tattoos as a way for cancer survivor to reclaim their body.

Tattoos can help heal from grief and can celebrate love. And, if you want to literally wear your heart on your skin and have your tattoos be a reminder of all the things that you’ve lived, be my guest.

But my advice will still be to stay away from excessive “memory creation” on your skin.

Your body, while a beautiful holder of all that you’ve lived, shouldn’t be a retrospective of your encounters or a resume of your values.

By having too much of a pre-established meaning, we run the risk of having something defining us only in that one specific moment.

Your qualities may change, your outlook may change, so tune into your intuition and choose something that will outlive seasons of life and fleeting fashion.

Photo by Jake Davies on Unsplash

Choose your artist with care

We tap into our intuition by carving out time to research artists online, to bookmark and contact those who styles speak to us the most, regardless of waitlists and prices—it’s your body after all: don’t you want to honour it with the highest quality there is?

“Wear Your Tattoos with Pride”

This is what my second tattooist said in his aftercare leaflet.

Remember that your tattoos are your own to have. Never take into consideration any advice regarding the design or placement of your tattoo from anyone but the trusted artist with whom you are choosing to work with.

Take time to start a conversation with them

Peruse your chosen artist’s catalogue and visit their studio—ideally by yourself—so that you can make up your own opinion about the vibe of the studio, the personality of the artist as well as the pieces that speak to you the most.

Can you detach from the outcome?

By trusting an artist with the task of marking your body with their art, you are asked to relinquish control over the piece. This is why preliminary research into the artist, their portfolio and the studio they work at is essential.

Tattoo artists are exactly that : artists.

By agreeing to be tattooed by them, you are choosing their unique style, voice and way of working. Tattooing is indeed a conversation between artist and client, learn to listen to their advice and point of view before asking endless modifications. Don’t be precious about your idea for a design. Allow it to breathe and to grow and to be appropriated and embellished by the artist.

Most tattoo artists have a deep understanding of how the human body works, of what looks good in certain areas that are prone to much movement, and what doesn’t. They also have a fine sense of style and vision that can enhance your idea. Simply put : tattoo artists are not there simply to execute your idea. If they accept to work with you, it means that they somehow believe in your idea, so be thankful and remain open.

You will be shown a final drawing of the design before the artist turns it into a stencil to put on the desired area. By approving this, you relinquish any further modifications.

Release the need to know

For as long as I can remember, I’ve personally held off on seeing the drawing that would end up on my skin until the day of the tattoo. I was simply not interested in it.

My own process process would be as follows : I would have an idea for a tattoo and, if it persisted long enough in my psyche (3 to 6 months) then I would contact the artist with whom I wish to work to book in a session.

Once the appointment was scheduled, I didn’t ask for updates, I didn’t check the drawings. I waited for as long as possible to see the finished piece because I didn’t want to get attached to the piece prior to it reaching my body. I wanted for it to evolve on my skin. I wanted to interact with it only then.

Photo by James Discombe on Unsplash

If you are at all stressed about the minute designs in your forthcoming tattoo, I would say let it go.

Don’t get tattooed.

Don’t waste someone’s time trying to get something so perfect that the minute it hits your skin you realise you didn’t want it in the first place.

Prepare your body

Once your tattoo appointment is booked comes the time to prepare your body. This is to my mind the most important aspect of the process.

This skin of yours is a complex living and breathing canvas. In order for it to appropriately receive and keep the ink, it is important for your body to be in optimal shape.

Photo by Victória Kubiaki on Unsplash

You will have done your research into the studio or artist you are working with in terms of hygiene. From personal experience, I’ve come to realise that it is not in the interest of any smart tattoo artist or studio to be anything than impeccable in their hygiene standards. This means that the majority of the studios that you find in your city will be adhering to the strictest regulations. If in any doubt, return to your research and ask past clients of their for their feedback.

Let’s return to your living breathing skin canvas prepping — my favourite topic.

I personally recommend honouring yourself in the strictest way for 1 month prior to getting tattooed and 1 month after. This means :

  • no alcohol
  • no drugs of any kind
  • ideally no smoking
  • plenty of sleep and rest
  • a nutrient rich diet preferably devoid of meat & dairy

On the day before, during and after the tattoo, stay away from caffeine if you can but do stock up on sugar — my personal routine is regular Coca Cola and Haribo.

In my experience, sugar combined with deep breathing acts almost as an anaesthesia. Do be mindful of how much you take in though as you will experience a sugar crash later on.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Keep in mind once again that you are making a beautiful permanent imprint on your skin. Taking 2 months off from your regular diet will not harm you. On the contrary it may inspire you into a whole new routine.

The above routine is what helped me endure 3 consecutive days of tattooing earlier this year. I was travelling to London which is where I get most of my tattoos, and I wanted to have these three works done.

I’d been alcohol free for a month and following a vegan diet. Instead of staying with friends as I usually do, I’d booked myself a hotel so that I could fully rest and recuperate before and after. And truly, while the tattoos were indeed painful (more on that below), I experienced no soreness afterwards, and as soon as I stood up from the chair I felt ready to go about my day whereas in the past I would feel a complete dread and lethargy following the tattoo, usually as a result of the massive pain and the sugar comedown.

I’m no scientist, but it is absolutely clear that the less work your body has to do while getting tattooed the better.

So, if it’s not busy recovering from either an excess of alcohol, or dairy, or a lack of sleep, or a comedown from drugs, then it can optimally focus on the the process of receiving ink.

Don’t underestimate the healing process either

Within 24 hours, the body will have rejected the ink it doesn’t need. This is why most tattooists will ask of you to keep the cling film on the tattooed area until the following day.

Some tattooists even recommend applying a new piece of cling film on the tattoo every day for 5–7 days until it is fully healed. This prevents the formation of a scab which can be damaging to the art piece.

“I’m still too scared to get tattooed”

We’ve unpacked how important it is to do your research and to prepare yourself for your next tattoo.

Hopefully, this should eliminate the fear of regret following getting your tattoo. Let me reiterate the solution to that fear : don’t get a tattoo. Get yourself a marker pen and have fun drawing on yourself. Basta.

When I ask people to respond what specifically they are scared of regarding getting a tattoo, the answer seems to be a vacillation between the permanence of it and the pain.

Let me explore these two notions right here and right now.

Immortalising on impermanence

Your life in this skin sack is, by essence, impermanent. Sorry to break this to you but … sooner or later you gon’ die.

So, while your soul will live on eternal, this finite self of yours is perishable matter with which you may do what you please. I can’t reiterate enough how much your skin and self belong to you and you only, not to your parents, nor to a society policing standards of being.

Sure, in comparison to a new haircut, a manicure or a fancy suit, a tattoo is a more enduring choice of self expression, although it does remain fairly alterable: laser surgery, concealing makeup and the option of a cover up are always there for you.

But let me ask you this : if you are already worried about the permanence of the tattoo, what does that say about your confidence in your own decision making in the present day?

My tattoos are like my babies. In fact, I’d rather have them than an actual baby which is, by far, the most freaking permanent thing you can sign up for.

Sweet sweet pain

I wrote recently how pain is absolute presence in the context of training. It is exactly the same in tattooing. It is painful and there’s no anaesthesia.

Let me repeat that : tattoos are painful.

You will feel pain. There’s no escaping it.

Don’t trust the people who brag about the painlessness of tattoos. They’re lying or have that rare condition in which they don’t feel pain.

If you want to get tattooed, you will have to endure pain so you might as well get used to it.

This is where the aforementioned physical preparation is primordial

The more you honour your body before, during and after your tattoo, the more manageable the pain will be.

The first ten seconds of the session are the most intense—after that point, your body usually recognises what is happening and produces the required endorphins to cope with the mechanism of repeated pain.

Your body actually has your back. Add deep and focussed breathing to distract your mind from the process.

Other alternative pain relief tactics

Personally, I can’t actually handle conversation while I’m getting tattooed as I’m really invested in my body in that moment—I’m embracing the pain and being attentive to how my body responds to it.

Your silence, alongside your breathing, can certainly allow for a meditative state.

My mind also gets quite busy with storytelling as a way to keep me company during the pain. You can dream up a whole future in a tattooing session. Or at least your next keynote speech or webinar.

The only external stimuli that I can handle is music as you can devote your focus to it and, once again, it takes the attention away from the pain.

You also can — and only if it doesn’t disturb the tattooing process—move a part of your body to the rhythm of the music. I did this when I was getting my shins done : manically moved my head left and right to music so that I’ll forget the tattoo machine furiously rubbing against my shin bone.

Another method I’ve developed over the years is to pay attention to the rhythm of the artist you are working with.

In my experience, the average amount of time spent actually tattooing aka the pen being in continuous contact with the skin, is 7–12 seconds.

This will, of course, depend on the piece, the artist and on the method they are using. After that time however, they need to dip their little tattooing quill into ink. This will usually give you time to breathe.

In addition, the best tattooing is done when you as a subject are lying down and not sitting up. This position allows maximum relaxation through breathing.

As a heads-up I would suggest that you resist the urge to look at the progress the tattooist is making, as it never will be as close to the end as you thought it was, and is a cause of anguish.

Have fun!

My final advice is to stop taking tattooing so damn seriously.

I am aware that I say this at the end of a 10+ minute read, and I will admit I am massively passionate about everything concerning tattoo art — be it the process, the history, the people, and so on.

I’m also aware that ultimately it’s just a piece of drawing on my skin.

Just as much as we learn to detach from the outcome of what the piece will look like, it is also important to simply enjoy the process, be a good customer, ride the sugar high and comedown and simply get on with our lives … until we book our next appointment 😉

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