People who have never been tattooed before will often wonder before they sit down to get the work done whether the process will be painful. In fact, the fear of pain and of needles are two major reasons why people decide not to get a tattoo done. When looking at another persons tattoo, almost always the first question someone who has never been tattooed will ask is “Did it hurt much?”. The answer to this question is not straightforward – it depends on the person, for a start.
First of all, how do you define “much”? For most people, getting a tattoo is no more painful than – for example – having your hair brushed by someone else. It is less painful than being scratched by a cat, and more painful than a light scrub with a bristled brush. If you really want the tattoo, then the pain is more than bearable. The needles used to put the ink underneath the epidermis are sharp, of course, but they are also very short. It is not like a long series of vaccinations.
Of course, the above may not apply to everyone. Everyone has a different pain threshold and we all have our Achilles heel, too. Some people who lift weights for a living will wince for an hour if they cut themselves shaving. Some people who have multiple piercings, even in sensitive areas, will turn away at the idea of childbirth. Different things hurt different people too much, and in the end it is a matter of how much you value the end product.
There are certain lines when it comes to getting a tattoo, lines which must not be crossed either by you or by the tattoo artist. These exist in order to protect health, dignity and decency, and crossing them will only end badly. The following are some facts about the no-nos of tattoo art.
You should know when getting a tattoo that the artist is reliable. There is some chance of blood seeping out through the skin which is pretty much unavoidable. For reasons of hygiene and health, a good artist will wipe this away as and when they see it.
Getting a tattoo on your face may seem like an interesting thing to do at the time, but be wary that in many countries most artists will refuse to do it without a lot of persuasion that you are ready for the repercussions. Many employers will simply refuse to employ someone with a facial tattoo – especially in public-facing jobs. No, you shouldn’t judge by appearance. But people do anyway.
Tattoos on hands and feet are similarly unpopular with artists, but for different reasons, although hand tattoos are also highly visible and a tattoo artist does not want to be the cause of your unemployment. The other reason is that our hands and feet get through a lot of work, and during the three month period that exists between getting a tattoo and it truly healing that work can lead to the tattoo rubbing off. If it came off all in one then that’d suck, but in actual fact it is worse – it comes off in bits and looks appalling.
Common sense dictates that sometimes a person getting art on their body will not want it to always be there. This gives rise to a number of questions, and has also led to some “tattoo artists” promising customers that they can have a tattoo which will not wash off today or tomorrow, but will fade away in a month, a year or so. It should be recognised that there is no real temporary tattoo. When ink goes beneath the skin, it is there for keeps, barring long-term surgery. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a liar.
You can get body art done which will go away quickly. This, however, is only possible if the drawing is done onto the top layer of skin. It will wash away in one go, if you scrub hard enough, and if you do not it will come away in parts. If you want a tattoo just for one specific occasion, this is the kind of body art to go for. It is not, in real terms, a tattoo. A tattoo is when the ink is put underneath epidermis, and if you scrub hard enough to wash that off your next stop is the emergency room.
Think long and hard before adorning your skin with body art. It can look fantastic, but you need to know what you are getting. If someone tells you that the tattoo will merely fade, walk out of the shop. Body art that can be washed off in one go, or a tattoo that will be there unless you get it removed by a surgeon – those are your choices and there is no middle ground.
Some people have simply awful tattoos. This should not be seen as a call to condemn the entire idea of getting a tattoo, but it should be a quiet reminder to anyone thinking of getting ink done that they need to be careful before letting the needle anywhere near their skin. It may sound like a great idea at 9.30pm one night, and look like a horrible mess twelve hours later. There is a reason why most tattoo parlors will refuse to tattoo anyone who even appears intoxicated.
We have surely all seen them. Tattoos which depict a cartoon character in an obscene pose. Tattoos which take a fairly weak visual joke and stretch it so far that it breaks. Tattoos which have two arrows – one pointing up with “The Man” written underneath it, and the other pointing down towards their crotch with “The Legend” written above. If you are going to get a tattoo, make sure it is conceptualised when you are stone cold sober. A drunken tattoo will not cause people to think you’re a hilarious, crazy guy, but it might make them think you are a loser.
It is also worth checking out the credentials of the parlor where you go before you get the tattoo. If you have a friend who has a great-looking tattoo, ask where he went and go there. Do not just go to any tattoo parlor, because some really are not very good, and they will leave you with a tattoo that looks nothing like you were expecting.
There is no doubt that most tattoo parlors in the Western World have been dealing with broadly similar requests from their customers for years now, and you can imagine that this probably gets a bit boring from time to time. With the old standby designs which everyone recognizes, added to the group, the film or the celebrity who is cool at the time, it is hardly surprising that there is an undercurrent of belief that tattoos are just a way of following the crowd. However, with a little bit of thought on the part of the bearer, a tattoo can be great to look at and a real conversation starter.
This is why you should put some thought into the design before you go anywhere near the tattoo parlor. Do you want to be the third person they’ve seen today to get a famous cartoon character, or do you want to give them a chance to draw something different for once? Don’t go too crazy – a giant tableau demonstrating the history of human civilization might take a while and still look half-done. But something individual and stylish can make the job worthwhile.
Think of something distinctive about yourself, or that you like. Then think of something connected with it that you really like – ideally not something completely typical of the tattoos that everyone else is getting. If you can draw, sketch out some ideas, or print something off the Internet. Go for a different look, and stand out from the crowd.
Getting a tattoo should not be about following the crowd, but this does not mean that it is unacceptable to get a popular tattoo. Some people like a familiar style of body art because it looks really good – which will be why it is so popular. In this case, they should not be derided for following the crowd. They just happen to know what they want.
Perhaps the most popular tattoo design is the tribal mark. This kind of tattoo is the source of much controversy, with some people being of the opinion that a tribal tattoo on someone with at best a tenuous link to that tribe is a sign of cultural tourism. This often leads to debate between fans of ink. How Irish do you have to be to get a Celtic cross? How close does your Japanese ancestry need to be before you can get Japanese script drawn on you?
Another form of tattoo which has gained massive popularity is that of angel wings, or indeed any other form of wings. These can be drawn anywhere on the body, but are particularly popular when drawn on the back. The idea is that the bearer has wings sprouting out of their back and is ready to take flight. The tattoo symbolises freedom and elevation, popular themes with a link to escapism.
Fair enough, if someone simply gets a tattoo because they want attention then it is a little bit boring. But what cannot be denied is that the most popular designs keep getting chosen, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.
Don’t shoot the messenger for bringing bad news, but sometimes relationships do not work out. This is, at the time, regrettable for all parties, but is equally a fact of life. So if you are uncontrollably in love it might be tempting to get their name inked on you, but you may well end up regretting your decision if things go wrong.
There are alternative approaches to capturing your love in ink form anyway. A symbol which demonstrates how that person makes you feel can work just as well. A star, to demonstrate that for you that person shines brightly for you, can be a good demonstration, and there are various others. If the relationship goes wrong – and no-one would ever hope for that – then at least when you fall in love again you do not have to explain away a tattoo with someone else’s name on it.
Much of the time it is also tempting to get a heart tattooed on your body with the initials of the person it is dedicated to. This can, again, pose problems. Even if the relationship goes well, there are other circumstances in which you could end up with someone else, so it is important to think about how the tattoo could haunt you. A tattoo which is small, cryptic and original will be all the more significant, and may well save you from the wrath of a future partner and/or expensive removal surgery. But if you are absolutely sure you want that tattoo, no-one is likely to stop you.
Many people go out and get tattoos without first thinking clearly about what they are going to get. They will show up at a tattoo parlor and lie back after telling the artist what they want, and once the ink has been put on they often sit forward for a look and are appalled by what they see. The important lesson to take from the experiences of these people is that a tattoo is permanent and getting one that looks bad will haunt you for some time. You should be absolutely clear about what you want the tattoo to look like, as the risks of permanent disfigurement are high.
Before you even step inside a tattoo parlor you should either draw or print out a picture to represent what you want drawn on you. This leaves no room for misinterpretation, something which can happen all too easily, particularly if you ask for something a little more esoteric or intricate than usual. It also gives the artist himself something to work from – just as oils and canvas artists work from photographs a lot of the time.
Tattoos can cost a lot of money, and the more intricate ones can look either excellent or horrific. Avoiding being in the second group requires having a firm idea and communicating it clearly. The more examples you have at your disposal, the better. And if you want a tattoo that is all text, perhaps a quote from a song or a book, write it down and spell it clearly. Typos may be OK in an e-mail to a friend, but on your skin they are another matter.
Although the majority of people with tattoos have never seen the inside of a prison in real life, and never would wish to, there is nonetheless a history around the tattoo which links several designs to the prison community. Different sections of the community may be represented by different tattoos – and the really confusing part is that similar tattoos can mean radically different things to different people.
A spider web tattoo, for example on one’s arm, can mean any one of various things. Most innocently it means that the bearer is stuck standing still in time while life goes on outside, but it can also mean an addiction to drugs. Additionally, it is a popular tattoo among members of the extreme racist Aryan Brotherhood. A fellow white supremacist gang, the Aryan Circle, often have tattoos bearing the number 13 (“A” being the first letter of the alphabet and “C” being the third). It is, however, also worn by some Hispanic gangs, thus creating some confusion.
Of course the best solution to this problem of confusing ink is to stay far away from prison, but it is important to remember that however cool your tattoo may look to you, there may be a person to whom it has another meaning. By no means everyone with a spider web tattoo is a racist, and not everyone with a “13” is a gang member – 13 is after all also considered to be a symbol of bad luck. But how much of a chance you get to explain your tattoo depends on whom you are explaining it too.
One of the most controversial parts of the tattoo world is that of the teardrop tattoo. This look is worn by a number of people, but is most commonly spoken about due to its connections with imprisonment. Even within the prison system, the teardrop tattoo has a number of meanings and if you have one, it is worth being careful about who you speak to because there can be confusion over what it means. Explaining it may work, but remember that if someone has been to prison they may well have been there for a reason and not be terribly impressed by your explanation.
Usually, at least outside the prison system, the teardrop tattoo is given to symbolise the loss of a person close to you. However, its prison meaning, and one that extends to the outside due to the presence of former prisoners in the community, will often be that the bearer has killed another person. More than one teardrop beneath your eye means more than one kill. Whether the teardrop is filled or not also affects its meaning. An empty tear can mean an unsuccessful attempted murder, or that a loved one has been murdered. A tear that is full at the bottom and empty at the top means that the death of a loved one has been avenged.
For such reasons as listed above, it is perhaps unwise to get a teardrop tattoo underneath one’s eye. Additionally, it is particularly unwise to get one in Australia, as this kind of tattoo is often forcibly given by other inmates to convicted child molesters.