Saturday, April 17, 2010

Choosing a Tattoo

PERMANENCE: The permanent marking of one’s body with a symbol can be a rite of passage into a new stage of adulthood, but it can also be a whim with lasting ramifications. Imagine for a moment that you dyed your hair purple when the punk scene was at its height, but you are now stuck with purple hair through the 90s and into the new millennium?

FOREVER SYMBOL: I know people who have gotten tattoos when they were heavily into a phase, whether it was vampires or fairies, only to later realize that they had burned out on that phase and were now totally into...skulls. If you have a track record of loving something until you hate it, you need to be super careful when picking a tatt. This thing is going to be your symbol. In fact, a good tattoo will make people think of you immediately and know that it’s totally “you” in every way. It should embody your essence in color, design, and symbolism. A bad tatt will have people staring at the picture, then at you, then at the picture, trying to figure out what in the world made you get it. Imagine a docile quiet person with a skull tattoo or a guy with his girl’s name in flowery scrolling…

: Probably one of the biggest reasons people get tattoos are in memory of a loss. I’m hesitant to advise this. Not that you weren’t marked by the loss of someone and wish to carry them with you, but I often tell people that their loved ones can’t be found in objects that they possessed while they lived here and marking one’s body with them doesn’t keep them safely with you. They are in your heart and mind and that is the only place they can be truly represented. Some loved ones would not be happy you marked yourself up with their name or image. If you find yourself thinking about it incessantly, don’t act until you’re in the phase of grief where you can talk about the person and smile and laugh and feel good instead of crying. At that point, you can do it for all the right reasons.

: When I went through the personal process of choosing a tattoo, I knew that I had a tendency to go through phases until I burnt out. This tattoo above on my right shoulder was actually going to be a Green Man image. What stopped me? A dozen ramifications. For one, it was a dense face with all green floating on my flesh without an anchor. People would constantly ask me what it was and what it meant and I’d have to explain my pagan tendencies. As well, people would stare at it and not me. It wouldn’t integrate with my flesh, my style, my hair, my body, my clothing…I decided a simpler symbol would be ideal and one that incorporated my love of yellow, orange and green…

I have very few obsessions that remain with me through life, some are ghosts, Halloween, abandoned places, and another being all things autumn. It was never a phase for me. I started as a young kid constantly taking wax paper and ironing and protecting leaves for safe keeping until I filled a whole drawer with them. I went into the woods every day to study the changing colors and tried to catch the leaves as they fell. My whole body and spirit came to life with hope and happiness every fall and autumn is when Halloween comes, as well. It was a no-brainer for me to represent autumn for myself, but how? I wanted something that within the context of my body, it would seem natural. A leaf changing colors suited me, as well. I have never been like my family of origin, sort of drifting from the oak tree and changing as I fell. I had my best friend draw it up since she is an artist and understood what I wanted, a tumbling twisting leaf that looked like it fell on me as I walked through an autumn forest.

PLACEMENT: Placement was the next issue. I originally wanted a lower back tattoo. Yeah, I’m one of those kind of girls. But, upon further consideration, I’d never be able to appreciate it. I wanted something that when I looked at it, it made me smile, as if it were my partner in crime. I considered my ankle, but to me ankle tatt’s are saying “I’m just kind of trying to be naughty, but don’t want to get caught.” I wanted to be naughty. I considered the top of the breast, but I didn’t want to mar the girls, I kind of like them. So, I moved on and considered the upper back or shoulder. Upper back was once again a place I’d never seen and with long hair, no one else would see it either. So, I considered the shoulder. It’s a place a leaf could fall and land. So, I had the design, I had the colors I wanted, and I had the placement. I opted to make the leaf life-sized so it looked real. I also realized that with this, I had the option of some day putting the exact same leaf on my low back if I wished so that the leaves had fallen onto my body. That’s a little gift I might give myself in the future, but it’s not entirely necessary.

PAIN: What’s the process of getting a tatt like? I looked to people who’s tatt’s I liked and asked where they had it done. Since I had a picture for the artist to trace and put on, there wasn’t a lot of leeway for creativity, although he did add some minty green behind the leaf to make it pop. That kind of pissed me off at first, but over time I realized that the tatt matches my skin tones so well, it was the only way to give it some dimension. It took about 2 hours to do this baby and, yeah, it was painful, but I admit as a female I’ve been through a lot more pain and this was purposeful pain, not “oh god, something’s wrong” pain or “oh shit, I gotta get a C-section.” The noise is what’ll freak you out. It sounds like a drill so you kind of wince when they start, then after a while endorphins kick in and you don’t care at all, it becomes the norm. The endorphins do drop off at about the hour mark, so you will start over with new pain again, but at that point, you’re kind of mindless and if the tatt artist is good, he’s distracting you enough not to care. It really is just a temporary discomfort. I compare it to a nasty carpet burn x10.

TRENDS: Some tatts are totally “in” so avoid them at all costs. When tatt’s started getting popular in the 90s you saw a lot of those cuff ones on the upper biceps, especially the ever classic barbed wire. It dates the person. You see it and go “he got that in the 90s” then with the new millennium you had tramp stamps and tribal tattoos (you know those saw-tooth looked zig-zag angry looking symbols). So, consider too that getting a tattoo that’s “in” might be super “out” in 10 years.

ADDICTION: There’s a tendency once you get a tattoo and have had that amazing transformation of feeling bad-ass for sitting through it and seeing it as a badge of honor, to want to get more. I admit that with every tattoo, the first one loses more and more meaning until you’re nothing more than a schizophrenic picture book. It’s really a lot like hoarders who keep possessions as if memories and people can be found in these objects and to a heavily tattooed person, these symbols can more and more define all the details of who they are. I say, buy a photo album and save your body for flesh. There’s a real addictive process to it that you have to watch. Once you start inking, having a few loose ones here and there makes you want to tie them together somehow and they were all made at different times, sometimes by different artists and for different reasons. Try very hard to find that one symbol that epitomizes all there is about you and be happy with that. You have made your mark, you have posted your personal avatar on your body, and you can move on. If you keep getting them as time goes on, it’s kind of like wearing your junior high picture on your body when you’re a senior—it’s outdated and shows you at a more immature time.

HEALTH: As someone in the medical field, I’ll emphasize strongly that you check into the hygiene history of the place you’re going to and any potential reports about the person doing the tatt. You need to go there and be sure that they are unwrapping new needles, have them show you their autoclaves, be certain it’s on the up and up. Hepatitis and HIV can be transmitted this way. In fact, you have to wait a year before you’re allowed to donate blood just to be sure these diseases are able to be detected.

MEN AND TATTS: Now, as a female, I admit that I do love tatts on men, but I also do not like sleeves in the least as it takes away from a man’s muscles and his skin. Super ick rating for tattoos on the neck or face. A good old-fashioned tatt on the biceps or shoulder is totally sexy. I also am crazy about people using color. Black ink is just such a snoozer. Colored ones come alive and look so organic on flesh. I’ve been known to stare ridiculously at a man’s tatt if it’s placed right and colorful and interesting. One of a ghost Viking ship had me chasing him through a crowd to keep looking at it! Suddenly, he seemed incredibly attractive and interesting.

WOMEN AND TATTS: “Tramp stamps” on the lower back often give off a desperate feel in older women. In younger women, it’s like an open invitation. What about a woman with a tattoo on her ankle? Very old school but trying to do something crazy. Upper back? A super safe place to put it. Upper arm? Can sometimes seem butch depending on the tattoo. Breasts/Buttocks/Belly Button? Says this is for lovers only. So far as what men think of women with tatt’s, you have everything from Jesse James who likes them head-to-toe to men who would knock a woman off his list of potentials for having one. I think most men would like to be pleasantly surprised to find a little tatt in a hidden place and feel as if he’s the only one who gets to see it.

HELP: As always, I’m available for advisement. I think I know a lot of you quite well and might help you think out all the ramifications of your decision with a steady head and no personal investment like a family member might have.


  1. I'm too much of a chicken to get a tatt. I'm quite fickle and its too permenant for my taste. I think pierced ears are as far as I'm willing to go in the body altering department. However, I like yours and the unicorn my mom has.

  2. Tattoo's for me were, at one time, a small interest. While serving in the US Navy some of my shipmates were getting them and a caught the interest. I remember being in Hong Kong on R&R and a bunch of us "hit the beach." We got into a Tattoo Parlor which were all over the place and I was going to get a Sailor Girl holding a mop in a bucket with rather reveling Navy shirt, put on my right forearm. She would had have "big girls", as you Ladies call them. She would have been in full color. In letters below her would have been US Navy.

    I never got it done! Guess that I chicken'd out at the last minute. I suppose that I never really did have that interest. I still don't to this day.

    Back then we never really did think about all the different aspects of getting a Tattoo and how it can affect you for your Life. I've seen quite a few in my Lifetime and some are rather interesting. I've known some that had their Tattoo removed, thus leaving a scar on their body.

    I've noticed that getting a Tattoo these day's is the "in thing" to do for the younger generation. For me? I'm too old for that stuff. However, I always did like that one that you have. It's very colorful and fitting for your name. Guess that it just might be fading by now?

  3. I guess I am ancient. I think my mother gave birth to an unmarred child, who am I to mess that up?

    Also I have added scars and holes through my life that tell the tales much better than a tattoo.

    What is really scary about a tattoo is, when you are old and wrinkled, the tatt is still there.

  4. When choosing a tattoo I always remind people that there is time. Once you get it, its yours forever so there is no rush. I've been debating on the placement of my next one for 7 months. I like symmetry in tattoos. I don't want them just randomly pasted all over my body. They have to make sense and flow over my body in a way that compliments my body. The pain element has come to mean more to me since I got my last one, which was horrible. Before that they weren't that bad, but I had trouble making it through the last one.

  5. Andrea; Your instincts are right on. I would never have done it years ago, but I was at a time in my life, ready for a new chapter and realized I wanted to carry autumn always.

    Les; That would have been a cool tatt, but I admit your wife wouldn't have probably been so interested in you when you met and married if you were wearing that. Nowadays, it's pretty common, but a few decades ago it'd be kind of unusual. My dad was a WWII/Korean War navy man and all his buds had tatts. I was fascinated from an early age by the choice and placement of symbols. Mine hasn't faded, but it's under wraps most of the time and I wear sunblock when I'm in the pool just to protect it. Mind you, it's only 2 years old. Some day, it might need freshening.

    I totally get it. My son got a huge side piece on his flank of Odin in his throne with wolves and blackbirds. Then, later he got one that covers his entire upper arm with religious symbolism and a skeleton. He put them where they won't be seen, but did them during a phase in his art career. He wanted to put a third one for the new art he's into and I told him--buddy, you can't do this every time you like art, by the time you're 60, you won't be there anymore--it'll just be art from old phases. The first time he got one I cried so hard because he was ruining the perfectly beautiful body I got him.

    Yeah, placement is really important. I've seen women put them in places that when they get older they'll look totally weird, like the back of their hands. Yikes! Once they get those wonderful sunspots and loose skin...Designing it to huge dimples and curves can be quite pretty. The guy who did mine said, "you sure you want it that big?" It's maybe 5" long or so. I said, "I'm a tall woman and if you put a little leaf on me, it won't look like a real leaf. I want it to look like it fell there." I can't tell you how many people ask me "is that a real tattoo?" because the coloring is so unusual. You don't usually see them in that color range.

  6. When I was going thru my divorce several years ago I went thru what I like to call my "Dark Phase" and got a few tats during that phase! One of them is a one legged rabbit with a cane....get it the rabbit foot isn't lucky for the rabbit? Anyways, good writing!

  7. Brian;
    I like your sense of humor! Yes, sometimes it's good to have a little pain with your pain. I'd love to see picture!

  8. Hey Autumn! I am WAAAAAY too much of a chicken to get one. :) My 17 year old wants one, but I am telling him to think it through. Make sure you'll still love the idea when you are 40. ;) I'm very sure this will help a lot of people thinking about getting one. xoxox Pam

  9. Hey Pam;
    Yeah, I teased with the idea in my early 30s and it took me some more time of considering it to say, what the hell--why not? I can't wear earrings because of horrendous metal allergies, so this is my little "pierced ear" jewelry I can wear all the time. It also forces me to work on my arm muscles vigorously. Hee hee My son was 17 when he was contemplating the tatt. When he got Odin, I totally got it. He's very proud to be Norwegian and I was cool with it and it was on his body, so not seen by employers. When he contemplated the third one, I told him I may never get over it--ever. How dare he ruin the beautiful body I gave him. So, he put that idea to rest. He realized he can't get a new tatt every time his art style changes. I told him to hang it on his wall instead.

  10. Wow this is in-depth thinking and a really good way to approach getting a tattoo...My hubby has 1 arm covered with H Mansion stuff which i'm sure we will both love forever...but he did have a couple he had to have removed which is expensive and very painful...Also really check out the artist's work first because some have less than except-able talent...Ha...he found that out a few drunken times...

  11. My first tatoo is going to be the Libra sign with roses weaving around it. I have a drawing, just need to get the money to do it. I watch LA Ink and they do some amazing tatoos. My dream would be to have Kat Von D to a tatoo for me.

  12. Julie;
    I like that idea. It sounds perfect! I think that Kat is the best portrait artist I've ever seen in my whole life. Her sketched up portraits she had in an art show fascinated me. I've never seen anyone draw like that before. There felt like there was an element of life about them I've never seen an artist capture before.

  13. She also did a book on the many stories behind the tatoos she has done. I find the stories just as fascinating as the amazing tatoos she does. I bet her paintings are just as great.

  14. I have a lovely Haida Raven tattoo on my upper back which I am as in love with as I was then I thought up the design 5 years ago. Based on my own experiences however I would like to add some more considerations to your list.

    The first one was that I have iron deficiency and no matter what I eat it never seems to go away. When I went to get my tattoo I had to come in for 3 separate appointments because I bled so much. It took about 3 months for my tattoo to be done because it had to heal between sessions. Because I bled so much I had more scar tissue than normal, which was quite itchy for the first two years. On the topic of having thin blood, alcohol will also thin your blood so you should not drink before your tattoo appointment!

    Another thing to consider is size. I wanted my tattoo rather big, which the tattoo artist seemed dubious of. I should have taken this as a sign. It wasn't the size by itself that was the problem but the size and location combined. My tattoo is on the back of my left shoulder. I was unable to wear a bra strap over it until it healed. Once it was healed I found the constant annoyance of buying shirts that wouldn't partially cover the tattoo because of it's size. What a pain in the butt that turned out to be!

    Hopefully this advice will help someone when they are deciding on a tattoo. I definitely think if you pick the right design getting a tattoo can be a very rewarding experience!

  15. Panademona;
    Sounds like a coagulation issue. Some folks, especially Scandinavians tend to have problems with bleeding--my son and I both seem to have that. We have slow coagulation times, so bleeding profusely can be a problem. A good artist will notice it's not normal and decide to divide the sessions. Chronic alcohol use will thin the blood, but drinking alcohol before an appt is just plain stupid. I know some people think they need the courage, but it actually makes it harder to control the pain. Size and placement is important. When my son got his, I reminded him that he was Scandinavian and that part of the family is hairy, as is his father, so a tatt on the chest might be totally covered up. These are things to consider, as well as how aging skin can affect a tatt--like having one on the back of the hand or the breast-yikes! It also helps to just take a pen and sketch out the outline on your skin and wear it a few days to see how clothes, activities and such work with it. Oh my, the list goes on and on...