A couple of years ago, I decided to finally bite the bullet and get a tattoo as a kind of birthday gift to myself and I wanted to share my experience and some tips. My tattoo was done by Alice Carrier, you can find her at Wonderland Tattoo in Portland and her Instagram @alicerules is full of beautiful work.
I really liked my friend Alex’s tattoo but unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out with his artist. Who tattoos you is a big choice and often you’ll have to wait a few months for an appointment but that’s not a bad thing! If your artist is busy, it may mean they are in demand so be patient. Once I saw Alice’s work, I knew the wait was worth it. You may have to do some serious research here because the kind of tattoo you want may mean you’ll need to find the right artist. For example, if you want someone who does portraits then their work should include plenty of portrait examples and so on.
For my tattoo, I wanted to get flowers so that made the whole “what should I get” decision process a little bit easier. Knowing what you want will make it easier to communicate your idea to your artist and I also found it helped to share some images of what I wanted with my artist. If you’re using a photo or work by someone else as a basis for your tattoo, it’s nice to let them know – some artists don’t like to see their work in this medium and some do.
The night before the tattoo, get plenty of rest and forget about alcohol – spirits and beer make the process a lot more difficult, I think it has something to do with healing afterwords and making the ink lines bleed. I made sure to grab a good meal before because I knew my tattoo would take a while and I recommend bringing water and snacks to keep your energy up.
So first when I came in, Alice took my references and made a sketch of the flowers on tracing paper. She quickly perfected the design and transferred it over to my arm to see how it would look. It’s completely ok to ask your artist to shift the placement – remember, this will be on your body for a long time so make sure you’re happy. Alice added a few leaves once the design was on my arm to make the whole thing flow better, and got started! I can’t say enough good things about Alice – she’s such a pro and super nice. Because this was my first tattoo, she made sure not to work over the same area too much and we talked the whole time. Luckily, my friend Ryan was also there with a camera and the filming was helping me get my mind off the pain. I will say that the pain is not awful but it’s not super pleasant either. Getting the tattoo sort of felt like scratching a bad sunburn over and over. The pain will really depend on where you’re getting the tattoo and your own pain tolerance. For me, the inside of my elbow and the whole elbow area in general was like angry lightning bolts firing from a thousand tiny angry bees but the fleshy parts weren’t too bad. The whole thing took about 2-3 hours and then it was over! Once I got up (actually I wasn’t sure I could get up because I was zoning out at that point) and took a look at the finished work, tiny angry bees be damned, I was just so happy. Holy crap, I have a tattoo! Now I feel like it’s always been there, I just really love it. Big thanks to Alice for letting us film the process, and Ryan for doing the actual filming.
As far as the aftercare, your artist will let you know the best way to care for the tattoo. I can’t remember how long it took to heal, but it wasn’t too bad. I’ve already been thinking about getting more work…I just have to figure out what to get and where!
Photo: Jeremiah Fishell