Wednesday, May 28, 2014

what you absolutely need to know before you get that ink

Now that I've got myself a half dozen tattoos, I realize there were questions I had prior to getting my ink that would have been easily answered if I'd been brave enough to ask. That said, on this side of the equation, I'm here with answers to questions you might not even know you have!

In Preparation

1. Educate yourself. 
My tattoos are considered "traditional", but they aren't -technically. Yes, they look like the tattoos that sailors have in old pictures with the thick outlines and bold colors; however, there are five acceptable colors in traditional tattoos, only three of which I have. Turquoise and pink and orange -big no-nos. 

2. Know what you want (and bring pictures).
Don't go in somewhere hoping to find inspiration for your new ink because, well, that's not meaningful to you. And chances are you'll get a tattoo that's more them than you. I handled mine like I do with a hair appointment: printed pictures of my prospective pieces and shared them with the artist. He then tailored everything together so I had a tattoo that is unique to me. 

3. Don't do anything RIGHT NOW. 
This one's got a double meaning: 
[First] I thought on my ink for two years before I went through with getting it. Mostly this was because Jason didn't believe I really wanted it that bad and thought I'd end up looking like an ex-con, but also because I wanted to make sure it was something I wanted forever
[Second] When I went into a shop and they'd take me at that very moment I knew that something was a problem. Our town's small, tattoo parlors are few, and, well, they're busy. There's something to say for a shop that tells you to swing right by and we'll get her done. 

In the Shop, Pre-Appointment

1. Don't let them be rude, asinine, bratty, overpowering, obnoxious, drunk. 
I had appointments at two shops that I cancelled because I just wasn't comfortable with their (a) screaming music, (b) drinking on the job, (c) asshole scheduler, (d) lack of portfolio, and (e) casual vibe. One shop manager told me that I couldn't handle sitting for more than two hours so they'd have to break up my tattoo into sessions, I know my tolerance for pain and my determination, I can sit. So, I'll take my business elsewhere. 

2. Follow your gut.
One artist cancelled on me twice. That was my sign to move on to bigger, better shops. And, well, I'm glad I did. If you run into something that makes you uncomfortable -like the guy who said we'd have a four hour appointment and he'd draw my art during that time- it's for a reason, stand up for yourself and your ink. 

3. Ask what their touch-up policy is. 
Every shop should have one. It'll vary from one free touch-up to lifetime care depending on where you go. It's never been a make or break for me, though I am thankful my arm piece is under a lifetime care sort of policy. 


1. Don't be cheap. 
By no means don't be expensive either, but every shop as a minimum. If you're going to get a small piece expect to pay at least $50 (but closer to $100) to cover your needles, ink, and the artist's time. Bigger pieces (like my arm) should cost between $100-$150 an hour. Usually the longer you sit, the better the rate the artist will give you. I paid about $500 for my arm -I got a rad deal because I sat for so long. 

2. Look to make a deposit. 
Any reputable artist and/or shop will have a portfolio for you to look through and will require a deposit ($30-$50) to hold your appointment. Those bucks will go towards your final bill, but you want them to want to hold you accountable. 

The Day Of

1. Once you have the stencil on your body -wiggle every which way, flex, pull the skin, etc. 
This stuff will move with your body. Seriously. And, sometimes that's not a good look. Like the guy in front of me at Target the other day with the naked chick on his calf. Every time his leg flexed her chin grew. I found it hilarious, but my guess is he didn't mean for that to happen to his pin-up girl. 

2. Don't drink or take anything or put weird shit on your skin. 
I know there's a lot of topical pain reliever. I know alcohol seems like it'll make it hurt less. I know it HURTS. But your body needs to be able to alert, ready for the healing process, and, honestly, you've got to be on your mental game. I sat for five and half hours for my arm piece -it wasn't comfortable, I was ready to be done at four and a half hours, but I also knew it was going to be worth it. 

They want cash because you could walk out and never come back and they'd be screwed. Bring cash. And, tip your artist. Mostly because they're awesome for making random conversation with you while you're whining about the pain, but also because this is art that they've bestowed to you forever. Also, you might need touch-ups and they'll remember if you tipped well or not. 

After Care

1. A&D Ointment ALL. DAY. LONG. 
After hurts. You feel like you've been burned and cut and there's salt ALL OVER IT. Because, well, you have. A&D Ointment will keep it all soft and not scabby (scabs will bring off the color) and not itchy and shiny. I seriously kept the thing covered in it and then wore one of Jason's old shirts to bed at night (because it'll leave little oil spots on the shirt). 

2. It's going to flake and peel. 
This is completely normal. The top skin's so traumatized it dies. NORMAL. In all the flaking and peeling the color will look faded and sort of funky, give your skin a week to figure itself out. Don't freak out and go back to the shop -they'll think you're nuts. 

3. Do NOT pick. 
I was really good about this with the big piece. But the touch-ups not so much and I can see the difference in the consistency of the ink in my skin. You can rub the peeling dead skin off with the palm of your hand and that'll slough away the top layers of skin (totally normal) which keeps things clean.  Don't pick. 

4. Lotion, lotion, lotion. 
Tattoo lovers differ here, but I think using lotion makes it look its best. No shaving or other weird stuff, just lotion -scented, or not, sunscreen, or not. I'm low-maintenance in that way and haven't noticed any weird fading in any of my tattoos. 

Important Facts

1. Artists don't like touching other artist's work. 
I have a spot on my foot where my tattoo has faded (common with foot pieces because of the weird skin) and I've asked two places about getting it touched up. Both shops have asked why I won't go back to the guy who originally did it, well, because he's MIA. It's still sort of faded along the bottom at this very moment. 

2. Don't let an amateur practice on you.
In one of my not-proudest-moments of life, I did this. And, well, I have a story to tell but not a tattoo I'm proud to show. So, don't. Artists in shops go through apprenticeships and such to ensure they know what they're doing -there's a price for that for a damn good reason. 

3. Love it's location and it's meaning
Make sure you love where you're putting it. Yes some tattoos hurt worse than others (hi, feet tats) but when it's done you've got a forever piece. Same goes for your symbol -make it mean something that you love in a BIG and meaningful way, not in a fad, Pinterest, hashtag one. Plus when you're defending yourself for getting it (because you will eventually to some random stranger in Target) you'll have something beautiful to say instead of "But it's cute!" 

Any more questions, email me, tweet me, or leave them in the comments! 


  1. NAILED IT. However, I have heard that A&D pulls color out from some artists, I tend to stick with non-scented lotion or black cat salve!

  2. So I definitely like this post - I think it's super informative and covers a lot of what people want to know. I'm indecisive and I don't like pain so I've never thought tattoos were for me and I think your description about the healing process kind of sealed the deal for me!

  3. I sometimes feel like I'm the only one without a tattoo but I also haven't found the exact thing that I'm willing to live with for the rest of my life. A great post!

  4. Yes to all of this. I just got a anew one last week and actually had a line fixed in my first one although I did get the question why dont you go back to the artist.

  5. Loveeee this, lady! The guy who did my last two gave me cocoa butter for healing and it was the first time I had used anything other than A&D. I loved it! Double bonus points, it made me smell like a chocolate bar.

  6. This is SO FRICKIN' HELPFUL. I've been wanting a tattoo for awhile but just felt like I didn't know enough to make an educated choice. YOU'RE THE BEST.

  7. Yes, yes, and yes! In my not-proudest moment, I got a fad, pinterestesque peace sign tattoo... It's so embarrassing when people ask me why I got it or what it means.. "Oh, ya know, I liked peace signs and wanted a tattoo"

  8. Thanks for sharing girl! I love your advice and tips! If I ever get brave enough to get a tattoo I will definitely use these! :) Your stuff is so fun to read!

  9. Love the advice, great stuff here. I went with an ex when he got a big lower arm piece and I found that really helpful in thinking about getting a tattoo as well. Also, most people don't think about the possibility of being allergic to tattoo ink (or more precisely the chemicals in the ink). My mom found out in her late 40's that she's allergic to green tattoo ink so thank goodness she never got one. haha

  10. I'm allergic to the reds/purples! It just causes me really bad scar tissue but totally something to think about!

  11. Melissa McMurchyMay 28, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    Love this!! The biggest thing to me is the meaning. I see so many tattoos and I am like does that really have a huge meaning to you?? I have three tattoos and they are all near and dear to my heart and I think that is the most important thing!

  12. True story. All excellent tips. I wanted the exact same thing for four years before finally pulling the trigger. I'm getting another this summer that I've wanted for over a year. Aquaphor is the lotion I used on it--aquaphor was my best friend in the world for two weeks. And maxi dresses. Because hip tattoos take forever to heal.

    Meaning is SO important though. I know so many people that are just like "I love tattoos! I'm totally getting one" and spend no time thinking about why. If you don't have a good reason, you don't get a good tattoo. It's that simple.

  13. Love, love, love this. I know a lot of tattoos are on a whim, and some aren't, but this is so informative to those wanting, but not asking. Great job Amber!

  14. I love this! I so agree with leaving if it's a bad vibe...if someone is being a jerk to you before anything starts, why in the world would you trust them to do what you want?!

  15. Perfect suggestions! I have 5 tattoos and can definitely say YES to all of your tips. Especially the one about being comfortable at the shop. I also left a few shops because either the artists were really inappropriate (rude / sexual / etc.), or the whole vibe was just... too much. Once you find the right fit for an artist, it makes the experience so much better!

  16. Ahh I agree with all of these!! I have 8 now And i def wish I would have listened to my gut on more than one occassion

  17. I love love love tattoos. I started getting them at 18 and have not looked back. I get a new one, almost every year. I love the meaning and the conversations it brings to the table. I always tell people to really think about what they're getting. The ones I have hold the deepest meanings to me in life. You said everything perfectly, I am glad you posted this!

  18. This is awesome.
    I am so glad that you wrote this.
    People are SOOOO naive when it comes to getting tattoos.
    SO naive, and it makes tattoo artists CRAZYY.

  19. excellent points. Although you're not one that I would see getting a tattoo. B/c the body is a temple right? LOL

  20. I love all the advice. Favorite this so next time I get a tattoo.

  21. This is so good. It's been 8 years since I got my first tattoo and I've spent the last two deciding what my second one would be (which I decided on while on vacay a few weeks ago!) It's nice to read this and get a refresher course, but also to learn some things I wish I would have known for my first one! Can't believe you sat for 5 hours - wow!!

  22. I have heard wonders about black cat salve! I haven't heard that about A&D but have used it for so much that I figured it'll help keep things fresh and clean.... Next time I'll have to try out black cat! :)

  23. The pain is different than anything I've ever felt which makes it so challenging to explain! Jason's terrified of needles which keeps him from developing any major interest in getting one but it's just completely different than any shot or blood draw you could ever get! :)

    Surely the healing is a little bit gnarly and the peeling is nasty, but I wouldn't go back on it! :)

  24. The "For Life" thing is what makes tattoos so tricky! I never would have imagined getting one (or six) myself, but with the turns and changes int he tide of my life, it's just been such a way to commemorate those little things. :)

  25. WHY DO THEY ASK THAT?!?! It makes things so awkward, like I'm here with you why are you turning me away?!?!

  26. Hello cocoa butter. That's what I'll use next time because the A&D has this kind of oily creepy texture to it. Ew.

  27. Oh girl, it's hard because you go in to the shop and they look at you like you're growing a second and third head when you ask questions. Ugh, no, answer me! :)

  28. Isn't it funny when people ask what they mean?!?! I've really tried to shy away from asking that question because people often don't have a reason and get all awkward trying to say: "because". :)

  29. You're such a sweet presence all the time sweet girl! :)

  30. I think meaning is SO important to some people and I completely agree with that sentiment... I can't imagine having something on my body that's just like whatever to me when I get it. :)

  31. Girl, hip tattoo. I have this strange and ridiculous obsession with them... Though I don't know that I'll ever go there and get one because, well, I don't know how much more Jason will tolerate from me! ;)

  32. Oh girl you ALWAYS warm my heart. A whim is NEVER a good idea. For clothes, shoes, jewelry -YES, For tattoos. NOOOO.

  33. RIGHT? One guy told me there's no way I could actually have such a large tattoo on my arm without it looking out of place. Okay sir, we surely weren't made to be.

  34. YES --> I don't know how the vibe can be SO WEIRD sometimes, but no thank you. One of the parlors I went into had all black walls and ceiling and spider webs everywhere (as decor) and, well, I don't want to be at Halloween all day.

  35. Oh that's the way I feel about the blurry, messy, ugly one on my ribs. Oh ugh, just thinking about it annoys me!

  36. It does! So many people came in and asked the most bizarre things while I was getting mine done and... well... Don't be stupid peeps.

  37. Girl, it's a crazy addiction, yes? My dad got his first one which snowballed for ALL OF US. Even my mom who said she wouldn't get one got swept up in the madness! :)

  38. The body IS a temple and mine so happens to be decorated. :)

  39. YES. Then take a picture and share it with me PUH-LEASE.

  40. I spent four putting my arm piece together in my head and two working SO DAMN HARD to convince Jason I really wanted it.... Then five (holy smokes!) actually getting it... I guess there is this insane dedication to the art of it all! :)


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