Shoulder Memorial Tattoo
So I'm going to start this off by saying if you want a tattoo, really want one, just get it done. Does it hurt? Yes. Does it hurt enough to keep you from doing it? No.
My Grandma died the morning of my brothers 18th birthday, 10-1-10, from creutzfeldt-jakob disease. She died not knowing who we were, and angry at the world in general. Before she died, I never would have gotten a tattoo. She was one of those old southern ladies, mean as a snake, who when they said 'get a tattoo and i'll take it right back offa ya with a wire brush' they meant it!
Right after she died, my brother went out and got inked up, the autobots logo on the inside of his forearm. Done at a local shop in Winthrop Harbor, it scarred up badly, and in places the ink faded away pretty badly. Then he got a tribal version of Cloud's pauldron on his chest (his wolf doorknocker tattoo) which looked pretty good. Then he came down on Christmas morning and said 'i got something done for Grandma, check it out.' Across his back, in blocky, uneven letters between his shoulder blades was the word 'hero' The lines were uneven and shaky. The 'H' was 2" high, but by the time he'd done the 'O' the letters had shrunk to about 1/2" high. He admitted way later that the 'artist' was probably high, and had freehanded the letters. No stencil, no prelim sketch, just 'stretch out and lets do this.'
Fast forward a year, and I've finally started looking at artists. There are a couple of places right in the Zion area that i could have gone to, but their reputations were less than stellar, and I'd seen some of their work on my brother. We can just say I wasn't impressed and leave it at that, right?
So my first stop was Skin Candy in Racine, nearly 45 minutes from home. I'd recently gotten my helix double pierced by Angee from that shop. The artist I spoke with didn't seem real interested in talking to me. He just looked at my original, hand scribbled idea (a howling wolf seated on my lower back right side, cloudy moon with birth/death dates around it on my left shoulder) and said $150-$200 and walked away. Don't get me wrong, they have some amazing artists, but I wasn't impressed with their personability I guess.
So the next day, I load my brother and one of his friends into the car and we head out to check some of the shops along the north shore out. His buddy's dad recommended Modern Tattoo in North Chicago, so we headed that way. Being a Friday night, and they're located just across Rt 41 from the naval base, it was pretty busy. I got a quote for $60 from them and wound up withdrawing money for my brother to get his 4th tattoo as an early birthday present in trade for the Nickleback concert tickets he got me for mine. His friend wound up getting his 1st that night, the thundercats symbol on his chest, but I sat it out. There was nothing wrong at all with the shop, maybe it was just nerves, but I'm sure glad I waited.
I stopped in after work the following week on Tuesday at a place called Private Ink in Libertyville that my roommate recommended. Between Friday and Tuesday I'd come up with a new design I liked so much better than the original, a wolfs head in front of a cloudy full moon, with a silver brain disease awareness ribbon wrapping around its neck. Grandma's initials were to be on one side of the ribbon and her birth and death dates on the other. He quoted me $300-$350 for it since it was a fairly large piece on my shoulder now, and I told him I'd come back when I finished moving into my new house.
Fast forward a month and a half, and the city was still screwing with me, adding more hoops to jump through to get occupancy. My roommate just got her tax refund, and decided to finish her shoulder piece. I tagged along, and figured I might as well get it done already since it still doesn't seem like I'm ever going to move. Dan was manning the desk again, and remembered me from my first visit. He took my design, and redrew it right there, handing over two walk ins to other artists so he could keep working on my piece. In the end, he had a beautiful piece of art to show off, the only change from my idea was the dates would be on either side of the ribbon instead of inside of it. He apologized, saying he didn't think we'd have enough time to do the work that night, but if I could be in the shop as it opened that Saturday, he'd make sure to get me in the chair right away (they couldn't take appointments on the weekend and understandably so since it's the busiest time for walkins and shore leave) and said that he'd do it for $200 since we couldn't get it done right away.
Holy crow, Friday was the longest day of my life, I was so excited and so nervous. Every time I caught a glimpse of my shoulder in the mirror, I caught myself saying goodbye to empty skin! I couldn't sleep Friday night, and woke Saturday morning at like 630. My roommate slept till nearly 10, and I spent the whole morning reading up on here and scarfing down food and soda for the sugar and protein and whatnot. By the time she'd had a shower and done the girling up bit, I was doing my 'were gonna be late dance' since I promised I'd be there when the doors opened, and it took 1/2 hr to get there, and they opened at 11, but we made it in plenty of time.
The minute we pulled in the lot, I was abandoned so Mar could go to McDonalds for breakfast, so I made my way into the shop with at least 4 other people, and Dan had the final sketch and my paperwork ready to go. He asked for a few minutes to eat breakfast, which was fine with me, since I was frantically texting Mar going 'where are you?!?!'
When she finally got back, he was all ready, and whoo boy, the walk down that hall was the longest, jitteriest few seconds of my life! I do the same thing with piercings, psyching myself up, but this time, my brother was texting me from work doing the psyching out for me, he was positive I was going to cry and chicken out, and wanted Mar to video tape the whole thing. Dan started off with small talk and shaving my arm while he pointed out random things in his room. I kid you not, I never realized how hairy my shoulder was till then, but I was so distracted by the multitude of Comic-con posters and D&D paraphernalia and toys scattered around the room it didn't bother me. I was busy staring at Bumblebee and Sideswipe toys on the counter =P
He sprayed my arm down with really cold rubbing alcohol and cleaned my arm off, then put the stencil on. I looked in the mirror, and couldn't fight back the grin. Perfect placement on the first go, I was in love. The top of the moon curved around the crease of my shoulder, the ribbons came to an end a few inches above my elbow and the dates wrapped partway round my bicep on either side. I hopped up into the chair and just grinned like an absolute ass. He left me alone with Mar for about 10 minutes to let the stencil dry, then came back and set up Pandora on his laptop for us to listen to.
On went the vaseline or something like it over the stencil, and he put on fresh gloves and opened a fresh needle. Holy crap here comes the nerves. Just as he was getting ready to start, he asked if he could play with colors, and I said yes. I figured it'd be more expensive, since originally it was going to be grayscale with green eyes, but there was an ATM out front, so what the hey?
The 1st test buzz, and then he started on the dates, saying they'd be the most painful. For a minute, I didn't even register he'd started, and Mar was laughing, 'see, not as bad as you thought, huh?' then I got real hot and sweaty, and the next thing I know, Dan's going 'welcome back'. Just like with piercings, I got so worked up, the adrenaline crashed and I faded. I got up, put my head between my knees, and chugged back half my water bottle, then leaned back and nodded to keep going. He had Mar turn on a fan and turn up the radio and made the comment 'well, we've got the 34 done, sure you wanna keep goin?' hahaha...
After that it got a lot easier. Dan was such a fun guy to work with, he was quiet and concentrated whenever Mar was trying to distract me, but he cracked jokes of his own to loosen me up when she got distracted herself. For the 1st few minutes he could only get a few lines done, then I'd have to take a drink and resettle myself, but he was real cool about it. Next thing I know, he's making a comment about how he's on a roll, and I've been still for nearly 45 minutes. The outline finished, I got up to stretch and wander over to the mirror while he changed out needles and such. The grin was back, and Mar and I were snapping pictures for a facebook update, then back into the chair for the shading. that took about 2 1/2 ish hours, and Mar had to leave for work just before we finished. He had to switch back to a (fresh) outline needle to do the eyes, since they were so small, and did a ton of white work too, highlighting where he saw fit. He just kept throwing in splashes of white here and there where he thought it best, and i'll tell you what. I absolutely hated the white by the time he was finally done, but it was so worth it.
The other artists had all stopped in at one point or another to see what was going on, and to encourage/goad me into sticking with it, and when he was finished, one of the others was really impressed with the detail in the eyes. They're no bigger than the ball on a 20g BCR, but they're so vivid, they really pop. He cleaned me off one more time with the green soap, snapped a few pictures for his portfolio, and bandaged me up. We went over after care, and he made sure to cover everything thoroughly, and made sure I didn't have any questions. I asked him what I owed him, '$200, just like we talked about' and I wound up giving him a $60 tip. I thought it was absolutely worth it. The work was phenomenal and Dan spent nearly 4 hrs working with me that day.
For those of you reading this, like I did, looking for advice before the 1st tattoo, just take the plunge! Find something that means something to you, make sure you love it, and do plenty of research before going under the needle. This story was long, but you could see how the idea evolved between shops, and I wouldn't have found Dan if I'd settled at any other shop.
It hurts, that's for sure. I told Dan I was going to find whoever started the whole 'it's like a hot cat scratch' thing and punch them in the face, and he just laughed 'yea, it's like a hot cat scratch. By a tiger. with claws on fire!' It burned, it stung, I said ow a few times, but it was bearable and worth it. Some say the outline is the worst, others the shading. Personally, I couldn't tell the difference between the two, but the white sucked. Not because he had gone back to an outline needle, but because he was going over spots that had already been inked up on the wolf, so everything was already tender. Deep breathing helps keep your mind off the pain. So does an artist with decorations on his walls and a sense of humor. I'd brought my phone with the lord of the rings books on it, but I never got a chance to really read any of it.
It's been a week, and it's nearly done peeling and itching. I used aquaphor on it whenever it started to dry out, and I never had any scabbing. I did cling wrap my shoulder the first two nights at Dan's advice so I wouldn't stick to the sheets, but very little ink bled and no blood whatsoever showed up. Just for reference, as soon as you get out of the chair, it stops hurting. It's tender, not painful for a few days whenever you put ointment on it, but it's like a sunburn, that's all.
In a few weeks I'll be going back in to get a night sky starscape background added to the piece, and an amaryllis flower under the ribbon, and I can't wait! It's true what they say, this is addicting stuff!
I would recommend Dan and Private Ink in Libertyville IL to anyone in the area looking for quality work by amazing artists.
submitted by: sontsunami06
on: 06 May 2012
in Memorial Tattoos
Studio: Private Ink
Location: Libertyville, IL