Betta Fish Etching
When my best friend handed me the scrap sheet of paper she had hastily (and drunkenly) sketched about a dozen little betta fish all over I immediately saw something right in the center of the page that caught my eye. A small betta fish (also commonly known as Japanese fighting fish) outline, with an odd little star scribbled right in the center.
I'm normally someone who thinking for months before getting a modification, especially a permanent one. I agonize over the pros and cons, and research the aftercare making sure I understand as many of the possible issues I might have. But this time I didn't even come close to that. The day after my friend handed me the paper I was at Marked for Life in Warren talking to the owner/tattoo artist Chris about having this piece turned into a scarification. Chris had pierced my nape a few months prior so I had been in his shop and seen a good deal of his work previous to this time. We decided quickly on the idea of tattoo-machine scarification, also known as etching. I was unsure how I wanted the final scar to look, but at the time my goal was a light white scar...somewhat because I was well aware of the fact I wasn't thinking the procedure through and am more than capable of the dreaded emotion of regret. Since Chris was working on a customer at the time I was in his shop I did my best to be quick, make the appointment and let him get back to work. The appointment was made for a week later.
The week before getting the procedure I buckled down and learned as much as I could about etching in the short amount of time I had. Problems arose when I realized that even on BME there wasn't very much information, and not all that many images. I found a person on IAM who had gotten work at Rings of Desire but the procedure he went through was different from what I knew Chris was going to do. The etching experiences on BME at the time were almost non-existent, or contained little information on the procedure. Luckily I was able to get information on aftercare options from other scarification stories and I ended up using many of those options.
The day of the scarification I went to class as always (oh the joys of being a college student) and then made the 35 minute drive to Warren. Immediately when I walked in Chris got to work. The design was smoothed out (remember, it was drawn by someone who had a bit too much to drink) and made much more symmetrical. Soon after we had it placed right in front of my hip facing inwards towards my stomach, the back fins almost on my hip. When I looked into the mirror I remember seeing it there and feeling strangely perfect...a feeling very odd to me. I knew that if I could handle the procedure I would be getting a matching fish on the other side, so I made sure the placement allowed that option to be open.
Chris explained the procedure to me sometime during all of this (somewhere after he began smoothing out the design and before he started the piece). He would be using a mix of water, lubrication, and a tiny amount of red ink in the etching. When I asked what it would feel like he responded "oh don't worry you'll be fine, I promise" (which I found comforting although I knew it was a good way to avoid the question...). He suggested keeping it clean but told me there were "other ways" of helping it scar but he couldn't go into them thanks to the legalities of telling people to hurt themselves. He also told me if I noticed it hurting or swelling oddly, or green discharge to come in immediately. To begin the scarification he would be first doing the outline of everything, and then go through the center between the outline and "tear it up". I would likely need one more session to make it scar well, but all touchups and further work on the piece was included in the initial price of it.
Before we began Chris showed me his needle in the autoclave bag and his other supplies and then had everything set up very quickly thereafter. If there's one thing I adore about Chris's shop more than anything it's the incredibly high standard of cleanliness he keeps everything too. He explains his cleaning routine thoroughly and keeps everything perfect.
Shortly before beginning the procedure my boyfriend and another friend showed up and sat at my feet. I had one more placement check and another cleaning and I was lying down on the table again with a pillow under my head and Chris cracking jokes as he began the process.
The initial feeling was sort of like a burn. It was uncomfortable, but not anywhere near unbearable. Chris would take a pass at an area, and then go back and forth fast over the line. There were a few spots that almost tickled thanks to a nerve or whatnot underneath (it's the area where someone will tickle you on your sides). That was an odd feeling to say the least. The only part I hated was the area over my hip as it hurt quite a bit and I could feel my bone shaking. But I just made a few faces and shook my head, the feeling was still bearable. Chris cracked jokes the entire time, telling my friends and me stories about his family, friends, and the odd situations they found themselves in. It was hard not to laugh but Chris seemed to know when I was going to and would take that moment to dip the needle into the ink/water. His talking and jokes made the procedure quite a bit of fun and a very enjoyable experience. About 30 minutes into the piece he stopped, washed me off with green soap and told me I could take a break. The outline of the lines was done; the filling was just left to go. I noticed I was jittery but otherwise fine. I took about 5 minutes to drink some water and relax, and then I was back on my back and washed off with the green soap again. The soap was the worst part of the procedure though. It stung, burn, and otherwise hurt like a bitch.
The filling of the lines didn't feel especially different from the outline, although Chris explained he was "making it look like hamburger". About 5 minutes before he finished he laughed and commented "oh by the way, when you get a tattoo, it won't hurt near as much as this. I would have told you before but I didn't want you to be scared". This surprised me as I didn't find the procedure extremely painful or terrible, but I appreciated his... thoughtfulness? When Chris finished, I paid him ($50+tip), got some clear plastic wrap taped over the wound and went on my way.
The piece hurt during healing only when I would stretch and break scabs open. I bled very minimally, a little bit after I had the piece done, and a little each time the scabs were broken or torn off. I wore clothing that didn't rub the area and that helped quite a bit. My body pushed the ink out fast so it healed as a pink and white scar. Every night I'd get rid of as many scabs as possible while in the shower (tweezers and a new- toothbrush became my best friends). That part was the most painful part. I found it beneficial after showing to either lay down flat or sit straight up in such a way that the scabs re-formed flat, and wouldn't break when I moved. When I would curl up and then stretch the scabs would break and cause quite a bit of pain. After about 7 days almost all of the scabs were gone and the piece was healed. Roughly a month following that I had the matching piece done (a very similar design, slightly rounder) and then each piece had one more session each to re-open them. Each time the procedure was virtually identical and aftercare/healing rates almost exactly the same.
It's been roughly one year since I had both fish done (a year and a half since this initial experience, you can see one of the fish healed after 2 sessions here although now it is MUCH whiter is color, there's more images on my IAM page of healing). They have both healed well, but without the desired scarring effects. They are both still very visible, but they fade more and more as the months go on. I initially thought I wanted the barely visible white scar effects of etching, but as time went on my love of the designs and the meanings I attach to them has grown. In 3 days both of my fish will be branded open by Chris using a cautery pen. We discussed the way to get them to stay the most visible, and thanks to my fear of all things knife-like branding is the new choice for these 2 fish.
I was going to end on the above note, but I decided I might as well explain the meaning behind the fish...When I get asked about them and my reasons behind getting them I usually reply "I um have raised betta fish for years" and try to leave it at that. Sadly that has very little to do with it (as I've also raised rats, dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish, and sharks and none of them appear on me...) and is only a way for me to avoid the deeper answers. When I first got the first fish done I knew there was something important behind it, something I identified with on a level that is hard to properly place into words. Some of it has to do with the betta fish's looks and behavior-they are one of the most beautiful and remarkable looking fish alive to me. Their bright colors, long fins and perfect shape always appealed to me on a visual level. But they are also an incredibly solitary animal; they rarely even make it through mating without almost killing their partner. They attack almost everything, flaring up and striking unexpectedly. To me their remarkable peaceful appearance hide their violent and frightening behavior, proving looks can be very deceiving. I identify with their solitary lifestyle in my own life...although I maintain friendships and dating relationships I always find my biggest supporter and main source of strength inside myself. Some of my fondness for the fish may have to do with the countless hours I spent writing in my journal, talking out loud to my fish, and even though they never responded, having the ability to direct my questions and ideas to someone helped me sort through my problems, answer my own questions, and help myself.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 18 March 2005