A Dragon Tattoo
ad wanted to get inked since I was twelve,and since I was twelve, I've been telling people that I'd get a coiled scorpion on the back of my hand, just below my thumb. The problem with this, beyond the obvious (twelve year olds should not get tattoos, especially of a scorpion on their hand!) my father was completely against tattoos. In the Philippines, the only people who had tattoos were prostitutes and drug dealers. He once noticed I had drawn pictures on my arms with blue ink and made me scrub my arms, yelling at me all the way. But I was still a child, and a father's objections and protectiveness is somewhat understandable. I think over time, he let me be an adult and make my own decisions about everything in my life. Body modifications were just some of them. When I got my navel pierced, all he did was shake his head.
I've always been attracted to solid black work that I would later find out was "tribal". Well, years went by and my first idea for a tattoo never happened. Though the scorpion image appeals to me, I would later find out that it really had nothing to do with me except for the fact that I'm a Scorpio. Even then, while interesting, my zodiac symbol had little bearing on who I was and what I was about. And it was never really a good idea to get a tattoo on my hand while I was still young and needed to get into the work force. I still wanted a tattoo. And in the past decade, tattoos have become more of an art and skill, that there were more ideas for me to draw from. I still wanted some kind of token creature... something that would represent where I draw my strength from. A kind of token spirit, if you will.
When I was young, I had fantasy worlds where dragons were the most beautiful, strongest and wisest creatures. I realized that they meant all of those things to me. I decided later in life that the dragon is what I wanted to be marked with. I didn't want a typical chinese dragon, or medieval European dragon, or even a Sword and Sorcery dragon... I wanted this to be my dragon. I had initially asked my boyfriend to draw a dragon for me, because he was (and still is) the most important person in my life, and I wanted a part of him with me. But he never approved of me getting a tattoo, and though he obliged me about the artwork, I wasn't happy with what he had. It bothered him, but he understood. So I worked on the idea I had and wanted. While I was at work, I'd doodle the design out, I'd screw around with it at home, on the bus, in a restaurant, just about anywhere where I had a pencil and a piece of paper. I finally came up with something that appealed to me... something I could envision on my body for a really long time. It was definitely celtic or tribal influenced, a stylized winged dragon that was coiled, with its head lowered as if it were asleep or resting. The design would go best on my upper right arm, I decided and I worked the design to look best for that position.
I showed it to some friends. I went around town and showed it to a few tattoo artists, getting quotes and advice. Throughout this venture, I found out about the different studios in Toronto, their basic atmospheres, work conditions and friendliness quotient (and they all were very friendly). I had wanted to have the piece done at a certain studio, but they quoted a price that was a bit more than the others. A friend of mine had insisted I get it done at her favourite tattoo/piercing place, New Tribe on Queen Street, and the advice was backed up by other people too. I had my navel pierced a few years ago there, so I already knew what the studio was like. It's a fairly commercial place, and lots of curious teenies from the suburbs like to go there because it's easy to find, in one of the trendier, artsier parts of town. I looked through their portfolio, found out the artists have won awards for their artwork, and the quoted price was right. So I went to New Tribe on my day off, walked in with my dragon, and asked if it was possible for it to be done that day.
The counter girl told me politely that an artist, Dave, would be available in about twenty minutes. Sure I'd wait, I said, and while I did, I took his portfolio and looked through it more carefully. I was happy with his artwork. He had some really nice pieces. I had been anxious to get my tattoo done, but this whole day was pretty relaxing and mellow for me and I was still mellow while I waited at the studio. Finally he came out. I showed him my dragon, told him what I want and where I was going to get it. He fixed up some of the lines, because apparently they were too close together and would have just blended into eachother in time. Dave lead me to a private room and showed me the workplace, the new needles, still packaged, the disposable ink dispensers and he wiped down the chair while I stood there watching. The room was bright and clinical, and save for a few pictures of real tribal tattoos, piercings and stuff like that, it looked like a dentist or a doctor's room. He was kind of quiet, so in an effort to start up some conversation, I asked the "silly" tattoo question --- will this hurt? Duh, I knew it would hurt, I just didn't know what to say at the time. He did ask me at a point if I was nervous, and I replied quite truthfully that I wasn't. I was in a kind of zen state at that moment, where anything could have happened and I would just accept it.
He showed me the reworked piece on a transfer. It looked a bit wider and thicker than I had drawn, but I trusted him. I didn't want the final tattoo ruined because of the spaces being too narrow. I showed him where I wanted it exactly by placing the transfer over the area. When he finally transferred the image onto my skin, it was perfect. I sat down, took a deep breath, and he asked if I was ready. I was ready, so he started.
The pain was there, but it wasn't horrible. To be honest, I'm kind of a masochist that I like pain... I recognize pain, and I accept it for as it is, but without it becoming sexual pleasure. It's kind of a fascinating, comfortable feeling for me. It hurt, but I didn't mind the hurt. I stayed completely still, watching what he was doing, studying the colourful tattoos on his arm or just looking around at the various pictures and odds and ends that decorated the place. He showed me the outline after about fifteen minutes. After showing my approval (of course at this point, what else could you say?), he continued to fill it in. I realized that I was bleeding quite a bit, my own blood black with the ink, and this fascinated me all the more. The room was quiet, but I had hoped there could have been some music I liked playing in the background. After all (upon afterthought) this was a part of a personal transformation. Perhaps not the beginning of it, but significant none the less. If there was anything I could have changed about the whole thing it would have been the ritual. I would have made the experience itself mean more.
About twenty minutes later, it was complete. I saw it in the mirror, amazed at how it looked. It was my drawing hovering on my skin, not yet integrated into me. I barely heard him telling me how to take care of it as it healed, that I could come back for touch ups if I need to. I barely remember him bandaging it up, and leading me to the counter while I paid for it, and he gave me a card with the aftercare instructions and his name. It was raining slightly when I left the store and I thought to myself, wow, this is incredible. I was different...
I got home and I just crashed for hours. All the energy I had stored for that moment was gone, and all I could do was sleep. My boyfriend still didn't like it, but he accepted it in time, and it hadn't changed our relationship much. The tattoo healed without any problems (Pure Vitamin E gel helped a lot when it would get itchy). Everyone who has seen it thinks it looks great. Strangers have come up to me on the street to tell me so (though to be modest, it is a pretty simple design), some even asked to take pictures of it. It's been a year, and I hardly think about it anymore, but I am proud of it. If anyone asks, I tell them I got it because it looked neat, but I know its personal significance.
Be assured, it isn't my last tattoo. Two days ago, I got a second one at Urban Primitives by Daemon Rowanchilde. That story tself is not complete, and I'll share it with BME once it is.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 June 1999