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One bright morning & an eventful evening

I've been doing professional body piercing and scarification for the last nine years in Canada and Australia. I've always had an inclination to non-permanent aspects of body piercing over tattooing, yet while working as a piercer the opportunity and envelopment into the tattooing world is overwhelming. A Navy sailor myself, I have a fair share of tattoos all over my body; primarily good luck charms or memorials to lost friends and family, but never had I ever thought to attempt to give myself a tattoo; especially since I know of the risks involved as far as blood poisoning, infectious diseases and a multitude of other problems more then easily overcome with a traditional (and professional) tattoo.

One morning a few years back, I had woken up earlier then normal. I was in Canada for Christmas on leave from the Navy and had nothing better to do then laze around in the cold and catch up with old friends really; the perfect holiday away! I started my day off that morning with coffee and cigarettes, as I normally did at that time (and now when I have the chance), trying to think of how to spend my day. I was in a creative mode, and in these cases I normally resort to drawing or computer imaging/modelling. I had been working on a series of wallpapers for some shipmates and their families; primarily revolving around sailors, old war posters, photographs of submarines (we were all submariners) and of course the history of the silent service. One photo I came across was of two sailors tattooing each other in what we would call today a primitive "prison" style. Having various tattoos myself, including traditionally done "native" applied tattoos from Indonesia, I knew what my morning project would be – create a prison tattoo gun!

I was all to familiar with the design of these machines; typically made from a small motor from a VCR, Walkman, CD player or whatever you could get your hands on at the time; a pen; a guitar string and some odds and ends laying around. I quickly ran down to the storage room and found about seven old Walkmans from the '80s. Lucky for me! I quickly grabbed the biggest one I could find (thus easiest to take apart) and a handful of pens, pencils, a piece from an old computer case, a clip of string from my bass guitar and some more coffee. I was ready to go! In a matter of an hour, I had a working and not to shabby looking prison style tattoo machine. I even went to the decorative lengths as to use part of two pens, one of red and one of green, including a comfy rubberised finger grip to add some colour; then tightly yet neatly wrapped the core components together with strips of coloured electrical tape and finished it off with the original pen pocket clip – just for fun! All in all, it took be about 45 minutes to finish, and my using an old model train power supply, I had it running at variable speeds to boot!

My work was done, and I was proud! I was staying at my mother's place while in town and I quickly ran up and showed her what her 21 year old son had created for her to put on the fridge with my nephews and daughter's other art work. She was very impressed but asked what I was going to tattoo on myself. I knew better then to use the machine, which to me was just killing some time while attempting to be creative; but I got to thinking – I have an pressure cooker available for sterilization (note: I wouldn't ever recommend using one as a sterilizer, but considering my model could hold well in excess of 121.1 degrees Celsius for over an hour (35 minutes at 121.1 is what we used in the studio), I wasn't to phased. Besides, I had hypodermic single use needles, which I soon fashioned carefully onto the steamed guitar string, tube and grips (from the pens). Now all I need is ink. I thought to myself what I had around the house. Not wanting to poison myself, I knew what to avoid and what was relatively safe for this small demonstration. I started up the pressure cooker again and proceeded to sterilize a glass container that would have been normally used as a vessel for fragrant oil or other such small amounts of liquid and a small rubber piercing cork to close it when finished. I then proceeded to formulate my ink. I wanted something carbon based, since that was easily taken by the human body (from working in sterile injections, we have often used carbon based materials and chemicals for this reason); so I found some clear white paper and burnt it right down into a small glass (and clean) mixing bowl. After burning about 4 sheets, I had enough black ash to continue. Using some household glycerin to add viscosity and add to the suspension of the ash emulsion and some double-boiled bottled water, I was able to quickly form a professional-ink-like dark grey natural ink, ready for sterilization. Once the glass container I was sterilizing was done cooking, I poured the ash ink into it and placed the rubber piercing into the bottle. Once that was done, I was ready to get started.

I had to pick a design now. I didn't want something big, being that from memory prison and amateur tattoo attempts are often much more blurred than and not nearly as attractive as conventional tattoos; so I did some researching. I found a traditional Navy tattoo that I had yet received; three dots in a triangle formation, on the webbing on my thumb and index finger. For sailors, it was tradition to gain this tattoo before your first voyage, for good luck, and it would be easily hidden by closing your thumb to the rest of your hand. It seemed simple, easy to do, and safe. I could always get it touched up professionally later and I could hide it, but it also meant something special to me, being a sailor and all. Now the process...

I went to kitchen and, using Cavicide (which is a hospital grade disinfectant rated to kill HIV and AIDS), cleaned all surfaces surrounding me, including the floors. I plugged in my power supply, assembled the connectors to the tattoo machine, which by now had taken on the name of Rrrroar (named after the name of the promotional company pens I had used and still think that rather then giving pens or calendars for Holidays; this company should give out home-made tattoo machines – I wouldn't forget that company fast!), and prepared my ink. Being that this was a one time deal, I did not worry about separating the ink into a smaller vessel. I took the tattoo machine, attached a new needle to the tip (the guitar string, being from a bass, easily had a very snug fit inside of the 22 gauge hypodermic needle, snipped from is plastic base, that I was using), and plugged the power source to the machine. I was ready to roll. I removed my gloves from doing the prep and conducted a violent washing and scrubbing of my arms and hands. I went back to the kitchen, applied one glove to my gun hand and sat down. I reapplied the skin scribe with a toothpick and was ready to roll...

The first dip in the ink, the machine spat more then I had seen with a real tattoo machine; but it seemed to have caught it in the eye and was quickly "drinking" up the ink. After a couple of seconds in the ink; I stretched my hand out and slowly lowered down the needle until I could feel it puncturing the skin. I moved it around, tracing the very small circle I had drawn. I pulled back, rested the machine down and wiped away the excess ink with a damp towellette. It looked good, but needed a little more in some areas. I went back in on the same dot, pushing a little deeper this time. The circle looked much better this time round, so I went on with the other two dots. All in all, it took about 10 minutes to complete. I cleaned up, put some diaper rash cream over the tattoo (with no zinc!) and let it out to air for a while.

Two weeks later, I was just finishing up with the scabbing process. Although small, the scabs did form neatly and I reapplied diaper cream just to keep them from rubbing off due to dryness. When they did finally come off; two of the three dots were excellent while one looked like it needed a little bit of touch up. I waited a while longer, maybe a week or so, before I went back in using a new batch of ink, and finished up the last circle.

It has been 4 years now since I've had this tattoo, and it's still just as strong as all my others. There is minor rising, which I've noticed on some of my other tattoos where the skin was more loose then normal (by that I mean placed where skin folds, suck as webbing, penis, elbow, etcetera), but still just as sharp and prominent as my other tattoos. All in all, a great experience with something that was just supposed to be a morning craft. I wouldn't recommend doing it to anyone who wasn't already versed in sanitization/sterilization (if you don't know the difference, learn!), and proper tattooing methods – but it was an experience I'll always remember and makes for a great story of "Where did you get that done and by who?", I have to say though that my favourite part of the story was that while I was making the tattoo machine I was watching Sesame Street for the fight time in ~15 years – subliminal messages must have provoked me to do it =)


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 04 March 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: Me
Studio: My+kitchen
Location: Edmonton%2C+Alberta%2C+Canada

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