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First tattoo - worth the long wait

I've been thinking about tattoos since I was in middle school - I was always a bit of a rebel, reading Fight Club when the other girls were flipping through Sarah Dessen romances. You know the type. Tattoos seemed like the epitome of "different", and as such, I liked them (what can I say? I was in middle school.) One of the pieces I kept thinking about was a mermaid; I couldn't say why, except that mermaids were "pretty". But it was an idea that stuck with me.

Then, my freshman year of high school, I memorized T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" for some sort of competition. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever read. I am a huge poetry nerd (and intend to begin a creative writing major next fall, with an emphasis in poetry.) The last few stanzas of the poem seemed especially meaningful and beautiful to me, and the mermaid imagery especially resonated with me. The entire poem, in fact, carried a lot of meaning, as it was all about a man paralyzed by his insecurities and his inability to say the things he felt important. I was insecure; I didn't do the things I wanted to. A mermaid tattoo, then, seemed like the ideal for me. Something to represent the idea that sometimes, I needed to just go for it and do the things I loved, regardless of what others would think.

Over my four years in high school, I kept shifting around ideas in my head for different tattoos - I've got about seven planned out as of right now, including a very large piece that'll eventually span both my sides, from hip to armpit, extending onto my back and my chest. But the mermaid was the first idea I'd had, and she stayed with me for a long time. She also seemed like the easiest to get - my family is extremely anti-modification, and an easily-visible mod would be a serious issue, so most of the pieces I wanted would be out of the question. The mermaid, on the other hand, would be placed very high on my right leg, so that even a fairly short skirt would not show it. (As for bathing suits and whatnot, I never go swimming, so that wasn't a real issue.)

I'd made the decision to get it done after my first semester of senior year ended, but I also wanted an artist friend of mine to design the piece. So finals rolled around, and my friend seemed always busy, and a couple months passed by, and she still hadn't met with me, and then spring break began. I was set on getting SOMETHING tattooed by this point, and I was considering getting a line from one of my favorite novels tattooed on the opposite leg, but something about it didn't feel right. After a brief heart-to-heart with someone I'm very close to, I decided that fuck it, why put my friend's feelings over mine - I wanted the mermaid, and I'd rather have the tattoo artist design it than wait another three months for my friend to get her act together.

So a friend and I went to Tatu Tattoo on Saturday, and sure enough, the artists working were booked all day. We were told to try calling back at four and checking with the artists who were coming in then. We went up to Boystown and killed a few hours shopping there; on a whim I went by Chicago Tattoo Co. to see if they could do any better, but the girl there told me that for a custom piece like I wanted, it'd take "a week to draw up". Yeah. Okay. Screw that. (To be honest, I'd preferred the idea of getting it done at Tatu Tattoo anyway - my best friend got a piece done there a few months ago, and he recommended the shop highly.)

At four, we called back, and Jeremy told me that he should be able to fit me in, though it might be a bit of a wait. My friend and I ran our asses off catching buses back down to Tatu Tattoo, and when we got there, it turned out I was in luck - Jeremy said he could draw the tattoo up right away, and I could have the piece done that night! He took about an hour to get the drawing done, so we did more shopping (or... my friend shopped and I trailed her around, mostly.) We came back around six, waited for a bit so Jeremy could get set up, and by six-thirty I was in the chair. Finally.

The design wasn't quite what I had expected - I'd brought some art nouveau pieces as reference for the style I wanted - but it was beautiful. Due to the angle he'd sketched it at, I also ended up having him place it with her swimming downwards, as opposed to upwards; with her eyes closed, and the angle her arms were at, she could be sleeping as well, and I liked the idea of that. Once the stencil was on, though, and I looked in the mirror, I actually started shaking a little bit - everything was PERFECT.

When he started on the linework, I actually said aloud, "Oh, you mean that's it?" It wasn't nearly as painful as I'd been led to expect! The shading, though, was a lot worse; by that point I'd already told myself that I wasn't going to say anything about the pain or hold my friend's hand, but being tough was fairly difficult. I made a few phone calls while I was in the chair (I'd been planning on going dancing later that night, but it was NOT an option anymore), and kept up a conversation with my friend though the shading, but I held my phone in my fist to distract from the pain. Later, I realized it had left marks on my palm from how hard I was holding it. Still, my friend said I only looked like I was in pain for a brief minute, so... mission accomplished :)

The worst part of the shading, actually, was when he wiped the excess ink and blood off - after a certain point it just felt like sandpaper. Whatever he used to clean it off, though, smelled lovely, and the coolness was really nice. So I rode out the shading - it was an hour and a half of that, as compared to the half-hour for the linework, but I did my best, and finally it was done. (It certainly hadn't felt like two hours! My friend actually watched the entire time, even for ten-minute stretches when neither of us talked; she said later that it seemed almost magical, watching it happen.)

Jeremy was an excellent artist - he was willing to accomodate my wishes, and he even asked what color I wanted the mermaid's hair to be. He also added little touches I hadn't expected, and his color choices were lovely (I'd asked for a red/brown color scheme, but he added these touches of yellow and blue that made the whole thing pop really well.) Aftercare instructions were fairly minimal, but so far so good; the aftermath of the tattoo itself is pretty bad, but manageable. My skin was hypersensitive all night, but today it's feeling a lot more reasonable, and if I don't move I can forget it's there. And every time I look in the mirror, my heart skips a little beat - it was worth every minute of the pain, and I'm already thinking about when I can get my next one!


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 26 March 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: Jeremy
Studio: Tatu+Tattoo
Location: Chicago

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