Tattoo with meaning
Three days ago I sat for 90 minutes while a tattoo artist named Geoff tattooed a phoenix in flames on my right shoulder. This is the story of how I came to have my first tattoo, both the psychological journey and the actual physical experience of getting my first tattoo. If you have never had a tattoo, and are thinking of getting one, I hope this provides you with another perspective and gives you some information about what to expect when you get a tattoo.
For several years now, I have wanted a tattoo. I've always thought of tattoos as interesting, and sexy, and a great way to express yourself (despite my parents' best attempts to ingrain in me the idea that only bikers and disreputable people get tattoos). So I've wanted one for quite some time, but not enough to overcome my fear of the pain (I've always been a big wimp when it comes to pain; I have almost-panic attacks when I have to have blood drawn). So how did I get past all that and get my first tattoo?
Well, several months ago I experienced another first: my first stay in a psychiatric hospital. It was the culmination of years of struggling with depression (although not really being self-aware enough to realize that was what I was going through) and a really hard few months (combined with a few too many anti-anxiety pills). After surviving that experience (and actually feeling better than I have in years), I decided that I would finally get a tattoo to symbolize my struggle and recent experience with depression. I knew it would hurt; I didn't know how much, but I decided that getting the tattoo was worth whatever pain was involved.
I spoke with a few friends who have tattoos (all guys); they all said the pain wasn't that bad, and they recommended going to Lark Tattoo, in Albany NY, to have it done. Being the obsessive person I am, I also did a bunch of research on the web and determined that most people seemed to feel that the pain was akin to a needle being dragged through your skin, and that it was tolerable. I then had to decide what I wanted to have tattooed on me. I knew I wanted something that represented the contrast of light and dark, or hard and soft, to symbolize my struggle. I thought at first perhaps something to do with the sun/moon, but that just wasn't me. I then thought about maybe a flower plus something else, but again it didn't feel right. Finally, in checking out tat art of birds online, I happened across a phoenix. As soon as I saw it, I knew that was exactly what I wanted - a mythical creature that was reborn every day out of its own ashes. Nothing could be more symbolic of what I
had gone through, and in fact go through every day.
The next step was to figure out who would do my tat. I checked out the portfolios of the various artists at Lark Tattoo, thinking that if I didn't see anything I liked I could always go to NYC to see some recommendations down there. Besides the recommendations, one of the things I like about Lark is that their artists will not replicate a tat on someone else once it's already on another customer. Each tat is a unique work of art that "belongs" to the customer. When I saw Geoff's work, I knew he was the one I wanted to have do my tat. His pieces are so sharp, and yet have an amazing dreamlike quality to them. I set up an appointment for a consultation, and (according to his instructions) brought in some pictures I had found on the web that contained some of the characteristics of the phoenix I wanted. I also made a list of what I didn't like about the pictures, so we could customize it. Geoff listened carefully to my requests, and then said he thought he knew exactly what I wa nted. We made another appointment for me to check out the drawing.
When I came in to see the first draft, I was totally amazed. The quality of the drawing, even though it was a basic black-and-white drawing, was incredible. There were some details about it that I wanted to change, like the general feel of the phoenix (I wanted it more energetic-looking, as though it was shooting through the sky) and some details about the body. But he also added some details that I hadn't thought of, like having it come out of smoke. He even sketched a really quick pen drawing incorporating the new suggestions, and it was pretty much exactly what I wanted. So I knew I was in good hands as far as the artwork was concerned. We set up the appointment for me to come in and get the actual tattoo, for about a month ahead (the good artists are always booked pretty far in advance). He quoted me an estimate of $300 and 3 hours, but he was scheduling me for 4 hours so we would have plenty of time.
The month flew by (well, it seemed to drag while I was going through it, but in retrospect it seems like it flew), and after much anxiety, and a bit of worrying about getting the money together, the day was finally here. The only people who knew I was getting a tat were my husband and two friends. We brought my son to my sister-in-law, who was babysitting him, and headed downtown. I remembered at the last minute that I wanted to take some over-the-counter pain meds, so I quickly grabbed a bottle of water and took them.
We got to Lark Tattoo right on time, and waited a bit for Geoff to arrive. While we waited, we watched another girl who was going to be tattooed; it was her first time too, so she looked pretty nervous. I thought to myself, if she can take it, I should be ok. She seemed pretty stoic about it when it was finally her turn, so I started feeling a little better. Finally it was my turn. I watched Geoff unwrap all the sterile paraphernalia, and set up his space. He poured the inks into tiny little disposable pots, so as to keep everything sterile. He placed the flash on my upper back, so we could see if the placement was ok, and it was perfect. He had me sit down in a chair that had no back or arms, and lean up against the tattoo bed. I had brought my iPod, so I turned on Nine Inch Nails (I highly recommend them for distracting you during a tattoo) and blasted it to distract myself. Before he started, he lowered the window blinds that were hanging around his station, so that there
would be privacy. It was actually quite private, which was comforting.
He started tattooing me, and it was definitely like a hot needle being stuck in me and dragged. Fortunately, the strokes were pretty small, so just when I thought I couldn't take it, he moved on to the next section. Since I'm kinda skinny, much of the area he was tattooing was close to the bone, which really hurt. Parts of it (the fleshy areas) didn't hurt at all. About 5 minutes into it, he asked me if I was ok, and I must not have sounded great because he stopped tattooing and had me put my head between my knees. He got me some hard candies, and my husband got me some juice. I felt like I was going to pass out - all woozy, and my head felt as if it was stuffed with cotton. But after drinking the juice, I felt fine, so he kept on going. He said it was probably from my body being in a little bit of shock from the pain, and from low blood sugar.
After finishing the outline, he moved on to a thinner needle to do some detail work. The thinner needle hurt more (it was a sharper pain), but fortunately didn't last long. I checked out the outline before he did the shading, and it was really good. Then he moved onto the shading/coloring. I had heard shading hurts less than outlining, and he said that a lot of people did say that. However, it felt worse to me; because he was essentially concentrating in one small spot instead of moving in a line, it was more painful - more of a burning sensation. I got through it by blasting my music, by taking a couple breaks (3 total, including the one where I almost passed out), by trying to breathe deeply when I could, and by clenching my fists and muttering a whole lot of obscenities under my breath. But I didn't scream like some of those girls you see on YouTube, and I didn't cry. Geoff was very gentle, so except for the actual tattooing it didn't hurt, even when he was wiping down the fresh tattoo. He was also very patient with me, even though I was really nervous. It took just about 90 minutes, with maybe 5 minutes of break time interspersed. The total cost was $360, including a $60 tip.
So did I love it? Would I do it again, despite the pain? Well, when I checked it out after he was all done, I was speechless, it was so amazing. The outline is very sharp, and the shading is gorgeous - all rich reds and oranges, and the shading on the smoke is incredible. I still can't believe such a gorgeous piece of art is a permanent part of me. And yes, I would do it again in a flash (well, maybe in a month when I've healed from this one). I think I actually will get another piece on my back. My feeling is, once you really commit to having the tattoo, the pain isn't really enough to convince you not to get it. It's just a matter of how badly you really want it.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 28 Sept. 2008