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Ten Toe Tattooing

I got it stuck in my horrifically geeky mind that I would be a whole lot cooler of a person if I got "Don't Panic" tattooed on my body in large friendly letters (if you are counting on your fingers, yes the apostrophe gets its own toe). Knuckles seemed the ideal place but it wouldn't mesh with my chosen lifestyle. However, I decided toes were an even better place since it would be soothing constant reminder of a sound life strategy.

I'll confess I rushed in a bit impulsively. None of my friends had toe tattoos and so I really didn't have anyone warn me of the difficulties I would face. I had the common sense that I would have to ditched shoes for a while and not play sports or tussle with anyone but that was the extent of it. I went to an artist that had done reliable work in the past and had toe experience and he didn't say anything except, "want to do this tonight?". And I did, in fact.

I chose a big friendly font with bubble letters and asked for black fading vertically to a nice deep blue. He freehanded the letters on my toes with a fine sharpie such that they were readable to me. My concerns about whether they would look properly proportioned on my toes were solved as we both cracked up at the site of it and agreed this was a good choice. Although in retrospect, I should have paid more scrutiny to each letter. The "N" on my left foot can look like an "H "at a glance and the "T" is noticeably shorter than the "P" it mirrors. But, I was excited and impulsive, and my artist was drawing large letters upside down that wrapped around small toes. I think I'll bring a friend to the studio from now on, at least just at the beginning, who can more objectively analyze placement and proportion without my sense of excitement and impatience.

Quite surprisingly, it really wasn't any more uncomfortable than any other tattoo. My artist laid down on the ink within an hour and it bled as much as any other tattoo place where skin is relatively thin and the bone nearby. He ended up pressing harder than he did at first and said that my toe skin was thicker than most and normally toes just took ink right up with relatively little pressure.

He didn't bother to wrap it because he said there wasn't a good way to. So I walked carefully back to my car and went home, trying not too walk any more than necessary. Showering my upper body while keeping my lower body out of the shower and kneeling wasn't too difficult.

Unfortunately, it turned out that ink retention in toes is problematic. Though I always wore sandals and kept it moisturized like any other tattoo, I did still more or less not limit my mobility. And people would later on point out how much quicker toe skin regenerates comparatively. I didn't workout, run, or anything, but I still went out with friends. Ink oozing for a few days is expected, but mine kept doing it for a week. Of course it had something to do with the fact that tattoos on joints, especially the ones that support all of your weight, have a harder time closing up. And the second night I stumbled and stretched the toes out on my left foot and felt ruptures happening, leading too some renewed soreness a couple hours later. My left foot ink is much more faded than my right, as it would turn out.

After a week when the top tortured layers of skin started peeling off, I was shocked to be staring at what in some places was near perfectly pink flesh. I showed my artist and he nodded unsurprised and said he didn't think the ink would hold well and there's no way toe tattoos can ever be as vibrant as normal tattoos. He said he didn't mention it before because he wanted to make me happy. Sure, I should have researched it more and asked some pointed questions about how much different this would be than other tattooing, but I was agitated that he didn't think it worthwhile to mention even casually that he didn't think this tattoo he was about to lay down my body would even work.

I waited three weeks before getting them redone since at two weeks the skin seemed still too soft and somewhat sunken. I asked him pointedly this time if I should wait longer and he said it should be fine to do it now. However this time, they certainly hurt more and bled buckets. He was somewhat caught off guard at how tender the new skin was even though he expected it. This time he wrapped them up. He also told me not too apply any ointment for the first two days. Though this was contrary to any other tattoo aftercare I heard of, he insisted the skin was too tender and moisturizing right away would doom the ink to be lost. I took his word for it and took an extra day off of work and didn't even walk for the first three days, scooting around on my ass in the manliest way possible and whimpering till people got food down from the mid and top shelves for me.

They still oozed for a week and again more than the usual amount of ink was lost. But the results were better, and after seven total weeks of staying off my feet as much as possible (three weeks between first and second attempt, and one month since the second attempt), I am prepared to accept the result at least for a while so I can get back in shape and enjoy prancing about and playing.

The simple fact is that if judged by normal tattoo standards, they don't measure up. Lots of outline is gone, and ink loss is uneven and mostly substantial and worse. However, when viewed from five feet or higher (as will be the case with most people) it's quickly apparent that I have the words "Don't Panic" tattooed in large friendly black and blue letters. And by that measure it's a success and it works. However, bring yourself in for closer scrutiny and you will be surprised at just how patchy and barely existent the ink is in some places, even though it looks much more uniform from further away.

Final Conclusion: I believe the perfect toe tattoo (rather one, that remains as vibrant and solid as any other tattoo) is possible, despite all the opinions to the contrary I have since found on the internet. However it takes a very serious committment to keeping still for at least the first few days and then largely prone after that (even casually flexing your toes is a hard thing to control). Walking on your heels is also important for a while. I had alot more success the second time with the first three days spent laying prone. I believe if I allow my toes to totally return to normal for a few months, the skin will be tough enough to hold all the ink, unlike my second attempt when they bled buckets and I was told that they were so weak that moisturizing would break the skin wide open. The big toes held the ink better and that likely relates to the meatier skin found on them as compared to the other digits.

To anyone who wants them, I say go for it. Just be prepared for a lot of hassle and hard work to keep them beautiful during healing.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 May 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: E
Studio: Studio+13+%26+half
Location: League+City%2C+TX

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