Spilling Ink

I've talked, way back in the Cakes and Cakes Vintage days, about having tattoos (check it out here if you like), but I don't think I've ever talked about the actual process of getting a tattoo. I recently decided that I was going to make my tattoos a priority - I have a fair few, and some of them I like, and some of them I kind of don't, and I really just wanted to get to a point where I was happy with all of the ink on my body. After all, I'm turning 30 soon, so I figure I might as well set some things in my life straight.

This is advice geared more towards first timers - if you already have tattoos, you probably know most of this.


Find an artist that you really like.

I've always been a bit impulsive about getting tattoos, which means that when I want one, I want it right now and I don't want to wait. That's worked out well exactly once - a cow skull on my forearm that was designed and inked by an artist I'd never met before and can't track down now, and which is still one of my favorite pieces - and rather poorly the other times. Take some time to shop around for an artist that you like, whether you're getting a small piece or you're going to be spending hours in their chair working on something larger.
What makes a good tattoo artist? They seem interested in listening to what you have to say. They're not annoyed at being asked to make revisions to their artwork. They check in with you to make sure you're doing ok while you're being tattooed. They should also be transparent about costs, and let you know before they, say, start on a second hour of work to make sure you can pay for it.

After 1 session with an artist that I didn't really jibe with, I walked around with a weird, half formed ghost tattoo for the better part of 10 years. 

After 1 session with an artist that I didn't really jibe with, I walked around with a weird, half formed ghost tattoo for the better part of 10 years. 

You really do get what you pay for.

I got a $25 tattoo one Friday the 13th, and while I liked it at the moment, after a couple of years it was looking a bit sad and faded. I asked my new tattoo artist, Nina Flomp at Studio One Tattoo in Chicago (@flompflomp on Instagram) to redo it more as a test than because I really thought it needed massive revision, but after she was done I realized just how bad it looked before. I paid $140 to have it redone and have another added, and it was money well spent. I would never get another discount tattoo again. It's not like buying a cheap dress that you'll wear once and throw away - it's going to be on your skin for a long time, and it's worth saving up for.

Ask for what you want... 

An owl statue from the Harold Washington Public library, which I ride past on a near daily basis. I've wanted to get an owl tattoo for a while, and when I was looking for inspiration, naturally that's where I turned.

An owl statue from the Harold Washington Public library, which I ride past on a near daily basis. I've wanted to get an owl tattoo for a while, and when I was looking for inspiration, naturally that's where I turned.

Your tattoo artist is not a mind reader. If you ask them for something and they're not quite hitting the mark, try to come up with particular suggestions for what you'd like to have changed. Don't start in on the process until you've settled on a design that you really like, because (I'm sure I don't need to tell you this) it is permanent. 

...But be willing to listen when your artist offers a suggestion.

FYI, it's hard to take a photo of your own arm. Stage One of this tattoo/cover up.

FYI, it's hard to take a photo of your own arm. Stage One of this tattoo/cover up.

I'm currently having work done on a piece that's part new tattoo, part cover up of a little bit of old line work (see the top and bottom photos). When I sent Nina, the tattoo artist that I'm working with, an image of the owl that I wanted for my tattoo, she let me know that she was feeling a little doubtful for how it would work. I told her that I really preferred an owl "at rest", with the wings down, but once she started sketching I could see what she meant - the shape just wasn't going to work right with what I already had. When she wiped it off and started over with an owl with wings spread, I could immediately see that it was going to work much better. I really appreciated that she gave it to me straight, because otherwise I would have gone headlong into something that might not have looked as nice without even realizing it.


I guess there are other things that I could talk about, like placement and pain levels and stuff like that, but I feel like that's all really subjective. I mean, it hurts, definitely - I described it once as having a burning wire pulled out of your skin, and I stand by that - but it's manageable. Just keep breathing, and don't be embarrassed to pull out your headphones and put on a podcast, which I find really does help distract from the pain a bit. Everyone's got their own aftercare regimen, but I just stick with mild soap and unscented lotion (I've been using the same Neutrogena stuff that I use on my face for the past couple, actually), and that's always served me pretty well.

So, what do you think about tattoos? If you have some already, what advice would you add? If you don't, would you get one? Why or why not?