It was my 18th birthday on October 11. Anybody who knows me even remotely will be aware of my adoration of the arts.
I’ve always been one for self-expression and extreme examples of individuality. As such, it was inevitable that I would leap at the chance to have a now-legal tattoo (or two, as it turned out).
This is a particularly broad subject to write about, so this is just the first of two or three pieces, compiling my thoughts and experiences of tattoos.
As the first chapter of this story, it’s apt that I focus on the period leading up to my tattooing.
I’ve had a certain interest in body-art for years. When I was aged about eight, I had my ears pierced, and then when I was 15 I had a navel piercing, so it’s obviously something that’s always interested me, even at a young age.
Whilst I admit that some forms of body modification rip down my own personal boundaries and spit in my face in triumph at their being so extreme, I’d be lying if I said tattoos and the odd piercing weren’t appealing to me.
I’ve wanted tattoos since I was about 13, much to my dad’s disapproval. I drew up the design in February this year after many months spent scouring the internet for inspiration, and with recommendation from my boyfriend, I took the drawing to 76 Inc of 64A St Mary’s Road, Harborough, www.76inc.co.uk to discuss plans for my upcoming birthday.
So, what was I so set on having made a permanent part of my skin? The artwork is undoubtedly the most important part of a tattoo. It takes a lot of time for a drawing to evolve into a finished tattoo design. You have to choose something that’s meaningful and you’re absolutely certain will always be special to you. Considering whether or not you’d like something to be a part of you for the rest of your life is difficult. It’s a serious commitment and it takes a lot of thought and decisive confidence. I spent years going over my ideas and refining them into the single piece of permanent ink that’s now printed into my shoulders. Your partner’s name won’t do; relationships never last forever. You can stay together for a lifetime and it still won’t be infinite. Death is one of the few certainties in life and that would mean the end of your ‘always and forever’, assuming nothing else beats it to it. It’s a risky tattoo choice to make and if anything does happen between you and your sweetheart, the once-romantic declaration of your dedication to them would become a bitter reminder of everything that was wrong at the time.
Names are great if they’re members of your family and have been tastefully done, but it wasn’t for me. What about writing, then? I love words (just in case you hadn’t noticed), so one of my favourite quotes would probably have been an appropriate choice. I could easily have had a line from one of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, or my favourite song lyrics, but that wasn’t how I wanted to express myself.
As far as I’m concerned, artwork was the only way to go. I love my boyfriend, but I don’t want his name tattooed on me. I don’t really want ‘Mother’ inked on my bicep with a heart, nor do I want song lyrics. My favourite lyrics change with album releases and with my moods because I listen to music so frequently and to such a great extent.
I’ve always found artwork to be a constant inspiration to me and a picture can speak thousands of words in every language, simultaneously, whilst all at the same time being aesthetically intriguing and beautiful. That’s what I wanted my tattoos to do. They were to be a part of me and I wanted them to be a symbol.
The next decision was what, exactly, that symbol was going to be. I thought with great strenuosity of all the things that could represent me as a person. Things that I hold close to my heart. Guitars? I do love music, but somehow that wasn’t what I wanted. It’s a part of me, but not all of me. It had to be something less obvious. I have a lot of interests and hobbies, but they weren’t what I wanted.
Then I thought: I love classic tattoos. They’re bold and each one always represents something special. They have roots in rock music, which is another of my favourite things, and being highly regarded and appreciated by most artists, they would satisfy my desire for unique artwork. Swallows feature strongly in classic tattoos as one of the most popular choices for matching designs. Birds epitomize freedom and elegance to me, particularly swallows. They’re agile in flight and small - sweet, almost - in rest. I’ve had a lot of set backs and my childhood wasn’t the easiest. There was always something holding me down or somebody looming over me, reminding me that I wasn’t good enough. The exemption birds display in flight has always inspired me and has been a sort of embodiment of what I’ve wanted to achieve. I’m terrified of flying (too many nights spent watching Air Crash Investigation and reading about the mechanics of planes has turned me off it forever) but there’s a greater meaning to flying, which appeals to the maverick within me. I know that in my heart I won’t ever stop lusting after independence and freedom, so traditional swallows were my final design of choice.
I went through other ideas, of course, one of which was a pair of wings, but having a set of matching birds said so much more about my character. I started designing them as soon as I knew what I wanted. I’d always recommend drawing your own tattoos if you can, and if art isn’t your strongest skill, just a simple sketch will do; All you need is something to give the artist an idea of what you want, so that they can create a piece you’ll love. The design we used on my tattoos was the exact drawing I did back in February. The lines are identical. Every feather is right where I put it. The colours are my favourite colours, as I used in the drawing, and the shading is the same. It’s so much more satisfying to know that your tattoos are one-of-a-kind, drawn especially for you, to suit your body, and I can guarantee you’ll be so much happier with them.
So once you’ve come to a decision on the style and focus of the tattoo, you need a location. Par exemple: A vine will look transient and progressive tattooed onto a limb, creating the illusion of growth and a closeness to nature, but if you dropped one in the centre of someone’s back it might look a tad out of place. As I’ve said, the artwork is the most important part of a tattoo, but it has to work with your body, and that means finding the ideal spot for it to be placed. I jumped backwards and forwards from one location to the next until I finally settled on having tattoos on my shoulder blades. There aren’t many options when it comes to matching tattoos, as I wanted. Hip bones seemed a bit cliché, and I knew nobody would ever see them, they would rub on my jeans, and I can’t imagine that’s a good place for tattoos if your weight changes. Feet often work when it comes to matching tattoos, but that didn’t appeal to me, either. I didn’t want them on my arms or hands, and collar bones would’ve stood out too much for what I wanted. I thought about wings and where they’re usually placed: the shoulders. Given the shape of shoulder bones, they don’t protrude through the skin. They’re flat and not too sensitive. That sounded like a perfect place to get a tattoo to me. The swallows almost act as my wings, being placed there, and once I’d finally concluded exactly what it was I wanted, my mind didn’t change.
I don’t think that anywhere near enough emphasis is put on the amount of thought and consideration it takes to create your own perfect tattoo. Every little detail is important and any single mistake could descend into regret. That’s definitely something to avoid, as laser removal is more costly and more painful than getting the tattoo in the first place. It isn’t too painful to spend an extra couple of weeks thinking about the design before talking to an artist (for most people, anyway...) and it might save you from a tattoo mishap.
If you’re confident with the design, then it’s time to speak to an artist. Deciding where to go is difficult. Only my cousin has any tattoos, and I don’t see her often so I’ve no idea where she had any of them done. There were a few options around Leicester: Kazbah, Skin&Needles, All Star... I had no idea how good any of those places were. It’s absolutely terrifying walking into a tattoo studio when you’ve no prior experience. You have to have faith in the artist and trust them to do a good job. With no recommendations from anybody at the time, I was too apprehensive to book into anywhere.
I didn’t know anyone who’d had tattoos there before, so the artists’ skills were completely unknown.
At this point I hadn’t put any thought into how much it might hurt, and to be honest, that didn’t frighten me. I was more concerned with the art being right. If you don’t have enough trust in the artist, you’re going to be more nervous. Tension associated with nerves increases the chances of the body rejecting ink, which in turn makes the tattoo more painful, because the artist has to work the skin harder to force the ink to stay in. More pain means more tension, and this starts a perpetual cycle of nerves and pain, which could only lead to a worse tattoo than you would’ve had if you trusted the artist. I just didn’t have enough confidence in anybody to be willing to let them tattoo me. This was the biggest problem I had when it came to getting tattoos. I’ve seen a lot of bad pieces, and I was not willing to become one of those people.
By now I think you’ll all know that I met my boyfriend at Rock On The Rec, via Enable Youth. We became quite good friends through our similar tastes in music and during one of our conversations I mentioned to him that I was going to get some tattoos done for my 18th. He recommended that I go to 76 Inc as that’s where he and a few other members of Enable Youth had their tattoos from. I’d seen them all by this point, and you could tell from looking that they were well-done. A recommendation was quite reassuring, and having had the opportunity to actually see their work was even more so. I took my sketchbook in to talk to Burnie there, and compared to the other studios I’d been to he was a lot more friendly and open to chat about what I wanted. I showed him the drawing and explained where I wanted them to be placed, and he gave me an idea of how long they would take, and how much it would cost. 76 Inc stood out as being the best studio, so that was where I booked in.
That’s most of the process done. I had to wait until October, which was unbearable, but that was the bulk of the work done. I tried to be patient, and I won’t go into detail about the months that bridged my booking in and my tattooing because they aren’t that relevant. They basically consisted of me bouncing around the house in sheer excitement, looking and sounding a bit like an agitated guinea pig on a pogo stick.
As October 11 grew nearer, word of my new ‘body mods’ began to spread through my family and small circle of friends. That’s when people started talking about how much it would hurt and telling me I should be worried. The amount of times I had to explain why I wanted tattoos is unbelievable. It’s a similar reason to why I dress the way I do, or why I dyed my hair blue when I was in high school. I wanted to. Most people get tattoos to express themselves. Say you like motorbikes, so you wear a T-shirt that has a motorbike motif on the front. That makes perfect sense. Now let’s imagine that you have an emotional attachment to motorbikes (I have no idea why, but let’s go with it). A T-shirt doesn’t express that strongly enough. You might want a tattoo to show how important they are to you. If you love something enough that it feels like it’s a part of you, then why shouldn’t you actually make it a part of you?
There’s something comforting about having a piece of meaningful art with you all the time. My mum had a tattoo done right after me, and she wanted it because it was to represent strength. The design that she settled on was of a Lion, in the shape of a heart, there to reassure her.
I take some comfort in knowing that there are two swallows on my shoulders. If you’re passionate about something and want to express yourself, that’s a reason to get tattoos. That’s why most people do get tattoos. Of course there are a few cretins who think tribal tattoos are a good idea, because they’re fashionable and it’s cool at the time. There’s nothing cool about having an outdated tattoo that doesn’t mean anything to you personally. I hate tribals because they just don’t mean anything. Tattoos should always be about self-expression and individuality. It’s your skin, you can do what you want, and if you want to adorn yourself with artwork to display your creative, unique side, then I say go for it. That’s why I had tattoos.
I never thought much about the pain. I had no idea what it might feel like (and I’ll do my best to explain the reality of it in the next story) but it didn’t scare me. So many people have tattoos, and I just thought, “It can’t be that bad. People wouldn’t get them otherwise.”
The closer it got to my birthday, the more people pushed the idea that it was going to be horrendously painful. Everybody seemed to like reminding me that I was effectively going to have somebody stab me with a needle, repeatedly. I’m not afraid of needles so I don’t know what they were trying to do. Other scare-mongerers told me I might grow to regret them and that they’ll fade. “Well, yeah, that’s the point,” I’d reply. They’re part of me. Of course they’re going to fade. I knew I wasn’t going to regret them because I trusted Burnie and I knew the design was perfect for what I wanted. It’s difficult to explain how I felt, knowing that it would hurt to some extent. I was willing to put myself through whatever it might have felt like. The unknown is always fearful, and that’s just human nature.
I didn’t feel nervous until the very last few minutes. Stood in the tattoo studio, my stomach was knotted and twisted and I felt uneasy. I’d been excited for years, waiting for this day, and as it was happening it all felt so surreal. Was I really there? Overwhelmed by nervous excitement, I stood behind the desk, trying to ignore the zoo I could feel ravaging my insides into an anxious mess. I was suddenly flooded by thoughts and all the comments I’d had about pain came back to me. I don’t fear pain, but I do fear the unknown. I was undoubtedly nervous. I was more excited than I can ever remember being in my life, and don’t misinterpret what I’m saying: I was grinning because I was happy to be there, not because I was nervous and thinking of backing out. That thought never crossed my mind. I was very, very nervous, but I was more excited to start the process.
I was excited to know what it felt like more than I was apprehensive, and I couldn’t wait to finally have the tattoos I’ve wanted for so many years. That was it...
Column by Ruby Hryniszak
Follow Ruby on Twitter, @13eautifulLife.