Monday, December 07, 2009

How to Get a Tattoo

There are three keys to getting a tattoo:

1. Being certain you want one.

2. Choosing the right image.

3. Choosing the right tattoo artist.

Let's start at the beginning.

1. Being certain you want a tattoo

When I was eleven, I got a tattoo. It was appalling. It was a stylised
drawing of a Chinese Fu Manchu sort of dude wearing a hat. Terrible
artwork. And the 16-year-old dude who did the needlework was really
just incompetent.

When I was in Grade 9, I used a scalpel to try and cut the tattoo out.
I hated it so much. When I was in first year varsity, I tried again to
remove it. What was left was an inky stain with scarring that looked
like a mutant birthmark.

So why did I choose to get a PROPER tattoo late in my thirties?

Well... I'm older. More mature. Have a much better artistic sense. And
an appreciation of individuality.

I've yearned over the years to get something to cover up the mutant
both-job. But I've always had the fear that I'd want to scalpel the
thing out again. I wanted to be certain that if I DID cover the old
tatt, it would HAVE TO be something I could live with and be proud of.

I came up with a deeply ironic and hilarious design. It took the form
of a clothes-label badge that said: 'LEFT ARM: Property of Roy
Blumenthal'. (I'm Roy Blumenthal, just so you're clear.)

A company I do freelance work for is filled with dudes who have
tattoos. They're called MISSING LINK. And they make presentations that
aren't boring.

I showed them my design, and they went crazy. One of them said, 'If
you get that tatt, we'll hire you more often!'

I was going to get the tatt anyway. But that pushed me over the edge.

I scouted a few tatt artists. But all of them looked at the scarring
of the old one from my youth and said, 'Nope. The ink won't hold in
that.'

So I redesigned the tatt for my right arm. And went to one of the most
reputable tatt parlours in Joburg: KEVIN'S KUSTOM TATTOOS, and had the
three artists laughing their heads off.

A few years later, the MISSING LINK dudes brought a tatt artist to
Joburg from Cape Town. And I got my second tattoo. It totally covers
my old mutilated scar, and is in the form of a phoenix rising from the
flames. (The image is a double-image: in the negative space you can
see a bold question mark.)

Do you really want a tattoo? Really realllllly? Sure it's not just
about some perceived 'cool'? Are you willing to live with a permanent
addition to your body? Are you willing to accept that your body image
WILL change one way or another?

2. Choosing the right image.

Once you KNOW a tattoo is right for you, you need to find the right
image. Something you won't get tired of. Something that is you now,
and years and years and years from now.

Dig deep into your essence to find out what your anchor is in the world.

Be sure that you're looking INTERNALLY, not externally. You might
THINK that Jesus or Black Sabbath or The Jonas Brothers DEFINE you
now. But that's deeeeeeply unlikely to pervade after three decades.
Simply put... Our beliefs change. No matter how we cling to them NOW.

In my case, my two tatts represent aspects of my true self. I'm
someone who delights in the ambiguity that irony creates. So my 'Right
Arm' tatt will always be funny. Even if one day it has to be
amputated. Cos the doctors will get a laugh.

The phoenix/question mark tatt represents two major aspects of my
being. I question everything. I'm a life-long learner. The fact that
the question mark is hidden at first in the image shows the value of
probing. I am also a perpetual reinventor of myself. The phoenix is a
bird that transforms when needed. It overcomes hardship. It revels in
the flames.

What defines you? Internally? What are your most solid values? These
are the things I suggest you look to when choosing an image.

Where to find a pic? Well... The internet is the best starting point.
Start collecting pics that resonate with you in a folder somewhere. A
great starting point is Flickr. Or Google Images. Also, go to tattoo
shops. Look at the flash on their walls. But remember that flash is
NOT unique to you.

Print all of your reference pics to take with you in your search.
Something will emerge.

3. Choosing the right tattoo artist.

In my case, I've had three tattoo artists working on my skin.

The first was not an artist. He was a juvenile delinquent. And I
almost became a juvenile delinquent cos of his work on my arm. I was
deeply ashamed of the mark, and never wore short sleeves until I'd
hacked the ink out with a knife.

The second was a competent inker. But she wasn't an artist. My 'Right
Arm' tatt is okay. But nothing glorious.

The third artist is the one I'll go back to for my next tatt. He's an
actual artist. And he helped interpret my finished artwork into a
mighty tatt.

His name is Marcus van der Tuin from Metal Machine in Cape Town.

My advice to you? Find a tatt artist who is passionate about tattoos
and art. Ask to see tatts he or she has done. Ask to see the original
artworks they used as reference. All of the good tatt artists are
proud of what they do. They take photos. They care. And they're not
offended by people asking questions.

This ink will be on and in your body for the rest of your life. EVEN
OF YOU LASER IT OUT. Choose wisely.

I hope this helps you.

Enjoy your journey. Don't rush. And be certain.

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