Progress Shots: Finishing My First Tattoo

Well, it finally happened: I finished my first tattoo.

It’s funny, because all of this started two years ago when I decided I wanted to get a tattoo based off of one of my favorite bands.  Obviously that never happened (and I’m glad it didn’t — it wasn’t a very good idea), and in June of 2016, after another year of considering and ultimately trashing a number of ideas, I started taking the steps towards creating a half-sleeve of flowers instead.  The idea of having something beautiful adorning an area that I considered ugly and damaged was very appealing to me, so I contacted an artist in my area experienced in tattooing over scar tissue.  We bounced ideas back and forth over email for a number of months, and I scheduled a series of appointments for January through March, with the intention of beginning the process after the start of the new year.

Somewhere during the design process, I hit a wall.  I realized that I didn’t really know what I wanted, and I considered the possibility that I was trying to force myself into a decision — to get my arm covered to solve a problem rather than because it was something that I really wanted.  So I cancelled my appointments and went back to square one.

Sometime shortly after that, I stumbled across the tattoo artist who I’d ultimately consult for my tattoo.  Once that happened, it was like the details of my tattoo just fell into place.  His art style adheres closely to the sort of tattoos I like (I’m very fond of black and gray work, with a traditional/neo-traditional influence), and that made it so much easier to envision what I wanted.  I decided I wanted roses, because his are beautiful, and I wound up adding a lantern because it was around this time that I realized I wanted a lot of tattoos, and I thought it would help balance the piece out with whatever I chose to get on my body the future.

It was originally supposed to take only one session.  When I went in for a consultation in December, he was confident that he could do it in one go and that it would only take 3-4 hours.  Last month we wound up splitting it into two sessions — one for line work, the other for shading — because the lantern he designed ended up rather intricate and taking a little longer than expected.

People have asked me a lot since beginning this process what my tattoo means.  The truth is that there are no hard meanings attached to it.  (I could reference some well-known quotes by Frederick Nietzsche and Emily Dickinson, though these were not the inspiration for the piece, and I question whether or not this is too pretentious.)  At the end of the day, I wanted an original piece of art that I could grow with, not something anchored in a particular point in time, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Some personal observations regarding the whole process:

  1. Line work is a hell lot more painful than shading
  2. Shading is a hell lot more exhausting than line work
  3. The Internet was right about tattooing over hypertrophic scar tissue — it’s definitely a more intense experience than regular skin.  It was never unbearable, but there were parts that were difficult to breathe through and hold still for
  4. Also, depending on the type of scar being tattooed over, they will swell during/after the process.  It’s the third day of healing (I was tattooed on Saturday) and the swelling is only just going down
  5. Before I began this journey, I could count on one hand the number of times in the past five years that other people have seen my bare arms.  That count has gone up in recent months, and I’ve never felt less judged for my scars than in that tattoo parlor

And now (finally!) for some pictures, placed under the cut out of respect for those sensitive to photos of self-harm scars as they are still visible through the ink.  I had been planning to dedicate a post solely to the line work and how that healed, but I realized midway through that I wasn’t comfortable posting the pictures — thus the wait.  I think this is better anyhow, as you can see the finished product rather than simply the skeleton.

at the parlor (day 1)

at the parlor (day 1)2
Taken just after finishing up at the tattoo parlor, so as you can see it’s still very swollen and shiny with plasma in the pictures
Taken earlier today (4/10/17), significantly less red and swollen but starting to scab and also getting pretty dry


Total tattooing time: 4 1/2 hours

Sessions: 2

Pain: At best a 3, at worst a 7 depending on how close we got to my inner arm and when going over certain scars.  (We’ll see how I feel about that “7” once I get my sternum/stomach tattooed though…)

Final cost: $480


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