I recently got my second tattoo. My brother and I have been wanting to get tribute tattoos in memory of our father, and about two months ago, we made it happen.
My acorn is on my left wrist.
Zach's acorn is on his left forearm.
Our tattoos were inspired by a sketch of an acorn, found in one of my dad's old sketchbooks. The acorn was a fitting metaphor for the way we were raised-- in a farmhouse in the forest, free to learn and grow in the most nurturing environment we could ever have asked for. I wanted to add an oak leaf to mine, to symbolize the potential that is created when the acorn is cared for as lovingly as my brother and I were cared for. Zach wasn't sure if he wanted a leaf, but when our amazing artist did a sketch of how it could look, he decided to go for it, too.
This was my second tattoo-- the first was a tiny green sewing button on my ankle, which I got right before I graduated from FIT. Tattoos are fascinating to me-- there are as many different tattoo styles as their are tattoo artists. As an introvert, tattoos are also a great way to connect with people. I don't like small talk, but it's often hard to find a natural way to move straight to 'big talk.' Most people are excited to talk about their tattoos, and they often reveal a lot about the person, their past experiences, and what they value in life. It's a way to connect on a deeper level than talking about the weather or tv shows, but it doesn't feel overwhelmingly personal and intrusive.
Alright, so now that you've heard a little bit about my experience with tattoos, I'd like to share some tips for if you're thinking about getting some ink of your own! (Do people still call it 'ink?' Is that passé? I still like it, it sounds thoughtful and slightly old-fashioned. I'm going with it.)
-Find an artist whose work inspires you.
Since this is a piece of art that will be on your body for the rest of your life, it's super important to feel confident in your artist! My button tattoo was done by Wendi Koontz at Rising Dragon Tattoo, who has now moved back to Ohio and started her own shop, South Water Studios!
These photos of Wendi's work, courtesy of the South Water Studios Facebook page
, are indicative of my taste in tattoo artists-- I go for delicate, precise lines and gentle shading, and I like when an artist has a strong portfolio of botanical work since that's my preferred subject matter.
My brother and I got our acorn tattoos from Rachel Hauer, from East River Tattoo
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I've been following Rachel's work for a couple years, and her work has this gorgeous, organic quality which I just love. These are a few snaps from her instagram
(which is super inspiring and you should definitely follow her!).
-Be clear about what you want.
When you go in for your consultation, bring reference images and have a thorough discussion with your artist. If you're getting a bird, bring in a photo of the kind of bird that you'd like, preferably in a similar position. This is especially true for ideas that need to have scientific accuracy. For instance, if you want to get a tattoo of a particular kind of plant, make sure to bring in enough photos to cover both the overall look and the smaller details like leaf shape or petal curvature. The research is part of your job, not part of the artist's job. The process will be much smoother if you're able to give your artist a clear idea of what you're looking for! With that said, though, try not to bring in photos of a different artist's tattoos-- it's a sure way to get off on the wrong foot with your artist. Nobody wants to try to make their work look like someone else's and if you've chosen an artist whose style speaks to you, you should have confidence in their ability.
-Consider whether the tattoo placement you've imagined will work with your lifestyle.
This one might seem obvious, but if you work in a very conservative office environment, where there is still some stigma attached to having a tattoo, consider whether you will easily, comfortably be able to cover it up. I'm lucky enough to work in a creative field where tattoos are completely acceptable, but it's definitely something to keep in mind.
Ok, so you've chosen an amazing artist and had a great consultation. Here are my tips for the big day!
-Take two Tylenol 30 minutes before your appointment.
Everyone's pain tolerance is different, but if you're at all concerned about the pain of getting a tattoo, try taking two Tylenol or other acetaminophen painkiller half an hour before your appointment. It's really important that you don't take aspirin or an aspirin-based painkiller, though, because those will thin your blood and make your tattoo bleed more both during and after your appointment. Honestly, I'm kind of a wuss (as in, I literally cry if I have to get blood drawn), but a few minutes into the tattoo, endorphins kick in and it isn't too bad. But the endorphins don't last for the entire duration of the tattoo, and it does help to have some back-up.
-If you are squeamish at all, don't watch while the artist works on your tattoo.
Obviously, this means you need to trust your tattoo artist-- which you should anyway because, hi, they are using a needle to put permanent marks on your body. I am an extremely squeamish person, but I have no problem getting tattooed because I don't watch while it's happening. I like the before and the after-- but not the 'during' stage. I prefer to look up at the ceiling, take deep, calming breaths, and get 'in the zone' for lack of a better term. It can also help if you have a friend with you to keep you distracted! I'm so glad my brother and I were there to distract each other during our recent tattoo appointment. And it didn't hurt that East River Tattoo has the cutest little dog with distractingly adorable antics.
Yay, you have a beautiful tattoo! Now what?
-Follow your artist's instructions!
Your tattoo artist will most likely tell you to wash your tattoo two to three times a day with antibacterial soap, then to apply a healing salve like Aquaphor. Make sure to follow your artist's instructions! If your artist tells you to keep your tattoo away from any abrasive surfaces, like shirt sleeves or jeans, for crying out loud, take it seriously. If your artist tells you to keep your tattoo out of the sun (which they probably will), listen to what they suggest. These things sound small and nit-picky, but it's absolutely worth it to deal with a few little inconveniences in order to have a beautiful piece of art on your body forever.
-Your first night with your tattoo: how to avoid ruining your sheets.
Ok, so this is a little gross, but you will still have some excess ink and various yucky body-healing substances sneaking out of your new tattoo by the time you're ready to go to bed. To be totally practical here, wear dark pajamas that won't cover your tattoo and keep air from circulating. Put some dark colored sheets on your bed. Make sure to gently but thoroughly wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap-- don't scratch or scrub, obviously, but make sure that nothing is scabbing up. You need to make sure that you don't have extra plasma (ew!) on your tattoo, which could cause it to scab and lose some of your color or line definition. When it's all clean, pop some Aquaphor on it and gently rub it in. You only need a thin layer, no need to goop it on! I have the unique gift of staying completely still
in my sleep, so rolling around isn't too much of a problem for me, but if you do roll around a lot, try to position yourself in a way that will be the least abrasive on your tattoo. For instance, when I got my acorn tattoo on my left wrist, I kept my left arm on top of my covers and the rest of my body underneath them, so that i didn't rub it in my sleep.
-After two to three days, switch to a lighter lotion.
Aquaphor is perfect for the first two or three days-- it gives your tattoo a jump-start on the healing process. After that, though, it can be a little too heavy and sticky for routine moisturizing. I like to use Aveeno's fragrance-free lotion because it's light, doesn't clash with my perfume, and keeps the skin over your tattoo feeling supple.
-Love your new tattoo and take other people's opinions of it with a grain of salt.
Assuming your tattoo came out just how you hoped, you're probably going to hope that everyone who sees it will be just as excited about it. They might not be. Some people will have different aesthetic preferences from yours, and some people just don't like tattoos in general. And some people have no problem expressing their opinion, regardless of whether you asked for it. (My personal favorite was being told that 'young ladies shouldn't have tattoos' by a stranger in line at Walgreens. Because obviously women's bodies are public property and should be commented on at every opportunity. But that's a different discussion.) Your opinion of your new tattoo is the only one that matters. If you're thrilled with it, don't let someone else's feelings sway you.
I hope you've enjoyed a little peek into my tattoo experiences, and I hope that this post has helped you a bit if you're in the process of getting your own tattoo! I'd love to hear about your experiences and tips!