Let’s be honest; it’s hard finding an accurate description of what getting a tattoo is like.
If you ask your friends, they’ll play it up to sound tougher, “It hurt so bad, I almost had to take a break at a couple of points but I made it through. Want to see it again?”
If you ask a parent or aunt/uncle, they’ll play it up to convince you it’s a bad idea, “It’s the worst pain in the world. Imagine thousands of hot pokers stabbing you at once and then being thrown into a fire. Don’t do it.”
I have three tattoos, all in different areas and none of my experiences have been that bad.
First off, tattoos don’t hurt that bad but then again they don’t feel all that great. Let’s just say, they definitely don’t tickle.
My first tattoo is what I call the “Spring-Breaker” because I got it during the last Saturday of my spring break when I was 17-years-old, it’s the size of a stereotypical spring break tattoo (a bit bigger than a golf ball) and it’s a paw print with “Mom” written underneath it.
My second is what I call my “Birthday Present to Myself” tattoo because I paid for it myself and got it done the day before my 19th birthday. I also will jokingly call it my “gang” tattoo because it is a Glock 23 with “Dad” written below the handle.
Which brings us to the third one I call my “Tim Burton” tattoo because everything about it is Tim Burton. A couple Christmases ago my parents bought me The Art of Tim Burton and one image always jumped out at me from one of the love notes Burton had sent to Helena Bonham-Carter. It looked like a shrunken head and I loved it instantly. I had been looking for a long time for a Burton inspired tattoo and knew I had found it but I wanted one of his quotes to go along with it. A Google later and I found it, “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
I made the appointment in February to get the tattoo done in July. Some of you may be wondering why wait? Let me explain something. I have only seen one person for all of my tattoos and plan to continue to see the same woman. Caryl Cunningham, the woman I trust with my dermal canvas, is really good, plain and simple. Not only does she book up quickly but she also travels and does conventions. So making the appointment months in advance in necessary. When I saw her at the end of July, she was already booked through the year and wasn’t taking any more appointments until she gets her calendar for next year.
Talk about being a hot inking commodity.
May I also mention she is one of the coolest people? Very laid back, talented and has so many stories of her customers and her travels.
Back to the matter at hand: pain.
Tattoos, to me, feel like a weird burning mixed with vibration. If it’s your first time, the artist may offer to do a quick line without ink so you know how it feels. Honestly, the outline is nothing and at times it can be easy to forget it’s happening. The shading/coloring in is when you remember you’re paying someone to put a permanent masterpiece on your skin. That part can start off a bit uncomfortable and the more it goes on the seemingly worse it gets. I would compare it to having a raw spot on your skin, like a busted blister, and continually poking it. Depending on the location, said raw spot could hurt more than if it were somewhere else. Anywhere there are nerve endings is where you’ll be wishing you had a tequila drip.
My first tattoo was on my hip and wasn’t bad at all. The worst part was when she colored in around the hipbone. The second tattoo was on my upper leg and toward the end, due to the amount of shading involved, I was ready to time out for a break. The third tattoo was weirdly the most painful. It was softball sized and on my right shoulder so I figured it wouldn’t be as bad as the second.
My guess? I was exhausted and it’s always a poor decision to get anything that could be even mildly painful done when you’re in that state. I had just recently switched to working midnights so I had only gotten about three hours of sleep before leaving for Eternal Tattoos (where Cunningham is located) and I had to work that night as well so this was likely my fault. The good thing was it didn’t take long for her to finish.
But it came out amazing!
I had been worried when I found the image because it looks like Burton had used watercolor paint and I wasn’t sure how Cunningham would feel about trying to recreate it but she told me she was open to just about anything. When we walked in she was finishing up the stencil and making it look like the easiest thing in the world. If I hadn’t been completely at ease before, that definitely put me into my mental Zen.
The really cool part too was the way she covered it. Anyone who has gotten a tattoo before is probably familiar with the plastic covering and tape over your tattoo, you leave it on for a few hours then take it off and proceed to wash and moisturize the fresh ink two-three times a day. Cunningham used a different method and this was my first time with it. She referred to it as a “derm” and it’s used to help treat burn victims by helping to lock in plasma which keeps the tattoo naturally moisturized and also keeps clothing from rubbing against it. The good news is you leave it on for three days and once you take it off your tattoo is healed and all you have to do is survive the peeling phase they all go through.
The downside was how it feels. Because mine was on my shoulder I was nearly constantly aware of it when I tried to fall asleep. Cunningham warned me it would feel weird but I would describe it as a massive bubble that you need to be pop but instead you have to deal and try to get comfortable. The other downside is taking it off. Because of the placement of mine, I knew I would likely need help but Cunningham’s warning is what really made me seek assistance. Instead of pulling the “derm” up like a Band Aide, you have to pull outward parallel to your skin otherwise your skin could come off with it.
May I note she told me this after it was on my body?
Honestly, taking it off wasn’t too bad but my dad, who helped to take it off, kept pulling upward and it caused it to sting. Once it was off, my skin was irritated in the areas surrounding but the actual tattoo felt perfectly fine. A couple days later I entered the itchy/peel-y phase of new tattoos and was so happy when it was over.
All in all, I would say the worse part of tattoo number three was getting the “derm” off and how itchy it was. Seeing as I’m a girl, I think the culprit was my bra strap constantly rubbing against it and making me want to roll around on a floor made of steel wool.