So I have 3 tattoos, done by 3 different shops. And while I love each one, I do have thoughts and feelings on each experience and things I have learned along the way through my tattoo journey. I am not claiming to be an expert and I still have A LOT to learn in the ways of tattoos, but I have learned quite a bit and wanted to share my tips and experiences from the tattoos that I do have. I want to share the ups and downs, dislikes and likes, and mistakes I have made in getting tattoos. This will be a 3 part blog post as there is a lot to talk about with each shop and tattoo that I visited/have. This will be a fairly long blog post as well, I have a lot say about my first tattoo.
My first tattoo:
My first tattoo is one I love a lot but also one that I am not as found of. I was 19 when I got this one and quite honestly just wanting a tattoo in general. While I did think a lot about what I wanted, I feel like if I had waited a little longer I would of learned more and came to a more decisive decision on what I wanted and not just gotten something for the sake of having a tattoo.
First off, I was living in Chicago at the time when I did get this tattoo so I had pretty good options for getting tattoos. But me being me, and being young and naive I went and walked into tattoo shops, showed them my design and asked how much. There will be more on the design later. This in itself is not a bad thing, especially since I could give the shops a solid design and how large I was wanting it and the placement(I knew right away I wanted this on my hip, bold placement for a first tattoo). But I have since learned it can be a little rude to basically tattoo hop and find the cheapest price. Plus you might now always want the cheapest anyways. The piece was small enough and simple enough that it qualified for the base price. So I basically just walked into tattoo shops and went off price and how fast they were able to fit me in. I have since learned, contacting before hand is probably best, and while I didn’t just hear the minimum price and go “no thanks” and leave I could of had a little more tact in the ways of walk in tattoos. I was also with a friend who had several tattoos and was experienced in the ways of getting tattoos so I think that helped me to be a little less rude than some people are in the situation of tattoo shop hopping. This isn’t to say that you CAN’T walk in and ask the questions that you want and get what you need. You should ask questions and get exactly what you want in the way of permeant body art, but I led the shop owners to believe I would be back but instead found a place that was cheaper and cancelled on them when they did call and say they now had time for me. When getting tattoos learn to have some patience, and also go with the person with the best portfolio not just with the best price.
Now onto the design. I was new to this, and what little I did know of tattoos I learned from a friend in high school who designed her brothers tattoo. She told me that tattoo shops would not accept printed off pictures so she had to draw his up, and proceeded to trace a picture she found online. So honestly, I didn’t know that tattoo stealing was even a thing. So when I was looking for inspiration for my tattoo, I knew kind of what I wanted and looked on Pinterest for a design I liked and was inspired by. I already knew before I began looking what I wanted. I wanted the word AGAPE (geek word for one of the many definitions of love; commonly referred to as God love because it is the most powerful or intimate love. Usually refer to love for children, spouse etc.) with some type of inclusion of the ichthys (the fish symbol tied to Christianity) and I knew I wanted it in black and white. So what I did was go onto Pinterest and find exactly what I wanted and I redrew it so I could take it in. I didn’t have access to printing so I couldn’t just outright trace it. While I didn’t steal something already tattooed, as it was just a picture (still not an excuse however), and I didn’t just trace the design I still found a design online and used that. There wasn’t a link to who originally drew it or any connection to the artist either so in all honesty I couldn’t have tracked down where it even came from. I have since learned that this is not the best way to go about tattoo designs, in reality I should of taken the original in and asked for them to design something similar or tell them what I would want. I didn’t realize until much later on that this could be potential theft. And while tattoos like mine are classified as tattoos like a heart or infinity symbol and are common and can’t really be changed it’s something that sticks with me.
I went to the Royal Flesh tattoo shop in Chicago, IL. The tattoo shop I went to was incredibly nice though, and while I didn’t have anything to compare it too I was very pleased with the price, the service and how the tattoo turned out. We ended up changing a few more things on the tattoo and making it nicer/cleaner to be tattooed. I was tattooed by an apprentice, he was super nice and did a really decent job especially since I paid 65$ for the tattoo. I did tip pretty well too, though I can’t remember exactly what I gave as a tip.
After care and many years later is a little bit of a different story however. I was young, again I cannot stress this enough. This was my first, against I cannot stress THIS fact enough, and I honestly had no clue. Each shop has slightly different directions but the basics are wash the area gently about 3 times a day with NON scented soap and lotion up to 5 times a day with NON scented lotion. Each shop will tell you what brand they believe works best and each shop has different instructions for how long to leave it bandaged. So this shop told me to leave the bandage on for like 4-6 hours I believe and wash with a bar soap and gave me a brand of lotion they thought was best. I can’t remember exactly the brand but I have since learned aquaphor works pretty well for tattoos. (again I am NO expert so do not hold me to that, that is just what helped my other tattoos heal and they turned out way better than the first one years later).
I have had this tattoo for 4 years, I got it in 2014 in the spring. So at this point it’s been around a while and has had some sun damage and general wear. I picked at it while it healed, which made it patchy. So don’t do that. At some point I need to go get it touched up. It also has blown out some in the lettering, especially where it is thinner. Which is quite common especially in thinner lined tattoos. While I still really love this tattoo a lot, I do regret being so naive about tattoos at the time. And if I had a re-do I would probably ask to see examples of work and pick someone based off of work and not price. I also wasn’t told that thin lines can blow out and fade, so some more research on my part would have been better. There isn’t really a way to know if it’s because of who tattooed my or the price but maybe if I paid a little more and gotten done by someone who had more experience the lettering wouldn’t have blown out. It could also just be the placement (on my hip) or how badly I cared for it.
All in all, I love this tattoo and it means a lot to me. It’s a great reminder and has a deep meaning in my life. Did I do things a little unconventional? Yes. most likely. I should of asked for a custom design from the shop, and while I picked a tattoo known as common and re-drew it myself to the best of my abilities (thank goodness for tattoo shops being able to clean up drawings) it would have been much nicer to tell them what I wanted and get something custom. Had a done this with someones actual tattoo and ripped off a custom design I would feel much worse about myself but I have since learned a little more tattoo etiquette. I encourage anyone looking for tattoos to get their ideas from other tattoos but bring in what you want and get something custom made or have someone custom draw the design for you. It’s not a huge matter with popular tattoos like hearts, stars, infinity signs, deathly hallows etc because that is a flat design that no one can customize really. But for something like a pretty detailed piece that you love, get your own custom design based off the design.
I have also never shared this design before online, ever. Mostly because my parents didn’t know at the time (heck they still don’t know about this particular tattoo) that I had gotten it done so I never shared it. Not many people know I got this done. Also partly because when I began to realize tattoo theft was a thing I was still unsure if mine qualified as such. However, while I could of done things better I don’t think I ripped off anyones actual tattoo and I think about it like this; if someone wants this design then they are welcome to it. My other tattoos though have deeper and more personal meanings and are uniquely designed for me so they better stay mine and only mine. This tattoos in itself is a very common design and not like a unique piece designed my another artist in shop.
Also, disclaimer, I know that this tattoo healed fairly poorly and that is 100% my fault. I picked at it way too much and made it fade and look patchy. At some point I will get this touched up and fixed so it’s not so faded and patchy looking. The tattoo shop did a wonderful job and the only blame here can be placed on me. Blow outs do happen, especially on something that small with that tiny of lettering. I still love it and honestly it could look much worse considering how much I picked at it. DO NOT PICK TATTOOS! I beg you, just don’t.
All in all I think I learned a lot from this experience, and while I don’t regret getting this particular design I know I could have improved my experience. If you are looking to get your first tattoo definitely do A LOT of research, look at reviews and look up you tubers who have gotten a lot of tattoos like treacle tatts, qcknd and katrin berndt who just have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of stories and tips to share.
If you have a first story feel free to share with me, I would love to know other peoples experiences. If you have any other questions about my first time, feel free to ask me and contact me. Please keep comments kind, I was rather young and naive and didn’t know all of the etiquette that went along with tattoos. I have since learned and changed my tactics and am in no way advocating my behavior either. I just wanted to share my experience and what I have learned. Look for part 2 in the near future.
Cover image used from pixabay free images