Easy Guide to Getting Your First Tattoo: Part 2

Oct 18, 2011 by

Tattoos: a mini intro

Getting Your First Tattoo

If you’ve booked in to get a tattoo, or you’re thinking about it, but you’ve got no idea about what to expect in the studio, read on!

This is the second in a two-part article about what to expect when you decide to get your first tattoo; I’ll cover the basics of what it’s like from walking in the door, to going home with your lovely new ink. The procedure at your shop may vary somewhat, but this information is based on my experiences in the shops I have worked at.

…stencils, waivers and designs, oh my!

When you show up for your tattoo, if you haven’t already had a consult with the artist, this is probably one of the first things that will happen. The tattooist who is going to be tattooing you will discuss with your your chosen design, where it’s going to be placed and how big it’s going to be. Once they sort out the important details with you, then the tattooist has to make a stencil off the design; this involves tracing an outline of your design over carbon paper, later on this serves as a guideline on your skin.

At some stage when you first enter the shop, also, you’ll be asked to sign a liability waiver form. In general, these could ask a few questions such as how old you are, whether you’ve had any alcohol, have taken drugs, are on medication and commonly if you have haemophilia (an inherited disorder where blood doesn’t clot; in this scenario, a tattoo could be life-threatening, so it’s an important question we need to ask). You’ll also have to sign and date stating you understand the risks, aren’t providing false information and are of legal consenting age for getting a tattoo, based on your local laws.

Once the legal bits and pieces are taken care of and your design is stencilled, you’ll be called over to the tattooist’s ‘chair’; this is their area in the shop and contains all manner of items used in the tattooing process. This can be from inks to disposables (like razors, and bags) to bottles containing cleaning alcohol and soapy water, lubricants such as vaseline, tubes, needles and machines.

Before the stencil gets placed, your tattooist will have to clean and shave the area on your skin where the tattoo is going. This keeps things sanitary, stops hairs from gumming up the needle and helps the stencil adhere cleanly. The artist will then get you to stand up straight and even, and apply the stencil to the cleaned and shaven skin using a sticky substance. You’ll then be able to see a shiny blue outline of your design sitting on your skin- this is what helps the artist know where to tattoo.* The stencil does not actually become part of the tattoo, it may leave some traces around your skin but is only sitting on the surface, and completely disappears over the next few days every time you wash.

…time to take a seat

Now you get to sit in the chair! Don’t freak out though, the anticipation is far worse than the actual event; remember that the needles only penetrate the skin by a few millimetres… I bet you’ve had injuries far worse than that before. Many tattoos will hardly even bleed, if at all- and if they do, it stops pretty quickly. What’s it feel like? This is hard to answer as everyone has a different experience, and I can tell you myself that different artists will tattoo you differently, and skin barely a few centimetres apart can register pain differently! So it’s useless trying to tell you what it might feel like for you, but the best analogy I’ve been able to come up with is that it generally feels like being scratched on a sunburn. Not pleasant, obviously, but not as horrifying as everyone expects!

So you’ll be asked to sit, or lay down, or get into some amusingly interesting position that will make the process easier for the artist – and hopefully not too uncomfortable for you – but don’t worry, you’ll be able to take breaks if you get sore or uncomfortable. The most important thing now is to stay nice and still, don’t make any sudden movements without warning the tattooist, because it’s really difficult for the artist to be using a big heavy vibrating ‘pen’ that dribbles ink everywhere without having their canvas jerking and moving constantly. If you can stay as still as possible, it’ll give your artist the best chance at creating beautiful straight lines on you.

Hopefully during the process your artist will explain to you what he/she is doing, show you the sterile needles, and put you at ease if you have concerns or worries. If you get faint, lightheaded or nauseous, it’s important to tell the tattooist, so they can stop for a while until you recover. Tattooing is a very different experience, so don’t feel bad if this happens to you, it’s pretty common (I had no idea people could actually turn green until I became a tattooist…). You’ll just be asked to take a break, and get a drink or something to eat, and when you feel better, you can resume.

…it’s all over!

Once the tattoo is done, the artist will probably dress or bandage it lightly and provide you with aftercare instructions. These differ from shop to shop, so it’s really important to listen carefully and get written instructions to take home with you. Don’t, for the love of all that is inky, consult Dr Google; if you forget what you’re meant to be doing, call your artist. If it gets infected, call a doctor. Tattoo shops can’t dispense antibiotics nor diagnose, so don’t bother calling them if it starts to look nasty!

Also, aftercare is vital to keeping your tattoo looking great. It’s reasonably hard to pull that ink back out once it’s in, but I’ve seen many clients successfully manage it. Common issues we see are lack of hygiene, clothing or jewellery rubbing on the tattoo, picking and scratching, minor infections and sun/ocean exposure. Again, take your artist’s advice seriously, as they probably won’t touch it up for free (and get kinda narky at you) if you show up with it looking bad. However if you find after a few weeks there is some colour loss and you do need a touch-up, most shops are pretty obliging… don’t be worried if this happens as everyone has really different skin, and some areas are harder to tattoo than others… It’s just part of the game.

…your new tattoo!

So that’s it! Your tattoo should take 3-6 weeks to fully heal depending on where it is located, and after that, you just need to keep it from sun exposure and it’ll look awesome for a really long time. If you have any questions, need something fixed, or want advice, just call your tattooist back and they will be happy to help you out.

Now go enjoy your new tattoo!


*Occasionally, an artist won’t use a stencil but instead employs a method called ‘freehand’ where they will take a new pen and draw straight onto your skin. This can be used alone or in conjunction with the stencil method. Freehanding is not practised as commonly as stencilling, as it’s often not necessary and would not be of benefit – but, there are some artists who use it exclusively.
Make sure you talk to your artist about what method they are comfortable using, and listen to their advice.

Joy, Division!





1 Comment

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