I don’t mean to brag but, when it comes to tattoos, I know a little bit. This might be because since the end of 2015 I have managed to accumulate over 20 of them in varying sizes. It’s true what they say about it being addictive! I even got a loyalty T-shirt from the studio I frequent – I wish I was joking. I didn’t get my first tattoo until my very-late twenties because I have an intense fear of needles. After I took the initial plunge, I felt like a whole new world had been opened up to me. I could now decorate my body the way my emo teenage self had always wanted to.
Before I went in for my first appointment, I was terrified and took to Google to research any and all of the questions I had about what I was about to experience. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot, both from my tattoo artist Gareth Doye of Kak Lucky in Cape Town and from lived experience. Here is what I know now that I wish I knew then:
1 No Pre-Tatt Partying
Any tattoo artist worth their salt will straight-up refuse to tattoo you if you have had a wild night the day before your appointment. Think that masking the scent of booze with copious amounts of chewing gum will work? Think again. Alcohol thins your blood so when your artist gets going and you start squirting blood everywhere, they’ll know. And you’ll be sent on your merry way sans new ink. Not worth it.
2 Forget the Entourage
A lot of people want to take their friends with them on the day for moral support. Don’t be that person. Most tattoo artists are not keen on friends. They often end up having to sit in the waiting room anyway due to lack of space and the immaculate hygiene conditions that have to be maintained. Friends also have a tendency to get in the way or distract the artist. If you want perfect ink, keeping your posse small and well-behaved is crucial.
3 Smart Dresser
When picking your outfit for the big day, consider your tattoo placement and accessibility for your tattoo artist. If you are getting something on your leg, skinny jeans is probably not the best choice as they can’t be rolled up to comfortably expose the skin. Personally, I always go with pyjamas – not only are they comfortable but they are loose enough to roll up when the tattoo is being done and give the area space afterwards.
4 Know Your Skin
The second time I went in to get more ink, I had wanted to get a Roman column on my upper inner arm and was really excited about my placement choice. All hopes were sadly dashed when my tattoo artist told me I couldn’t get it there because of the way skin ages. That area tends to go wrinkly and designs with straight lines would age badly there, so we went with the lower arm along the bone instead. Knowing how your tattoo will move with your skin is also important to avoid nasty surprises once it’s too late.
5 Eats and Drinks
One of the most important things to remember on the big day is to eat a big meal before you go to make sure that your blood sugar doesn’t dip. While my diet is generally quite healthy, when I have an appointment at the tattoo studio I allow myself to buy junk food and fizzy cool drink. This helps to prevent passing out and also makes me feel better. Because when you have loads of tiny needles jabbing you, you need all the comfort you can get.
6 Pop Some Pills
The level of pain you experience while getting a tattoo varies from person to person. I’ve heard that some weirdos love the feeling whereas I need a tranquiliser when getting a simple blood test. While sedation is not available at tattoo studios, some people swear by taking painkillers about an hour before the time with a meal to keep the pain to a minimum. You know what you can use? Numbing cream. Trust me, I tried!
7 Don’t Go with Aunt Flow
When I go to get inked, I generally go and have three done at a time. This might sound extreme but I am convinced that is must be more economical. Most of the time I experience pain (duh) but it’s generally manageable and doesn’t affect other parts of my body. I once made the mistake of making an appointment that coincided with my period. Worst. Idea. Ever. It was a lot more painful and I even experienced light-headedness and nausea. Don’t do it!
8 Look After Yourself
Each studio gives out slightly different aftercare instructions to their clients. Whatever your artist tells you to do or not do, listen to them. This usually consists of them telling you to wash the area gently with scent-free soap once or twice a day and applying a water-based lotion afterwards. One thing all tattoo industry pros agree on is that once new ink starts scabbing, it should NOT be picked or you could ruin your artwork.
9 Don’t Make Plans
Unless they involve lying in bed with Netflix and comfort food, don’t make any plans for the evening just after your appointment. You might think that you’ll be totally fine to hit the town and celebrate with your homies, but aside from the pain and having to look after your new addition, your body goes through a lot while being inked. Chemicals such as adrenaline have been coursing through your body which can leave you totally drained. Stay in, spoil yourself and keep your new tattoo safe – you and your body deserve it.
10 Be Brave
It’s going to hurt, but if you want it enough you can persevere and will be all the more beautiful for it. Strongs!