The number one recommendation I make to people thinking about getting a tattoo is this: Do your homework!
Just like when you were in school. I started getting tattoos in my 20s. Back then, I didn't take research seriously. Now that I'm older and more particular about what I want, before I chose Six Feet Under and Neil Wilson, I spent hours watching tattoo T.V. shows, researching shops, and especially artists. I talked to my friends who have tattoos and to friends who know people who've been tattooed. Word of mouth is the best advertisement there is. You've got to find an artist who shares your aesthetic. After all, it's your body. Neil doesn't mind that I tell him, "I like pretty tattoos!" I selected Six Feet Under (in Upland, Ca) and Neil after researching about a dozen other shops and artists. It's clean, and I feel safe there. No worries about getting sick. Upland is an 80 mile drive from my house, and I've made the trip gladly 3 times.
Next, it's important to have a good idea of the tattoo design and body location you want.
I called the shop for an appointment and got Neil's email address. A week ahead of my appointment, I emailed random images I found on the internet that I liked. None was the exact design I wanted, but they were an important launching off point for Neil to work with. We also had a phone call. I mentioned in the call I wanted to add a butterfly and a dragonfly. He was happy to make those changes. It's good to be flexible too, though. You're working with an artist. He or she may have unique ideas that could add a lot to your design or they may say some facet of your idea won't work. It's important to listen and accept this feedback. I asked Neil if people ever come to him with no idea whatsoever of the style of tattoo or design they are interested in. He said virtually never. It's a collaborative effort.
During the planning phase, remember to talk to your artist about location. Getting a tattoo hurts, people. A lot. But some places–like the top of the feet, the ribcage–hurt much more than others.
Neil used the ideas I sent him to come up with this preliminary beauty.
Don't be afraid to ask for changes.
After I got to the shop and got an in-person look at Neil's drawing, I decided I wanted my dragon's face to look more sad. This tattoo is a tribute to my dead mom. She was an Aquarius, and my daughter and I are both fire signs. I thought a water dragon would be a cool combination of the two themes. Neil liked the idea, too. Here, he is working on the eyes to give me the dragon I want. A good artist wants to make you happy!
Bring something to do.
There will be some wait time as your artist draws or makes changes to your design. Also, as a gesture of good will, it doesn't hurt to bring a treat. There's a bakery around the corner from Six Feet Under, so I dropped in and bought a dozen cake pops. A happy artist is not a hungry artist!
Speaking of hungry: Make sure you hydrate and don't show up with an empty tummy.
The pain of getting a tattoo is stressful on your body. Eat a healthy meal ahead of time and drink plenty of water. If you forget to bring some, ask for it. A good shop will have cold water on hand.
Once you decide on a shop, choose an artist, make an appointment (which can take months), review a design, decide on placement and have agreed upon the drawing–you are ready to go! Phew. (Pre-planning and doing your homework can save you time, money and pain at every step of this process.)
Time to be shaved. All those pesky arm hairs have to be removed for placement of the stencil and for the tattooing process itself.
After the stencil is applied, if you don't like the location–Say so!
Again, a good artist wants you to be happy. Even if you want the location changed only a little bit, that's okay. Make sure you take the time to take a good look in the mirror.
Here I am checking location in the mirror. Since my stencil was on the back underside of my arm, I needed the mirror to get a good look.
Before, during and after your tattoo experience–Don't forget to enjoy your surroundings!
These people are artists. There's all kinds of cool stuff to look at. Most of us don't go to tattoo shops all the time, so remember to check it all out while you're there.
You're ready to go. Here's Neil, checking the instruments of the trade.
If you're not comfortable–Say so!
Tattoos of a decent size take a while. Because Neil was tattooing the underside of my arm, the most comfortable position was for me to lay on my stomach on a table. This brings up another point. Dress comfortably too. As I've mentioned, getting a tattoo hurts. You'll want to be wearing comfortable clothes. Plus, if you'll be laying on a table and rolling around, you don't want to have to worry about anything hanging out from under a skirt or falling out of a flimsy top etc. As you can see, I even removed my earrings. Also, it's nice to have something to take your mind off the pain. Music. Amazon prime. I happen to be sensitive to the vibrational pitch of the tattoo machine. I wished I had earplugs.
If you need a break, ask for one!
Right around the time Neil finished the outline I needed to go to the bathroom, so we took a 15 minute break. The outline hurts. It was perfect timing to stop for a little while. Here's what the outline looked like.
After the break, we settled in and headed toward the finish line. Neil ended up tattooing me for a little over 3 hours this day, but didn't finish. I'll head back for a second appointment after I heal. You can go back as quickly as a couple of weeks. Neil estimated we've got another 3 hours of work left.
Make sure you know what proper care of your new tattoo entails and then follow the instructions!
There's nothing that will drive an artist crazy faster than a person not taking proper care of their work. You need to wash the area and apply Aquaphor twice a day as directed. Then you apply a simple cream, like Lubriderm, for a couple of weeks. No sun or salt water for 2 weeks either! Here's the finished product as of the end of the first session. I can't wait to go back for the touches of color and further detail that will really make this tattoo pop!