First things first: no two tattoos will feel the same. A myriad of factors affect the sensations one feels when getting tattooed: your pain threshold, the placement of the tattoo, how heavy-handed the artist is, how far into the session you are, whether you are getting linework or shading done (or both), how well fed and rested you are, and how much you really want the tattoo amongst other things.
Tattoos are the result of a needle injecting ink around a millimeter deep through the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) into the dermis (the second layer), where the inks remain. This process repeats 50 to 3000 times every minute (if you are using an electric tattoo gun), with anywhere between 1 and 15 needles or so at a time – thus puncturing the skin anywhere up to 45000 times a minute or so.
My tattoo experiences so far have been overwhelmingly positive. I have been tattooed by two artists for a total of around 14 hours, and have honestly loved the experiences from start to finish. My excitement begins at the initial consultation and booking the first session of a new piece, building until each session, and climaxing at first sight of the finished piece. But the pleasure I take from my tattoos did not stop there: I spend hours looking at my tattoos, taking in their every detail, running my hands over them and marvelling at the notion that these artworks are now a part of me, and always will be. Both of my artists – the wonderfully gifted Kanae of Ninetails Tattoo, who I have to thank for the gorgeous dragon and cherry blossom piece wrapped around my lower leg, extending from knee to ankle, and the very talented India Amara, who decorated my elbow with a mandala while guesting at The Family Business – are not only phenomenal artists and consummate professionals but also very kind people. I cannot stress enough how much this has enhanced my tattoo experiences.
As for the pain, I have always had a pretty good pain tolerance, and getting tattooed has been no different; I always go into sessions painkiller free (some people also claim their blood-thinning effects may result in excessive bleeding and affect how the work will heal, though I have no experience with this) and completely sober (unsurprising given I drink no alcohol at all, and don’t take drugs), and I am yet to feel anything more than a mild discomfort. The only exception to this has been getting tattooed on my ulnar nerve, otherwise known as the funny bone. This single spot sent shooting pains, somewhat similar to an electric shock, up the inside of my arm, through my ribs on that side of my body, and up my neck. But each pass over this area was over in seconds, so by the time the pain had been registered it was gone.
In fact, between chatting about music and travel and life, I have entered a peaceful and meditative state during my last two sessions on my leg, in which the discomfort vanishes and my mind feels clear and totally at rest – once even briefly dozing off. This is not surprising as it is well documented that meditation can reduce physical pain, and many cultures incorporate seemingly painful processes into meditative and spiritual practices. I do not consider myself to be a particularly spiritual person, but to me, for whatever reason, getting tattooed just feels right.