Did they hurt?

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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.


Tattoo aftercare and healing update.

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Around a week ago I finally finished a tattoo on my calf that’s been a work in progress for the last two and a half years, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not my only tattoo, but unique as my only colour tattoo to date. This final session consisted of adding a host of colours to the tattoo: blue, yellow, orange, red, brown, green, and white.

My only anxiety prior to this final session concerned the horror stories I’ve heard of bad reactions to red inks, which thankfully in my case do not apply. In fact, with the exception of blue – unfortunately the most abundant colour in the tattoo (other than black, of course) – all of the colours have settled as beautifully: slight flaking but no excessive scabbing or itching, good going for the first week of healing (generally the most bothersome period, in which a tattoo is at its most vulnerable)!

Since my first tattoo session, about three years ago, I have had great success employing a dry healing method as suggested by the first artist to decorate my skin, as far as I am aware the preferred method in her native Japan. Dry healing has not only been incident free and produced deep and consistent blacks (and will hopefully work as well for the colours), but is about as simple as aftercare comes:

  1. Remove the plastic wrap around 3 to 4 hours after leaving the shop.
  2. Gently wash off any plasma, ink, and blood with warm water and a little unscented antibacterial soap.
  3. Gently pat dry with kitchen roll (or any other disposable paper towel, though the softer the better).
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two or three times a day.

And that’s it! Simple!

Some additional steps I like to take include:

  • Avoiding strenuous exercise involving the tattooed area for the first few days, and ensuring I give the area an extra wash should it get sweaty or dirty.
  • Letting the area breathe as much as possible, leaving it uncovered when at home and wearing loose, soft clothing when outside (which can help prevent the tattoo getting dirty or scratched, and will protect it from the sun).
  • Using clean bedsheets (some people like to use a spare set, as any leaked tattoo ink will never come out).

However, as previously alluded to, my experience with the blue on the other hand has been a little less straightforward. Areas of blue ink have dried out much more than any other tattoo I’ve healed, and today I noticed a couple of small areas had cracked and looked slightly bloodied. Whilst it occurred to me that the cold climate won’t help the dry skin issue, the other colours have settled beautifully and all dryness and damage appears to be limited to blue areas which leads me to believe it may have something to do with my body’s reaction to this specific colour of ink. Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing a bit of moisturiser won’t mend, but only time will tell. And if not, a little touch up should do the trick…