Ginger Pop: Nerd Guide to Ink

As Katie shared yesterday, she and I had a fab weekend of girl time that included Margaret Atwood, tacos, recycled books, and yes, tattoos. Some people are surprised when they learn that I have a tattoo (this new one is my second). After all, I’m a dorky English teacher. What’s up with that?

My first tattoo (which is on my upper back) was procured when I was 21 years old. I remember leaving the Sunset Strip tattoo parlor and plotting my next ten tattoos. They are, as I’m sure everyone knows, highly addictive. It was for that reason that I waited over ten years to get my second. That first foray into body art was not just a tattoo: it was a celebration of a time in my life. I have never regretted it. This recent addition was not a spontaneous event–I had been plotting for months to get this specific one. Although I pondered getting more, I decided to keep it simple. For those who are considering tattoos, here are a few small pointers that while they may be nerdy, will save you from inking something you’ll hate later.

  1. Research. Someone always knows a friend of a friend who happens to be a tattoo artist. Bully for them. Don’t select an artist just to do someone a favor. Talk to people who have tattoos that are well-done. Ask around and read reviews. Pricing may be important to you, but marking your body is not the time to look for a good deal as opposed to a good artist. Ask to see samples of the person’s work (not images they CAN DO; images they HAVE DONE). Visit the actual place in advance if possible. Make sure it’s clean and legal. Sit down with the artist and talk about what you want, where you want it, and discuss your price points. If an artist isn’t willing to do all of those things in advance, s/he isn’t worth your time.
  2. More research. If you want to put any sort of symbol or foreign word on your person, don’t just stop with the aesthetic. Make sure you actually find out what it means. Nothing is lamer than realizing that gorgeous Chinese symbol you thought meant “Brave” actually means “Hemorrhoids.”
  3. Think forward. Will you be ashamed to show your tattoo (and explain it) to your grandparents and your future grandchildren? If so, maybe it’s not something you want forever. Also, when selecting placement, thinking about where things will stretch or sag the most as you age. I’ll say right now that I think girls should never get anything on their stomachs or hips if there is even the slightest chance they’ll get ever get pregnant.
  4. Test It Out. This tip was inspired by the lovely Susan Shaw, Katie and Erin’s mother. Draw something similar to what you want where you want it in sharpie. Wear it around for a few weeks to see if you get tired of it.
  5. Don’t Drink. The temptation might be to throw back a few before you go under the needle, but that’s a good way to get into trouble. You are permanently altering your body. That seems like an important time to have your wits about you.
  6. Proof.  If you are planning a phrase or even a single word, draft it out and then triple check for spelling and punctuation. Then have someone else check it. And then someone else. When Katie and I went to get ours, I actually took the book the quote came from with us (I don’t think it’s too assumptive to presume it was the first thing with a Booker Prize Winner sticker on it that had entered the shop). After we typed it into the computer, I proofed it, Katie proofed it, and the artist proofed it. We checked probably about ten times between us to make sure the spelling was correct. Overkill? Not in my opinion. I’m not going to be the girl with “This to shall pass” forever emblazoned on my foot.
  7. Last Call. Both times I’ve had tattoos the artist has done an ink transfer before beginning. Make sure your artist does this. Look at it in the mirror, from different angles. Check the spelling again. If you have any doubts, whether placement or second thoughts, let yourself think it through. It is not rude or inappropriate to ask the artist to move it (as Katie did), resize, or let you rethink it. Tattoos hurt and they are permanent. An extra five minutes to make sure this is exactly what you want is the least you can give yourself.