Advice, from an idiot, for anyone thinking about getting their first tattoo

Recently, I got my first tattoo. That’s it there, at the top of the page. It’s on the inside of my left arm and I’m very happy with it. Before I got it, I did a fair bit of research via the Internet. This was something of a pain because I had to wait for the Internet to be invented first, because it was 1992 when I decided to get one.

There is a lot of advice on the net about getting and caring for tattoos, much of it excellent and most of it quite contradictory. To wrap, or not to wrap? Do I use specialist tattoo aftercare products or is it a case of “if it’s good enough for a baby’s bum it’s good enough for your arm”? A lot of the advice comes from tattoo parlours and tattooists, or people paid to write for a living, and really I was looking for a more basic guide with a certain slant, i.e. from the point of view of someone with little or no common sense. I needed to know answers to the questions that were too stupid to ask and in writing up some of the things I learned I thought I might bring a unique perspective to whole thing: an idiot’s.

Some things to think about

Choose the artist first, not the design. For a long time – about 24 years and 11 months – I prevaricated about being inked because I didn’t know what design I actually wanted. Back when I first considered having one back in the late eighties as a teen, I was going to get a football tattoo, and let’s take a moment to thank God that I didn’t. I shilly-shallied with the idea of a Star Wars tattoo. In short, I didn’t know.

And then I read somewhere that you should pay attention to who is doing your tattoo, which was something that had honestly not occurred to me before (I have literally zero common sense so don’t be surprised). So I started reading into trends and styles, and who the well-regarded artists were. Once I found several I really liked, I looked at their Instagram galleries and what styles of tattoo they excelled at, and read around those.

After that I got in touch with four places, just by Facebook Messenger. One I didn’t get a good vibe from at all, and their reviews were mixed – they were either five stars or one star – so I dropped them. One chap wasn’t free until November 2019 and his rate was outside my budget anyway. But I got a good feeling about the place I eventually went with, they answered all my questions, advised which artist at the studio would be best based on my initial ideas, and the artist made himself available for a chat when I dropped in. We discussed elements of a potential design, I sent him a mood board, he did four designs, and I chose the one I liked best. So there’s my first tip: find someone you trust first – don’t just go with one that is close, or cheap, or was recommended by your Uncle Trevor because they inked LOVE and HATE on his knuckles.

Prepare yourself. There are some things you need to do physically to prepare. Don’t drink on the night before – alcohol thins the blood and you want the bleeding to stop as possible. And definitely don’t be drunk; if the artists is willing to tattoo you while you’re drunk, you should go somewhere else anyway. Have something to eat a good hour beforehand. Dress appropriately, in something that gives access to wherever you want the tattoo doing and is something you don’t mind throwing away if you get blood, ink, plasma or vomit on it.

Be prepared for good aftercare. I have been using Tattoo Goo products and they’ve been great, but I’m sure there are others out there that are just a good. You’ll read a lot about whether to wrap and how many days to wrap for, but I would definitely wrap for the first few nights especially if, like me, you have red ink in your design. I didn’t, and the first morning I woke up after having it done it looked like I’d had the Manson family round for a cheese and machete party. You don’t want to be up at 7am washing blood and ink soaked bedclothes.

And here’s a tip that I didn’t read anywhere: prepare yourself psychologically. It doesn’t hurt, as such, although the areas over the veins of the wrist and in the fold of the arm certainly have the potential to make your eyes water (I had both because I’m an idiot) but I managed to be a big boy about it (until the artist wasn’t looking). When the needle goes in the first time you probably won’t think ‘ouch’, you’ll think ‘oh shit this is real’. It’s worth saying two things: firstly, the tattoo is permanent; and secondly, the tattoo is permanent. Now, as Kryten once said, I appreciate that that’s technically one thing, but it’s such an important thing it’s worth saying twice. Your tattoo will be bigger than you imagine, it will be more vivid than you imagine, and it will a metric fuckload more permanent than you imagine. Are you ready for that? Can you cover it for job interviews, court appearances, home-made sex tapes etc.?

Look after yourself properly. Washing your tattoo properly is essential. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap first. Don’t immerse your tattoo – I just dripped a little water on to mine so that it lathered properly. Use a good soap too; I didn’t use the regular antibacterial soap, I used Tattoo Goo soap, but choose something that works for you. Do not scrub your tattoo! You must be so gentle with it for the first few weeks. Don’t towel dry it; use kitchen towel and pat it dry everso gently and then let it air dry. Once it’s dry, moisturise it with something non-scented and gentle. Do this 3-4 times a day. I do it first thing in the morning, before I go out for lunch, before my commute home from work, and before bed.

At night, if you’re going to wrap, use clingfilm – don’t be tempted to use gauze or another type of bandage just to protect the bedclothes. Don’t be tempted to wear a long-sleeved top for the same reason. You don’t want to try and disengage drying blood and plasma from fabric.

Get some long-term protection for your tattoo, like a specialist salve, sun cream or moisturiser. Use it regularly but sparingly – you’re not trying to gloss a radiator. What you’re looking for is something that will protect your skin, protect your tattoo, and enhance the colours so that it looks its best.

 

There you have it – my blindingly obvious tips for idiots to follow. Spend some initial time and effort looking after your tattoo and it will repay you by looking hot and increasing your sexual magnetism by literally thousands of times, unless of course you’re that idiot who had Nigel Farage’s absurd, mudskipper-like frogface tattooed on their arm. She’s a lost cause and may as well be turned into glue and supermarket lasagne.

I want to end this by saying thank you to Saulius Mok at Good Vibrations in Sheffield for looking after me and doing such a great job on mine, I’m really pleased with it and I’m so glad I had it done. Please show Saulius some love via his Instagram!

2 Comments

    1. No, it’s very tricky. But then – in fact I should update the article to make this clearer – I didn’t realise how many different styles of tattoo there were. Once I researched types of tattoo, I could narrow it down to styles I liked. Then I literally just googled “which artists are good at geometric tattoos”, and found several local ones (who were nationally well-known and therefore I assumed quite good) and started getting in touch. Instagram was quite helpful in that respect – I could see their work, but often then look at the people who’d had tattoos done, and what they said on their Instas.

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