Through blood and pain and ink, I can be remade – Alice Broadway.
I have thirteen tattoos to date and, for once, I don’t plan on getting any more any time soon. For the past decade, there has always been a niggling in the back of my mind, an itch to add another intricate design to my body, an obsession to have more slate black ink on my skin, my own personal canvas that tells more stories about my life than people know. Thirteen tattoos in ten years equates to at least one per year and I can certainly testify that there hasn’t been one year sans a tattoo experience. My obsession began extremely young when my dad and I would go to sit in the back of a tattoo studio, surrounded by the smell of ink mixed with antiseptic, like a potion that lured me along a path that, inevitably, I had no control over. My memories of tattoos are poignant in my mind; I was never afraid of the needle, only intrigued as it stabbed Dad’s skin, leaving its mark. So, Dad, I blame you for my obsession and no matter how many times you tell me no more tattoos, you can’t exactly blame me for wanting to have permanent ink on my skin when you have so many on yours.
All of my own tattoo experiences are memorable. From the very first moment I stepped into the tattoo shop just along the road from my house aged seventeen, to going behind my parents’ back to get my second that summer; getting another done in secret in London to having a – what I now know to be – completely unprofessional experience at the place where I first went; finding my tattooist that I will always return to and being spontaneous in both London and Australia. Nevertheless, I am sharing with you the absolute unforgettable experiences I had when it came to needle, ink and skin, moments that may have even changed my life, just as they transformed my body in their small, significant way.
MANTENGA LA FE Y VIVA SIN LAMENTOS
I remember the date I got my first ever tattoo done. It was the 7th January 2010. It was a Friday and it was around 4pm that I walked through the tattoo shop door, best friend in tow to keep me company. Dad was there, asking if I was alright in his jokey glint. He said see you later and that was that. I chose to get the words inked along the edge of my back where the skin meets the crook of my underarm, along the back of my ribs. It was a tough place to get my first ever tattoo. It hurt, a lot. I writhed, a lot. I said ow loudly, a lot. Ellie held my sweaty hand the entire time and we ended up watching The Hangover to pass the time. I overreacted, a lot. I swore I’d never get another tattoo again. But I was young, naïve.
LIVE, LOVE, LAUGH
My second tattoo was a small act of rebellion and a huge act of love and sisterhood between me and my soul sister. We planned it secretly, researched sanskrit writing thoroughly until we were 100% certain that it did indeed scribe live, love, laugh… I wonder if I asked someone who knew the ancient script of India and Syria if they would confirm the meaning or laugh as the Chinese so often do when the West use their symbols to mark their skin. Even if it doesn’t mean live, love, laugh, I don’t think it quite matters because we believe the meaning behind it. We booked the appointment in secret and went in. I went first, Kerry second. Once it was over, we walked out and who would drive past, but my dad… we lied and said we’d been to ASDA. He never believed that story.
QUILL OF PASSION
My quill is probably my least favourite piece on my body. I know it could be better, and the experience was horrific when I think that I was a girl who was just nineteen, sat spread eagled against the back of a chair with my entire top half completely naked. The tattooist, I’ve come to realise didn’t have a clue. He kept telling me to stretch my arm over my head to pull the skin tight and when I couldn’t – from sheer pain of getting my ribs tattooed for the very first time and the blood rushing from the tips of my fingers all the way down. He tutted and complained. I do love the placement of the ink drop and the word itself, and I am certainly glad that my best friend was there the entire time. I now know to never let a tattooist of any kind to allow me, or any of their customers, to sit in that position. It is not only uncomfortable, but it is unprofessional too… as though this man in his late forties and his boss in his late fifties got a kick from it.
My mermaids are my favourite piece. I wanted a tattoo that encapsulated my time at university and the pride that I felt since I graduated… and I wanted a Peter Pan tattoo. I had researched on Pinterest (my favourite place to be tattoo-inspired) for mermaids, skulls, quotes, Native American girls and fairy dust. Everything that I wanted was far too big for my thigh and so, I turned to my tattoo artist, Brian, who I always turn to when it is time for a new piece of timeless artwork. He created something so original, unique and mesmerising that it’s hard not to fall in love with it all over again every time I see it in the mirror. The entire experience took three sittings, and I didn’t quite realise how large it was going to be until he printed off the first stencil and placed it on my leg. I was a little overwhelmed at the size of it; my mum was shocked to see it when she arrived towards the end of my two-hour session, but I would never change it. It makes an impact and it needs its size to do so. I was a mixture of elation tinged with sadness when the final strokes were completed on the third session. It took a few months for it to be completed and it was a journey that I thoroughly loved and enjoyed. Not only did I have a new piece of artwork etched into my skin that I completely adored, but I got to know my tattooist a lot more. You know how most women have a great relationship with their beauticians and hairdressers (I do too btw), I have one of those with my tattooist.
LOTUS & ARROW
This was a symbol of success, a symbol that illustrated how much I had worked hard during two years, to save for a dream that had been my constant drive for four years. I chose to have it inked onto my spine… Yep, the spine. The session was booked for one hot Thursday in August. I geared myself up for it with a nervous tummy and forced food into my stomach and arrived a little less nervous, but nervous all the same. It had to be rearranged for the next day. I was okay with that fact, but I knew that the nerves would ascend on my door once more the next morning, which they did. Nevertheless, I lay face down on the tattoo bed and Brian got to work. It went better than I thought… until the line of the arrow straight down the top of my spine. I had never felt pain like it, the drag of metal against bone… at least that is what it felt like. I was glad that part was done towards the end of the session because I would have not enjoyed the rest of the experience at all. Yes, I get enjoyment out of a needle drumming into my skin a thousand times, even along my spine. It is an addiction.
I said before I set foot in Australia that I wanted to get a tattoo there to commemorate my time Down Under. It wasn’t until a late October’s day in scorching Cairns that I held true to my word. A friend of travel buddies wanted to take the plunge and get her first one. I said I’d get one too in a rush of exhilaration and support. Little did I know that a tiny wave would cost me $100. Nevertheless, it was one of those YOLO moments that everyone has when travelling so off we went, bikini-clad with flip flops to the local tattoo shop (after we had to quickly email our designs and wait for an allocated time). I’d forgotten how much getting a rib tattoo hurt and the experience lasted longer than I thought, but once again, it was all over and I now have Australian ink on my skin.
BOOK OF FLOWERS
My final tattoo to date and the only one I’ve ever felt close to passing out with. I was in the chair for just over three hours, the longest I’ve sat for a tattoo in one sitting. First, I lay on my back… the needles of the gun a gentle scratch as the ink was tattooed into place. Then, I lay on my side and my God did my ribs hurt. The detail is so great in this piece of art, the lines a mixture of thin and thick that it’s no surprise the inking hurt me. I trembled a little after it was done and rushed to Home Bargains to fix the sugar rush that was needed. Mum came to pick me up and fed me. After that, I was completely fine and had another addition to the paintings of ink across my body.
Tattoos aren’t for everyone, but I adore every one of mine and the experiences I have had in getting them… apart from that one, slightly creepy time when I was nineteen. If you’re after advice, don’t do what I did in the beginning and rush to the nearest place you can find. Do your research; there are amazing artists out there who are professional and incredible at their craft, just as there are plenty who don’t care about the customer or the art itself. Even writing about it gives me that itch, but at the moment, I’m more than happy with my thirteen… watch this space!
Tell me about your tattoo experiences. Do you have any horror stories, or are you extremely grateful to the artist who has created a piece of beauty on your skin?
Love, Faye xo