Paying for Pain: My First Tattoo


Noon tattoo - first tattoo fully healed

Fully Healed – Tattoo by Noon

Back in May I got my first (and last) tattoo. I had made the appointment a year in advance with French artist/tattooist Noon. I love it a lot. It hurt a lot.

Tattoos are Art

Second attempt of drawing mock-up. See the erased bit on my left shoulder blade.

Second attempt of drawing mock-up. See the erased bit on my left shoulder blade.

Tattoos are a very interesting and unique form of art. Most of the time, the human body as a canvas along with the actual experience of getting a tattoo takes precedence over the quality & content of artwork. Many of the illustrations and words people get tattooed on their body are most likely not the artwork displayed in their home.

The art of tattoos are also unique because each body is different. The artist needs to be flexible and knowledgeable enough to know the limitations of their canvas.

Working with Noon was particularly interesting because we did not draw anything out on paper first. Him and I discussed the concept I had in mind then he just drew it freehand on my back. In a recent interview Noon said, “My tattoos are really meant for the body. It’s not designed for paper.”

What made this interesting is that at first he drew the girl character horizontal starting at my shoulder, laying across my shoulder blade, reaching out to my spine. As he was drawing, he noticed that my shoulder blade is quite bony/sharp and the illustration would have looked fragmented if he left it that way. On paper the drawing would have looked fine.

Another interesting aspect of tattoos versus traditional art is factoring in cover-up. Artists need to keep in mind how an arm piece will look popping out of a short-sleeve or shorts. I am sure that was considered for my design as the leaves on my neck look quite pretty sticking up out of the back of a shirt. Although it is visible, the art is tasteful and feminine. I have not had any problems with it at work.

Tattoos are Pain

Part of the four-hour process of getting my first tattoo.

Part of the four-hour process of getting my first tattoo.

Just looking at these photos again makes me cringe. Going into it, I was not worried about the pain at all – that was probably a mistake. Getting this tattoo was by far the worst voluntary pain I’ve experienced. To be honest, the most difficult part of the whole thing was having to still for four hours straight. That is much harder than you think it is.

For me, the actual inking process hurt everywhere. Yes, it hurt more on my neck and over bone but, really, everything hurt, period. During the four hours I had one fifteen minute break after the outline was done. This gave me time to pop some advil and drink a soda. Not that it helped.

As bad as it was, I knew that I would have something beautiful and permanent after those four hours. I also knew I wouldn’t have to go through all that again. I still don’t have any desire to get another tattoo. In hindsight, this is probably why people start with a small flower for their first one.

Tattoos are Maintenance

Finished tattoo ready to be washed & taken care of for 2 weeks to heal properly.

Finished tattoo ready to be washed & taken care of for 2 weeks to heal properly.

Since a tattoo is an open wound, the healing process is extremely important in determining how your tattoo will look for the rest of your life.

Tattoo after-care instructions varies per person but here is what I had to deal with. Starting the next day, the tattoo had to be washed twice a day with unscented soap (artificial scents & dyes can mess up the ink) for three days. However, you cannot submerge the tattoo in water (no swimming!) or use very hot water during this period so it’s a little tricky. This is even trickier if you live alone and get a tattoo in a hard to reach place like me.

After that, the tattoo needs to be lotioned (use aquaphor) four times a day for five days. Yes, this meant awkwardly lotioning it at work. Yes, it was awkward. During this period, your tattoo will itch like a motherfucker and you’ll look like an idiot smacking yourself because you certainly can’t scratch the thing.

Two weeks later, you should be good to go! However, you still will want to be careful in the sun and with steamy hot water. I bought a strong sunblock that I use just for my tattoo then use cheap sunscreen for the rest of me (priorities!). After all that work, pain, and money, you really want to make sure your piece of art will look great forever.

Tattoos are Expensive

In general, art is expensive. Real art can be considered an investment since, when taken care of properly, it has an indefinite lifespan. Tattoos are unique because they do have an expiration date. However, also unique, the person tattooed is a walking billboard for the tattooist. Their art is on display in the public all the time, not just hung up in a private gallery.

All original pieces of art are expensive as they are one-of-a-kind and cannot be identically recreated. Original art-work tattoos are no different. My tattoo, including deposit + tip, totaled $800.

I know this sounds like a lot so let’s break it down. I was sitting in the chair for 4 hours and there was about 1 hour before that where we discussed the art, he free-hand drew it on my body, then he set-up the inks & table. This means his rate was about $160/hour. Put that way, it doesn’t seem too unresaonable. (For comparison, a nyc psychiatrist charges $350/hour).

Now, let’s break this down even further into long-term cost. I got the tattoo when I was 29. If I live to be 80 years old, the daily cost of my tattoo comes down to $0.04/day. Not a bad value!

With that said, cost is a factor in my decision of not wanting a second one. Something this permanent is not an area where I would go cheap and I am not at a financial point of my life to prioritize these types of purchases. I love the one I have but the thought of having a thousand dollars (or more) of artwork on my body is a bit overwhelming.


If you have thoughts on this and would like to discuss please use Twitter or send me an email.