Paying for Pain: My First Tattoo

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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. Photos of the process and finished product below.

Tattoos are Art

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

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

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.

Do you have any tattoos? What are your thoughts on original artwork?

10 Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    Looks nice! I don’t have any tattoos, but W has a lot. He has sleeves and all-over chest tattoos.

  2. Tattoos are all fun and games until a creepy (legitimately creepy) guy breathes on you and tries to touch it in the subway! :)

    It looks even cooler in person though, for reals.

  3. Katie C. says:

    Your tattoo looks amazing. Great post!

    I have Girl with the Red Balloon tattooed on my rib cage/right side, and I’ve never regretted the pain or expense of my tattoo. I’d love to have another one eventually, but I’d like to design it myself and work with an artist to bring it to life. Original artwork on your body… That’s the pinacle of tattoo amazingness, if you ask me.

  4. Diana says:

    Your tattoo is gorgeous!!!!

    I, too, have a back tattoo that took about 3.5hrs (large dandelion blowing all the way up my back). I absolutely love tattoos, but the cost is definitely the reason why I do not have more. (The pain has never been that bad. Maybe I don’t have much feeling in my skin. :p) I feel a little guilty spending money for vanity purposes. That said, I have 4 tattoos and IF I ever have money to burn I have plans for two more (upper arm sleeve and birds on my wrists). My first tattoo experience was a small plant (not flower) on my ankle, but only because I wasn’t sure I’d be okay looking at the same art on my skin every day. A few years later I decided that I wasn’t sick of it and had it turned into a larger piece.

    • leslie beslie says:

      Do you have a photo of yours? I love dandelion tattoos – they always seem to come out well! Part of the reason I got this on my back is because I was worried I would get sick of seeing something every day. I had been considering a wrist tattoo earlier. I actually like not being able to see it though, sometimes I even forget it’s there!

  5. eemusings says:

    Your tattoo is beautiful. There are a ton of tacky ones out there, I’ll admit, but I do admire a well done tat, even if I’d never get one myself (scared of pain, nothing I want on me permanently, cost). I have a massive birthmark that wraps around half my body and every so often T says I should get some kind of tattoo made up around it.

    T has a tat on his left calf which I forget about most of the time, honestly! It’s actually not finished, or so he says (as in the design is all done but it’s meant to have some kind of touch up) done by a family member (at home, but family member isn’t an amateur). He also wants to get sleeves and a family crest – same family member is offering cheap – but we’re saving for a wedding and honeymoon, he’s still got debt to pay off, and I’m also a bit wary of a big sleeve – it’s not an issue with his current job but who knows in the future.

  6. [...] of the guilty pleasures I spent money on while also in credit card debt was my tattoo. After tip, it cost $800 in cash. I didn’t put it on my credit card, I didn’t use all [...]

  7. I love the original artwork and agree that leaves coming out of the shirt are whimsical and feminine.

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