03 January 2008

is tat you?

Mary Jo (Ms. Malaguti GRrrl, wink) commented that trees are special to her.  I can so get behind that.  In fact, you might say that I have already and will forever more.  You could even go so far as to say that it's a monkey on my back.

Well, that wouldn't be entirely true.  There is no monkey on my back.  But there is a tree.  A huge tree that represents oh so much.  It took me about five years to find the right person to plant it.  But let me back up some.

At this point, I should tell you that since this is lengthy, if you want to skip to the end to read about the actual Tree Lady, then do so.  What I write below is my attempt to be fairly clear and I cover lots of aspects of tattooing for the beginner.  In no way is this authoritative, and in no way do I represent the be all, end all.  These are based on my experiences and while I am not exhaustive of my knowledge, I do offer thoughts that may not always be as clear as I would like.  So, if you do have any questions, please ask.  If I can't answer, then I hope I can point in the right direction.  Perhaps I can clarify something that I've said.

A portion of the back-story:  having been around folks with tats all my life, I knew that eventually I'd have one.  Or two.  Or a huge rambling one that continues to grow as I do.  I wasn't in a rush.  There are some serious considerations that don't justify a rash decision.  Just cuz folks can do something, doesn't mean they should.  I wanted to wait til I had the right idea in mind and then knew the right artist to put it in place and get the vine to growing.   I've put more thought into the work on my body than most people put into decided for what work they are training.

The first ink I got was when I was 23.  I had given the gift of a tattoo to a very dear friend for her graduation present (college).  She was scared and I had already visited the shop, gotten to know the artist (who drew out my idea and thus started my habit), and showed her that there's nothing to it, grin.

Since then, I've come to know quite a few artists.  Have engaged in much discussion.  Learned lots.  And have some words to the wise.  The foolish are goingto do what they want anyway, so there is no use in talking with them.

First off, this is permanent people.  It deserves the consideration which reflects that it is a body modification that will become a part of you, forever.  Please don't gush into your first shop and pick a pansy off the wall of flash.  If you do, well, the choice of a pansy is fitting.  While there is some great preexisting art, do feel free to investigate your own artistic side.

All my work is original, no preconceived/predrawn flash.  If you are like me and have an idea (or two or more) that you can't draw, but that you would really like to see; then ask for an artist's rendition.  A quick sketch can give you some idea if the person is able to see what you mean.  A more detailed drawing can then be done.  You'll be infinitely more satisfied with your very own work instead of mass produced flash.  Unless that's your thing.  And some folks are into very specialized movements, like traditional Japanese or Sailor Joe.

A word on Kanji, unless you know that what those uberkewl symbols mean and the artist is schooled in the written expression of which ever Asian language you think is so bad-ass this year; then please do not mess with another culture's beauty and dignity.  Each stroke is meaningful and a slight mishap can completely change the meaning.  Don't be a schmuck when you mean to be smart.

Women are truly the stronger sex.  We tend to choose the most painful places of our bodies while men tend to go for the most showy.  Whenever I see brawny football players sporting a 3/4 band on their bulging upper arm, I think wuss.  Cuz it usually is more of a sign of trendy popularity, a barbed wire or tribal.  Trite, trite, trite.  And they chickened out of getting the complete band, circling through some of the tenderest (thus more painful) flesh.

Flesh that is exposed, constantly under assault and pressure, is likely to be more tough and the nerve endings are generally not as dense as those places that are more hidden.  The skin that covers bone near the surface is a barrier which sends our brains danger signals when breeched.  Ankle, hip, neck, face, skull, and ribs are more sensitive than fleshier thighs, arms, butts, and sides of the calf (shins are more painful).  As a general rule, genitals have tons of densely packed nerve endings that can send lots of mixed signals.  Just ask a guy who has had an overly enthusiastic blow-job (teeth, watch the damn teeth) or a woman whose lover confuses her nipples with screwheads (honestly, don't need socket wrenches dudes!).

The exception to the pressure principle is the palm of our hands and soles of our feet.  Yes, they are constantly exposed and under pressure.  They are also a thicker skin surface that is replenished at a higher rate then the skin on other surfaces.  Because of this, you might want to reconsider these sites as potential spots for tattoos.  Chances are very good that you will need frequent touch-ups.  Part of my tat branches down onto the top of my left foot.  It was painful (bones) but it won't need touch-up cuz there is relatively little friction which might shed skin cells rapidly, like that of the bottom of my left foot.

About pain, there is a reason our bodies have that capacity to signal when damage is being done.  Pain and pleasure are often the same sensation, but experienced differently depending on context.  Just ask anyone into BDSM.  Or anyone who loves massage, it hurts so good.

Pain and blood don't always coincide; this is because nerves are more likely to be present in the skin's surface than in the deeper layers of flesh.  At no time should the needle be driven so deep as to draw blood; and certainly not continuously.  As always, there are exceptions.  There are some forms of tattooing which involve a hammer and a spike and is full of ritualistic import.  Those are the rare exceptions and if you are considering those then chances are very good that you know everything here and way way more.

Tattooing a clean wound, but a wound nonetheless.  It requires proper after-care.  You shouldn't need to disinfect it, because it is not infected.  Or shouldn't be if you were smart about choosing the shop and the artist.  More on that later.  Proper after-care means that you should give yourself time to heal, before subjecting the area to assault.  This means that sun exposure should be avoided, as well as soaking in tubs (or pools) and direct shower spray.  Keep the area clean, but don't scour it!

When the tat is done, you may notice that there is clear fluid seeping (this is plasma, your body's defense and aid to healing a wound).  Sometimes the artist covers the area with gauze or an absorbent pad (much like the plastic diaper-like patch on the bottom of meat packs at the grocery store).  Sometimes a light smear of petro or creme is applied.  There are a few debates here.  My best take is that a small packet of A&D (so called because vitamins A and D are added to a petro based product) is all that's necessary for most tats.  Be careful not to use Neosporin (use a triple antibiotic but use care), this is because the peroxide acts as a bleaching agent and hello! you want the color to remain the same, not bleach it out with sun exposure, chemical exposure, etc.

After the first application immediately following a tat, you should not need to reapply A&D.  You won't harm it tho, if you want to use it just to be on the safe side.  It actually can slow the healing process tho, because it can saturate the skin when what you want is some amount of air exposure.  You do want to keep the area moisturized (non-perfume, non-alcohol, non-additive) but don't slather it on.  Too little moisture means scabbing and dry flaking, not good.  Too much moisture means that healing is prolonged.  Think of how tender and raw a wound is when you remove a band-aid.  After air gets to it, it heals faster and is not so sensitive.

Don't be a picker.  Do not scratch!  Never scratch!  If the tat is large and itches (itching is actually a good thing, it is a sign that wounds are healing!) and you absolutely must do something for relief, smack the area around it.  It will stimulate the nerve endings of the larger area and your brain will be satisfied that some attention has been provided.  It sounds odd, but try it sometime.  Instead of scratching that itch, smack it.  You might be surprised.  Unless your a masochist.  In which case, you may be wondering why this isn't more common knowledge.

Since I've been very random, and very lengthy, let me now address selection of who and what and where.  I'm not talking about what tat you have placed where on your body, that's been done to death and I've had my say on that (ad nauseum, you might feel).  I mean that you get to decide who places your tat.  You should be concerned about the shop and so shop around!

Most places have very good standards.  There are more and more health department regulations in place over the last ten years.  This means that the autoclave in a tattoo shop (and for that matter most piercers) is tested every month and is much cleaner than your dentist's office is.  Frightening, eh?  Tattooists are not usually piercers, altho some are and most can be found in the same shop (at least here in the States).  Never allow anyone with a plastic guy to pierce you (b'bye Wal-Mart and Piercing Pagoda), this is because plastic cannot be autoclaved (it would melt) and therefore not hygienic.

Most places have very good standards, yes.  But you can and should be allowed to inspect things for yourself.  Watch some one getting tattooed if possible.  Watch the entire process (it can be in stages, and not all at once).  If there are multiple booths or artists' rooms, you can see all stages in one visit.  What I mean is that the set up is very important.  The clean-up is even more important than the actual tattooing process from your perspective.  The set up should involve a re-sanitization of all surfaces (the entire work area should have been sanitized during clean-up of the previous session).  You want to see the artist wearing gloves (not just to protect them, but to protect YOU).  The ink should be in individual caps, never should the needle be dipped into the bottle.  Cross-contamination, people.  Lots of disposable towels should be on hand (and used).  You should see a red bio-hazmat container somewhere (for needles and razors).  The nozzle of spray bottles should be covered in plastic (baggies or wrap).  You want to see cleanliness and no obvious dirt.  Most folks will spray down chairs, counter tops, set up fresh trays with ink caps and never dip into the communal pot.

If you've questions, ask!  Most artists are happy that they get to talk about their work (there are exceptions, but as a general rule, I've found that most folks love to talk about their loves).  If you have doubts, move on!  There are plenty of places to choose!

Ok, now as far as whom to choose.  My own preferences may or may not apply to you.  I am particular about who does what to my person.  I've had five artists work on me and each was chosen after careful consideration.  I'm gonna be spending time with this person who is leaving lasting marks on me, I wanna be sure that we are somewhat compatible.  We are not engaged in a lifelong love affair, and so we don't need to be soulmates.  But I do feel more comfortable with someone whom I can chat with and feels at least somewhat accepting of my quirks (like I need to pee lots and often, so can sit for hours at a time, but do need to take a few seconds to trot off to the potty, hey it happens).  Now if I were only getting something small and would only be setting with them for an hour, then it isn't so important that we can converse and be amiable.  But all my stuff has been more involving and complex, so it's a priority for me, that's all I'm saying.  Whatever is important to you, should also be a priority for them.  If you don't care to chat, they should be open to being silent.  You're the customer.

As far as ability goes, common sense says dude, pick someone whose work you like.  Most artists have portfolios (braggin books) of their previous work.  Some will show designs, some will show freshly done tats (some elect to photo work after it has healed tho; irritated swollen flesh is awfully shiny and hard to get a good pic with so much glare), some will show before/after cover-ups.

I've met some great artists whose work I admire, but whom I would never allow to touch me.  This could be because while they have the skills to tattoo, I don't care for their preferred topic (some folks can do a fairy, but they really groove on alien rip-outs).  I would rather have someone wield a many needled machine who has a passion for the type of tattoo than just someone who has the technical ability.  That's just my preference.


The artist who tattooed my back has been tattooing for over 30 yrs.  And he considers my back to be the best work he has done.  He refers to me as the Tree Lady.

It took me five years to find him.  Plenty of people said that they could do it, but not one person provided me with a draft, a quick sketch.  Most folks, I passed on within a few minutes for various reasons.  One of the artists who did some work for me, I didn't want him to be the one to do my back, because he was better with smaller designs and his own work ethic began to deteriorate with time.  It was increasingly difficult for him to finish work, and there is nothing quite like not having a piece finished to satisfaction.

"Hippie" was sparked with enthusiasm when he and I discussed what I had in mind.  He did do an initial sketch.  I approved it.  He thermofaxed it and transferred it onto me the first session.  After that, we did some Sharpie work (or Bic penned right on my skin to give him and me an idea of what he was doing and where he was going with it) for a few sessions.  Then, we just did a sort of free-form.  I would caution that you do this only if you are very very comfortable with and confident in your artist.  By that point, we had been working together on this for enough sessions for me to trust that he knew what he had in mind and that it was cohesive with my own vision.  In total, the back-piece (which is actually a body-web, as it wraps around my torso, and extends down into my girdle ~~ a previously done tattoo which drapes about my hips, and extends down my thighs) is over 250 hours of work.  We met two or three times a week, each session about three or four hours, for over six months.  As he did more work, the more attached he got and the more he was absorbed.  So I knew the quality was a given, he had much invested in this and took much pride in his masterpiece.

I didn't address cost of tattoos above, so let me take a few minutes right now to say that there are many ways folks price things.  Some go with per piece, per color, per hour, per body area.  Some go with a mix of all those things, while others have entirely other determinants.  Chances are that if someone brags that they got work done cheaply, then the work is that:  cheap and slipshod.  Good work can be expensive.  If you look at it in terms of what it is (work that will last forever and be exactly what you want), then maybe the quality is worth it to you.  Hopefully.

My own work has been judged to be worth in excess of three thousand dollars.  Did I pay that much?  Hell no.  I did lots of trade work.  The most I paid was for the very first tattoo I had done.  Mostly because I had nothing to offer.  I did front-girl work, tutored, assisted with research and publication, etc.  My situations have not been typical.  As a general rule, you get what you pay for.  If you pay nothing, you probably have nothing.

Given my record with pix, I don't have any recent photos that are both complete and clear.  I keep meaning to take some but I don't usually think about it when the means are available.  My body is me and I am accustomed to my own skin; so I don't usually think, "oh hey, i wanna a picture of that!"  We recently found the disk that enables the software to support my guy's webcam (and I can take stills with it, as well as short video clips), so if I remember to get his cam from his apartment in Oxford, then you might get a posting with a better pic.

For now, these will have to do:
(incomplete when this pic was taken in April '03)

(this is a close up of the central portion pictured above)
{{** edit Thur 13 Jan 11:  just realized pix's links are not working}}

The lower limbs are barren, winter.  The right hand side represents spring, then summer in the middle, moving to fall on the left.  The reason I wanted the seasons to go counter clockwise in progression was because the sun's passage appears to be right to left, east to west.  The woman whose body forms the trunk, whose hair and arms/fingers form the branches is the mother of all life.  Her mouth is open, in expression of labor; bearing life is a taxing task, even as it provides enormous pleasure.

The branches wrap around my ribs, extending to just under my breasts.  The spring limbs and fall leaves wrap around my shoulders and descend the front of me, covering my breasts.  There was much work to do yet, after these pix were taken.  There is the branch work that is outlined, yes.  And there is a depth to the work that increased in volume from the time of the pix to the last session.  The leaves have an amazing detail and shadow work that is truly painstaking.  The wind is caught playing with the leaves, tossing about the spring sprigs.  The piece ties into the rest of the theme of the work that already graces my body and the following work continues that theme.

Spot the cunning bear?

Thanks for bearing with me in this very long entry.  Tonight was my first night alone in about a month.  It was difficult but made easier with this composition.  Have a wonderful week's ending for the first week of the newest year!

1 comment:

  1. Oh MAN...
    Thank you for sharing that!


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