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Respect the Ink! Haley's Advice for Happy Tattooed Living

I simply cannot imagine my life without tattoos.

Kind of a funny way to start an article, but it sums up how I feel! Honestly, tattoos just have so much meaning to me; for the most part, that is. Tattoos don't have to have a meaning -- it's perfectly fine for you to go get a particular design just because you want it and think it looks cool. By the same token, though, it's also okay to only have tattoos that have meaning or to not have any tattoos at all. Bottom line? Tattoos are definitely not as taboo as they used to be (and that's coming from someone who works in the world of law enforcement). Personally, I started getting tattoos at the age of 18 -- shocker, right? However, my love and appreciation for tattoos actually started at a very young age. I bet you're wondering how or why that is...

Well, it's because I'd regularly accompany my Mom when she went to get her own tattoos and I'd sit there captivated, watching and learning all about them. I have some very fond memories of hanging out with my family at tattoo shops, so I knew that as soon as I was 18, I was definitely getting one. My Mom was sure to instill in us the importance of making sure we only put tattoos on our bodies that we wanted forever. I mean, you can get tattoos removed (I've heard that's even more painful) or covered up, but why not just get the perfect one the first time?! I started looking up ideas for my first tattoo as early as 16 to make sure I was getting what I wanted. I figured that, if after 2 years I still wanted it, then I just had to get it.

So, because of my wealth of experience with them (we'll get more into this later), I wanted to provide some quick do's and don'ts when it comes to the process of getting tattoos:

  • DO:

    • Eat before your appointment, because you could honestly pass out if you don't

    • Listen to and actually follow the cleaning steps your artist recommends to you

    • Make sure to tip your artist!

  • DON'T:

    • Show up to your appointment drunk, because alcohol makes your blood thinner

    • Be late or be a no-show (they blocked off that time for you, after all)

    • Get upset if they charge a deposit or fee for just a consultation (this is all just part of the process; you're more likely to show up for your appointment if you put down a deposit)

Cancelling last minute isn't okay, because your artist has put in a ton of work already and that's time they cannot get back. Also, please don't ask the artist to draw up something for you and ask for a price, only to say you can get that same design cheaper elsewhere. That's just not okay. Alright, enough preaching -- let's get back to the article.

Here's a little help for when you're deciding what exactly you want to get: small tattoos are very cute, but the ink can tend to bleed together and ultimately blur the design. So, just be sure to take into account the degree of detail of the design when deciding on size. Another big factor when it comes to tattoos is placement; certain areas of the body, such as the fingers, hands and feet, don't hold pigment as well. If you've chosen a spot that doesn't hold pigment as well as others, the tattoo can fade as it heals. I actually have a design on my foot that's missing some ink because of this. Some people want their tattoos to be visible, while others may want to keep them hidden. So, my advice would be to first figure out what exactly you want and then decide on the placement. If you're like me and want sleeves (tattoos covering your arms), then take that into consideration now. Plan your tattoos accordingly so that you can eventually accomplish that sleeve without it looking like a bunch of different concepts. Finally, the most important thing after deciding on what you want for a tattoo is researching the tattoo shops and artists. And when I say research, I mean RESEARCH.

Not all tattoo artists are the same -- you have to find the right artist, your artist. What I mean by that is: some artists specialize in specific styles, specific fonts, or possibly only do black and white concepts. So, make sure that you take a look at the artist's portfolio ahead of time. This is going to help you decide whether or not this artist is the best fit for you. You'll also want to make sure that the shop is clean and that your artist takes the correct steps in keeping his or her station clean. For example, make sure a new needle is used (meaning actually watch them open the box and select a brand new needle for your tattoo. This is super important, as you obviously don't want an infection (or something worse) as a result of using a dirty needle.

Honestly, what the artist is charging should not be the deciding factor in where you go for your tattoo, but rather who's the cleanest and who's the best fit for you. The saying "you get what you pay for" definitely rings true when it comes to tattoos. Go to the artist who's amazing at what he or she does, even if it costs more, because then you won't have to spend even more money to later have it covered up or removed. The cost of a tattoo isn't just the supplies or the cut that the shop takes, but also the time your artist put into the stencil of the tattoo and the time it takes to put that design onto your body. Getting a tattoo is a very big decision (I mean, it is permanent). You wouldn't buy a house or a car without doing your research, right?! So, shop around a bit, read reviews and find the right shop and artist for you.

So, you've decided what you want, found the right artist and you've made your appointment. Now, the most important thing is making sure you're fully prepared for your tattoo. They do hurt and if someone tells you otherwise, they're flat out lying. They may not hurt you as much as they do the next person, but at some point, you WILL feel some pain. I mean, a needle is going into your skin, after all. Personally, I like to think of the pain as something more along the lines of cat scratches. And honestly, I feel like I probably have a higher pain tolerance than most, so the discomfort for me is only in certain areas. When I've been in the chair for hours, I definitely start to get sore; when that happens and the artist starts to rub the excess ink away, all I want to do is jump up and run! I'm not saying this to scare anyone, but rather just to make sure you're ready to deal with some legitimate pain. Different areas on the body have different pain levels, but we're also all different people, so we'll all experience pain in much different ways. Like I mentioned before, a big step in being prepared for your tattoo is to eat beforehand, so you don't pass out while in the process of being tattooed. Protein is great to eat before and after your appointment, because it helps the skin heal.

Another tip? Be cautious of the clothes you wear to get your tattoo. Don't wear something that's going to constantly rub the area you're having tattooed wind up irritating it. A new tattoo can also transfer ink or leave stains, so try to wear something that you're not necessarily attached to, that you wouldn't mind getting stained or even ruined.

Okay, so you've decided what you want (design, placement and size as well), researched and selected an artist, picked the correct clothes and remembered to eat something. Now, it's time to head to the shop and get that awesome tattoo. I want to reiterate what I said earlier: you do not want to have alcohol in your system when getting your tattoo. Alcohol thins your blood, which could mean excess bleeding that would cause visibility issues for the artist. If the artist can't see what he or she is doing, you could come out with a lower quality tattoo. Also, excess bleeding can tend to thin out the ink. Be respectful to the artist and the shop while you're there. Once your tattoo is complete, the artist will give you after care instructions. Make sure that you listen to and follow each of these steps, as they're crucial to the healing process. This also assists in avoiding infections and helps keep the quality of your tattoo.

Here are some very BASIC aftercare steps (there are definitely more steps to follow than just these ones that I'm listing, so please do your research and listen to your artist):

  • You must wash your tattoo regularly in the days and weeks following your appointment with an antibacterial, fragrance free soap and then pat it dry with a clean paper towel. I like to do this both when I wake up and before I go to bed.

  • Once your tattoo starts to scab up, you need to put lotion or Aquaphor on it. I use fragrance free, hypoallergenic lotion. When the area is itchy, you must be sure to pat it, don't scratch or pull at it. If you scratch your scabs, it will mess up your tattoo.

  • When you go to pay the shop/artist, make sure to leave a tip. This is a crucial part of tattoo etiquette, much like tipping a server at a restaurant after your meal. Your artist is paying for his or her supplies and most likely renting a spot in the shop from its owner.

  • Once your tattoo is healed, you still want to take care of it regularly by using sunscreen anytime it's going to be in any sort of direct sunlight, as the sun can cause it to fade.

So, with all of that now firmly implanted in your head, you're ready to start your research! Tattoos are therapeutic to me and always have been. There might be a bit of pain involved, but I love the final product enough to put up with it. This might sound weird, but maybe some of you will agree with me -- I love the sounds, the smells, the sights, etc. Everything about the tattoo process, I absolutely love. My tattoos have many meanings; from remembering pets and family members that I've lost, to a tattoo in support of my own Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis, matching tattoos with family and friends and many, many more. I actually lost count of exactly how many tattoos I have a long time ago, but I'd say it has to be around 30 or so.

I've also been there with my Mom, Dad, Brother, friends, etc. while they've gotten their own tattoos; while I love doing that, it just makes me want to jump in that chair and get another one of my own! I have so many great memories and I can't wait to add more tattoos in the future. I have more tattoo ideas than I have money (if I had a little more of that, I'd probably be covered already!). I'm lucky to work for a department that doesn't require me to cover my tattoos up, because I went the visible route and I'd be in long sleeves all day long if I needed to conceal them! That does not sound like fun in the constant Texas heat.

Currently, I'm working on a Dr. Seuss leg piece; Dr. Seuss is very important to me, because my Mom would read his books to me as a kid and I even had to write an essay about 'Oh The Places You'll Go' for College. It feels like a lot of Dr. Seuss' books and quotes have followed me through life, so I wanted to make that a permanent thing by getting it inked. So far, I have The Lorax, Thing 1 and Thing 2 and the Cat In The Hat tattooed on me and I can't wait to get more next month! I've gone to many artists at this point in my life, so not all of my tattoos are in the same style. However, I finally found the right artist for me and now he's never getting rid of me! I'm very thankful to have him, because he listens to what I want and isn't shy about letting me know how he thinks my ideas can be improved. I trust him enough to sit in that chair and just say 'whatever you want to do, do it.' He's earned that trust by putting some really incredible pieces on me. He elevates my ideas and, in the end, I'm way happier with the final product than my initial idea. Trust is a big thing when it comes to putting something permanent on your body; I hope that one day, with his help, I can make my designs more cohesive and maybe cover one or two of the "happy accidents."

- Haley (@CSIHALEY)


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