I was talking with a friend recently, and she said, “The pandemic changes people.” I have no doubt she’s right. Probably every one of you reading this has changed in some significant way after the onset of the pandemic (unless you didn’t believe COVID is real and somehow were lucky enough to emerge unscathed).
I think the person that emerged following the pandemic onset was always there – she was just buried deep. She might have emerged in another decade or two following more life experiences and regrets. But the pandemic short-circuited something in my brain, and the person who emerged from her home in April 2021 was not the same one who went into it in March 2020. I’ve grown in ways outside of the scope of this post, but one significant change I’ve discovered is that I no longer put off something I really want to do. If I have the time and the means, I just do it. I think this is born from frustrations I’d felt during my daily quarantine walks. Feeling so trapped in my tiny neighborhood swallowed by corn fields, it was easy for me to think of regrets I’d had about my pre-pandemic life. I didn’t travel enough. I wanted to see the world. And I never got a tattoo! I vowed that once quarantine was over, I’d travel the world and get a tattoo.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of keeping the first promise to myself, but it took me a while to get the courage to commit to my second promise. But I kept admiring the look of half or full sleeves on women and wishing that I had one. I find the look of a dress and tattoos especially badass. I finally decided to commit to a tattoo this summer because instead of being the person who simply admired other people’s tattoos, it was time to make the look my own. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted yet, other than a sleeve, but I had the following parameters:
- Finding an artist in Indianapolis, which is just an hour from where I live. No offense to the local artists who live in my city, who I am sure are talented, but I figured I’d have an easier time finding an experienced and consistent artist in a larger city.
- No photorealistic tattoos. I didn’t want someone’s face on my body.
- No names, no lettering. I didn’t want to risk having something misspelled on my body for the rest of my life.
After that, it was a lot of research on styles I liked. I loved the look of watercolor tattoos or tattoos with really delicate lines, but I read that they could fade faster. I knew I didn’t want traditional Americana. I knew I wanted a bird and was mostly drawn to florals, so I settled on the idea of a floral/bird concept. Then it was time to find an artist! I did a LOT of research on Indianapolis artists and shops. Luckily, Instagram makes it really easy to view an artist’s portfolio. During my research, I saw one tattoo shop – Fountain Square Tattoo – consistently mentioned as one of the best. I reviewed the portfolios of their artists; it was clear that they were all incredibly talented and that their work was at another level.
One day, I was researching specific artists and saw a recommendation for an artist at Fountain Square Tattoo. I went to his Instagram profile and was wowed by what I saw. His books were opening that same day! I took it as a sign. If you want a custom piece done, you basically have to prepare a proposal for the artist – what you want, what part of the body you want the piece on and reference photos. He noted that he was very particular about the custom pieces he took on, so I didn’t think I would have much of a chance. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, sending him the following parameters:
- Quarter-sleeve tattoo, starting from my shoulder (I figured I’d start small and with something I could easily cover up if needed)
- Floral/bird concept
- Incorporating minimalist bluebonnets as an homage to my time spent in Texas
- Undecided on black/white or color, but leaning towards black and white
I sent him the reference images below.
Then I nervously watched my email. An hour later, he responded with his availability and the non-refundable deposit amount if I was interested. OH SHIT. THIS WAS GETTING REAL. I paid the deposit, set the appointment, and put my phone down.
I was getting a tattoo.
This was happening.
And thus commenced the freak-out period that continued throughout the approximate two months between booking my appointment and the appointment date. “Mourning” my bare arms is too strong of a phrase, but I definitely questioned my decision and considered whether I was doing the right thing. This is permanent body modification! This goes beyond cutting/coloring my hair, or the time I gave myself an undercut.* What if I hate it? Will I be a sixty-year-woman regretting this tattoo? Now that I’m on the other side of this process, I think this freak-out period is essential because you SHOULD question whether you want something permanent on your body. It also helped me narrow down details about where I wanted my bird placed, and what I’d be happy with.
I won’t lie – if not for the non-refundable deposit, I might have chickened out! But I’ve had enough life experience by now to know that anytime I’ve chickened out of something that would have taken me out of my comfort zone, the intense disappointment I’ve felt with myself is SO MUCH WORSE than the fears I had about the event. And I now know that getting myself out of my comfort zone has led to some of my best life experiences! I knew that what I was about to do was fairly low-risk, and I told myself to commit to my decision – that I was sure I’d be happy with my decision on the other side of the freak-out period. I am not lying when I say that I was MUCH more nervous about the big reveal of the design than I was about the needles! Tattoo artists typically do not show their designs to you until the day you get your tattoo.
The night before my tattoo, I had dreams about my design not being what I wanted at all. “This is not what I sent in my reference photos!” I told the dream tattoo artist as I stared at letters going down my arm. I woke up that morning feeling a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and resignation. I wore a sleeveless dress to make the session easy for the artist, looking in the mirror at my bare right shoulder for one last time.
It was a rainy drive to Indianapolis. Husband and I ran inside the tattoo shop, heading upstairs to a cozy, inviting space with lots of cool art on the walls. My tattoo artist greeted me and we walked over to his station. “I did a little compromise,” he said as he pulled his iPad out, and my heart rate increased. “Tell me what you think.” He pulled the image and showed me. Instantly I felt relief. I LOVED IT. “I couldn’t make the bluebonnets work aesthetically,” he said, showing me an underlay of the design with the bluebonnets. I nodded in agreement. I had wondered how the bluebonnets would work with the aesthetics of my design. “Ultimately, I want you to have a tattoo that you’re really happy with,” he said. “I know that paying homage to your time in Texas is really important, so I incorporated the state bird in your design.” I grinned at the mockingbird in the design. It looked better than I could have imagined. “I love it,” I said. All the fears that had built up over my session were dissipating.
He printed out the design and we talked through some sizing options. Ultimately I went with the larger size since he said it would be easier to add on to later if I wanted. I noticed the little mockingbird was in the front of the design. I had initially wanted something behind my arm or shoulder. I thought about saying something, but then decided to trust the vision of my artist and see how it looked with the stencil. Sure enough, when I saw the stencil, I loved the placement of the bird. It sat perfectly perched on my shoulder. I looked excitedly at myself in the mirror with the stenciled image. This was happening! I couldn’t wait to get started.
My artist told me we could take breaks if I started feeling light-headed and that while my arm wouldn’t hurt too much, my shoulder area would feel “spicy.” “The linework will be the worst part,” he said. I nodded. I was ready! Honestly, the pain wasn’t bad at all. It definitely stung at times, but other than the ten-minute break he gave me in between the line work and shading, I didn’t need to take any breaks. He said that I sat really well. I was fortunate that I’d picked areas that typically aren’t super painful.
The session took three hours from the design reveal to finish. My ever-supportive husband sat next to me, reading a book and chatting with the artist. Once the tattoo was done, I couldn’t stop staring at it. It was so elegant and perfect. One of the reasons I wanted a black and white tattoo is it would match whatever I wear. I could wear a sleeveless dress to one of Husband’s work events and not feel the need to cover this up.
Afterward, my artist wrapped my arm in Saran wrap, and Husband and I explored the area for a bit. “That’s a badass tattoo,” I heard someone say as he walked past me, and it took me a moment to realize he was talking to me.
When we were driving back home, Husband said that it was like my tattoo was there the whole time – I just had to dig a little bit to find it. I LOVE that analogy, and that’s exactly how I feel about it. Getting this piece marks several of the most tumultuous years of my life, but also it also marks a period of intense growth. My life motto is to keep learning, growing and exploring, and getting this piece is an expression of my authentic self. I already want to expand the piece to a half sleeve, but I think I’ll sit with my quarter sleeve for a little while before committing to that decision.
A week before getting my tattoo, I asked my brother (who has a couple of tattoos himself) how he dealt with the “HAHAHAHA I AM ABOUT TO GET SOMETHING ON MY BODY FOREVER AND THIS MAY BE A TERRIBLE LIFE DECISION” phase. “People like scars because they are permanent and also tell a story,” he said. “They are reminders of a specific time in your life that has passed. Tattoos can be the same thing, but pretty.” I love that so much ❤
If you’re interested in getting a tattoo, I can offer the following suggestions:
- I cannot overstate the importance of finding a good artist. This is CRITICAL. I’d see tattoo artists posting their work on Instagram and thanking their clients for their trust, and I never understood the full meaning of that until getting one myself. They are not only drawing on your body – you have to trust their vision for the custom piece (which, again, you don’t typically see until the day of the session). You also have to trust them if they push back on a certain design element. As I mentioned, there were a couple of elements that had changed from my initial concept to the final product, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m happy that I had an artist who had the confidence in his work to know when to change elements and still give me a tattoo that I would love. I’m not saying that you can’t push back – ultimately, it’s going to be on your body forever and YOU have the final say on what goes on it. But I knew these suggested changes were right for my piece and my body.
- Don’t be deterred by long wait times. I honestly would be skeptical of a studio that has same-day availability. Having an artist booked months in advance is a good sign. That time passes quickly and it gives you enough time to consider whether this is something that you truly want.
- Instagram is an amazing resource to find styles, pieces, and artists that you love. Reddit is also a great resource for getting opinions on local artists and shops. It’s really important that you not only find a style that speaks to you, but an artist that specializes in that style. Looking at an artist’s portfolio will give you a good idea of whether their style is traditional Americana, photorealistic, neo-traditional (which is what I ultimately chose), etc. You don’t want to approach a photorealistic artist with a custom piece and expect a neo-trad tattoo in return.
*Having an undercut was fun, especially with all the judgmental stares I’d get from Karens in the supermarket. But don’t get it if you’re not prepared to wait at least a year and half for your hair to grow back. It takes foreverrrrrrr.