Tattoos can be daunting. It’s a group of needles rapidly going in and out of your skin at high speed, between 50 and 3,000 times per minute.
That’s not even mentioning that a permanent piece of art that’s going onto your body. It’s something you have to live with for the rest of your life unless you have it removed.
There’s a lot of things to consider when you’re getting a tattoo, and a lot of mental and physical preparation you must do beforehand, especially if it’s your first time.
If you’re a tattoo virgin looking to hear about first time tattoo experiences, you’re in luck, because I went out, got myself inked – and lived to share my experience.
Making the appointment
To start things off, I needed to come up with a tattoo design idea that I wanted, and where to place it.
The tattoo location not only affects the design process as the artist will make sure the design accentuates your body, but also different areas of the body will hurt more than others.
Most people would say it’s good to come up with something that means a lot to you for your first tattoo, but others will also say it’s fine to get a tattoo just because it looks cool.
For me, I chose the former, to have something on my body that means a lot to me. Once I had the idea in mind, I had to choose a tattoo artist to execute idea.
Just like commissioning any type of art, you have to find the right artist for the project. If anything, it’s more important to find a tattoo artist you like because they’re the one who is going to be drawing something permanent on your body.
Instagram is your best friend when finding a local tattoo artist you like, as studios and artists will post their work to see, so you can pick based on their style and skill.
For me, I found a few local tattoo artists that I liked, but ultimately settled on Blackout Tattoo Studio in Kuching as I found their work to be extensive and impressive.
Although a lot of their work are on men, there were a few delicate pieces that really stood out to me, like this rose on this woman’s chest above as done by Brosnen Allen.
I had some time over the weekend, so I went to the studio to describe my idea. Most of the artists were busy tattooing, so I waited patiently.
As luck would have it, Brosnen Allen came over and heard my idea. I then paid a deposit, set a date for the appointment, and that was it.
I was on my way to becoming tattooed.
Before the appointment
Before appointment day, Brosnen sent over the design for my tattoo, and we had a lot of back-and-forth discussion as we gradually tweaked the design to my liking.
Getting a tattoo is very much a collaborative effort with you and your artist, as they are experienced and can provide valuable input on what would look better especially considering your body shape, tattoo location, and more.
One of the discussions Brosnen and I had was about the placement of the tattoo. When I first described my idea, I told him I ideally wanted it on my chest or perhaps my back.
He immediately recommended against it – the chest is known as one of the most painful areas to tattoo, and hence it is not an ideal location for a first-timer.
Pain is subjective, and for someone who doesn’t know what their pain threshold is like, a chest tattoo might be a tear-jerking experience.
But for me, I needed my tattoo to be somewhat hidden. It also made more sense to be on the chest, so I pushed for the chest idea. My tattoo artist also recommended it over the back. He said if I could stand the pain, the chest would be better as I would be able to see my first tattoo.
The appointment day
Suddenly, appointment day was upon us, and Brosnen was still doing some last-minute tweaks I requested as I walked into the studio that afternoon.
He showed me the latest design, and I knew that was the one I wanted. We had a brief discussion of the sizing of the tattoo before he started prepping everything while I waited.
It was approximately 45 minutes later until he was ready to apply the stencil to my chest.
Tattoo artists will apply a temporary stencil to your chest before tattooing, so you can have a better idea of how it will look on your body and give them an outline to draw over.
When I saw the stencil on my body, it suddenly sank in what was about to happen, and a small voice in my head reminded me that I could still back out if I wanted to.
But another voice in my body loved the placement, the design, and how it looked on me.
So, I lay down on the tattoo bed, braced myself, and tried not to think about how much it was going to hurt.
When the needle hit my skin for the first time, I couldn’t help but think… Oh, it’s not that bad.
People tend to describe tattooing as like a ballpoint pen scratching at your skin or a constant, ongoing cat scratch.
For me, it was more like a sharp, jagged edge of an electric shaver pressing hard against your skin over and over again. It’s not a constant pain as there are brief moments where your artist has to refill the ink.
I simply closed my eyes and tried to keep my breathing steady as the hours passed.
Brosnen initially estimated my tattoo to take about two and a half hours, but the total process actually took about four hours plus, with a 20-minute break halfway through outlining.
By the end of it, I was exhausted from withstanding the pain. While it was bearable, it’s certainly an ordeal to have to sit for hours on end. I can only imagine bigger pieces like backs being more difficult to sit through.
The end result
The result of my hours of nagging pain is this gorgeous, porcelain-inspired heart tattoo that personally means a lot to me.
I couldn’t be anymore pleased with how this tattoo turned out. The symmetry and shape really accentuate my body and the different shades of blue look stunning against my fair skin tone.
When I asked how well I sat for the tattoo process, Brosnen commented that I did not move or flinch much – and that even non-first timers will usually experience a lot of pain during chest tattoos. Even his own chest tattoo was hard to sit through.
I feel like my experience really highlights how different everyone’s pain threshold is, because I felt fine throughout my tattooing process.
In fact, the toughest experience I had to sit through is probably still my wisdom teeth removal – even with painkillers and numbing, that was my most traumatic experience to date.
So, if you’re someone who can sit through getting dental surgery, you’ll be fine during your first tattoo. If you’ve never gone through both, well – don’t be afraid, it’s not that bad.
Meanwhile, I’m going to admire my new tattoo in the mirror for a little while longer.