It's the late 90's (more specifically, I think 1999). I'm a young, naive 24-year old. I've had a couple of tattoos (once on my sternum at Uni, and one on my neck at the only tattoo parlour in Reading...Ians, near Chatham Street). I've got some piercings (my tongue, eyebrow, and one nipple (twice, brielfy...)). I really want a big tattoo, but turns out they are pretty expensive, and at this point in my life I have just enough disposable funds to drink too much Red Bull, and exist in my 1-bedroom hovel in Lorne Street. Life is simple for me.
I knew a trainee piercer/tattooist who offered to do me a Tribal sleeve cheap. I was young...and naive, and thought this was a great idea. It wasn't...
...not even a little bit...
As I discovered over the course of a few hours, the equipment she had was not great, and it proceeded to break as she attempted to do the outline...and rather than go up and down it instead acted a bit like a reciprocal saw (I'm confident the audience here knows one of those), and effectively sliced through the upper layers of my skin. The entire process was abandoned, and shortly afterwards she did a runner (I don't think I was the only person she screwed over one way or another). I was left with a childs scrawl on my arm, which I've lived with for the last ~25 years. It took a while to heal, and I was pretty sure that it would need laser removal (which, in the late 90's was incredibly expensive, and painful). The alternative would be going into Ians Tattoists and throw myself on their mercy, and see if there was some kind of cover-up possible...which would be equally expensive, and I'd sort of put myself off tattoos with the entire experience.
I was young. I was naive. I made mistakes.
(wobbly cinematic time-shift effect)
It's 2022. I'm significantly older, but still fairly naive. I still have one piercing (tongue), significantly less hair, but surprisingly good scalp coverage still. My 20-something dream of "good arms" has been easily countered by the body type "ectomorpic", but a reasonable cardio-pulmonary system has meant I've not really changed body-shape much. Gill is getting a tattoo on her forearm, and we're discussing the cluster-fuck that is my right arm. I'm still pretty certain that it's un-recoverable, and needs laser-removal (who knew that I struggled to change my assumptions?), but I look into what I could do.
First lesson...there are loads of tattoists in Reading. Like, maybe 20 in the main urban area, then others in satellite towns and villages. In the 20-odd years since I had been interested in the scene, it's changed. It used to be that you'd go into the shop, and look through all the designs in the book (I now know these were called "Flash", and were copyrighted images from artists, who would publish said books and sell them to tattoo parlours), pick one, and the tattooist would trace it onto your skin, then tattoo it.
These days everything is custom, and flash tattoo's are really rare. They are also considerably more acceptable. When I was planning my tattoo's in the 90's, there was a commonly acceptable rule that you'd keep the tattoos below the neckline and above the elbow, so it could be hidden by a shirt. Some tattooists would not tattoo outside these areas (the one at my uni would not...he was used to doing students, and clearly didn't want to fuck up their lives before they had really started). The internet exists, and most tattoo artists will have a style, and a good portfolio online. It's much more about picking a style, and providing inspiration for what you want.
Second lesson...styles have changed. I'm very much a 90's child, and for me, tattoos are strong black-work, and tribal is the epitome of cool. Weirdly, over the last 20 years styles have changed, and more detailed work is "in". The tech behind the tattoos has improved...both in the irons they use, and the inks and colours they have access to. There a lot more information out there as well...the entire industry underwent a lot of regulation in the mid 2000's, and with that a lot more understanding of what actually happens when you tattoo skin. It's very, very different to going into Ians in the 90's. I actually found it all quite overwhelming, and also quite hopeful. I began my search.
I've always had certain paradigms around tattoos. Artistically, I've always preferred abstract design over any form of objective resemblence. I'm not an artistic person, but I know what I like when I see it. Flows, patterns and bold designs appeal to me. I've never been interested in people, animals, skulls, flowers etc as tattoos...ultimately I'm a child of the 90's, and I still think Tribal is kinda rad...dude. I'm a strong believer in the "bold will hold" mentality around tattoos, and strong, black designs will age better. To back that up, I have a couple of blackwork tattoos that are 20-25 years old, and are still visibly identifiable and cohesive, if a little faded. So I still wanted a blackwork tattoo, and something approximating a tribal abstract design. With that in mind I eventually narrowed by search to Eternal Nirvana on Wokingham Road, and the owner Kev. He specialises in blackwork and cover-ups...has literally decades of experience, and his tribal/blackwork portfolio chimed a resonance with me. Some emails, photos, and a couple of visits to the shop to discuss plans, and I got myself booked in. He did a couple of mock-ups, and style directions we could go in. He's also a 90's child, and totally got what I wanted, as well as giving me some great suggestions on ways to "modernise" the tribal style.
So getting a big tattoo is very different to getting a Flash tattoo...both my previous tattoo's took less than an hour each, and aftercare is pretty simple, as well as fairly short. I think for my previous 2 tattoos apart from washing and Sudocrem'ing them I didn't really give them any special care. For this upper arm tattoo/cover-up I have had, in total, about 18-19 hours of work done, including getting the design on my arm. Kev was amazing throughout...he's very much a "no egos" tattooist, and a great artist. He's very much about the flow and feel of the design, and working with the body area. He also almost exclusively listens to 90's rock and metal in his studio. The sessions were about 2 weeks apart, to allow the skin to heal and the design to set in, in case any re-work was needed.
Session 1 - This was an 8 hour session to put the main design onto my arm, and most of the heavy blackwork. It took about an hour and a half to get the design drawn on, and tweaked to cover the 90's mistake. There was then the heavy black-work of the tribal section, and the outlining of the mandala background. I pretty much bled black ink out of my arm for 48 hours afterwards, as the skin had been heavily saturated in ink to get the very deep black. I was also pretty washed out for 48 hours, I'd liken it to a good dose of Moderna vaccine in terms of my bodies response...it's basically incredibly vicious sunburn over a large area, and your immune system and repair processes go into overdrive to fix it.
Session 2 - This was a 7-hour session, mainly shading across the design to add depth and complexity. There was another hour of design work in there, and then probably the most painful work done...shading is done by going over the same area again and again, building up a gradient...of course that means going over already damaged skin. We were also working on more sensitive areas (the elbow pit, the softer skin covering the tricep, and around the armpit). I again had the 24-hour exhaustion...this time I didn't bleed ink, but did bruise impressively over the entire arm for a few days (it looks like jaundice).
Session 3 - this was the one I was dreading...we'd left the under-section of the arm clean, but having checked it out I felt that it really needed to be completed...another 4 hours work Kev reckoned, but it was going to really hurt as it was the most sensitive area. I decided to use numbing cream for this (a hardcore tattoo guy would call this copping out, and not pure...however for me this was a survival tactic). Emla cream is the main medical stuff (there are some other ones, but they are more like essential oils...I prefer something with listed active ingredients!)... Gill uses it for some of her injections. It works to differing levels on different people. For me it worked amazingly...I could not feel a think on the treated skin...for 2 hours. There was then a very sudden wearing-off period over about 5 minutes, and then I had full sensations back. The last 2 hours were hard work.
But it's done. I'm obviously gone for something significantly beyond what 90's me had in mind...it's a half-sleeve design with loads of shading and depth. Right now it's going through the peeling stage from the 3rd session...I'm now going to give it plenty of healing time before we head off to the Maldives in mid-September (I'll need to keep it sun-protected for a while longer, as it can take 6 months to fully heal and get protected). I absolutely love it...after 20'odd years of being faintly embarrassed by my arm (both it's skinny-ness and childish scrawl) I now have something that is legitimately bad-ass. As it heals the shading contrast will come out more (right now some of the shading is sitting on some very red skin, with the added bruised yellow tint).
Going to get any more?
Absolutely. Next on the list is my lower legs. 90's Pete sort of assumed at some point he'd get big, epic arms. 2020's Pete has accepted thats not going to happen, but does spend a significant part of his time with his legs on show while riding bikes. I've got some ideas, and I've discussed them with Kev. I'll be tackling that when I'm back off holidays in October, with the aim of them being done before I head off on early season training camps. The goal there is to avoid "tattoo socks".
The other thing I'd like to get done is join the neck tattoo upto the shoulder, and get the neck touched up...having a new tattoo a few inches away really shows it's age. Not too interested in going down onto the pectoral (it's pretty weedy), but a band across the top of the shoulder should look good.
The "maybe" is a lower arm tattoo on the left-hand side, with a terminus line to match the right-hand one...to give some asymmetrical symmettry. I still have a mental block over lower-arm tattoos from my 90's preconceptions, and I'll need to work through those.