I ticked something off my bucket list today. After 8 years of desperately wanting one but being too scared to actually do it, I finally took the plunge and got my first tattoo!
In this post, I’ll talk to you about what I got done, why I got it, and – the reason anybody is really reading this – how sore it was! So if you’re someone who has found this post after googling first tattoos for some helpful advice, then hello! I’m Amy, and I’ll try to be as honest as I possibly can.
I got a colourful, almost geometric little whale. It’s about 4 inches long and is positioned just above my ankle on my left leg. It was originally only going to be 2 or 3 inches, but when my tattoo artist positioned it on my leg, we agreed it would look better slightly bigger, to allow the gradient of the colours to properly show.
The thing about tattoos is that everybody always asks the meaning behind them, which I think is a bit silly. It’s lovely to have a special meaning behind them, yes, but in my case it’s simply because I just really like whales and dolphins and always have done for many reasons. Don’t be put off getting your tattoo just because you don’t have some metaphoric meaning behind it! I mean, don’t be crazy impulsive and get any old thing on any old day – it’s always better to really think about it since it’s going on your body forever, but if you really like your tattoo design, then don’t even worry what anyone else thinks. It’s your body!
(If anybody is really fishing for a meaning behind my beautiful whale, I just tell them it’s because when you wear a whale or dolphin when traveling, it’s meant to bring you luck. This is true, and is a cool little bonus!)
Choosing Your Design and Artist
I read some really good advice about choosing your tattoo design. When you find the design you want, you’re meant to either put a picture of it next to your mirror, or set it as your phone’s wallpaper. This way, you’ll see the design every day, and you can envision it on your body. If months pass and you’re still not sick of the picture then you’ve got a winner.
Now onto choosing your tattoo artist, and this is where Facebook and Instagram really help. You have to do lots and lots of research at this stage, as you can’t purely go by recommendation. It’s fine to have a friend send you over to their tattoo artist, but their tattoos could be a totally different style to yours. You wouldn’t want someone who specializes in cartoons and watercolour tattoos to do an intricate portrait, would you? Not only would it not be the tattoo you envisioned, but it wouldn’t show the artist’s full potential. It’s not as if you can rub your tattoo out and try again. Each artist has their own style, so pick what’s right for you and your tattoo.
I chose mine based on Instagram pictures. I was stuck between a couple of artists, but eventually I went with Nicole from Set Sail tattoo studio in Irvine. Nicole’s work is always so colourful and I loved her watercolour-style tattoos. It seemed like a great fit for my design and I couldn’t be more pleased about the finished result.
I actually (surprisingly!) wasn’t really nervous. The only time I got a bit anxious about it all, was last week when I stupidly decided to YouTube people getting their first tattoos, just so I could have an idea of what I was letting myself in for! It wasn’t a good idea – it took just 2 videos of girls screaming for me to run to Derek and ask him “what the hell have I done?!”
Today, however, I was just so excited. In fact, I’ll post my excited selfie I took in the car whilst driving to the studio. I really haven’t been able to sit still all day, and as 3pm rolled around I was just ready to have it over and done so I could start showing off my tattoo. It’s highly recommended that you eat before getting it done (an excuse to have pasta for lunch!) and I also read on another blog that some people swear Red Bull makes it easier. I happily downed a can as I waited to get it done – anything to make it as trauma-free as possible! I didn’t faint or collapse, so maybe it actually did something!
The actual process of getting it done took about an hour. Nicole sat me down, had me awkwardly position my leg to the side so she could reach it all, (it went numb after about 5 minutes – maybe that helped too!) and then applied the stencil. She then had me go check it out in the mirror to make sure the size and position was exactly as I wanted it – she was wonderful and constantly making sure that I was happy with the process.
The tattoo studio she uses is shared with the owner, who also had a client in – a young guy who was getting line work done over his whole forearm.
“Listen, if I cry then you can’t laugh at me,” I told them all before they started. They laughed and assured me that if I cried, they’d get people in off the street to point and laugh.
As the buzz of the needle began, I clenched my teeth and gripped the side of the seat, waiting for the pain. The needle touched my leg, I felt a scratch, and then it stopped.
“Was that okay?” Nicole asked me.
“Is that it?!” I exclaimed in disbelief.
“Yeah, that’s it,” she confirmed with a laugh.
Louis, the owner of the studio, then told me I’d picked a relatively easy spot to get my first tattoo, which I unashamedly told them I’d done on purpose as I was trying to avoid any bony areas.
“You know, there’s bone all the way up your leg!” Nicole had laughed, and I got the message. No matter where you get your tattoo, a needle repeatedly piercing your skin is going to hurt! Louis said though that the number of girls who come in to get their first tattoo on their ribcage, foot, or wrist is very high and that he doesn’t recommend getting it in a painful area straight away if you don’t know what to expect. He also scoffed and dismissed the idea of the ever-popular tattoo pain chart that you often see floating around the internet.
Getting a tattoo isn’t ever going to be a pleasant experience. It does hurt. For me, it was more of an irritating sort of pain. Imagine someone repeatedly scratching the same area over and over again. Obviously your skin gets a bit tender and raw, which means that it hurts more towards the end – especially if you need your tattoo coloured in or shaded. If you were to get an outline or some text, I can’t imagine it would be too bad.
I expected it to hurt a lot more than it actually did, which I’m actually quite pleased about as it meant that it was a lot easier to bear! Surprisingly, it hurt the most around the back, at the tail. Nicole told me that many people had said the same thing though, so that made me feel like less of a wimp.
In all honesty – I’ve had stubbed toes and headaches much worse than my tattoo pain. I managed to get through any tender parts by pressing my lips together hard and gripping the side of the chair whilst looking at all the tattoo pictures on the walls. For the most part though, I liked to watch what Nicole was doing. It meant I could ask questions and understand how she put the tattoo together – in this case, she didn’t follow the shape of the whale and instead put it together by colour. It was surprisingly relaxing to watch her work!
The Final Result
I couldn’t be happier with my finished tattoo! I genuinely believe it’s better than the picture – brighter in colour and even cuter. After she finished, Nicole had me go check it out in the mirror to which my tattoo buddies Bobby and Derek lost their cool and gushed over it for a good five minutes, and then she went over the aftercare with me.
Every tattoo artist offers different instructions for aftercare, so I obviously recommend doing what you have been told! In my case though, a cream was applied and then my leg was wrapped in cling film, which I was told to remove after 2-3 hours. After removing, I washed my tattoo with warm soapy water (the soap has to be perfume-free!) and then pat dry very lightly. I’ve been instructed to apply Bepanthen (a cream for nappy rash) at least 3 times a day for a week – morning, noon, and night – and I’m not allowed to submerge my tattoo in water for at least 2 weeks (how will I ever survive with no hot baths?!).
I’ve been told it will swell, scab, and maybe even bruise but I’ve no to pick or scratch it under any circumstances! This should be easy enough as I’ve never been a scab-picker anyway.
7 hours later and I’m writing this blog post, still totally thrilled. I can’t stop looking at my little whale, and I’m so proud of myself for finally summoning up the courage to do it. I’ve washed it and applied cream, and it’s definitely a bit swollen now, but not bloody anymore – just a bit red around the edges!
If anyone out there is reading this and thinking about booking their first tattoo, I totally recommend it. You’ll have a beautiful piece of art on you for the rest of your life that’s totally unique to you – how special is that?!
I hope this helped anybody who is looking for information! If you have any questions then I would be happy to answer them as best as I can – just leave a comment below!