I’ve always been fascinated with tattoos. They’re a form of art, and I love art in every capacity – paintings, sketches, dance, music, words. I love it all.
I was probably in high school when I realized that I wanted a tattoo, but back then it seemed like something that would never happen. For one, my parents viewed getting a tattoo as something equivalent to committing a crime, and two, getting a tattoo required a level of bad-assery that I didn’t believe I would ever possess.
I still don’t think I have a bad ass bone in my body. I mean, I am thirty-two years old and have never had surgery, stiches, or a broken bone. I had my first cavity six months ago. Something like riding on a plane or driving on the highway sends me into extreme panic mode. All that considered, how could I ever handle getting a tattoo?
When my husband and I first started dating, I went with him to get his first tattoo – a memorial for his grandfather. The experience left much to be desired, thanks to a whacked out “artist” and an absurdly long wait time, but J was happy. A few years later, I went with him again so he could get a memorial tattoo for his dad. This time he went to one of the best-known tattoo shops in Pittsburgh’s South Side, and the artist was friendly, confident, and talented. He did an amazing job on the tattoo, and made me feel comfortable enough to ask him how long a tiny tattoo about the size of a half dollar would take. He gave a friendly laugh at my trepidation and told me that it would take him longer to set up his equipment than actually ink the tiny black image I had pulled up on my phone. “Ten minutes,” he declared nonchalantly.
The seed was planted.
For years, I stewed over the “ten minute” estimate that the tattoo artist had given me. He’d said it after I’d done a quick Google search for “simple music tattoo” while my husband went was getting inked. I knew I wanted something to commemorate my love for music and instantly fell in love with the simple image of an eighth note encircled with a heart. I carried the image around on my smartphone for years, longing for the day where I’d drum up the courage to take a seat in the artist’s chair myself.
Then one bleak winter day in 2012, my fiancé and I were texting back and forth during the work day trying to figure out how we were going to spend our Friday night. Like most Pittsburghers, we had cabin fever and had pretty much done every indoor activity in and around the city. I was bored, so I came up with the genius idea to get a tattoo. I was still scared – terrified, really, but I was tired of being scared. Carrying around that tiny image on my phone for years wasn’t going to put the tattoo on my body. If I really wanted this done, I would have to, well, get it done.
My fiancé drove me and my sister to the same shop in South Side where he’d gotten his tattoo by the awesome artist who had assured me my design would only take ten minutes. Unfortunately, that particular artist had moved on to another shop, so I had to choose between trying to track him down and lose my nerve in the process, or suck it up, stay put, and accept the artist they assigned to me.
I chose the latter, knowing that if walked out of that shop that night, I may never get a tattoo.
Unfortunately, the guy they assigned to repeatedly stick a needle into my skin was a total jerk. He never introduced himself, he insulted my design choice, and kept huffing and puffing the entire time he was working. While I admit that I probably wasn’t the greatest client in the world when it came to sitting still, I had made it crystal clear that this was my first tattoo and I was horribly nervous.
Approximately sixty seconds into the tattoo, I nearly gave up. This was intense. There was no way I could sit there for another nine minutes. But my fiancé and my sister were sitting across the room staring at me, and if I tapped out, the jackass artist would probably be all too satisfied. So I stayed put. I kept breathing, and began counting. I figured that if I could concentrate on counting to sixty ten times, it would help pass the agonizing minutes.
And before I knew it, I was done. The guy remained a jagoff (Pittsburghese for jackass) until the very end, even after my fiancé handed him a tip he didn’t deserve.
None the less, I bounded out of the tattoo shop feeling like a million bucks. I was not going to let that guy put a damper on my newfound courage and my new art. I couldn’t wait to show off my very first tattoo.
People with multiple tattoos will tell you that once you get your first ink, you become addicted. And a few years after getting my music note, I realized they were right. I’d been tossing an idea around in my head about getting a memorial tattoo for my grandparents, three of which had already passed away. Then my grandmother died in June of 2015, and I knew I had to get something to pay tribute to my family’s heritage.
At long last, I decided on an infinity tattoo that displayed the last name of each of my grandparents. This was a way of immortalizing them and paying homage to my Slovak, Croatian, and Polish roots. This time I took a recommendation from a friend and went to a smaller, lesser known shop closer to home. The artist I requested was quiet and polite and latched onto my idea right away. I made an appointment for a few weeks later, and when he revealed the final design before he started to tattoo, I was blown away at how well he had interpreted my idea. The black script of the letters was beautiful and readable, and a thin yellow thread wove through the names as a nod to Pittsburgh being the “black and gold” city.
The tattoo took about 30-45 minutes, and in comparison to my first one, it was a breeze. Although both tattoos are on my shoulder blades, I’d rank the pain for my second one at a six or a seven, while the first one had been an eight to a nine. I liked this artist and knew I’d go back to him if I ever wanted to feed my new addiction.
(NOTE: This picture was taken literally about a half hour after the tattoo was completed, so it’s still kind of bleeding and you can’t really see the yellow thread. It looks much better now, I promise).
When I wrote the first two parts of this blog post last week, my plan was to make this third installment short and sweet. It was supposed to be about my experience returning to “my” tattoo artist and how he’d completed a piece on my inner forearm that I loved and was unique and meaningful. But of course, that’s not that way (my) life works.
The concept for this third tattoo was the Pittsburgh skyline flowing into a simple blue ocean wave that spelled the letters “OBX,” short for Outer Banks, my favorite place in the world and my intended destination should I ever have the fortune to relocate.
My new tattoo is definitely of the Pittsburgh skyline. And I love that part. But where the skyline is supposed to flow into a wave and the OBX letters, that’s where the things get a little muddled. The waves and letters OBX are so tiny that most people can’t read what it’s supposed to say. And the only part that my artist did in blue was the very last wave, something that I honestly didn’t even notice until I had left the shop that night. So now I am in a pickle.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the tattoo is terrible. I like 75 – 80% of it. But I do think the OBX/wave part needs to be clearer. The problem is figuring out how that can be done. Can it be made bigger? Can the color be more defined? Can the waves be more elaborate and the letters made to stand out more? Do we have to do a total cover up? And who do I go to in order to have this done? Should I start over with a new artist? Go back to the same guy? He did, after all, tell me to let him know if I had any issues. And he did SUCH a good job on my infinity tattoo. His portfolio on the shop’s website is impressive and he’s been there for a number of years. Several friends and co-workers have been pleased with his work on their own bodies.
I’m not mad at my tattoo artist. I don’t think he’s terrible. I’d recommend him to anyone. So I’m leaning towards returning to him for this fix or touch up or flat out cover up. I think that what happened is the result of some miscommunication; my part probably being that I’m not assertive enough when it comes to telling people what I want. And to be honest, I was so preoccupied with wanting to keep the tattoo small and understated that I probably didn’t even realize that I wanted something a bit more elaborate and feminine until after the fact.
But as is my habit whenever I get myself into a confusing situation, I ask the opinion of approximately 475 other people before making a decision, which, of course, just makes things more complicated for my anxiety-riddled brain. The majority of people say I should go back to him, but there are a few who say otherwise. I personally still think he’s a great artist and a nice, easygoing guy, so I probably will return to give him a chance to fix this.
For now, the tattoo is still healing. It’s at that annoying point where it’s horrendously itchy and starting to peel, so nothing can be done any time soon. And in another week, it’ll be the full-blown Christmas season, and I’ll be juggling that along with two birthdays and my car inspection, a yearly reminder that my blue hatchback Tobey is, after all, eleven years old and may need some sort of expensive lifesaving surgery.
So I can’t do anything about it for now. Maybe after the New Year, I’ll drop my artist an email or stop in the shop and explain my feelings to see what can be done. Part of me is excited at the prospect of getting something cooler, but part of me is anxious about confronting the guy to tell him that 25% or so of his work isn’t something I love. I’ll be sure to blog about it when the time comes, and feel free to comment with your opinions on this latest (or any) of my tats.