Getting a tattoo is a pretty big deal since it's likely going to stay on your skin for the rest of your life. Let's be honest, it's a commitment.
As a beginner, there are a few things you'll want to know before getting inked, from how to pick a design or artist to how painful the tattooing process might be.
We spoke with Fin, a local tattoo artist, to ask her common questions first-timers have and what tattoo artists wish people knew before getting their first ink:
*Take note that these are just answers based on how Fin operates and she's not speaking for the tattoo industry as a whole.
SAYS: How do I pick an artist or decide on a design I want as a first-timer?
Fin: What I believe works best is letting the idea come to you, and then picking an artist based on your preferred style of tattoo. I do custom designs and my schedule is usually super packed so I don't have as much time to work on flash designs*.
Normally, if someone comes wanting to get tattooed by me but has no idea what they'd like, I like to tell them to save their skin first and let the idea come to them. Think about it — I don't know your favourite colour, food, hobby, etc, I definitely should not be the person deciding what's about to get tattooed onto your skin for the rest of your life!
*Flash designs are ready-to-go designs made by an artist that can either be a one-off or repeated on others (depends on the artist). If an artist has available flash designs then you could always pick from those if you have no idea what to get and something stands out to you!
The most important thing to take from this is to know the style of tattooing the artist does before asking about making a booking. You're not going to get a good plate of spaghetti if you walk into a mamak — if you catch my drift. Haha.
SAYS: Are there any tips on how to decide on a tattoo placement?
Fin: Small tattoos in smaller areas is my usual advice. It makes the tattoo look less lonely and it also won't be in the way too much if you decide to get a bigger piece on that area in the future.
However, I reckon this is personal — your body, your choice. My job is only to advise you if a particular placement or orientation may not work in favour of the design you're getting done. There are no hard and fast rules about placements but do remember that the advice your artist gives you comes from a place of consideration for your benefit.
SAYS: If I have darker skin, are there any things I should know before deciding on a design? (For example, the design needs to have more contrast on tanned skin compared to fairer skin.)
Fin: The most common question I get asked from folks who have more tanned/darker skin tones is "Will the colour show?" and the answer really depends on:
a.) your skin tone and
b.) your colour choice and most importantly,
c.) your expectations.
Your skin acts like a filter to the colours used in your tattoos. The more pigmentation we have in our skin, the more interference there is in being able to see the true pigment of the ink, because new skin heals up and regenerates over the pigment.
So yes, a stronger contrast will always make colours appear more saturated and vibrant, but there are also other factors to take into consideration such as the size of the tattoo and the style of tattooing/the design, etc.
SAYS: How much will the tattooing process hurt and what does it feel like?
Fin: Haha I love this question. It's like asking — "How spicy is that?" or "How scary is the movie going to be??"
Everyone's threshold is different and everything is relative. A 20-minute tattoo could be a breeze, but then try sitting for seven hours getting tattooed in the same spot. The amount of time you sit and how calm you are makes a world of difference!
But I can confidently say that no one has ever walked out after the first two minutes and left it at a line or two, haha — vanity is a very powerful motivator.
SAYS: What if I'm allergic or pass out? Can I take any medicine or numbing cream?
Fin: The problem is we won't know you're allergic until you've actually done the tattoo. All professional studios have a waiver form for you to sign. We need to know if there is anything specific we should know about, stuff like if you have a medical condition, if you're pregnant, even if you have low blood sugar or eczema, etc. If you pass out, we are going to stop tattooing you and make sure you are okay before we continue (only if it's safe to do so).
Anything that you might be concerned about — TELL US so that we can prepare or advise you accordingly.
Getting tattooed will involve risks like in anything else you do — like signing up at a gym, going rock climbing or diving, or going for a cosmetic surgery procedure, etc. It's your decision to make at the end of the day.
Numbing cream is a personal preference but I personally don't use it or offer it to clients. Your body is able to take the pain, and will release hormones to combat the pain.
Plus, most numbing creams only last about 20 to 30 minutes so if you're getting a larger piece, that numbing cream is going to be like taking a Panadol for a root canal. (Taking painkillers won't lessen the pain either FYI haha).
SAYS: What should I do or avoid on the tattoo day?
Fin: Make sure you get a good night's rest (if possible), have something to eat before you come in — even if you are fine, your body needs some energy to work off to tahan during your session.
If you have changed your mind about your design, do let your artist know well ahead of time — don't surprise us with a completely different idea on the day itself, especially if you're working on a large project.
And please do respect the standard operating procedures (SOPs) a studio has set out for their staff and clients. :) They are in place to keep everyone as safe as possible.
SAYS: What should I know about aftercare?
Fin: Your tattoo artist will normally run you through their aftercare steps (each artist may have a different approach).
I like to keep things simple so that I am not overwhelming someone with a bunch of information. Basically keep the area clean, listen to your body, no picking or scratching, swimming or soaking until the skin stops peeling/scabbing.
So no diving trips for a couple weeks after you get that tattoo!
SAYS: What are some of the main things tattoo artists wish customers knew before booking them?
Fin: I can't speak for everyone, but some of the main things would be to be familiar with the artist you are looking to book in with and the kind of work they do.
Read the information they have provided on their website or IG profile. And have at least a solid idea of what you'd like to get done especially if you are approaching custom tattoo artists.
Finding the right artist for you is important — you can't always go off a friend's recommendation when it comes to this sort of thing.
Tattoos are permanent and art is subjective. Make sure you are choosing what's best for you.
SAYS: Any other tips for first-timers?
Fin: Ask, ask, ask. You have every right to ask any question that you feel you need or want to ask. I firmly believe in transparency and that clients should be armed with the right information.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or can't provide enough information or answers that satisfy your concerns, don't feel obligated to stick with one place.
Don't be bullied or swayed into doing something you're not really vibing with. I'd rather lose a deposit than get stuck with a permanent reminder of how crappy someone made me feel for five hours.
A tattoo shouldn't be stressful. :) It's a fun and exciting event so if someone's got a stink attitude or makes you feel uncomfortable, however good their work is, maybe they're not the right artist for you. You'll want good memories attached to the tattoo, especially if you have to spend hours and hours next to the person tattooing you lol.
You can check out more of Fin's work and follow her on Instagram.
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