27 December 2018

Getting My First Tattoo

As the year comes to a close, I can only think of how crazy 2018 has been! Being customary, I will be coming up with a year-end recap post. But before that, I would like to dedicate a post to my proudest moment this year and maybe in my lifetime so far-- getting a tattoo!

The date was August 26, 2018. I clearly remember because it was a long weekend, and the timing was definitely one of the many things I considered. I'm not kidding when I say I prepared long and hard for this (saving up some money, doing heavy research, etc.)-- read more below the cut to find out!

On getting the urge and getting ready

I can't tell for sure since when I wanted to get a tattoo; I feel like it has always been an idea at the back of my head that would resurface from time to time. But I'm certain that I wanted one at least as early as 2016, although I didn't have the same idea for my tattoo back then (I only conceptualized the design I went with recently). And really, when a lot of the artists and influencers are also inked, especially those you look up to (e.g. Dua Lipa, Halsey, Nadine Lustre), it's really hard to resist the urge to join them.

Come 2018, the urge rushed back in while I was planning a trip to Korea with a couple of friends. I knew that the Seoul tattoo scene was famous for its minimalist artists, and I was seriously contemplating on sneaking a session in our itinerary. However, due to certain factors: not enough time, the hassle of after-care while traveling, and the cost that was a little too high than I expected-- I decided to postpone the idea back then.

But at that point, I was totally determined and had already done my research right from the preparations, down to the process itself, and most importantly, the after-care. It was a well-informed decision on my part, and everything I learned helped when I was trying to "convince" my parents.

Getting the idea past my folks was the toughest part, I'd have to say! When I was just considering the idea, I would jokingly ask them and our conversation would usually go like this:

Me: "What if magpa-tattoo ako?" (What if I get a tattoo?)
Them: "Tumigil ka. Pangit 'yan tingnan lalo na pag-tanda mo." (Quit it. Tattoos don't look neat especially when you get older.)

At one point, I settled with them saying "when you're 25 and you still want to get a tattoo, then we'll allow it". But then 2018 and its whirlwind moments happened (and I think I also had to deal with that thing called "quarter-life crisis"), and I just wanted something drastic for a change. I was still 3 years short of the agreed age, but I badly wanted it to happen and did not want to wait any longer. That's when my approach changed. I began saying "I'm getting a tattoo" and showing designs, which they responded with the same disapproval. That kind of exchange occurred several times, until I finally decided to sit down with them and present my personal arguments on why I'm getting a tattoo, and why they shouldn't worry (by "worry",  I actually mean "oppose"), such as below:
  1. My tattoo will be small and in an inconspicuous place.
  2. The design stands for something that I know I will never regret.
  3. Society is becoming increasingly progressive, and the stigma on tattooed people is being eliminated, as should be.

I guess they saw I wouldn't let the idea go anymore. And so in the end, they wanted to make sure that the artist I chose was legit, and that everything will be safe and sanitary.

The nitty-gritty details and actual process

After an unhealthy amount of time spent jumping from one Instagram account to another, I had my shortlist of tattoo artists.  In selecting my artist, I considered their style or specialty, and their location too. As it turns out, most of them were based in the north-- so I guess that was the universe testing me just how far I was willing to go (literally and figuratively) to make it happen. I decided I was going to trust Maan Simbajon (@maansimbajon) to give me my very first tattoo, so I sent her a PM asking about her schedule. Once we locked in the date, I consulted her on my design since I wanted to know if I'll be able to handle the intricacy as a first-timer, as well as how much it'd cost.

I knew I wanted a constellation tattoo, specifically the Libra zodiac since it's my sun sign. I have always believed in astrology in one way or another ever since I was a child, based on how I would never fail to read my horoscopes at the back of every magazine, and even buy "Libra" bookmarks (I managed to keep them until now!). Then the design just grew from there as I kept on looking at more tattoo inspirations. In fact, I got the floral moon concept when I was browsing through Maan's works, and decided it would work well too as I am immensely fascinated with celestial bodies. To make it a bit more personal, I incorporated cherry blossoms or sakura flowers to symbolize my love for Japanese culture (as well as my 1/8 Japanese ancestry), and the spring season. You may think that October (my birth month) and cherry blossoms don't exactly go together, but that makes it even better in my opinion because I've always seen myself as a person of many ironies.

I sent Maan all my pegs together with a quick sketch of how I envisioned my tattoo to be; and when I finally met her at 55 Tinta Maginhawa (@55tinta), she presented me a draft that made my idea look sooo much better! I also got to know the final price of the piece, which was Php5,000. I'm no expert on the subject but for me it's not a bad price to pay given the details and size of the design!

I had to go back the week after though, because the management was adamant about their policy of not working with anyone who was on that time of the month. Besides the lower pain tolerance (despite my insistence that I can handle it and that I was already at the last few days of my period), they had an unfortunate experience with a female client before wherein her skin had a reaction and caused the ink to scatter, ruining the art.  Of course, it's best to listen to the experts! So that's one tip to keep in mind (which I did... except my visitor was a little late according to schedule lol).

That had me thinking: could this be the universe's way of telling me "no"? I'm indecisive to a fault (after all, I am a Libra sun), but this was one thing that I was sure of: I really wanted to get inked. And so I returned that following Sunday, on my own, ready as I can be. I honestly didn't mind having to go back, because my first visit allowed me to have a feel of the studio, as well as finalize the concept of my tattoo.

Upon arriving at 55 Tinta, they made me sign a waiver which included that one condition I couldn't fulfill on my first time there. You know things are real serious when there's a waiver involved lol. Maan then showed me the printout of the final design in three different sizes. The differences are minimal. Although I didn't want to go too big, I trust the artist and go with a 3.5" diameter. She then traced the design on a transfer paper, while the station was being set-up. I've always had this vision that tattoo shops were dark, rugged and had punk music blasting on the speakers, but 55 Tinta was not like that at all.

Once Maan was done tracing the design, she then transferred it on my chosen area, the skin over my right shoulder blade. It's similar to how temporary tattoos are applied, except this one only serves as a guide for the real deal.

I finally laid down, but on my stomach because it was the best position given the placement of my tattoo.  I was surprisingly calm on the tattoo bed throughout the whole thing, even during the moment right before we started. The biggest question about getting inked is if it hurts. I believe it depends on the area, and of course the pain tolerance of the person. I actually consulted several pain charts while considering where I would put my tattoo, and luckily the shoulder area is one of the least painful spots. It hurts more where there's less fat and more muscle or bone (e.g. ribs, joints, etc.). I wouldn't use the word "painful" to describe my experience; but rather, "irritating". It felt like a sharp ball-point pen dragging across your skin over and over. It might have been my posture and the neat music being played, but I felt like I could fall asleep during the process. Maan had the lightest hands ever too, and I really appreciate her checking up on me every now and then!

From time to time, the tattoo artist would rub lotion on the portion being worked on, giving it moisture and a soothing feeling. The whole procedure didn't feel like a very long time, and I was surprised when Maan told me that we were already at the final touches. After 30 or so minutes, it's done!

End result

Seeing the finished artwork on my skin for the first time was, whoa. I couldn't believe the details-- from the dots that make up the constellation, the fine line running through the branches, to the shading of the flowers! Maan definitely did a great job, and it was everything I wanted. I've always had pretty sensitive skin though (i.e. my skin gets really red and blotchy easily when pricked or tugged), so it looked swollen at first, but subsided after a few minutes. My tattoo was then wrapped up in cling paper to keep it clean (and was told that I could remove it after 4 to 8 hours). That, together with the soreness I felt (that lasted for days), made it quite difficult for me to move my arm.

My parents thought my tattoo was a bit too big. I jokingly told them, "thank you at tinanggap niyo pa ako sa bahay" (loose translation: "Thank you for accepting me back into this household"). Well... they didn't exactly "support" my decision; but as they say, "relationship over rules [although of course there should still be rules]". I madly respect and love them for that. This was such a big deal for me, and having their "blessing" allowed me to go on without a heavy heart.

Washing the tattoo definitely added minutes to my daily routine. Following the stuff I read online, I did not let water hit the tattoo directly. I cupped normal temperature water to the area, and cleaned it with fragrance-free soap (I used Baby Dove for sensitive skin). After stepping out of the shower, I would take a facial tissue and pat the tattoo dry. After a few seconds or even minutes, I then applied a thin coat of A&D ointment, which I got from 55Tinta. They actually sell a tattoo after-care kit, complete with the soap and ointment. Truth be told, I found the after-care process more difficult than the process of actually getting the tattoo haha! I kept the routine up for a week and switched from applying ointment to lotion (unscented and fragrance-free too, still from the Baby Dove line) when the tattoo stopped feeling like an open wound and no longer stung when touched. Needless to say, I also resorted to wearing light and loose clothing during the healing period. Besides the fact that the area was highly sensitive, I was also told to avoid heavily-physical activities that would make me sweat (and stay away from swimming and the sun on the first one or two weeks, too). At times the area felt itchy, but I was advised to not, at all means, scratch it.

After 14 days or so, the ink has settled in my skin, and the lines no longer felt bumpy. It peeled a bit only on the 11th day, although I was expecting it to be much worse. Based on my research, the tattoo will scab (like sunburn) during the healing period. The whole time, I was waiting for it to happen, and felt like I was doing something wrong when it didn't. I guess it shows that we all heal differently (in many ways, not just when getting a tattoo... hahaha!)

Final thoughts

It's been four months since I got my first tattoo. I remember looking at the mirror several times when I was just still considering the idea, barely imagining something on that spot at my back. Often times I forget that I actually have a tattoo already; but when I catch it in my reflection or in a photo,  a feeling of awe and fulfilment still washes over me. Definitely one of the highlights of my 2018, and one of the bravest decisions I've ever made in my life too. You have no idea how proud I am-- this is one thing that I got to do by myself, for myself. Now it's checked off my bucket list (not that I have a concrete one, though)!

I was told by a couple of people I know (who are also inked) that once you get one, you'll keep wanting more. I swore to my mother I won't get another one ever, but I guess they weren't lying hahaha! Whether I do end up getting another one or two or whatever,  this one's with me forever (wow big word, kidding!), and I know I won't regret it.

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