I have two tattoos and neither one is exactly small.
The first I got just after my 18th birthday, which is minimum age you can be tattooed under California law. At that time, I was doing a lot of drawing and painting, and wings showed up in my art constantly. Just like with dreams, I believe that the symbols that show up in your art often hint at something that’s going on underneath your conscious mind. I don’t remember having very many doubts when I tracked down my artist, showed him some drawings and described to him what I wanted, and went underneath the needle.
I wasn’t anticipating tattooing to be a very spiritual experience, but it was. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it here yet, but I grew up in a spiritual, hippie household and religiously identify as pagan. In most pagan faiths, symbolism is extremely important. Even outside of paganism, we as a culture understand the power of symbols – think of the cross, the swastika, or even written words themselves. What could be more powerful than having a symbol permanently etched on your body? It is for this reason we use tattoos for quotes or memorials – so we don’t forget a specific message or someone close to us who has passed.
The summer I was 19, I went to work at a wildlife rehabilitation center. It was in the middle of nowhere in the California Central Valley. I was deeply lonely and depressed, but I forged a very strong bond with the 22 baby raccoons I worked with and one little baby in particular. I was incredibly struck by their resilience and ability to survive even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
I conceptualized the idea for my next tattoo then, but waited another two years before I got it – little raccoon paw prints climbing up my leg in the same place my little baby raccoon would climb up my jeans to hang out on my hip. To me, it wasn’t just a nod to them and the emotional support they provided me during my last serious depression, but also a reminder to myself that even when hope seems lost and the odds are stacked against you, you can persevere and survive.
Decide what you want to get, and then wait. I suggest waiting a few years if possible in order to be completely sure this is the image, place, and idea you want put on your body. Sometimes ideas seem cool or “hip” in the moment, but then become cliche or passe after a few months. Or you might be going through a short lived phase, but that knitting or band tattoo won’t be nearly as cool after six months.
Carefully consider placement. I’d recommend thinking of three things – the first is how much the location will stretch or become “flabby” with age. Backs and lower legs are a pretty safe bet, but upper arms and thighs are more likely to become less muscular with age. Also, some places hurt a LOT more than others to get tattooed, so do your research – ribs are supposed to be excruciating. Third, I think it’s better to get a tattoo you can easily hide and can’t easily see. I think wrist tattoos are gorgeous, but I know that if I had to look at the same image every day in such a visible place for the rest of my life, I would get over it. That’s why I love back and leg tattoos – you basically forget what they look like and that they’re even there.
Do your research on your artist and find one that tattoos in the style you like. I was interested in artists that were good at shading so it wouldn’t have made sense for me to seek out a professional who does retro styles or lettering. Ask to see their portfolio or ask your friends who have tattoos in the style you like who their artists are.
Let your artist design the tattoo and trust his recommendations. They call them “artists” for a reason – whoever you hire should be incredible at drawing, plus he’ll have some ideas about what will actually translate well to your skin. Sure, you can go in with a complete piece and just hire him to replicate it, but it’s a lot more special to have an original work of art put on your body. Also, if he says something won’t look good, take his word.
Don’t skimp out on an artist. If he’s not charging much, there’s probably a reason. Get used to the idea you might be paying a couple of hundred for a medium tat to even a couple of thousand for a giant one. Save up instead of shopping for a cheaper option.
Think of tattoos as a map of your past. My wings or paw prints might not mean as much to me when I’m 40 years old, but I’m going to look back at them as symbols of what I was and what I was passionate about or struggling with. Tattoos don’t always need to have the same level of meaning to you your entire life, and that’s OKAY. (Just don’t get something you’ll regret, like your boyfriend’s name, haha.)
Do you have any tattoos? What do they mean? If not, have you thought about getting one?