What To Expect: Holy Shit! It's Happening!
- Will it Hurt?
Yes, it will hurt but probably not nearly as bad as you think it will. Unless you do not think it will hurt at all, then it might hurt really, really bad. Tattoos placed over bones and tendons (spine, neck, back of ankle), on body parts with relatively little padding (feet, hands, joints) and anywhere with loads of nerve endings (nipples, fingers, face) will be the most painful. Your decision about placement is on par with your decision about art, so don’t chicken out just because your chosen area is a sensitive one. The best tattoos are the ones that work organically with the contours of the body. Just be aware that some bits will be more pain-prone than others.
Obviously, larger pieces will hurt more since they will take longer to execute. As you may have heard, the outlining process is generally more painful than the filling/shading process. Most tattoos are outlined in black, and the initial process of setting the outline down will, inevitably, make you grind your teeth.
How much it will hurt will depend on placement, size, complexity, and your own personal pain threshold. Everyone has different levels of tolerance for pain and as such while one person might experience discomfort during an appointment, others find it oddly pleasurable. In my opinion, the pain of receiving a tattoo is unlike any other pain. It’s not sharp, but it’s not dull either. Tattoos have been described as feeling somewhat like an “electric cat scratch”, tingly and scratchy at the same time. It is a bit like getting an absolutely epic sunburn on a very small area of your skin. and then letting someone take a toothpick and poke around on the sunburned area for a while. It is tolerable, as pain goes, but decidedly not fun.
If you are concerned about your ability to manage your pain, please contact us ahead of your appointment.
- Numbing Cream
We strongly discourage the use of topical anaesthetics and other skin numbing creams as these can affect the quality of your tattoo. Not only does the cream dull the sensation for only a short amount of time but also when the sensation returns, it is a shock to the system and the discomfort felt from being tattooed becomes more painful. Without the cream, it would have been annoying and possibly even a discomfort, whereas with the cream, the returning sensation is ten-fold what would have been felt without the use.
Having said that, you are allowed to use numbing creams at your own risk. You will need to detailed it in your consent form and sign the studio and artist off their responsibility.
Do not be afraid to tell your artist that you are nervous or scared. They see nervous and frightened people all the time and can often help your state of mind by explaining the process to you. Usually they can give you some funny anecdotes about other people worse off than you!
Please DO ask for assistance if you are nauseous, dizzy, or feel confused about anything. Sometimes people feel faint when getting tattooed, particularly during the first few minutes, (sometimes even if it’s not their first time!). There is no need to be embarrassed or afraid. Let the artist know if you are feeling anything unusual besides the tattoo itself.
Tattoo needles are not like hypodermic needles! They are not hollow, they do not penetrate the skin entirely (a few millimetres at most) and they do not inject anything into you. If it makes you feel more comfortable, your artist can show you before they start, what they are using. This might help some people feel less anxious.
- How Long Will It Take?
Everyone’s skin is different so time will vary from person to person. It also depends on how well you can sit for it. A very small and simple tattoo could take as little as ten minutes to apply. Most will take much longer than this. If you take lots of breaks or move a lot it will take longer.
Except for large tattoos lasting 2 hours or more (which usually get breaks), you are probably going to have to sit still the entire time of the tattoo. You will want to prepare yourself to endure discomfort for that long, without moving around. Figure out how to keep yourself calm and perhaps you might want to practice calming yourself down by breathing through the pain. If you practiced any yoga or meditation, you will benefit from the breathing exercises you learned.
Feel free to ask for breaks if you really need it. However the need to constantly adjust your position or to see the artist’s progress, it will make the progress slower. The artist will work as fast as they feel comfortable working. You should be aware that regular stops tend to break up their rhythm and could make it take much longer. Think of it as, “Are we there yet?” syndrome.
- Hold Still
You will need to sit however the artist asks you to sit which might be difficult at times. From your perspective it may even seem harder for the artist to reach an area in these positions, but artists are also concerned with stretching out the skin not just reaching it. Be careful if you find yourself straining to hold a position because it may make you shake or twitch. You will have to try your absolute best to stay completely still in the position they choose. If your leg or arm falls asleep or if you feel like you cannot maintain a position much longer, let the artist know before it becomes a struggle for you! There are often alternative positions the artists will have you try to make it easier for you.
During the entire procedure please pay attention to any instructions the artist might give you. They might need you to remove your belt, lower a sock, turn an elbow, take a breath, sit up straight, slouch over, or whatever, but you will need to be paying attention for when they do ask. If you feel uncomfortable you can always let the artist know.
If you find yourself needing to cough, readjust your position, stretch your leg, wiggle, laugh, or flinch; please give the artist warning first. You should also not assume that because the machine is not running, they do not still need you to be motionless.
We do not mind holding a conversation while tattooing (we love getting to know you!). However it is sometimes distracting and difficult to think of conversation topics while concentrating on the job at hand. If you feel you’ll need to talk to someone to help you cope, feel free to bring a friend. Wearing headphones and listening to music or audio books might also help you relax. Or better yet, bring your favourite music along to share with your artist!
During longer sessions, ask to take breaks if you need them. Usually a tattoo artist will allow a break every hour or so. Much more than that can interrupt the progress. When you do get a break make sure to use it wisely; use the bathroom, smoke a cigarette, drink water and munch on your snacks. You’ll probably notice that after a break the tattoo hurts pretty badly. Consider this another reason to limit the number of breaks you request.