I’ll never forget my first tattoo. I was eighteen years old and slightly high, and I had student loan money burning a hole in my pocket. I walked into Stinky Jim’s Tattoos and Piercings as a noob and came out as an inked-up badass.
Since then, I’ve become addicted to tattoos. Well, not to actually “getting tattoos” per se, but to sharing my expertise with tattoo virgins and getting them ready to take the “puncture plunge.”
Selecting a Subject and Style
Picking out the subject of your first ink is easy. I follow a lot of travel influencers, so getting WANDERLUS tattooed on my wrist in a barely legible script was a no-brainer. You should spend no more than ten minutes on this—I know I spent way less than that scrolling Pinterest before I committed.
While you can’t go wrong with a single word or image in black and no bigger than two square inches, there are many styles. Based on the one episode of Inkmaster I’ve watched (while wine drunk and half-asleep at a motel), I think the most popular styles are: American traditional (which uses a limited color palette of red, white, and blue); watercolor (when watercolor paint is used instead of tattoo ink); and neo-traditional (when your tattoo artist dresses like he is in The Matrix).
Arriving at the Appointment
The last thing you want is to go into your appointment sounding like an uninformed blankskin (tattoo-speak for someone who’s not tattooed).
Let’s get the lingo down. A single small tattoo is called a “banger.” If you cover your arm in tattoos, that’s called a “sleeve.” If you cover your leg in tattoos, that’s called a “pant leg.” If you cover both of your arms, that’s known as a “lit cardigan.” Finally, both legs covered in tattoos are called “inky gauchos.”
For example, if your first ’too is going to be a dainty geometric arrow on your ankle, you would say to your artist, “Let’s slap an arrow banger on the ol’ ankle and get me on the tat train towards a pair of inky gauchos, toot toot!” (“Toot toot” is slang for “tattoo.”)
Your artist will then apply the stencil and complain that he didn’t get an MFA in studio arts so he could keep tattooing the same four Pinterest designs on stoned college chicks. Don’t worry; he’s just razzing you as part of your initiation into tattoo culture. Stinky Jim said the same thing to me, but by the end of our appointment, we’d built so much mutual respect that he taught me all this tattoo jargon.
During the Tattooing
Let’s talk about the elephant in the studio: the pain. Some people have told me, “The ten minutes it took for that tattoo can’t have been that bad.” Wrong!
Imagine getting your arm sawed off by Jason Voorhees, being impaled on a bed of spikes, and giving birth to a fully grown adult all at the same time. Multiply that by a hundred, and you’ll be close to understanding how genuinely excruciating this experience is.
You’ll need to psychologically prepare before your appointment. Get a mantra, such as “one tat closer to a sick pant leg,” and repeat it to yourself while doing something painful, such as sucking sriracha straight out of the bottle or revisiting your high school yearbook photos.
I got through my tattoo by belting out the most hardcore rock song I know, Hoobastank’s “The Reason,” over and over. Stinky Jim was so overwhelmed by my resilience that he accidentally forgot to add the “T” on the end of “wanderlust”! Whoops!
After the Appointment
After tipping your artist the customary 2 percent, you’re done. Your artist may try to put Saniderm (overpriced Saran Wrap) or a paper towel over your ink, but I say let that toot toot breathe freely.
Now that you’re part of the tattoo community (or, as we call it, the tattoonity), your life is forever changed. When you see someone with a badass tat on their arm, that person is now family. You can say, “Sick ski-mo, my fellow inkophile!” (“Ski-mo” is short for skin modification and is what all cool tattooed folks say to each other.)
I get up every morning, draw a “T” on my wrist with a Sharpie next to WANDERLUS, and reflect on how cool it is that I made this significant life change five years ago, then made it my entire personality. Someday, I intend to get a second tattoo and maybe work up to a three-quarter sleeve-length lit cardigan.
So, there you have it—my tat wisdom to your un-tatted ears. Now, the only thing left to ask yourself is, How soon are you going to book that appointment, blankskin?