Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a post called Tattoo about the two tattoos I had and the one that I had been wanting for so, so long.
Today, my tattoo is complete.
Which in an odd way, makes me feel complete.
Around the time that I wrote that post, I was mentally preparing to get my tattoo. Sometimes I would stare at my arm and imagine the tattoo was there. When I would get dressed, I’d think to myself I won’t be able to wear this to work once I get my tattoo. I obsessively look at other tattoos done by my artist, making a mental note of what I like and what I don’t like.
I was worried about the pain.
I mean, I had two other small tattoos… but committing to hours and hours on end of tattooing sounded pretty awful.
Now that I’ve completed my partial sleeve, I thought I would share the process with you. You know, in case you were curious. I’m always curious… so I just assume everyone else is too.
My First Appointment
I wanted to get a partial sleeve tattoo of flowers – each one representing the birth month of a family member. There are a few options out there, so I took artistic license and narrowed the flowers down to: Violet (February, Jack), Peony (April, my twin sisters), Daisy (also April, my husband), Lily of the Valley (May, my dad), Chrysanthemum (November, my brother) and Daffodil (December, my mom).
My stress levels were insane the morning of my first tattoo appointment. I was literally so nervous and excited and scared that I thought I might vomit. I hadn’t felt the pain of a tattoo needle in years and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to handle it for the 4 hour appointment to get the black outline and shading done on my arm. I had given my tattoo artist my source materials and was afraid that I wouldn’t like what he designed.
My tattoo artist did an amazing job of fitting in each flower and showed me the stencil to approve before it went on my arm:
I loved the design, but asked him to change the middle of the peony to look a little less pointy. At this point it was a difficult to really imagine what the finished tattoo would look like, but I had done my research and knew that my tattoo artist does amazing work. So, I trusted him.
He put the stencil on my arm and let me live with it while he set up the room.
I settled into the chair – practically buzzing with nervousness – and he did a quick shave of my arm (even an almost invisible piece of hair could bump the needle) and then did a tiny test line. It wasn’t bad at all, so I settled in and he started tattooing.
My first session lasted four hours. The pain was bearable, but by about 3 ½ hours into it I was ready to be done. Area that had previously been worked on was swollen and fragile and those sensitive areas near the underside of my arm burned like fire.
Here is what it looked like after it healed for a couple weeks:
My Second Appointment
Unlike my first appointment where I was well-rested and prepared, the night before my second appointment I only got a few hours of sleep because I was stuck in DC traffic for 7 hours. Going into the session, I was hoping that all the color would be able to be done at once, but it soon became clear to me that it would take quite a while to get this piece finished due to the detail in the flowers.
The feeling of coloring in each flower was different than that of the outline, as it was more of a multiple needle ‘brush stroke’ rather than a pencil-like outline. I don’t think it necessarily hurt MORE, but it hurt differently. Especially that peony which has a ton of little petals and took almost three hours to do.
Here is my arm after about 4 ½ hours of work:
To be honest, I pretty much hated walking around with just half the tattoo completed and I felt like an unfinished coloring book. I could fully imagine what the finished piece was going to look like and super impatient to get it done. However, it is extremely important to let the tattoo fully heal in between sessions, so I tried to cool my jets in between appointments.
My Third Appointment
The finish line was in sight and at my third appointment I was totally relaxed and excited walking in the door. I knew what to expect and couldn’t wait to finally have it completed! After staring at my arm and imagining each color, I decided to change the white Lily of the Valley flowers to a light blue to better work with my skin tone and the other colors.
Almost exactly four more hours and it was complete! I let it heal up for a couple weeks before taking some pictures for you all:
As a woman, so many times when we look in the mirror we focus on our faults. My tummy isn’t as tight as it once was. My boobs could certainly be perkier. However, now when I look in the mirror I see something of beauty. Looking at my arm makes me feel beautiful. Totally, absolutely beautiful. To see the flowers that represent each person who is so important to me truly fills me with happiness. And that is worth every moment of pain to me.
I asked you all if you had any questions for me to answer and you certainly delivered. So, let’s get into the Q&A!
How did you choose where to get it done? How did you choose your artist?
I did a ton of internet research on tattoo artists before committing to the one I used. Basically, I would stalk the crap out of their online portfolios, websites, and Instagram pages. I ended up picking Eric Gregory because I really liked how he used color and shading. He has amazing skills that show in every piece that I saw. Even better, he was located at Little Vinnies which was less than 30 minutes from my house (you may have heard of Vinnie as he is very well known for his 3D nipple tattooing on survivors of breast cancer).
How long did you think about your design before you actually got it?
Over a decade, which I admit is a little extreme. Once I finally decided that I was going to go for it, I started collecting botanical illustrations of potential flowers and saved them to stare at every few months.
Was it painful or just annoying? Did the needles feel like annoying pricks or tons of stabby things? Did the pain stay consistent throughout or does it increase as the duration increases?
The degree of pain is going to vary on your pain threshold and also where you are getting tattooed – over bone hurts more than over fat and muscle. For me getting my partial sleeve, I feel like there were two different kinds of pain – the pain of the outline and the pain of the color/shading.
For the outline, the closest way I can describe it is as if someone lit a pen on fire and drug the tip over your skin. Now, I’ve never had a burning pen dragged over my skin, but that is the best way I can think to imagine the combination of scratching/burning that I felt. For the shading and color, it was the difference between a pen-tip and an eye shadow brush… there are multiple needles and the pain is more spread out.
For the first five minutes or so, it tends to hurt a bit more. Then, once you kind of settle into it… it’s more of an ongoing annoyance. After a few hours of it, you do tend to be a bit more swollen and tender, so if the artist goes back over a spot it does hurt quite a bit more. Also, the edge areas closer to my inner arm are much more sensitive, so those were the worst.
Also, you will take a couple breaks throughout the process. In my opinion, returning to the needle after a break seems like it hurts WAY more than if you would have just kept going.
How long did it take?
My partial sleeve took about 12 ½ hours total. The first session of just the outline and black shading was about 4 hours, the second session of coloring in the bottom half took 4 ½ hours, and the last session of coloring the top half took 4 hours.
What did you do while you were being tattooed? Did you eat?
Most of the time I just chatted with my tattoo artist, played on my phone or zoned out. I brought my kindle with me (so that I could watch TV shows and read a book) but never got around to using it.
It’s a good idea to keep your blood sugar up, so before each session I made sure to eat a healthy lunch. I also brought a soda with me to sip on during the tattoo as well as some snacks, like peanut butter crackers, a chocolate chip cookie and a handful of M&Ms.
How long did each session take to heal?
The healing process is multi-pronged. For the first couple days after a session, it basically feels like you have massive sunburn on the area. So, inevitably that is when Travis totally forgets and likes to randomly pat me on the arm. It’s just kind of swollen and uncomfortable and I didn’t sleep well because I’d accidentally roll over onto that side every few hours.
The second part of the process is the peeling phase. If you’d like to read a really interesting and detailed article on why tattoos peel, check this out. You want to keep your tattoo nice and moisturized so that the peely skin doesn’t come off before it is supposed to, but basically your entire design flakes off in colorful hunks. It doesn’t hurt anything though and your color is intact once it happens (just don’t pick at your scabs or you can lose color).
After the first phase of peeling is done, then I had more of a light peeling phase that itched like crazy. The itching was super annoying, but as long as you use lotion a few times a day it’s not too bad. After this layer of skin peels off, you are left with kind of a duller version of your tattoo. Once another layer of skin naturally turns over, you will be left with your bright and beautiful tattoo forever. You know, as long as you use a good SPF! It takes about three weeks for the whole healing process.
Wow, this post ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated! But I guess something that takes over 10 years of thought is also going to take almost 2,000 words to explain…
Do you have any tattoo questions I didn’t answer?