It’s estimated that 21% of Canadians now have a tattoo, and even though I was working for Tattoo Hero, I was not part of that growing percentage. It was time to cross the chasm, but I didn’t know what I wanted, who to talk to, and worst of all, I had no idea what I was doing.
“What? You don’t have any tattoos? How did you get this job?” Kate Leth asks me with a faux-mocking tone and a smile during our interview. “Nepotism mostly.” I joke. I had come to expect this kind of reaction when people found out I work for Tattoo Hero and didn’t have any ink.
I admit it was an oddity. It’s like going to a brewer and asking them questions about the beer only for them to eventually confess, “You know, I don’t really drink beer.”
It wasn’t like I was against the idea of a tattoo, quite the opposite. I thought tattoos were awesome, and incredibly attractive on people. I just never thought I was the kind of person who should get a tattoo. I’m incredibly fickle, I get bored of my look easily, and I was terrified of how my body would react.
Out of those three, I think the last reason was the biggest barrier to me getting a tattoo. I have a weird immune system. Legit. I’ve tried to get piercings and my body literally tries to absorb the stud. I almost never get sick, and if I do manage to catch something, it generally only lasts 24 hours. I’ve had it been described to me as a “very aggressive immune system”, so if this is how my body normally reacts, what the hell would it do when I tried injecting ink into it?
So I admired other people’s ink, and lived vicariously through my friends who did have tattoos – and this worked for a very long time. Then I started doing work for Tattoo Hero, and the more and more I got exposed to this community, and the more I talked to some awesome people with tattoos, the more the desire to get one built up inside me.
Eventually desire overcame fear and I told myself “I’m going to do this. I’m going to get a tattoo.” There was no turning back now (or so I told myself). It was early summer, June 2014 when I made this commitment. I had no idea what I was doing.
I decided I wanted an arrow running underneath my left collarbone. I don’t really recall how I came to the conclusion (rookie mistake on my part for not writing this shit down), but I’m really into archery, and the symbolism of an arrow has always resonated with me – so I figured it wouldn’t be something I’d regret.
I went out to lunch with Tattoo Hero CTO, Steve Tannahill and brought up my intent to get a tattoo and then write about it. Steve, as chill as ever let out a “cool man” and without him asking me, I proceeded to tell him what I wanted and where I wanted it.
After explaining where I wanted it, Steve let out a chuckle “That’s going to hurt, man.” I had secretly hoped that it would be a less painful area, but Steve gave me a sobering truth – telling me about how bad it hurt with some of his similar work. He then imparted some typical Steve wisdom, “Don’t ever get a tattoo where someone will kiss you”.
I chose to ignore Swarmi Steve’s advice, for good or for ill. It had taken me this long to commit to getting something, and I was set on an arrow underneath my left collarbone.
But I can be a fickle person; I get bored of things easy. Like I shared in my interview with Kate, I’m deathly afraid of getting something that I’ll be bored of and hate in a few years. Kate had given me a cautionary tale in the form of a giant cupcake she got on the back of her neck when she was 18 (because “cupcakes are cute”) -something that makes a 25 year-old Kate cringe. Was this going to be my cupcake?
To test my mettle, and to make sure that this isn’t going to be a tattoo full of regrets, I planned to draw on the tattoo on my body every day to see if I still liked it when I saw it in the bathroom mirror every morning.
My first morning in, I stare into my bathroom mirror and the crudely-drawn arrow I’ve drawn under my left collar bone stares back. Even in this state I feel good about it, and my concerns don’t quite seem so big anymore. I can do this – I am going to get this tattoo.
I then realize that it’s a good thing that this is an area that I normally cover up, because right now I just look like an asshole with magic marker on his chest.
The topic of my imminent tattoo becomes the office water-cooler talk amongst my friends. My friend Amber jokingly chided my desire to dip my toe in the pool, saying, “You should just go for a full back piece, or like a massive chest piece.” Somehow I feel that’s like putting a spoiler on a crappy Honda. I day-dream what I’d get if I were to cannonball into tattoos, but ultimately decide that I’m satisfied (for now) with my little collarbone arrow.
I continue to keep drawing on my chest for the next three weeks, and even though it looks like I was a victim of a prank for passing out a frat party, my desire for an arrow below my left collarbone doesn’t diminish.
Now that I know this is a tattoo that I can stand behind, I begin the process of finding a shop that fits the HF Connell aesthetic. Steve had his own recommendations and I start polling the Tattooed people of the Tattoo Hero team for their own recommendations.
I also took the search to the Tattoo Hero website, liking and saving anything that fit my style for later research. Shameless plugs aside, finding that perfect partnership is harder than you might think, and I found myself endlessly checking out plenty of artists both here in our home base of Ottawa and across Ontario/Western Quebec. It’s also hard to search when you also can’t figure out exactly what you want.
I have an arrow locked down, but what style do I want? Geometric? Traditional? Medieval? I take my search to the internet to try and figure this mess out. A folder gets created on my MacBook – this is getting serious.
Hours are spent on Google, as I fine-tune what I do and don’t like, getting closer to that tattoo that I’m going to love. I wonder if this is part of the journey of getting a tattoo, if it’s always introspective – trying to find and express yourself with skin and ink. I decide to reach out to Jamie Franklin, Tattoo Hero’s very own Marketing everywoman.
Jamie is no slouch when it comes to tattoos, with a number of pieces spanning across her arms, back, legs and chest – the perfect yoda to my Luke Skywalker. I send her a quick tweet, asking her to be my spirit guide on my adventure. Jamie graciously accepts and takes me under her tattoo-covered wing. I set up a call with her in a few days, and begin to go through my list of questions and cross off the stupid ones – I don’t want to seem like a plebe, that’s what Google is for, right?
And then I lose my nerve. I never ended up calling Jamie. I second-guess if this is something I should be doing. I mean, my Mom would kill me. I keep on telling friends and co-workers alike that I’m going to do it, that I’m going to book a consultation, or that I’m still trying to decide what exactly it is I’m going to get. All of these are bullshit, hollow excuses.
Months go by with me making up any and every excuse as to why I haven’t done it yet. December comes, and the harsh Ottawa winter sets in. “I’m going to get a tattoo.” I tell my brother. I’m at my Mom’s place for Christmas, and my younger brother Brent and I are in my Mom’s basement playing Shuffleboard.
“Ha ha really? Mom is going to KILL you.” He says with his trademark mischievous grin. “C’mon, I’m almost 30” I reason. “What’s she going to do? I’M AN ADULT.”
We head upstairs for a drink, where my Mom is in the kitchen. Brent tells my Mom “Hey Mom, I’m thinking I’m going to get a tattoo” and looks my way with a big fucking grin. He’s not going to, he just wants to show me what I’m in for. My Mom’s eyes go wide. “Like hell you are!” she says to him, and then proceeds to tear up one side of him and down the other. I give Brent a death stare, and think about how I’m going to have to eventually break this to my Mom.
January comes (and with it comes my 30th birthday) – I decide that it’s time I stop saying I’m going to get a tattoo and to actually do it. It takes me another month and half for me to actually book the consultation.
Based on how awesome they’ve been to Tattoo Hero (and how awesome his fiancé is) I meet with Alex of Railbender Studio and Gallery here in Ottawa.
I’m sitting in his studio, and I’m excited and pretty nervous about this whole thing – instantly blurting out that I worked for Tattoo Hero and this was my first tattoo when he asked me what I was looking to get done. Picking up on my nervousness, or maybe artists just have a routine for first-timers, Alex was super reassuring. He even gave me some pro-tips: including breathe, and don’t be tense.
He then asked me again what I was looking to do. Feeling a little more composed I laid out my idea, showing him pictures I had found on the internet when I Googled “arrow tattoo”.
I told him it was a straight-forward tattoo, and then began to say “I like the accents on this one” and “the detailing on the shaft is really nice on that one” (that’s what she said).
After telling him what I liked about various arrow tattoos on Google image search, Alex showed me some of his work and talked about next steps. This was it. We were going to book this bitch.
Alex pulled up his calendar and was like “I have some time next week, next Tuesday?” (today was Wednesday). My heart started pumping, and I thought to myself “Oh god! That’s so soon!” and it suddenly became very real and kind of frightening for some reason.
I said no purely on the fact that my head was saying “Holy shit! That’s too soon! I need time to prepare for this shit!” but knowing I had to pull the trigger on this once and for all, I said yes to an appointment slot two weeks later.
Those two weeks passed by way too quickly, and I found myself in Alex’s studio talking about weekend plans as he put together the transfer. We put it on my chest and I looked into the mirror. A huge grin spread across my face – Alex had done an amazing job and it looked fucking awesome. My sharpie scribbles paled in comparison to the real thing, and I’m getting pretty excited.
Our intrepid writer taking a moment to take a selfie, post-transfer.
I was completely calm for the entire process, not nervous about getting that tattoo at all. But as soon as I lay down in the chair, I completely panicked. I’m not entirely sure what it was – a worry about infection, or the permanency of the tattoo, or because I thought it was going to hurt like a bitch. The fight or flight response had been set off.
I considered if it was too late to call the whole thing off. I thought about running out of the studio without my shirt. I was weighing an endless list of options and exit strategies to get the fuck out of there. What the hell was I doing here?
I guess this was an entirely internal struggle, and the panic didn’t register on my face because at this point Alex says “You’re incredibly chill about this whole thing.” I turned to him and said bluntly “Chill on the outside, absolute panic on the inside.”
Alex gave a laugh and tried to put me at ease. “Alright, I’m just going to do a bit of the outline so you get a feel for the sensation.” I leaned back in the chair. I breathed. I gripped the chair tightly, my knuckles turning white. I closed my eyes and felt my heart pounding in my chest as the tattooed gun started to buzz.
I pictured myself as James Bond. Tied to the chair and about to endure torture at the hands of some nefarious villain. I’d laugh off the pain and shout “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT!?”
The gun touched my skin. I braced, and waited for a pain that never came. It was overwhelmingly anti-climatic – I didn’t even register it as pain. “Is that it?” I said in disbelief. Alex laughed and explained that while it was going to feel different in different places, that yes, that was pretty much it. An absolute wave of relief washed over me and I exclaimed “Oh shit. Ok we’re good! Have at it!”
And so I laid there and let Alex practice his craft. The arrowhead (closer to my chest) hurt a bit, but for the most part this was probably one of the least painful things I had ever done.
Fresh outta the chair.
Alex finished and I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror. Holy shit. I had a tattoo. I was a person who had a tattoo. It still hadn’t sunk in, and I have to admit, it was a little surreal. Who was this guy in the mirror who had some ink? It certainly didn’t feel like me. But damn, he looked fucking cool.
Weeks pass and I thought I’d feel different, but I don’t. I have a huge case of imposter syndrome. It’s now a month after getting my tattoo and I’m staring at my computer screen, trying to figure out how to end this odyssey of mine in words. But the truth is, I can’t. The story isn’t over yet – I’m still in a surreal state of constantly reminding myself “I have a tattoo. I am a tattooed person.” Am I the Illustrated Man yet? Not quite. But, I’m working on it.