Helpful First Tattoo Tips

After being presented with an interview by a local media outlet Miss Boy Clyde, After Forever's Apprentice, offers some great insight for people considering their first tattoo. Common tattoo questions are addressed, as well as tattoo tips on how to identify proper sterilization practices and to ensure your tattoo safety.

After Forever has decided to incorporate this interview as an important element of this website, and hopes you find the information to be a helpful guide when getting any of your future tattoos!

When choosing your first tattoo, what are some important things to consider?

There’s a lot to consider before getting your first, or any tattoo. What you want, where you want it, if you will want it at every 5 year stage of your life forever, have you done any research, what is your budget, sizing, have you had a free consultation, have you chosen an artist, do you feel comfortable talking to your artist, do they listen to you, have you printed some designs you like, whether your artist is discussing your ideas or just trying to ‘make the deal’. Different clients think a tattoo has to be deep and meaningful, and others view it as a collection of art on their bodies. We always recommend having a full meal and some sugar before getting your tattoo to alleviate dizziness, nausea and to increase your pain tolerance. Getting a tattoo with low blood sugar isn’t a pleasant experience.

Is it generally recommended that someone pick something small to start with, or is it more a 'go big or go home' mentality?

To get the best value from your tattoo the size should be at least considered. Most tattooists have a minimum charge, so that is something to consider so that you don't feel like you've been ripped off afterward, getting something tiny and basic when you could've gotten something a little more significant to you for same price. There are some businesses out there that have a 'go big or go home' mentality, but we strive to never pressure people into getting something they may regret, or something that could compromise their future. A smaller design is usually best if there are a few tattoo ideas to choose from, until you get a feel for it. Tattoos are a very different sensation and people are often very anxious when they don’t know what to expect. If someone is considering a larger design for their first tattoo we usually either suggest fully completing one portion of the design to start with and adding the rest at a later date, or doing all of the outlining in one sitting to start and then returning for colour or shading in a couple weeks. Peer pressure can get to people so they think they HAVE to sit through it all at once, but if the client is uncomfortable, anxious, tensing up and jumping around they might as well return when they’re more comfortable and prepared. What people should keep in mind is that their artist is giving them the best of their ability and they should do the same. Depending on the design your artist will recommend what they feel would be best for you.

Do a lot of people ask how painful it will be? What do you usually tell them?

People ask this all the time! The bottom line is: Getting a tattoo hurts! Clients often ask where tattoos hurt the least, but everyone is different and has different sensitive areas. It's kind of like how some people have ticklish backs but some have ticklish feet...some people find different areas more painful than others. There are certain areas that first timers can be a little more jumpy, so depending on the design chosen we will often make recommendations for placement if they are having trouble deciding, or we will position them a little differently for their sitting. There are a variety of topical numbing creams that some people choose to use, the most common being Emla Cream. We do not carry these products because they are quite expensive and often do not last through your tattoo. If someone is planning to use this product we would like to know and advise them on the use. Some clients say when it wears off it feels like it hurts more than getting a tattoo without using it at all because of the sensation returning unnaturally. There are also studies that show increased and serious risks if covering a large area so ask your doctor. If someone is thinking of using one of these creams we encourage them to let us know, or come talk to us prior to purchasing it so we can help them decide if it’s right for them and help ensure they use it properly to decrease any risks. Or to be even better prepared, ask your physician for more information about it and it’s proper use at your next check up.

Is it okay to get a tattoo if I'm sick?

It is best not to get a tattoo when you're sick. Your body is already trying to fight your ailment off, so why put more stress on your immune system having it try to heal your tattoo at the same time? Not to mention, we don't want to catch anything!

How can I tell if the tattoo parlour I'm at is a good one (How to tell if it's sterile, etc)?

This is a very common question that definitely needs to be addressed because most people don’t know what to ask. People often believe that if someone uses a clean needle on them they are safe. This can be a very dangerous and life changing assumption!! Any tattoo parlour NEEDS TO use single use needles, that should be a given, but there are many other factors involved that can compromise your safety if your tattooist doesn't know better, or care to follow proper sanitary procedures. When you think about it, there are more than just the needles that come into contact with blood and potentially dangerous viruses. Is there any possible blood contact with inks? Tubes (hollow steel guides for the needle bar)? Chairs? Work station equipment? Counter tops? Taps? If there IS contact is it being professionally sterilized? Has your artist been educated in Bloodborne Pathogens or taken any courses? Are they a member of any of the Professional Tattoo Associations? Is your tattooist changing their gloves any time they touch anything unsterile like doors, cupboards, garbage cans, etc? Are they rooting through drawers or leaving the room and then touching your tattooed area with the same gloves? When I was first starting out I would often go through 7 or 8 pairs of gloves on a single client if I forgot to have some of my supplies out and ready, and Johnny would be next to me like a parrot saying, “Change your gloves…now you touched the cupboard door again, change your gloves…okay, now change your gloves..” Your artist should be alert and coherent to avoid any oversights like this that could put you at risk for infections or cross-contamination. Any tattoo shop in business must have a proper sterilization process and equipment to be able to tattoo legitimately. They also legally need to send test strips away to the government regularly, which will indicate whether your equipment is regularly reaching full sterilization. Tattooists place the strips to ‘sit in’ on a cycle in the sterilizer machine and then send them away, where they are housed for an incubation period and tested for various growths. Once the test is complete the business is sent a letter informing them if the test was approved and reply with either a “Pass” or a…..well, I’m not entirely sure what the protocol is on a fail because thankfully I’ve never seen one. . (Feel free to ask your tattooist for their last “spore test results”; we keep ours on the wall. If your tattooist hesitates about showing this, that is a BIG Red Flag!!). If tattooists don't follow sterilization routines with their equipment they will likely not be in business for very long. These points are very important, and are often overlooked (or misinformed) by amateurs tattooing from their homes or basements. For the most part you can usually tell whether you are in a professional environment if you pay attention, but if you're ever unsure do your research, ask questions, ask around and compare with several other shops. Stop in, talk to the artists, look around and get a feel for how the business is being run. This will always tell you a lot more than just phoning to make an appointment. The bottom line is, when you go to a 5 star restaurant you’re not ever going to know whether the chef washed his hands, but professional environments are much more likely to follow proper sterilization procedures.

Can I only choose from what designs you have at the store or can I bring a picture in?

We encourage people to bring in their own designs. The more reference material the better so we can create a tattoo that's right for them. If people come in with a general design idea, we can give them ideas of what kind of 'homework' to bring in when they come back for their next consultation, or we can guide them through our 10s of 1000s of designs at the Studio.

Is it rude to ask the artist for examples of their work?

I don't think it's rude to ask to see a portfolio because you're entrusting someone with the power to mark your skin for the rest of your life. Of course you want to know what to expect! We have portfolios available online (more coming all the time) so that people don't have to feel awkward asking, or sitting there thumbing through it while the artist is there watching them. Every artist has a different style and uses different techniques and tools to apply their art, so it’s good to see what their range is like before committing to anything. Johnny for instance never photographs a piece until after it’s fully healed, which drives me crazy if it’s something really cool on someone who is just passing through!! But he says that all tattoos look good fresh; it’s after the healing that you get a ‘true tattoo photo’. As long as someone is asking respectfully there should never be an issue.

When getting your first tattoo, what are some of the most important questions to ask?

The biggest issue we address with clients (especially young people) is what kind of career they want for the rest of their life. If a teenager gets a tattoo on their wrist, hand or neck, the rest of their life and employment future will be very controlled by those tattoos. So many young people close the door on opportunities by jumping into a tattoo they KNOW they want, and they often don’t consider how it could potentially take their dreams away. Sure you can cover some of them by wrapping your hair around it, or wearing long sleeve shirts when it’s Plus 40 outside, but why not reconsider the placement of your tattoo if it will cause so much grief for you down the road? We often turn down (or rework) tattoos or placements that we think people will regret. If you have second thoughts after getting it done Tattoo Removal doesn’t feel nice, takes a long time to achieve full removal and as the process goes along it ends up costing more than your tattoo did! We always ‘give the speech’ when young people come in wanting wrist tattoos, and we are often thanked by our clients afterward for talking them out of it, or suggesting alternate placements.

What kind of designs are popular at After Forever in 2012?

The culture here is very diverse and refreshing, and it keeps you adapting to all forms of tattooing rather than just one style all the time. For 2012 there seems to have been quite a bit of lettering & kanjis, skulls, crosses, pin up girls, flowers and symbol or religious-based tattoos so far this year, but it’s only February so it’s tough to say what the rest of the year will bring in. Maybe we’ll get some crazy end of the world stuff for 2012..?

When all is done, should you tip your tattoo artist?

Many people do. It is a service that is being provided, so many clients will often leave a tip after their tattoo. To say whether someone ‘should’ tip is really a personal choice that people will make for themselves if they’re happy with the service they received. There are so many differing opinions about who to tip and who not to. I used to tip my deli slicer though, so what do I know?! Some do and some don’t.. It is a pricy service, so we don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t tip. It isn’t uncommon or out of place though, if that’s what you’re asking.

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