Lots of people say they want to get a tattoo, but fewer actually do it. It’s an entertaining idea: you’re going to take a symbol – an idea, a portrait, a logo – and permanently etch it into your body. And when people finally do put themselves under the throbbing needle, they rely on the tattoo artist to be the creative one and make their dreams come true. As a designer at FEZ and before, I always struggled with what I wanted. I knew that once I picked a design, it had to be exactly what I wanted because, y’know, we artists like to control the vertical and the horizontal in all formats. And then we’ll change our minds a few seconds later. Then it became clear…
I’d actually come up with the idea in January to get Rasputin done, but I could just never settle on when. I’d created our original logo during our original company-forming chat in January of 2011 and wouldn’t let anyone leave until I’d implemented each new suggestion. I liked the idea of a big bold box and a typecast font working together. So we got it printed on business cards, t-shirts, the whole works. We called it Zipper Dude.
When it came time to design our site for real, I pitched Cody, our resident artist and illustrator, to update our current Zipper Dude to something that was a bit more, I don’t know, fleshed out. Maybe had a little more zipper? He worked on this quickly and presented the above sketches to me by Kik Messenger late at night. I Took the idea pretty much exactly as it was presented and then added a more severe angle along top to make his head pop more. We had this done in October and unveiled it with our new site in time for New Year’s. We called him Rasputin because, well, look at him! He’s devious and cuddle-ready! I don’t know how cuddle-ready the real Rasputin was, but, uh…
January goes by, February, March… finally decided it was time for a change, something different. In the middle of August I finally gave the local guys at a shop down the road, Ink Inertia, an e-mail and a call, who put me in touch with Erin. Calendars had to be cleared and we settled on Labor Day to get everything done. Now bear in mind, this is my first tattoo and I wanted to know a bit about everything. Everyone recommended a good night’s sleep and a hearty meal before going in to do it, the latter I’ll explain more in a bit. At their request, I’d printed a full-sized copy of Rasputin (sandwiched in the first pages of the Skyrim guide that I’ll probably never use again) and a bottle of water. If you’ve never done this before, bring water. I almost went through the whole thing before we were finished.
I arrived ten minutes early and the other artist in at the time gave me a warm greeting. I was getting the paperwork done when Erin popped up, right on time. We went over a few different sizes, settling on a 45% sized copy of the original page. She then got to work on the stencil, traced onto what looked like carbon paper and then placed on a patch of blue goo on my arm.
It was further back on my arm than I’d originally anticipated, but looking in the full-sized mirror, the placement seemed perfect. I was tempted to move it forward a bit so it was more ‘show-off-able’, but it would’ve looked awkward.
Now I’d never seriously considered the pain of getting a tattoo.
In doing some research online, one said that it was a slight burning sensation. The placement on my upper right arm, and the fact that I had some fatty insulation underneath, would mitigate a lot of it, compared to one placed closer to bone. It wasn’t until she had shaved my arm, wiped on the alcohol, and applied the stencil that the idea of putting a needle into my arm repeatedly began to set in. I looked over as she was assembling her needle and thought, I can still bail. Unlike those mean vaccinations of my youth, I could simply bounce if I didn’t like what was going on, but I’d already made it this far, I couldn’t stop now!
Before it became impractical, I laid flat on my back and stared at the fluorescent lights as she applied the first narrow needle to begin the black outline. She said it was ‘different’. Not excruciating, just, weird. Yep, I agree. I’ve burned my fingers many times on the shrink wrap machine at work and this wasn’t nearly as bad as that was. It honestly felt like when my brother and I were kids and we would fight by sinking our nails deep into each others arms. It sounds weird, especially since we never drew blood, but it felt a lot like that.
I had to switch to an upright position for the rest of the work with my arm slung over a prop. Shading went by with no issues.
I’d made it this far and now began the long process of shading in that vast empty area with red, settling with a middle tone of crimson she had on-hand. Honestly, the black shading probably would’ve been enough for me since I loved the stark outline against my pale arm, but we needed to push on.
Now I’d mentioned earlier to have a good meal before you go in. I’d had a big dinner the night before and couldn’t be arsed to eat much that morning aside from some crackers. This was a small thing, I thought, why would I have to worry? As she was finishing up the red shading, I began to feel nauseous and weak, then I felt the sweat pouring on like buckets. I hadn’t been witness to the mauling of my skin, but the lack of food was seriously biting me in the ass. As soon as she tipped back for more red, I called for a break, then scrambled to the lobby where I grabbed a conveniently available Butterfinger bar and chomped down, satiated nearly immediately. If you must forgo the hearty meal, remember to bring some snacks with you to get through. I will definitely remember that next time. Soon, we were back at it.
Erin didn’t need to spend much longer on the red before she switched to white, which she notified me would take a bit longer to pop in. She took two passes at it and said we’d have to hit it up again in a touch-up to get it to really pop. The blood is just working too hard to nullify its brightness. Stupid blood. Just over three hours after I’d started, it was time to wrap up.
She gave me enough time to snap a few final pictures before it was bandaged for the next three hours, recommending a few lotions to have handy for when it begins to dry out. I walked out $160 lighter and incredibly happy with the work. Then I spent the next twenty minutes at the Safeway irritated that I hadn’t brought a belt for my shorts and looking like a clueless idiot in the skin care section.
Obviously, tattoo work isn’t for everyone, but, and I’m going super deep here, nothing in this world is permanent. Rasputin is now a piece of who I am and it was incredibly exciting to go through the whole process. I’ll close out with an anecdote Erin had of a 78-year old woman who had walked into their shop. Erin thought she was looking for a relative, but replied quickly, ‘no, I’m getting a tattoo. All my friends have been talking about it and I want to actually do it.’ That little old lady was a trooper, never flinching or caring much at all about the work that was going on, winding up with a large, beautiful flower on her arm.
Don’t wait that long. Dive in.