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You've been thinking of getting a tattoo. Here are a few things you may wish to consider.
What exactly is a tattoo? According to one online Medical Dictionary definition; "the permanent insertion of ink or other pigments below the skin using a sharp instrument." Sadly, they then go on to describe tattoos in the 'Western world' as traditionally historical signs of criminality and shame. Merriam-Webster gives a similar definition of what constitutes a tattoo and graciously declines to either editorialize or pass moral judgment; "an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin." Apparently any instrument will do, and sharpness is not a requirement.
However, your skin is designed to protect your body in numerous ways and is a remarkably tough organ. In addition to acting as the principle barrier to prevent invasion by infectious agents, it regulates body temperature through the use of sweat glands and a nice warm layer of fat, and skin is highly, even remarkably resistant to puncture wounds. If tanned, human skin is every bit as leathery as any pigskin or cow hide. So if you're going to get a tattoo, a sharp instrument is definitely the way to go.
Skin is a complex structure and consists of three principle layers, the epidermis, or epidermal layer, the dermis, or dermal layer, and the subcutaneous structure called the hypodermis, which attaches the skin to your muscles and skeletal structure. The top layer of skin consists of a layer of dead cells and a healthy body completely replaces this layer every month. A remarkable feat when you consider that the average adult has twenty square feet of skin, or about the size of a blanket. So why don't tattoos disappear every month?
The tattoo remains permanent because, done correctly, the tattoo artist is going to introduce pigment particles underneath the epidermis into the skin strata between the epidermal and dermal layers. The dermal layer contains numerous blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles and lymphatic vessels. The tattoo pigments lay trapped in the dermis. Trapped? Yes, trapped. Tattoo pigments are foreign objects. If it could your body would eject those pigment particles in a heartbeat. In fact, within moments of a tattoo needle penetrating your skin your body is readying its defenses. A tattoo is a wound and the presence of foreign material immediately rallies your lymphocytes - or killer cells - to the scene of the injury. The lymphocytes will remove any pigment particle that is small enough, but your body has to adopt a different strategy for any pigment boulders that the lymphocyte bulldozers can't move. When faced with particles too big to remove, macrophages (literally Greek for "big eaters"), which are another form of white blood cells, will encircle the particle and devour it. If the pigment particle is inorganic and non-toxic, the macrophage will begin a process that will result in the formation of scar tissue around the particle, walling it off and anchoring it in place. And there it will remain, indelible and permanent. However, if your body's defenses determine that the particle is organic or toxic it will result in either an infection or an attempt to reject the particle from your body to prevent further damage.
The introduction of a pigment under the skin to make a permanent or indelible mark is also worthy of further examination in detail. Tattoo inks, much like house paint, consist of pigment particles suspended in what is called a carrier solution. The vast majority of modern tattoo pigments are inert metal salts or oxides, ranging in size from a few microns across too as large as 12-14 microns. Traditionally, carbon based tattoo inks made up most traditional tattooing pigments, the fine soot from burnt animal fats being particularly favored. Carbon-based blacks are among the smallest pigment particles and whites made from titanium oxide among the largest. Carrier agents are used to keep pigment particles in solution and allow a fluid application. This allows you to either paint your house or tattoo your body. In the case of tattoo inks, carrier agents have ranged from water to sugar cane juice to urine, and historically both tattoo pigments and the fluids used to make up an ink solution have been doctored with any number of substances that the tattoo artist or culture felt might aide in its magic or spiritual properties.
The numbers and array of sharp instruments used to introduce pigments into the skin for tattoos have ranged from all manner of bone and ivory implements to metal instruments and needles. Until the advent of the industrial revolution transformed tattooing, as it had every other facet of modern civilization, all tattooing carried out until 1892 was done by hand. But more about those tattoo instruments later.
In summary, you are going to get an indelible mark through the insertion of pigment into the skin by a sharp instrument. The next question being, of course, what mark are you going to get?
Given that a tattoo is a deliberately inflicted injury to your skin and a decision not easily reversed, the decision about which tattoo mark you are going to get should be seen as one of the more serious commitments you are going make in life. Chances are your tattoo mark is going to last significantly longer than many of your friendships, most of your relationships and hopefully much longer than your hairstyle.
So what kind of design is your tattoo mark going to be? And is there a difference between a tattoo design and a tattoo symbol?
A design, derived from the Latin, 'to mark', is, according once again to our good friends at Merriam-Webster, nothing more complicated than, 'a preliminary sketch or outline showing the main features of something to be executed', 'the arrangement of elements or details in a product or work of art', 'a decorative pattern (a floral design), ' the creative art of executing aesthetic or functional designs'.
But what does it mean? When you get a tattoo, rest assured this is going to be a question that you will get asked many times by your friends, by your family and by complete strangers at restaurants, bars and at the bus stop. And what they are really asking of course is what does your tattoo design symbolize? Even if your tattoo is a simple floral design just like the nice folks at Merriam-Webster pointed out, people are going to want to know if it has any symbolic meaning. Why? Because that's just the way people are. Body art is one of the greatest icebreakers of all time. You'd better get used to it. What does your tattoo design represent and what does it reveal about who you are, if anything at all?
Even the most simple tattoo designs can have great symbolic meaning. Symbols are something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; especially: a visible sign of something invisible (the lion is a symbol of courage).
Take a tattoo of a wolf for example. A wolf is a wolf is a wolf. Or is it? Depending upon your cultural reference point, a wolf may symbolize swiftness and cunning, courage and loyalty, a teacher figure or spirit guide, a creator figure or a shape-shifter who aids shamans. In the legend of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf plays the villain. If you think of Christ as a shepherd, then the wolf may represent Satan. In other words, depending upon what you believe, a wolf may symbolize virtue or vice, good or evil. What matters is what a wolf means to you.
Your choice of a particular tattoo design may express something you believe in or feel so profoundly that you may have difficulty putting it into words. That is a powerful tattoo symbol. And like any good picture, worth at least a thousand words.
Picking a tattoo design or symbol does not have to be an agonizing decision, fraught with hand-wringing and sleepless nights where you toss and turn in bed, but it should be something that you put some time and effort into. Better yet, it should be a process that engages your originality and imagination. Do you really need or want the exact same tattoo that you've seen on a celebrity? Homage is a wonderful thing, but rather than getting the same tattoo, choose a design that expresses why you favor that design in the first place.
And when choosing a tattoo, it is worth remembering that some designs carry a tremendous amount of baggage with them. Designs that are used as symbols by gangs or extremist groups, or that are associated with hate crimes are almost certainly ones that you should avoid. Most reputable tattoo artists for example would never dream of tattooing a Swastika on a client. Tattoos of profanity, that are sexually explicit or that might be racially offensive will probably cause no end of grief when it comes time to getting a job and it some circumstances certain tattoo designs will make finding employment exceedingly difficult. We will return to this again when talking about the placement of your tattoo design.
As you narrow down your tattoo design choices, it's worth keeping a few things in mind. While there are no specific differences between the tattoos of men and women, or the designs and symbols they choose, there are a number of trends worth noting, from both a design perspective and a cultural one.
Although the times, to quote Bob Dylan, they are 'a changing', we still live in a world were perception is reality for many people, and that includes engaging in age-old stereotypes. As body art has gained increasing acceptance in mainstream popular culture there is much less stigma attached to individuals who are heavily tattooed. But for better or for worse, in many circles, extensive tattooing such as one sees displayed in a fully sleeved arm is still seen as more acceptable on men than it is on women. Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, however, it is also a matter of personal choice.
That being said, the majority of men want tattoos that accentuate their masculine qualities, characteristics and attributes, and their physiques; women want tattoos that accentuate their feminine qualities, the aesthetic lines and curves of their physiques, but women also generally want a design that resonates on a more emotional and spiritual level than most men consider necessary.
However, there are many of the most beautiful and meaningful tattoo ideas, designs and symbols that are gender neutral and are equally at home on the skins of both men and women.
Tattoo ideas for men to consider.
For men, those design considerations mean that they are attracted to tattoo designs that are long standing icons of male strength, fortitude and courage. Men also gravitate to tattoo designs that emphasis their breadth of their chests, the width of their shoulders and the size and the bulk of the biceps and upper arms, while narrowing the hips. This is often accomplished by tattoo design styles and genres that are big and bold and densely coloured. Tribal tattooing, with its bold graphics and extensive use of solid black-work is an excellent example of this.
Tattoo ideas for girls and women to consider.
Women often choose tattoo designs that visually elongate their legs and arms, narrow the waist and draw the eye to the natural curves of their hips and bust. Even when choosing to get extensive tattooing, such as with a full sleeve or a lower back piece, women may make use of a lighter and more delicate colour palette, as well as a judicious use negative space within the tattoo and a choice of a design that one might categorize as feminine. Additionally, women often use tattoo designs to symbolize important emotional milestones in their personal lives; the beginning and end of relationships, a career transition, an emotional or personal evolution or transformation, or the triumph over illness or disease.
Once you've chosen your design, you still have a couple of decisions to make. Where on your body are you going to get the tattoo and how big are you going to get it?
There are a number of considerations when choosing placement of your tattoo. What shape is the tattoo design? Is the design triangular, circular or oval, vertical or horizontal? A horizontal tattoo design will appear to make any the part of your body it is tattooed on wider. A vertical design will elongate the body. Do you want people to be able to see the tattoo when you are in public? Do you want to be able to conceal it? If you're a man, perhaps you want it to be covered by a t-shirt sleeve. If you're a woman, you may still want to wear a backless dress to a professional function and not have your colleagues know you have a tattoo, or perhaps your Grandmother at a wedding. Once you are in a tattoo shop, the artist should be happy to discuss with you the best location for your design, even going to the time and effort of stencilling or roughing in the tattoo so you can make a final decision.
How big is the tattoo design going to be?
Which brings us to the subject of remuneration for your tattoo artist. How much money is my tattoo going to cost? Tattoo artists generally charge you either by the piece, or for their time. Any reputable artist can look at a design and tell within a few minutes how long it will take to execute. Charging by the hour is almost always done solely for large custom work involving many hours and multiple sessions, and even then, both artist and client have a rough idea of what is involved. Nowhere is the old adage, you get what you pay for, more applicable than in getting a tattoo. Body art is the last place you want to get a bargain-basement price. Be prepared to pay for excellence. The single worst decision you can make is to walk into a tattoo shop and try to get a tattoo design that matches the loose change that you have in your pocket. A tattoo ranks right up there as one of the worst impulse purchases of all time. Those who sin in haste repent in leisure! Take your time, choose the right design, pick the right tattoo artist and budget accordingly.
And when budgeting, bear in mind the unique mathematics of tattooing. A two-inch tattoo of a butterfly is roughly two inches by two inches, or four square inches. A four inch tattoo of the exact same butterfly design is NOT twice as big or probably twice as much money. A tattoo design that is four inches by four inches will cover sixteen square inches, in other words, it is FOUR times as large as the same tattoo design that is two inches by two inches. Now chances are, the tattoo artist is not going to charge you four times as much for the larger tattoo, but the artist is going to have to factor in the amount of time it will take to tattoo an area that is four times larger. And that will absolutely be reflected in the price of the tattoo.
So how do you choose a tattoo artist and a tattoo studio?
What are you looking for in a tattoo studio?
The following Tattoo Safety Advice is excerpted from the APT's website (www.safe-tattoos.com)
With the advent of many communicable diseases, some fatal, it has become necessary to institute certain isolation and sterilization procedures in the tattoo process to assure the public of a safe, risk-free tattoo. Professional tattooists working with local, state and national health authorities have prepared the following advice.
You should not get a tattoo from any shop in which you do not have complete confidence that such procedures are carried out.
What are you looking for in a tattoo artist?
How long has the tattoo artist been tattooing?
Whether you are looking at a tattoo in the flesh or in a photograph, you are looking for the same things. Is the tattoo part of a sleeve or a larger piece of work? If it is part of a larger piece of work, how does it complement the rest of the tattoo? If the tattoo is a solitary piece on it's own, how does it fit the body? Does it fit the area tattooed? Does it accentuate and compliment the body? If you see the tattoo in the flesh, does it flow well when the person moves?
If the tattoo is outlined, you are looking for confident, well-executed lines. Are 'power lines' used effectively within the design of the tattoo? There shouldn't be any 'blow-outs', where the line has splayed out under the skin. Do the lines follow the natural contours of the body? If the tattoo contains shading, is the graduation from light to dark a smooth, consistent transition? If the tattoo uses colours, are they complimentary?
This can be difficult to judge, but is there evidence of an artistic vision in the tattoo? If shadows and shading are part of the tattoo, is the light source consistent? How has the artist utilized negative space - the areas of the skin that are not tattooed, or very lightly tattooed, within the tattoo design? There's an old expression among tattoo artists, 'black goes in easy'. In other words, what is not tattooed is every bit as important as what is tattooed!
You've picked your tattoo design, your studio and your artist. What happens next?
Some tattoo shops will tattoo people on first come first serve basis. Other shops will book appointments and will often ask for a deposit that you may forfeit if you miss the appointment. This is because even the simplest tattoo is probably going to take at least thirty minutes of time for the artist to execute. And most will take from sixty to ninety minutes and beyond.
Once you have booked your appointment you should ensure that prior to getting a tattoo that you are well fed and well hydrated. You should not be intoxicated. If you are, chances are your appointment will be cancelled. And yes, getting a tattoo hurts, but it doesn't hurt so much that you need to be inebriated or sedated. Think of the pain involved as an integral part of your personal rite of passage.
That tattoo artist is then going to 'prep' you for the tattoo. This entails shaving the hair off of the site of where the tattoo is going to go, and then wiping off the area with isopropyl alcohol, a sterilizing agent.
Generally, the tattoo artist will then make a stencil of your tattoo or they may actually draw in an outline.
You and the artist will then come to agreement on the exact placement of your tattoo design. This is the last opportunity you are going to have to say, "I want it a little to the left, or could you move it up or down a little?" Speak now or forever hold your peace. A tattoo machine does not come an eraser.
Once you and the tattoo artist have come to an agreement on placement, the artist will proceed with their 'set-up'.
They'll start by pulling on disposable surgical gloves and then pull new sterilized needles and tattoo machine tube assemblies from sealed envelopes that have come out of an autoclave. They will then assemble their machine.
This is of course unless you are getting a traditional hand-tapped or hand-poked tattoo with traditional tattooing implements, but we are going to assume that you getting your tattoo with an electrical tattoo machine.
An electrical tattoo machine is not that much more mechanically sophisticated than a doorbell buzzer! The tattoo machine has two electrical coils attached to a frame, and the machine uses electricity to magnetize a spring assembly, that in turn powers a needle bar with needles soldered to one end, up and down in the needle tube, approximately 120 times per second.
The components that make up a modern tattoo machine are the electric motor, which is attached to the frame, the tube assembly that acts as a reservoir for the tattoo ink, the needle bar to which needles are soldered and which moves through the needle tube before puncturing the skin. The tattoo artist uses a foot pedal, not much different than those of a sewing machine, to control the amount of current supplied to the tattoo machine. Current magnetizes the coils, which draws up the spring to which the needle bar is attached, until the strength of the spring breaks the connection and the needles descend and puncture the skin. Repeat 120 times per second.
The needles, which are soldered to the needle bar, are generally 12-14 1/1000's of an inch, or .3-.4 millimeters in diameter. Tattoo artists have at various times used sewing needles and etymology pins to tattoo with, and traditionally soldered their own needles, but with the surge in the popularity of tattooing, many tattoo artists now rely on outside manufactures to supply their tattooing needles.
The tattoo artist will usually examine the tips of their tattoo needles under a jewler's loupe, or magnifying glass to ensure that the needles are sharp and not bent over or 'hooked'. They then pour out fresh ink into new disposable ink containers.
How a tattoo artist 'set' up their tattoo machines, the balance and weight of their machine frames, the strength of their springs, how they 'tuned' their machines and how they 'made up' their needles all used to be closely held secrets at one time, disclosed only to their closest confidants or favorite apprentices. Some tattoo artists acquired reputations as machine wizards and there were and are a number who manufacture their own frames and tattoo machines.
The tattoo artist will start by outlining the design, also known as the 'black work', since most outlining is done in black ink. The artist will usually smear Vaseline on the stencil to allow their gloved hand to slide more easily over the skin and then generally work in one direction over the stencilled tattoo design. During the outlining the artist will wipe away excess tattoo ink and blood with a paper towel.
Outlining is usually done with needle set-ups called, 'outliners', or 'rounds'. These are groups of needles, ranging from one needle for fine lines, to 3's, 5's and 7's. The larger the number of needles the artist uses, the thicker and stronger the line. A heavy line is called a power line, and is used to give weight to the design, a large dragon perhaps. A power line is used to create tension and a sense of movement within the design.
Once the outlining is finished the artist will clean off the skin and begin shading. For this the artist may switch tattoo machines and they will use a different set of needle setups, aptly called 'shaders', or 'magnums'. These will range in size of needle groupings of anywhere from 5 to 15 needles. Individual tattoo artists have individual preferences. Some artists also use needles called, 'spreaders' because the needle tips have been slightly splayed. Some artists use unique needle arrangements and slow down their machines to create what is known as 'stipple' shading, or 'pepper' shading, as each needle can create an effect of individual dots. In creating very fine graduations, the artist may dilute the tattoo ink - as much as twenty or thirty parts water to one part ink - to create a 'grey wash'.
When adding colour to the tattoo design the artist is careful to ensure solid even coverage, taking care not to leave any 'holidays', or areas where the ink has 'taken a vacation'. And working with the principles of the colour wheel, the artist generally works from the lightest to the darkest colours.
When the tattoo artist is satisfied that they have done all that they can do, they will wipe off and clean up the tattoo and let it sit for a moment. Then they will wipe away the last of the blood and plasma, and bandage the tattoo.
A good tattoo artist prefers not to overwork a tattoo design and 'chew' up, or 'velvet' the skin, as that may cause scar tissue as the tattoo heals. If necessary, most artists would prefer a client return later and get the tattoo 'touched-up'. Many of the very best tattoo artists have a proprietary sense of ownership over the tattoos they do, and they will 'touch-up' a tattoo over its life to ensure that their work always looks its best.
A new tattoo is a wound and should be treated accordingly. The bandage should remain on as a barrier to infection for at least a few hours before removal.
For the next 7 -10 days treat the tattoo like a severe sun burn. Wash it in cool or warm water with a mild anti-bacterial soap. Pat the area dry and do not rub it.
Be careful with tattoos that may be rubbed by brassiere or clothing straps, by tight waistbands or belts.
Do not soak your new tattoo in the water, and keep it out of chlorine and don't go swimming. This is often why so many 'vacation' tattoos end up with problems.
The skin is going to peel with any new tattoo, but if a scab forms, DO NOT PICK AT IT!
Keep your new tattoo out of the sun.
Use ice for redness or swelling.
If there is any sign or indication of an infection you should seek medical assistance.
A few words about the sun and your tattoo...
The sun is a nuclear furnace. It is constantly bombarding us with radiation. You should not only protect your tattoos from the sun, you should protect the rest of your skin as well. Do yourself a service and wear sunscreen. All coloured tattoos are going to fade with time. Yellows, oranges and reds tend to fade the quickest. Blacks are the least likely to fade. But over time, the pigments are likely to dissipate slightly, giving the effect that the edges of your tattoo are slightly blurry.
Over time your tattoo may need almost inevitably little 'freshening up'. Don't we all? Most tattoo artists prefer to look after and maintain their own work. Consult with your tattoo artist.
Tattoos can be removed. All of the removal methods are expensive, time consuming and quite often painful. The results may be mixed. Tattoos can be removed with dermabrasion which will leave some scarring. Small tattoos may be surgically removed but once again, there will be some scarring. Recent advances in laser technology have made laser removal the first choice for most cosmetic and plastic surgery practices. Did I mention that it could be expensive? As a rough rule of thumb, for every dollar you spend getting your tattoo; expect to spend four dollars to remove it. Now that's painful. Think before you ink.
Oops, I made a mistake! Or, I've changed my mind!
It's okay. Relax take a deep breathe. We're all human.
Cover-ups are not uncommon. The tattoo you got when you were eighteen that was small and dated and could be hidden in a larger tattoo is more common that not. That being said, most cover-ups are compromises to some extent. If your first tattoo is small, it is less of a concern. But if for example it's a relatively large tribal piece, you have to bear in mind that the only thing that covers up black is even more black. At some point you are dealing with a case of diminishing returns and it may just be best to accept your tattoo as either a youthful indiscretion, and who amongst us doesn't have at least one of those, or see the tattoo as a unique to that particular time and place in your life.
The Top Ten Tattooed Body Parts Based on Popularity
Always bear one thing in mind that when it comes to tattooing - not all of your body parts are created equal. It is important to accept that not all the skin on your body is the same, nor will it take tattoo pigment in exactly the same way. Some of your skin is designed to form calluses for protection, other skin is designed to crease along joints. Tattoos on elbows, knuckles, knees, and feet are notorious for fading over time and losing tattoo ink pigments. Tattoos that dissect areas of the body where your skin is designed to crease - think the inside of elbows and wrists - may result in lines spreading out, a term tattoo artists refer to as "blow-out". These are also areas more likely to 'tear' when being tattooed. A good tattoo artist is not going to want to tattoo any design on you that doesn't reflect well on them as an artist.
Despite the growing popularity and acceptance of tattooing in most places, some tattoos still have an element of stigma attached to them. The first of course is subject matter. Racially or sexually offensive tattoos are always going to be seen in a negative light. As will profanity. But tattooing certain body parts may still offend potential employers - and that includes the military services - and other members of the community. Some body parts are ones that we can't "cover-up" if we might have to, namely, faces, necks, and hands - and in some instances, feet.
So here are the top ten body parts in order of preference:
2. Arm Tattoos (which often specifies, upper arm, lower arm, forearm, shoulder and even sleeves). A single Koi, can in time, become an entire Japanese inspired sleeve.
3. Back Tattoos (also, back-piece tattoos) - The largest blank canvas on the human body. Most tattoo artists will advise you to go as large as you can comfortably manage, and then go larger.
4. Chest Tattoos - Pectorals are a favorite spot to make a man's chest look larger. And before you ladies protest, please see number nine.
5. Wrist Tattoos - again are very popular tattoo ideas for girls and young women. And can be hidden under a watch or bracelet if need be.
6. Ankle Tattoos - a design area that was popularized by super models and starlets. Can be very delicate or a bold tribal design.
7. Foot Tattoos - A famous holiday vacation splurge. The problem is that tattoos on the feet tend to need a lot of touching up because of their propensity to fade more quickly than other parts of the body.
8. Armband Tattoos (true, not a specific body part) - Was once the staple in tattoo parlors around the world. Seemed like other guy in the fraternity house had one. The tribal armband has bought a lot of tattoo artists a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
9. Breast Tattoos (we're standing firm on the differences between chests and breasts) - an enduring and popular tattoo with both the sexes - for obvious reasons. For women a tattoo that is not only a sexual lure, but also one that can be concealed without too much difficulty.
10. Neck Tattoos - Once a taboo area for most tattoo artists and tattoo enthusiasts, the explosion in tattooing in recent years has pushed back the boundaries of what meets the community standards of acceptable body art and tattoos. It was not that long ago that men and women would have full tattoo body suits, but left their necks, hands and feet untouched so that they could "cover-up" their tattoos with a suit or long dress and pass incognito in a crowd.
Musicians, tattoo artists, and individuals with independent sources of income - and a public reputation as "outlaws, rogues and scoundrels" - has allowed them in recent years to get tattoos that were once entirely associated with gang members or individuals who had spent time in prison. But if you want to get a job in a bank when your garage band folds, you might want to think twice about getting a neck tattoo.
Just out of the top ten most popular body parts are full body suits, hand tattoos, and tattoos below the belt - so to speak.
For great tattoo design ideas, check out our good friends at TattooJohnny.com
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