Tattoo N00b
May 27, 2010 11:40 AM   Subscribe

[TattooFilter] I've finally decided to lose my tattoo cherry, and have a pretty good idea of what I want, but specific questions remain.

(I've looked through previous questions about tattoos, and in particular Alaska Jack's recent question answered a lot of mine.)

I'd like to have a tattoo done of an Ouroboros, done in an insular art style similar to (if not directly based on) some of the illustrations in the Book of Kells, in color, and in a continuous, unbroken bracelet-type design all the way around my left wrist. Because I'd like it to be coverable by a wristwatch, the "band" would be no more than 2 cm in width and the "cusp" (the snake's head) would be about 3 cm in diameter.

My questions are:

1) If I wanted or needed to commission this design from someone other than the tattoo artist, do you have any particular recommendations for specific artists, and approximately how much would something like the design described above cost?

2) I've been given to understand that tattooing on the wrist is more painful because the skin is fairly delicate there, particularly on the underside. Any experiences with this? Also, does the presence of veins just underneath the skin increase the risk of infection? Finally, what's the healing time for that area of the body?

3) Any issues with a diabetic getting a tattoo?

Bonus question: does anyone have experience with being tattooed with ultraviolet ink? (Not for this tat, but for another design that I've contemplated.) Expense, complications, satisfaction with the results?
posted by Halloween Jack to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I can only help with #2. I have a small tattoo (the Aries symbol) about two inches above my wrist on the underside. It definitely HURT, much more than my shoulder or ankle tats, but not nearly as much as the one on my spine. I was told my veins, which are very noticeable, were not an issue for infection.

Healing time was about 2 and a half weeks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:42 AM on May 27, 2010

i'm not sure about #1.

2. i have a small tattoo on my inner wrist, and it hardly hurt at all. it could be because of its size, or because i have tattoos elsewhere that hurt a fair bit, so i wasn't bothered by the wrist. my healing time was 2 weeks.

3. i'm not diabetic, and i don't know if there are more technical issues, but you should definitely eat an hour or so before getting your tattoo. i made the mistake of going on an empty stomach once, and it wasn't a great experience. maybe take some juice with you, in case you feel woozy after you're done.
posted by gursky at 11:50 AM on May 27, 2010

2. I'm covered on one leg, my back, and both arms, and I'd say the underside of the wrist didn't hurt lots more than anyplace else. I didn't like getting the back of my knee worked on and I understand the ribcage is considered a special place, but I didn't experience excruciating pain on my wrists. Now that I've said that, though, because this tattoo will be your first, any sensations you have will probably be pretty new to you. As a result, you may find these (in the parlance of the leather scene of the 90s) "instructive." The veins under the skin are not breached, so they won't have any influence on your healing or infection risk. You should be 100% in 14 days, though everybody's different. More on that in 3.

3. Many tattooists will not work on diabetics. I'm sitting next to my guy as I type this and he says he wouldn't. My understanding is that as long as you're controlling your blood sugar (whether by the oral method or other), your healing will be slower than a non-diabetic, but you won't have any additional risk of infection.

Also, a minor caveat. As I said, my tattoo guy is sitting with me reading your question, and he thinks your design requires way too much detail to fit in a space 2cm wide. Just his opinion, but forewarned is forearmed. Something like that. Best of luck to you.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:53 AM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: I've learnt a lot from the somethingawful tattoo megathread (warning: regular bad language within posts, probably some NSFW images). Part of the thread is just photos of users tattoos but there are very interesting posts by professional artists answering just the kind of questions you raise.

On the real downside that thread is very long.
posted by selton at 11:53 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just throwing my 2 cents that you do not want your first tattoo to be on your wrist. What if you are horribly allergic to tattoo ink? What if you get an infection? What if its a really bad tattoo? You are going to have this ugly ass, raggedy looking smear all over your wrist forever. I am allergic to some kind of red tattoo ink which is why the tattoo on my leg looks like shit, but I can hide it.

1) Usually what you do is bring a picture of what you want in to the shop, and then the artist draws his own rendition, and works from that.

2) Yes it is more painful, but everyone has different thresholds of pain. You use your wrist a lot, so you have to be very careful, and infection is possible (but not likely if you keep it clean) the biggest problem is the tattoo may not stick the way you want it to.

3) No, not beyond the normal precautions of not getting an infection.
posted by RajahKing at 11:58 AM on May 27, 2010

My only tattoo is on my wrist and it wasn't a big deal pain-wise. You know that sense of intense pressure you feel right before a really bad knife cut? It's like that, but over an extended period of time. It's more annoying than painful.

As for ultraviolet ink, I believe the majority of artists still will not tattoo with it because very few of the inks are approved (in the US, anyway) and they are still being improved upon (from what I've read, they can change color over time or lose their UV sensitivity).
posted by Wossname at 12:01 PM on May 27, 2010

#2 - I have large tattoos on both wrists, and did not find them to be painful. In general, I find tattoos on the lower half of my body (legs, ankles, feet) to be more painful than my upper body (arms, back). Tattoo pain is different for everyone, though; it could be the most pain you've ever felt, or you may barely notice it!

#3 - AFAIK (IANAD, IANATattooist) diabetics don't have particular problems getting tattooed. If your diabetes is under control and you take care of yourself (and you follow the tattooist's aftercare instructions), you should heal normally. I tend to recommend everyone bring juice or soda (with sugar) along to a tattoo appointment, just in case your blood sugar gets low and you need a jolt. I've been getting tattoos for a long time (and I'm not diabetic), and I still find that some days I need a few sips of OJ after a long or intense session.
posted by shamash at 12:02 PM on May 27, 2010

Oh, and I forgot to mention - wrist tatts can look odd if you want any element of it centered. This is because your wrist twists a lot more than say, your lower leg. Something to consider if you have a non-tattoo artist do the initial design.
posted by Wossname at 12:05 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: My wrist-toos weren't particularly painful. My tramp stamp huuuuuurt (perhaps because I had to bend forward to keep the skin minimally-squishy during it?).

A word of warning: it's damned difficult (and sometimes impossible, from a technical standpoint) to make tattoos both GOOD and TINY. I've gotten ink from a number of talented artists, and many of them have told me outright that a certain design wouldn't work well unless it was of a certain (larger) size. So be warned. I'd initially intended for my wrist tattoos to be coverable-via-watchband; they're a good deal larger. I still love them violently. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:10 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: Type 2 Diabetic here, and I can say that you REALLY need to make sure your blood sugar numbers are under control. If your last A1C was good, then don't worry about it. You shouldn't lie about it to the tattoo artist, but you are not at any higher risk of infection or other side effects if you are in control of your blood sugar levels. I recently had a pretty large color piece done and it healed wonderfully and didn't take any longer than I had expected it to. (My last A1C before the tattoo was 6.1)
posted by ganzhimself at 12:12 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: 1) Usually if you get a tattoo designed by the artist, some of the time spent on the design goes into the overall cost of the tattoo. A tattoo artist would probably be person most able to provide a design that has elements that are complimentary to tattoo expression - some kinds of designs / patterning etc have difficulty translating to skin art well without losing some of the finer parts.

The second point of this is - if you're having a tat artist design it, it's generally considered good etiquette to get the tattoo designed by the person actually executing the tattoo. So I'd go to a couple different shops in your area, describe what you're looking to get, see if there's anyone who specializes in that type of art and has examples, check out portfolios, etc. That's the best way to tailor the experience and get an artist you feel fits what you're looking for. It'll also give you a chance to check out some different shops, get a feel for the environment, etc - if you get a bad vibe from the shop or the staff, definitely keep looking around.

As far as the total cost for what you're describing - I'd say ballpark in the $150-$250 range, depending on how much color work you're getting, the level of intricacy, etc. Some big-name shops or artists might run more, some artists might pitch even lower if it sounds like something they personally would really like to do and add to their own portfolio.

2) roomthreeseventeen pretty much covered this - my first tattoo was on my left inside wrist, and while it did sting it wasn't unbearable agony or anything. However, the one thing I would consider is the exact placement on your wrist for the band. If you get it too close to the meat of the hand, you may run into issues where the constant flexing of the wrist may interfere with the healing process, or accelerate fading. Hold your arm out in front of you and curl your hand in towards your body - all the wrinkly skin in your wrist is area that is more 'at risk' for tattoo erosion. I'd suggest getting the band at least a little bit further up your forearm - an inch and a half, maybe. Also - if you're planning on using a watch to cover the band when needed, don't do it for at least a few weeks after you get the work done so as to not interfere with the healing. If you do need to cover up, use something relatively light and non-abrasive - loose sweatband, gauze, etc.

3) I'm not aware of any diabetic-specific health issues with tattoos, but you're always recommended to have a decent meal a little bit beforehand, with no alcohol (thins the blood). Keep whatever you need nearby - soda, etc - in case your levels start bottoming out or something, but other than that you should be fine.

Hope that helps!
posted by FatherDagon at 12:15 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) If I were you I'd avoid commissioning the work from another artist. If your tattoo artist can't draw it to your satisfaction on paper, I wouldn't trust him/her to etch it permanently into your skin. I've seen the results of people who took a piece of art to a tattoo artist... and while some received a fantastic rendition, some were left with awful (permanent) messes.

In addition, what looks great on paper will not always translate well onto skin, and unless the artist is also an experienced tattoo artist, your tattoo artist will have to take the image and tweak it anyway. For example, like S'Tella Fabula noted, too many lines in too small a space can be problematic. No matter how talented your artist is, the ink will spread a tiny bit as it heals. Intricate details tend to wind up blurred together. This is especially true of tattoos on joints, such as your wrist, because there is so much movement of the skin.

I'd ask around to find an artist that specializes in work of that or a similar style and see what he/she does up for you.

2) It'll be painful, but as far as I know proximity to blood vessels has no bearing on the likelihood of infection. Just don't get it dirty, don't soak it in water, and don't scratch or pick at it and the chances of infection are pretty much nil.

3) I have no clue.

Bonus question) I don't have experience with UV ink, but many artists won't work with it because they question its safety. UV inks carry a higher risk of adverse reactions, and the long term effects of UV tattoos are unknown.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:27 PM on May 27, 2010

Usually the design of the tattoo is included in the price. Tattoo prices vary wildly from place to place and artist to artist. I always recommend that people really like both their tattoo artist and their work.

I want to reiterate the point about the smaller the tattoo, the less detail you'll get in the long run. Tattoos spread as they age, and lose fine detail.

I got my wrists tattooed as part of full sleeves, and I didn't think they were the worst, but they are certainly not a place I enjoy getting tattooed. It felt to me rather like someone was holding a lighter on my wrist.

I can't speak to the diabetic part, but I always make sure I've eaten before getting tattooed, because keeping my blood sugar up helps me a ton.
posted by Zophi at 12:28 PM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all who have responded thus far. A few additional points:

1) The design doesn't have to be terribly complex--I'm not looking for something that requires a magnifying glass to appreciate all the details. (Maybe something in the ballpark of this.)

2) I'm not looking to rush out and have this done this weekend, and if I'd be better off having it done in Chicago (which I visit every few months) rather than in my Central Illinois city, that's an option, if that would increase my choice of artists and expertise with this kind of tattoo.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:33 PM on May 27, 2010

It's been addressed upthread, but I'll throw in my experience.

I'm not diabetic, but the first thing my tattoo artist did when I walked in for my appointment was ask when the last time I'd eaten was. I told him it had been a while, so he bought me a soda and a lollypop. So, my anecdata suggests that a conscientious artist is highly mindful of the client's blood sugar level. Someone with diabetes should be doubly so.
posted by lekvar at 12:36 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: My uncle, cousins, and I have gone to World Class Tattoo -- I've only been there once (I have two tattoos total), but the aforementioned extended family has been there several times.

It's located in Berwyn, which is pretty close to the city. I've gone to see Jay. This is what he did for me (and my wife). It's a memorial tattoo for my son. Its fairly simple, but he's done good work for us.

Just a reference for you I guess. Good luck, and enjoy your new art. I can't tell you how much I love mine.
posted by MustardTent at 12:42 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: I have some Celtic tattoos and to echo everyone else's warnings, the tattoo artist will likely tell you your tattoo needs to be bigger - especially if it includes any of the detailed knotwork that is so common in Celtic art. It's not just a matter of inking small details, but experienced artists know that the ink spreads over time (years), so that any fine lines and details will eventually blur and loose detail.

I would also recommend looking for an artist experienced in drawing Celtic-style knotwork, if that's the sort of thing you're looking for (I can't tell from the samples you've provided). It can be pretty tricky to draw and you want to make sure they match up all the lines right.
posted by geeky at 1:09 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: 1) I definitely think you should get it designed by the actual artist who's doing the tattoo. A good artist will take a lot of pride in designing something that will look good forever (and shouldn't be offended if you ask him or her to tweak it, versus a comissioned artist). What I would do personally is research tattoo artists in Chicago because I would think there'd be a much better chance of getting a great artist as opposed to an average one. Look at their portfolios online (if you can) and find one you think would suit the style you're looking for. When you go for your initial consultation, bring lots of reference materials. A friend of mine is a tattoo artist and always laments the fairly new trend of clients showing her references on their smart-phones. She's started asking them, "So, you're leaving this with me, right?" :)

2) The veins don't affect your chances of infection. It's all about how you take care of it after-the fact (they'll give you after-care instructions, and there's plenty of stuff online). Keep it washed, keep it moisturized, and it should heal within two weeks. The pain goes away within one or two days usually (and feels similar to a sunburn), then it'll get itchy and start to peel for a few days to a week.

I've heard that the wrist is pretty painful, although I don't have any tattoos there myself. I will say that, of my two tattoos (one on the back of my calf, the other on the inside "soft part" of my upper arm) the upper arm hurt far LESS than the calf. I think everyone has different sensitive areas and different pain thresholds and there's probably no way you'll get a good idea of how you'll take it personally. I will say that, however painful, you'll probably be able to get through it. In my opinion, you should get a tattoo where you want it the most, regardless of pain. If it gets bad, you can always ask the artist to stop for a moment. Which brings me to...

3) Make sure you've had a healthy meal beforehand. I'm not sure about how diabetes would affect your experience, but there are many reasons people get lightheaded and/or faint during tattoos (nerves, pain, the sight of blood, whatever) and most all of these can be remedied by keeping your blood sugar in check. If you start to feel dizzy, ask them to stop until you're back to normal.

Good luck! Since it's something you'll have forever, it's worth whatever wait and expense it takes to find the right artist. You'll love it, and then you won't be able to stop! :)
posted by a.steele at 1:12 PM on May 27, 2010

Not entirely related, but this is something I really wish someone would have told me before I got my tattoo...


and you can't scratch them.

I used Aveeno moisturizer to help everything out, but it still itched really bad.

Just a warning...
posted by chicago2penn at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2010

My first and only tattoo is on my inside wrist. It hurt, but not enough that I had to stop the artist. The most painful was the part right on top of my wrist bone, which escalated it from dull pain to much sharper.

Also, my design was fairly small, and the artist mentioned it was gong to be challenging to get the fine detail. They still did a satisfactory job, but it's something you might want to factor into consideration.

I get a lot of random questions from strangers about it (I guess that's part of being a tattooed member of society), but I didn't realize just how well it starts a conversation. Might think of a scripted one-sentence answer for when you don't feel like telling a random waitress the story of your tat.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:53 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: I have a Celtic tattoo on my thigh that's not anywhere near as intricate as what you propose, and much larger. I got it 17 years ago, when I was 18. Here's a pic to show you how badly it's degraded. The envelope is to show you how much the pic is in-focus (best I could do with a cell phone camera) and for scale. Keep in mind that this is in an area where the skin does not wrinkle or twist. I have not gained or lost an appreciable amount of weight. I hardly ever wear shorts and I don't swim so it has not been exposed to sun very much. And it's still blurry as hell despite the fact that I went to a very reputable place and it looked crystal clear when I got it. Needless to say, I wouldn't do it again, and I'm glad it's on a part of my body I can easily cover (about 5" above the knee).
posted by desjardins at 2:00 PM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: My 2nd tattoo is on my wrist and it didn't really hurt at all. I put it where I did so if I ever needed to hide it, a watch or bracelet could do the trick.

A tip, though. Even though it was my 2nd tattoo, I wanted to make sure I liked the size, design, placement, etc. So I bought one of those sheets of Avery clear envelope lables and printed the tattoo on it, and stuck it on and lived with it for a while, just to be sure.

It may sound kind of lame, but it helped me decided on the size and colors and particular location and really see what it would look like before I actually committed to the actual ink, which I love.
posted by buzzkillington at 2:34 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote for having the tattoo artist do the artwork; they're used to working on the curved surfaces of the body as opposed to a regular artist who will give you a flat drawing. This matters a great deal depending on where you're getting the tat.

Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 3:26 PM on May 27, 2010

3) Even well controlled diabetes slows down the healing process. Many tattoo artists will not tattoo diabetics, as they worry about the healing. I have lied in the past to tattoo artists as I know how to take care of my tattoos while they are healing even with diabetes. Do make sure to eat prior to the tattoo, have something with sugar with you, and be prepared to watch your blood sugar closely for a few hours afterward.
posted by SuzySmith at 5:01 PM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the answers--I wish I could mark them all as best answer, but that would kind of miss the point. I think I'll spend some time shopping the idea around to a few different tattoo artists and see what they think.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:56 AM on May 28, 2010

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