Ink Me Baby!
June 12, 2005 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a tattoo. (yeah, I know I've dissed body art before, sue me). I've got a few questions.

First, I'm trying to decide on a design. I know it will be of the comic character Buddy Bradley from Hate!. I'm thinking either a face forward head of Buddy with a snarl and a cigarrette between his lips (on the inside title page of Hey Buddy! GIS had nothing), a profile shot of buddy like this one, or a standing Buddy slouching with beer and cigarrette (featured on a t-shirt). I can't decide which would be best, so I'm asking opinions. All would be black ink only, on a bicep. Plus I'd like to know about cost, pain levels, and recommended artists for this sort of thing. Thanks.
posted by jonmc to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total)
Response by poster: As many of you know, I have fairly scrawny arms, so take that into account.
posted by jonmc at 11:57 AM on June 12, 2005

Hard to pick, but I'm thinking that if you're going to go Peter Bagge, it'd be a shame not to get the wonderful body-language of his art in there. So i guess the third one would be my vote.

I've been toying on and off (on mostly when I've had a bit to drink) for years with getting an old-school, EC Segar style Popeye on the bicep. Three-quarters front portrait style with an oval frame like old sea-dog style art, and "I yam what I yam" written inside a ribbon waving across the bottom. In black & white, of course.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:09 PM on June 12, 2005

Cost wise? As with most things, you get what you pay for.

Considering you have decided on a bicep tat the pain shouldn't be too bad. Fleshy or muscled areas are generally less painful than the bony parts (ie. feet, hands, spine). That having been said, expect to be sitting for an hour or more. Even a low level of pain can have you gritting your teeth after that long.
posted by pooligan at 12:10 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: Hard to pick, but I'm thinking that if you're going to go Peter Bagge, it'd be a shame not to get the wonderful body-language of his art in there.

I agree that Bagge's body language is great, but I'm picking Buddy, because I relate a lot to the character and I look a lot like him, to the point that when I was wearing my "What's The Use?" Buddy with beer and smoke shirt in a strip club, a passing dancer soliciting tips started intently at the design for a few moments, then said "Oh. It's you." So, I see it as an iconic self-representation.
posted by jonmc at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2005

I have a decent amount of tattoos. They are fairly well thought out, and I don't dislike any of them. This being said, please read this advice:
If you're not 100% about what to get done, and you're not because you're soliciting our advice, consider holding off until you're completely fixated on getting a certain something inked on your body.
3 hours of work on a bicep starts to get sore, but the simple drawings you like shouldn't be an issue.

Re: cost/quality. Most tattoo artists charge by the hour, so you could ask him/her their rate. Pick up a tattoo magazine, look for featured work by people in your area, and see what their shops are like.
posted by ArcAm at 12:29 PM on June 12, 2005

Cost: As noted above, you get what you pay for. You'll pay pretty much by the hour, so prices will increase based on the size and levels of detail you have in mind. Discuss price with the artist before they even open the needle wrapping--most are willing to scale things down, perform multiple sessions, etc. if price is an issue.

Pain: Bicep tattoos are widely considered among the least painful, for reasons noted above, but pain is very much in the eye of the beholder. Don't get drunk beforehand, though--you'll bleed more, and almost all artists will refuse to work on you.

Artists: I have no idea about recommended artists in NYC, but you might check out this list, maintained by a longtime regular in the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup.

What caused you to change your opinion about tattoos?
posted by box at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: It wasn't tattos per se that i had problem with box, just the fact that it's kind of become a cliche and some of the bullshit surrounding it.

consider holding off until you're completely fixated on getting a certain something inked on your body.

Well, I've got it narrowed, and Buddy is an important symbol to me.

As far as cost, I'm just trying to get a rough idea. As far as pain, I've had root canal a few times. Is it worse than that shot into the nerve? A buddy of mine with 9 tats said that it's like having hot coffee spilled on you.
posted by jonmc at 12:35 PM on June 12, 2005

I'd say for something like what you have in mind, it is more like having a cat scratch you.
posted by ArcAm at 12:38 PM on June 12, 2005

When you see the design that you really want to have inked on you, you'll know it. I don't think you've seen it yet. At least that's how it's worked for me.

In terms of Pain, biceps are sorta in the middle - not the most sensitive, but not the least either. Run your fingers down your biceps, then make the same motion on your ribs. Ribs are supposed (I don't have any 'tats there) to be the most sensitive area of the body (excluding genitalia).

Regarding artists, I can't really help but a few ground rules just in case you've not come across these before :

1) Make sure s/he has an autoclave. Not a pressure cooker, but a real autoclave
2) Make sure the artist uses disposable needles
3) Insist upon seeing the package used during sterlisation - it turns blue after it's been exposed to adequate heat. Have it opened in front of you
4) Ask if the artist also sterilises the tube, the part of the tattoo gun that holds the needle; not all do but for piece of mind you should probably find one that does
5) Insist upon disposable and new ink caps; you don't want everything nice and sterile just to have the artist dip the needle into a previously used cap of ink

Also, look at his or her book, a collection of photos of completed 'tats. This will help you make sure the artists style suits the design you've decided upon.

Finally, enjoy the endorphins! Some folks attribute the endorphins released by your body during the actual process of acquiring a tattoo to the addictive nature of getting inked.
posted by Mutant at 12:42 PM on June 12, 2005

I agree that Bagge's body language is great, but I'm picking Buddy, because I relate a lot to the character and I look a lot like him

Sorry, should have been more clear. I meant the body language of his art. Definitely go with Buddy, but I'd say pick something that has in body in it. Which is why I went with the third choice.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:46 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: The picture on the upper right (minus the stink lines and flies) is the one calling out to me. I'm thinking the words "Hey, Buddy!" in a comic font would be a good accompaniment.
posted by jonmc at 12:48 PM on June 12, 2005

A tattoo is quite a process:

As far as cost goes, there's generally a minimum cost at a professional parlor.

At the parlors that I've been to, the artists aren't necessarily employed by the facility. They're independent (authorized, certified, etc) professionals who essentially rent their workspace. The cost of a tattoo will include:

1) Some percentage of the artists rental fee.

2) The cost of the supplies that they CANNOT reuse for health reasons (basically any package that they have to open. Ink cannot be reused and some needles come sterilized in a package and are discarded rather than Autoclaved or sterilized and reused in a similar process)

3) Labor. If it's a complicated tattoo, especially if it's custom, the artist has to do much more work. With a custom design, they'll transfer the image, using non-permanent ink (and some sort of photocopy process which I have not witnessed) onto your body. Also, of course, the bigger it is, the longer it takes. The longer it takes, the more it costs. The same equation applies to complexity.

At nicer parlors, no matter how small or simple the tattoo is, the minimum cost of supplies and the artists overhead might be in the neighborhood of $75 USD. It varies, of course.
As pooligan said, you get what you pay for. DON'T go looking for discount tattoos. You'll regret it.

As far as the pain goes, if I can get a tattoo, anyone can. I'm a big wuss when it comes to pain, but the pain of a tattoo is NOT prohibitive by any means. You'll definitely feel worse about having an incomplete tattoo than you will feel about sitting through it.
I'm a skinny guy, too. So there's not really any hope of finding a particularly fleshy part of my body. For that reason, tattoos tend to hurt me more than they do other fleshier folks.
That being said, I've been able to sit through three rather large tattoos, the biggest of which took nearly 3 hours. I haven't ever been able to place a tattoo far enough away from a sensitive bone. I have one on my shoulder, one on my outer-forearm, and one that wraps around my other forearm, elbow, and tricep.
The tat on my shoulder, at its worst, made my collarbone, and spine vibrate from the tattoo gun. The one that wraps around my arm was the worst when they were working on my scrawny elbows (in addition to the fact that I had to sit in a funny position while they did it). The tat on my forearm was only really painful when it got too close to the elbow on that arm.

If you're worried about what the big, scary dudes with tattoos all over their bodies will think about you being squirmy from the pain of the tattoo, don't be. I got my first tattoo the day I turned 18 and I was a terribly scrawny little kid back then. Within the first 15 minutes of getting the tattoo, I was sweating and feeling really faint. I had never felt anything like it before. They were really nice and accommodating, knowing that everyone has a different pain tolerance and that getting a tattoo is often the kind of experience that "makes a man out of you."
In my experience, if you're having a difficult time with the pain, don't look away like you're getting a shot. Watch them ink you. Instead of wincing in surprise, you'll be able to see exactly what's going on. I'm not sure why it helps, but it does. Also, it'll bleed while they're working on it. Not a whole lot, but it does put some people off (but they're the kind of people who can't stand the sight of blood in the first place.)

Your first tattoo should be fully healed in about a week. The first day or two, it'll feel like a bad sunburn. Then, over the next few days, it'll get scabby and raised. If you take really really really good care of it, it'll smooth up, the scabs will come off by themselves (usually when you wash it, gently), and by the end of the week, it'll be a nice, smooth, clean addition to your body. Tattoo maintenance is much easier than a piercing which tends to get infected and aggravated for up to a year.
Your tattoo artist should be able to recommend precisely what kind of antibiotic ointments and moisturizers to use during the healing process. Better parlors will have pamphlets for you to take home regarding the care of your tattoo. PAY ATTENTION AND DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY! You don't want to pick your scabs and have to get your ink retouched. Propper care of your tattoo will result in a beautiful, clear, work of art (until you get all wrinkly and old, of course).

Good luck with this. I say, go for it! They're more fun than you think and, before you know it, you'll be wanting another one! Many people find tattoos to be quite addictive (in a good way).
posted by Jon-o at 12:48 PM on June 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: upper right of this page. sorry.
posted by jonmc at 12:49 PM on June 12, 2005

I think the root canal shot is much worse, but it's probably relevant to note that I like tattoos and dislike dental work. A very widespread metaphor for the pain is the sensation of dragging a pin across the skin, like when you forget to take all the pins out of the shirt. It's a fairly mild pain, I'd say (especially over fleshy areas), but it's ongoing. Really, though, don't worry about the pain--you can handle it.

I'm reluctant to give even a general estimate for cost, because a)Things in NYC are more expensive, right? b)I don't know how big or detailed a tattoo you're envisioning and c)As with the pain, my feeling is that one shouldn't worry about the cost.

It's hard for people who aren't independently wealthy to not worry about how much things cost, so the best course of action is probably to decide precisely what you want, then get a quote from the artist. If you don't have access to $X+Y+Z (where X is the quote, Y is a decent tip and Z is a little cushion) that day, wait until you do. To paraphrase the sign that I always look for when I'm picking an auto mechanic, the pain of a shoddy job outlasts the pleasure of a low price.

On preview: Jon-o, if your typical piercing is getting infected and taking a year to heal, you're doing something wrong.
posted by box at 12:50 PM on June 12, 2005

I second the stuff Mutant said, especially about sterilization and the like. Spend a lot of time looking at the photo book and look for tattoos that are similar to the one you want. Some artists do line work well, some do color well, some do fill well. Choose based on pictures that approximate what you are getting.

Color tattoos can end up looking worse faster, so think about that.

I've always compared the pain to having a needle dragged across your skin. It's annoying, something that you would not do if you didn't want to for the end result, but not the end of the world, especially on the bicep. The pain will go in and out while you're getting it, sometimes you'll almost forget about it and then it will hurt again. It feels slightly bruised the next day.

Pay attention to how they tell you to care for it after you get it. The main bummer is if you don't take care of it and some of the ink drops out and you have to go get it touched up. Sometimes artists use too heavy a hand and you scar a bit and have to get that touched up. That's a bad artist. It would be worth taking a magnifying glass in to see what you can see in the photos.

Cost is $150-300/hour for a decent artist. The designs you choose don't look like they could possibly take more than two hours. Everytime you want to rush some part of this, or save on cost, etc remind yourself it's permanent.

Post a picture when you get it.
posted by OmieWise at 12:55 PM on June 12, 2005

if your typical piercing is getting infected and taking a year to heal, you're doing something wrong.

I'm sure. I've never had a piercing, myself, but I've watched people struggle with theirs because they stopped devoting all their attention to keeping it clean.
I'm just trying to make the comparison between taking really good care of your tattoo for a week versus washing your bellybutton for a month or more with peroxide.
posted by Jon-o at 12:59 PM on June 12, 2005

Also, have you thought about a Screeching Weasel tattoo? I ask because I always picture you as already having one, both from your posts about lifestyle and about music. Also because your attitude always reminds me of Ben Weasel, and I say that with the utmost respect. Anyone who writes:
"call me a faggot/call me a butt loving fudge packing queer/i don't care/cause it's the straight in straight edge/that makes me wanna drink a don't have the balls to be a queer"
is someone I respect. I don't know if you've even heard of the band. They were like a nice cross between Crimpshrine and The Ramones. Derivative but fun as shit.
posted by OmieWise at 1:08 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: I applaud the sentiment, omie, and what I've heard of Screeching Weasel I like (that's featuring the guy from Maximmum Rock & Roll right?), but if I'm gonna ink something on me, it's gotta be something that's really "me." And Buddy really is, people used to call me "Buddy," back in the day.

Then again your username makes me picture you as an old appachian man with an acoustic guitar and a corncob pipe.
posted by jonmc at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2005

As for finding a tattoo artist in NY, I'd recommend finding someone with a well-done tattoo and asking where they got it. As has been mentioned, some tattooers are real artists. The guy my friend goes to for all her tattoos can take a crappy design and make it look absolutely spectacular. Price-wise, a small (2'x2") black-only tattoo with little line detail should cost you around $100 +tip, but this is in the suburbs of LA, so I'd expect it to be more in NY.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on June 12, 2005

I don't know nothin' bout gettin' no tattoos, but as for design? I also vote for standing Buddy slouching! Iconic Buddy; iconic jonmc, I should think. Post a pic on flickr when you get it?
posted by scody at 2:25 PM on June 12, 2005

I'm a total wimp and I've sat for four to five hours sessions having my upper arm tattooed. It tends to hurt a bit more around the bony bit near the shoulder and the tenderer bits nearer the inner arm but it's entirely tolerable. Put it this way, I can chat away to the tattooist during the whole session and not lose my thread.

Once you pick your design then you might want to live with the idea for a bit while you save up loads of money to pay for the best tattooist you can afford! Seriously, you can't put a price on this stuff.

Don't be surprised that if you pick a detailed design then you might have to have it done bigger than you'd intended. Big is good because it'll blur less over time.

What they can do with colours now is fantastic and it'd be a shame not to take advantage of that but, you know, it's your arm.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:31 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: Post a pic on flickr when you get it?

Well, looking at the price, it may be awhile. I'm po'. I can't even afford the last two letters. I'm leaning towards Buddy's face though.
posted by jonmc at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2005

One quick thing no one has mentioned yet : Remember to tip the artist!

I didn't know about this when I got mine and years later learned that tattoo artists make most of their money off tips (I think 20% is normal) and have felt like a schmuck ever since.

Oh, and whatever you do, no matter how bad it itches afterwards - don't scratch it. You'll regret it. Scratching my unhealed tattoo hurt more than actually getting it done.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:38 PM on June 12, 2005

To avoid scratching, if it itches lightly pat it, pat it progressively harder until it stop itching. It might hurt a little, but at least you didn't itch it. Just see the initial tattoo as a giant open wound (which is what it is at first) and treat it accordingly.
posted by drezdn at 2:46 PM on June 12, 2005

jonmc, i don't know what your transportation situation is, but if you are able to get upstate to the Woodstock area, Pat Sinatra of Pat's Tats is a fantastic artist, especially at translating work from another medium.

When I was in college, I had her do a detail from a Dali painting on my left shoulder blade. To this day (12-odd years later) it still draws compliments when people see it.

She is not, however, cheap. I have no idea what her rates are these days, but I remember being pretty intimidated by the cost as a poor college student.

As far as the pain is concerned, others have addressed that issue, but it's really not that bad. Really. And I'm a wimp.

I brought a book and read it to keep my mind off the fact that I was being stabbed thousands of times by a hot needle. It worked.
posted by dersins at 3:37 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: I appreciate the advice, but any verdicts on the pics I've proffered?
posted by jonmc at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2005

I can't advise your tattoo (I've advised only one, and won't do it again).

I can tell you, however, what it might cost: let's assume, for a moment, that you're covering your entire upper arm with this image. It's blackwork, so that's cheaper. Likewise, it doesn't seem highly detailed; that's cheaper too.

My guess would be somewhere in the range of $200-300. You generally pay more for complexity and size... it takes longer, and the artist (rightfully so) expects more compensation for her time.

While many artists do charge by the hour, most of the ink I've gotten done was flat rate. I walked in with the design, said, "How much?", they quoted me something, I dickered with them on whether it might be cheaper if it were smaller, etc., paid them, and sat down. But, I also know lots of people who've paid an estimate up front, then gotten it done, and paid (or were reimbursed) the balance based on an hourly rate.

Oh, another cost in the whole thing: if the artist has to draw up the design, be that from scratch with a reference or simply cleaning up the art, you should expect to pay for that.

Two other things:

1. The number one complaint about tattoos, amongst those who don't go the regret route, is that they didn't get it big enough. If you're getting a tattoo you'll know you like, but you get it small because of cost, fear of pain, or the desire to keep it "discrete", you'll probably regret it. Make it big, be proud of it (also, large tattoos age MUCH better than small ones as you get wrinkly).

2. Tip your artist. If you're looking for an idea of how much that should be, think in the range of 15-20%. That said, I usually tip somewhere in the range of 25-50%, and I have a friend who tipped around 150% once. He walked in, they quoted him a figure he thought was ridiculously low, and got an absolutely awesome tattoo, so he gave the balance of his budget to the artist. You don't need to go that far, but it sure helps the inker remember you when you come back for your next piece... and you will.
posted by Netzapper at 4:33 PM on June 12, 2005

Oh jonmc, I meant to say standing slouching Buddy is my vote.
posted by OmieWise at 5:28 PM on June 12, 2005

Definitely standing slouching Buddy - it has attitude and would look great on an upper arm.
posted by muddgirl at 5:53 PM on June 12, 2005

I have no advice on tattoos except to maybe print them all out and hang them on your wall until one of them is obviously right and the other ones aren't. That's how I decided to get my shoulder tattoo and it's now 14 years later and I still like it. I'd go bigger rather than smaller with whatever you decide to get. Ask people you know who have tattoos you like where they got theirs done.

Mine is a standard sized two-color shoulder tattoo with a lot of shading, done by a nice tattoo parlor in Seattle and it cost $150 back in '91, I'd say maybe $250-ish nowadays, maybe?

I've also had root canals, they costs three times as much and were in a totally other league pain-wise. Tattoos, as people have said, give more of a pokey sharp mosquito bite pain which is mostly a problem because it goes on for what seems like forever and you can't scratch it or move. Don't take aspirin or drink anything beforehand for the pain because it makes you bleed more, and some places won't take you if you appear under the influence of anything.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 PM on June 12, 2005

2 thoughts..

1. Don't, but get it printed on a tshirt instead? Maybe next year some other character/symbol will have greater significance. This way allows the selfexpression but avoids your falling in with the 'regret' crowd in 10 or 20 or so years. (Besides, don't you always wear long sleeves?)

2. Ask your lady for her advice/likes - I'm presuming you've done it/will do it - but if it was me, I would definitely want my SO's stamp of approval, excusing the pun. (And she will likely want some input!)
posted by peacay at 4:42 AM on June 13, 2005

adding to peacay: do you have any idea how common buddy tattoos are and does that change what you think about it?
If it's for yourself, that's something very opposed to having it as a badge for show. The cost, time and discomfort are part of the ritual, and if any of that is in question, don't do it. Ask Bagge himself, because there are at least better pictures to choose from and he's seen most of the best finished ones.
posted by philida at 5:05 AM on June 13, 2005

Response by poster: do you have any idea how common buddy tattoos are and does that change what you think about it?

Just how common could they be? 90% of the people I meet have no idea who Peter Bagge or Buddy Bradley is.
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on June 13, 2005

Response by poster: Maybe next year some other character/symbol will have greater significance.

I've actually been considering this on and off for 5 years, so if I do get ink, it'll be Buddy.
posted by jonmc at 6:55 AM on June 13, 2005

I'm late to the party, but I'll tell you this about the pain:

It doesn't hurt so much as it annoys. I had a small tattoo done on the inside of one arm. It took about ten minutes, and the pain never got quite to the point where I wanted to flinch, but it was aggravating. Felt something like someone carving a design into me with an X-Acto knife, but not so cleanly. You can definitely tell that it's done with a needle, because you're conscious of the jabbing sensation. In other words, it's not clean the way a cut would be, but more like an endless series of sharp jabs over and over and over again in your arm.

Annoying, but not very painful. If you're getting a large design, feel free to ask the artist to let you have a break if you think you're getting to the point where you'll start to flinch from the pain. Otherwise, just sit back, relax, and think about ice cream or something.

And if you're like I was, look forward to the endorphin rush you'll get about 5 minutes after you walk out the door. It'll make you want to go back and get another tattoo.
posted by staresbynight at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2005

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