seeking first tattoo advice
December 28, 2017 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I am going to get my first tattoo and want to do it right. Seeking your general suggestions and specific artists (NYC).

I would like to get a small black star on my ribcage somewhere below my left or right breast. (I am a woman with D-cup breasts.) This is a memorial tattoo and the star is non-negotiable; that is what I want. If that location is extraordinarily stupid I can reconsider, but I want it to be private and don't want people asking me about it all the time.

Who should I go see and what should I think about? Price is not an issue. I realize this is pretty unexciting as far as tattoos go, but this is my first time at this rodeo, it means a lot to me, and I want to get this right. Thank you.
posted by this, of course, alludes to sex to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
None of my tattoos are on my torso, but many people say that the ribcage is one of the most painful places to be tattooed.
posted by bradf at 6:38 PM on December 28, 2017

I have often considered a tattoo on my ribs, on the righthand side, but under the armpit. I think of it as the place you would stake a vampire if you didn't want to go through the sternum? Mostly hidden, and as long as it isn't on an underwire path, should heal okay? But the main problem would be the rubbing of bras, the pressure of them on the wound. I have seen some really neat torso work that isn't quite ribs, not abdomen - over the xiphoid process, or close to there.

Make sure you have some soft and comfy bras, ointment, and a method of covering it that won't irritate your skin (I once had ink wrapped in clingfilm and taped for the trip home, and I sweated enough to pool in the clingfilm AND I was allergic to the tape). Don't plan anything afterwards, even though it is small, the process of tattoos can be as disorienting and draining as a massage but with pain.

Small black stars are fairly easy as tattoos go, so artists should not be as much of a problem in terms of talent - you'll want someone who is kind, and gets it though. I got a large memorial tattoo two years ago and I am glad I went with my usual artist because she understood the meaning of it, and that I had moments of being upset/out of sorts that I usually don't have. You don't want some asshole telling you it doesn't hurt that much/not to cry, or anything like that.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:48 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have tattoos extending across my ribs on both sides and yeah it's absolutely one of the most painful places to get tattooed. But the worst of it is over when the artist is done and depending on the size and whether you're getting it filled in or not it won't even be that long. But as far as pain in the very moment of being tattooed is concerned you're definitely going in on Hard Mode.
posted by griphus at 6:53 PM on December 28, 2017

I don't have tattoos over ribs, but I have one that goes over both my clavicle and the soft underarm portion. Going over a tender part can be alleviated with ice packs before (and during) inking. Going over a bone can only be dealt with via breathing through it, in my experience.
posted by Lexica at 7:09 PM on December 28, 2017

I'm always for getting a good artist, but really you want the right artist for the job. A simple black drawing that you already have is more about competent technical ability, and most good tattoo artists can handle this easily. If it were me I would not pay a premium price for this. But you've also opened up the field a lot, go with someone you like.

It's pretty much like hiring a great artist to paint a landscape on your living room wall, vs hiring a great artist to paint a black star on your wall. Unless you're looking for artistic input you just need someone who can do the job.
posted by bongo_x at 7:34 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

I got my first tattoo on my ribs and it didn’t hurt at all, and that’s when I was still skinny (less padding). And I am not particularly tough but YMMV. But also don’t wear a bra for a day or two before-hand so you don’t have skin depressions in that area. I saw Josh Lord who I think is now at East Side Ink.
posted by greta simone at 7:38 PM on December 28, 2017

I went to New York Adorned for something more complicated than this, and I was very happy.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2017

Something important to consider is the type of inks they use—for something like that, you have your pick of artist, so go with someone who uses safer, higher-quality ink, such as Kuro Sumi, Intenze, Alla Prima, Starbrite, Eternal, Victory, or Skin Candy. As your immune system deals with the ink, bits of it will end up in your lymph nodes, so its relative toxicity is an essential consideration. The FDA doesn't regulate tattoo ink, so only choose artists who use ink from conscientious manufacturers.
posted by limeonaire at 9:31 PM on December 28, 2017

I have a tattoo from Eight of Swords in Williamsburg that I really love - it was done by Dave Wallen, who owns the shop. He's been around a good long while and was very down to earth - your idea may frankly be more simple than his ideal clients but I have known several folks who have gotten inked by other artists there and had great experiences. I haven't been by the shop in a while but their pricing is incredibly fair and the shop atmosphere is relaxed and collegial. I'd highly recommend you drop by the shop, explain what you're thinking of getting and why, and seeing if you like the feel of the place and whomever they suggest might be available to do your piece. Take your time and feel good about who and where you're getting the work done - the process of applying it won't last that long but the tattoo is forecer so don't let yourself get pressured or rushed.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:02 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

In that location and as a bra-wearing person, I would get some Tegaderm. It's a sheet of sticky transparent dressing that you put over the finished, clean tattoo and leave it on for 2-3 days. It's basically artificial skin and it makes tattoos heal like a dream. No scabby phase and minimal flaking/itching if you can keep it on long enough. With a small tattoo you probably wouldn't even get a big buildup of lymph/blood/ink underneath which can sometimes leak out. You'll probably still want to switch to comfy soft sports bras or bralettes for at least a few days. (Note: some people react to the adhesive, so if you tend to be sensitive to adhesives this might not work for you. My skin gets a bit red and itchy after I take Tegaderm off but it's worth it for making the healing process so much better.)
posted by misskaz at 5:40 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Consider drawing the design on yourself using permanent marker. Do you still like the placement/orientation/size after a week of having it there?
posted by enfa at 6:26 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't have any direct suggestions for places to go, but for something that simple if you draw a venn diagram of "places that take walk-ins" and "places that have fantastic artists" you'll find a shop that'll work.

Most reputable shops don't talk walk ins, and don't necessarily do small, simple tattoos (setup and teardown have costs in their world...), but most walk in shops are sketchy and use low quality inks (and oftentimes hurt more). If you find that gem of a shop that takes walk ins, but also does complicated, detailed, quality work, you'll find a good place to get your piece done.

Another track, if you have set days off that you can get work done, you can always contact several artists and say "If you have a cancellation on $days and $times, call me, I have this small easy tattoo to do." Might take some time, but works for smaller one-sitting pieces. And don't forget to tip!
posted by furnace.heart at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2017

Reputable shops most certainly can do walk ins, especially for a smaller piece like the one you plan. Visit the shop just to check it out, and assuming they aren’t swamped, they should be happy to answer questions and not elitist/aloof towards someone getting their first piece. Getting the ink might be anywhere from annoying to painful to ticklish, but from the sounds of what you want, shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. Bring Gatorade, and don’t be afraid to ask for a potty break or just a breather.

Have fun! You’ll love it :)
posted by Drosera at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

All the reputable shops I’ve been to take walk ins. (Some shops or artists are my appointment only.) But reglardless, you can make an appointment.

You want to look for the artist’s website or Instagram or Facebook. Look for fresh and healed photos.
1) line work - is it clean, sharp, crisp? Look on small details and lettering. Letters or things with straight lines.
2) shading/fill - is it solid? Does the skin sti/ll look healthy and not damaged? Is it a good color? Is there anything outside the lines?
3) clean - is the shop, the artist station, the bathroom etc clean? Does it get cleaned immediately before/ after each person? Are they using gloves?they should be practicing medical level hygiene and cross contamination awareness.

A bad artist will have shaky lines that may get thin and thick, wavy, have “blowouts” or areas where the ink was too deep. The shading will be patchy “scratched”, it may be outside lines and it may damage the skin a lot and look “chewed” which can lead to scarring.

For placement I’m not sure. I don’t have my ribs
(I have 18 other spots) but if it’s small it should be bearable. It feels like a lot of sharp bee stings. At its worst it can shoot nerve pain through your body. At best it’s tingly. On average it’s like a dull knife grinding away your skin.

Definitely do a test tattoo with marker where you might want it. Keep in mind skin moves when we move. With a geometric shape it will noticeably shift when you move. (I have a cassette tape that is a slanted rectagle when I’m relaxed but goes into shape when I hold my arm out as it should be viewed.)

Let them know it’s your first time. Eat a good meal beforehand. Bring some sugar with you - like soda or candy. BREATHE. You have to take slow in and out breaths. If you hold your breath the pain is worse.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2017

Reputable shops and artists absolutely take walk-ins, you just have to know when they're taking them. If you find a shop or person you like, subscribe to their Instagram feed. If they're taking walk-ins on a certain day they'll likely post it there.
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of great advice above. I want to add two more things: connection and compassion. I really liked every artist that gave me a tattoo. If I didn’t, I would be really bothered by having their work, no matter how amazing, on my body forever.

If that is important for you, make sure you pick someone that can honor that it is a memorial tattoo, and that you feel comfortable with them.
posted by Vaike at 7:19 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have 85% (hopefully 100% after I see him again in January!) of a sleeve by Dave Ball. These days he's working out of Red Rocket. His linework is clean, he's a super nice guy, and his prices are reasonable. I very much recommend him.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:42 PM on December 29, 2017

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