Fresh out of college, and about as green as a blade of grass, I departed the shores of my beloved Ireland at the tender age of 23, headed for the Middle East. I had very little comprehension of where exactly I was headed—in the physical sense, in that my knowledge of Qatar was minimal, and in the spiritual sense, in that I had no idea which direction I wanted to go with my life. One thing I was certain of, however, was that I was ready to get my first tattoo.
In many ways, I can be pretty spontaneous. I didn't take too much time to mull over my decision to emigrate, for instance. That feeling of nervous exhilaration that burns in the pit of our stomachs when we take a blind leap into the unknown, while breaking free from the shackles of our comfort zones, is something I think we should all seek out. However, getting a tattoo, though, was not something I wanted to simply wander into.
It was an oddly powerful experience. My memory of it is lasting and vivid. This was not just because of the physical reminder of it that I was left with afterward. It was the sense of euphoria throughout, which is extremely difficult to articulate. And yes, you will want more of it afterward. That being said, it's no joke. It is permanent, and if you would like to get the most out of the experience, it's best not to do it on a whim.
With that in mind, here are a couple of things to consider before getting your first dart of ink:
1. Why do you want a tattoo?
This may sound pretty straightforward, but ask yourself honestly why you would want to get a piece of art etched onto your skin. If maybe you saw some athletic guy on TV rocking a cool sleeve, or a hot, blonde, 20-something sporting a cute tribal design on her lower back that you figured might look sexy in a pair of jeans, you may want to give it some more thought. Or if perhaps, the idea popped into your head after consuming a couple of buckets while island-hopping around Thailand, just pause for a second to really consider it.
Your reasons should come from deep within. You may not be able to envision what it will look like (because that's where the expertise and creative influence of the artist comes in), but all that it represents should resonate through to your core. It should bear a great deal of significance to you. If you can get to that point, you're on the right track.
2. Have you thought it through?
I mean, have you really, though? I was 23 when I got my first tattoo, but the seed had been planted at the age of 16. My twin brother and I had decided it would be really cool and brilliantly original to get opposite halves of the popular yin-yang symbol tattooed on our shoulders, so we made a pact to get it done on our 18th birthday. The seed lay dormant in the recesses of our subconscious for a couple of years until the day finally came when we could (legally) drink a beer. Thankfully, my twin brother didn't quite fancy the idea of getting inked.
I still liked the general idea of it and all that it represented, so I found myself gradually beginning to obsess over it as the years went by. I studied books, scoured through numerous images online, and watched countless episodes of Miami Ink on MTV until I literally got to the stage where I was losing sleep over it.
If perhaps you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to research ideas for designs and reading into the various underlying meanings behind certain symbols and phrases ... basically, if your idea gradually begins to consume you, then you may be just about ready to get your first tattoo!
3. Who will do the honors?
So, if you have a clear idea of the significance it would play in your life, it would represent something deeply meaningful to you, and you have lost enough sleep obsessing over it, then it's probably time to start searching for your artist.
Firstly, it's worthwhile tapping into your network of friends and family for anyone you know of who has had tattoo work done. If you go to a tattoo shop, look through the portfolios. Ask for a sit-down and have a discussion with the artist on the ideas that you have been obsessing over for the past number of months and years. Your decision will ultimately rest upon your intuition. If you sense that there is good chemistry (very important) between you and the artist, and you feel comfortable about it all, then it's time to move forward.
A key factor, if and when you have decided on your artist, is to have complete faith in him or her and trust that he or she will be able to nurture your seed of an idea and bring it to life on the canvas. They are the masters of the craft, and they know what will and won't work as a piece. Open your mind and allow yourself to surrender completely to the person wielding the brush. It will make for a more pleasurable and meaningful experience.
I hope your first experience of this beautifully ancient art form will be one to remember. Take it all in, and enjoy every minute of the transcendental journey that you will undoubtedly embark upon. And, if you do decide, through a misty stupor, to get your partner's name tattooed on your neck, just be sure to check the spelling!