Lady Judy Steel, wife of former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Steel and a grandmother, caused quite a stir recently when she revealed she “had been inked”, as they say in tattoo circles. Now adorned with a pink jaguar upon her shoulder, Lady Steel said: “I suppose it felt like being pricked with holly leaves, nothing worse than that.”
This begs the question: is Lady Steel too old to get a tattoo? In my opinion certainly not! If you are comfortable with getting tattooed, you can do it at any age.
My tattooist tells a story of an Oxford professor who recently retired and took to getting tattooed with enthusiasm, having wanted a tattoo all his life but deeming it inappropriate during his career. He now sports numerous tattoos. Will he regret them when he is older? At 75 I somehow doubt it. So what advice can an enthusiast like me offer a first timer looking to make that first epic step into the world of the tattoo?
First and foremost, you need to think long and hard about whether you really want one. It’s a permanent art and, as they say, “tattoo in haste, repent at leisure”. It took me ten years of consideration before I actually took the plunge, so don’t be afraid to take your time. It’s almost irreversible and personally I feel that if you have a tattoo with the view of “well I can always get it removed” you are missing the point.
Second - do your research. It seems there are tattoo parlours opening up on every street at the moment. Within a ten mile radius of here there are at least a dozen - all offering, or at least so it seems, the same thing. But look closely. Ask to look at their portfolio. Pay attention to the lines of their tattoos. Are they neat and tidy? Do they look well positioned on the body? It can make the difference between a good tattoo and a great tattoo.
Also, don't necessarily go to the closest, cheapest tattoo shop. I travel from Exeter to Oxford for mine and pay probably twice the amount a local shop would charge. But I know that the end result will be quality.
Are they busy? An excellent way to gauge whether a parlour is good or not is how quickly they can get you in with an artist (bear in mind tattoo artists specialise in different things - the guy that’s good at Japanese style may not be good at a Celtic armband). If they can fit you in straight away then ask yourself why. I have to book around six months in advance, which is great as it offers time to run through any doubts. A self-imposed cooling off period is never a bad thing.
Getting a tattoo abroad is becoming increasingly popular. Wanderlust takes hold and a desire to preserve happy holiday memories can easily see you searching out the local tattoo parlours. If you do decide that a holiday tattoo is for you, make sure the artist is clean (i.e. using clean needles every time). I would wait until as late in your trip as you can to get tattooed – a fresh tattoo shouldn’t be submerged in water or exposed to the sun until it’s fully healed. And who wants an open wound while on holiday anyway?
Then you have to decide where you want your tattoo. This is a really tough decision for the first timer. My advice is to go for somewhere that the tattoo can be covered up. If you see me on my way to work you would never know I have tattoos and that’s the way I like it. Getting "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on the knuckles as a first tattoo is a bold step and you have no idea if you will, well, love it or hate it. Try drawing a mock up of your tattoo on your arm or leg and leaving it for a few days. If it starts to annoy you the chances are you will hate it in two years time.
What about the big day? So you have found an artist you are happy with and it's time for the appointment. You are going to be nervous, that's for certain. I was shaking like a leaf the first time I got tattooed and I still get nervous now, even after 40+ hours of tattooing. Don't get tattooed under the influence of anything - this is guaranteed to lead to a bad tattoo that you may regret later. In particular, alcohol thins the blood making you bleed more and pushing the ink out making for a less than optimum finish. Another tip is to make sure you have eaten as you may feel faint during the process, although try not to eat right before your appointment. What does it feel like? You may find it hurts less than you thought. Or more. I find the whole process particularly unpleasant, but that’s just me. Certain body parts are worse than others - the feet are particularly bad, the arms less so. And the ladies seem to suffer less than the boys (sorry chaps). It would seem that women have a much higher pain threshold.
Your tattoo artist will advise you on the best method of aftercare. These vary from keeping your tattoo smeared with vaseline to applying hemorrhoid cream to the area (yes, really, hemorrhoid cream!)
One last word of advice: tattooing is addictive. My famous words of “this will be the only one I get” raised a knowing smile from my tattooist. I wonder if Lady Steel has got the bug.
You can follow Tristan Rothwell on twitter @wftristan and you your comments on this post here.