Today this photo came up in my Facebook memories. I honestly can’t believe it was a year ago that I had my roses done on my arm. I’ve wanted to write a post on tattoos for ages and often started going through the photos I took the day I had this one done a few times, but never quite finished putting the post together. So tonight I think it’s serendipitous that I saw the post and felt like writing again.

I got my first tattoo when I was around 21. I’ve always been more alternative than the norm and enjoyed wearing a lot of black, listening to alternative / hard rock / screamo / punk rock – especially when hanging out with friends and watching live bands. The first tattoo I got was a star on my right ankle. I remember going to the tattoo studio in Hatifled Plaza and being a little intimidated by the people working in there, and yet I loved the music they played and felt at home when I walked in. Back then you couldn’t quickly scroll through Facebook and see an artist’s portfolio, and instead would sit on a couch with a photo album and flip through the printed photos of work they had done.They also had books with tons of patterns and designs that you could choose from. I knew I wanted a star and remember making the booking the day before and being super excited! I had no idea what to expect. My star is smaller than a R5 coin and they did it in no time. It cost R250 and at that time I remember thinking how pricey that was! Now looking back I have to laugh at how affordable that would be for me now because the new pieces I want cost about R2 500 plus. The apprentice who cleaned up my leg that afternoon told me I would be back for another one and I didn’t believe him…

Well, I did actually go back and at that point the apprentice was now an artist and he did my next one on my left inner wrist. I went back to him a few years later for one on my ribs after I was really ill and in hospital for a while. As a creature of habit, I was happy with him, knew his work and trusted him so I didn’t want to try any other artist. Years later, I actually ended up getting the next one with another artist because I was living in JHB and by that stage you could see a lot of people’s work on social. I was definitely hooked on tattoos – the feeling of having them done, the adrenaline rush of hearing the needle, and the wild anticipation of seeing the finished product on my skin. I would absolutely love to have a full sleeve done (your whole arm is tattooed with one big tattoo, or a variety of different ones), but never took the plunge because of cash and because I was worried people wouldn’t hire me at a job.

Last year I had been umming and ahhing about getting another tattoo done and had been following (actually stalking) a studio near the office for a few weeks. They had a super cool concept of a flash Friday where you walked in and could have a tattoo for a set fee. I never went for my birthday and the night that I heard about Chester Bennington’s passing, I decided to go and sort my tattoo out. I went to the Dakota Lee one Friday after work and met Bianca, whom I had also been stalking for a while because she did amazing tattoos. I had commented on a flower design she had done on Insta and she sent me a message and said she would love to do one for me. I took her the photo of the design inspiration I had and she advised me to rather book a full session in stead of an hour flash tattoo. I was bummed I had to wait as all my other tattoos I had literally had almost immediately, but I knew it was worth the wait. I booked it for a Saturday and she took my design so that she could sketch what I wanted. I have one other colour tattoo and the rest are black so I was keen to do a combination of a black line drawing tattoo with a colour one.

During the week before my appointment, she sent me photos while she was working on the sketch and allowed me to make some changes. Then the big day arrived and finally it was time to get the artwork done on my forearm. Bianca WhatsApped me to confirm things and reminded me to eat beforehand (which was incredibly thoughtful and amazing!) and I arrived for my tattoo. I got settled in while Bianca drew my stencil and go everything ready. Tattoo artists will apply the stencil on you to ensure they have it aligned and in the correct place you would like your tattoo before they get started. If you are unhappy with the placement or alignment you can tell them and they will remove it and reapply another one. Once you are happy they will begin doing your tattoo. Don’t be alarmed if they shave your skin with a razor first and clean you with disinfectant because that is standard practice. They should also open all needles in front of you so that you know they are brand new.

My tattoo ended up taking just over 4 hours which was a lot longer than I had expected because I thought it would only take around 2. I’d rather the artist take their time and not rush it anyway because a tattoo is something special. Bianca was super easy to chat to and didn’t mind all the questions I had about what it meant to “pack colour” and why things were done a certain way. People always ask me if tattoos are sore and my answer is it’s different for everyone. The one I had done on my ribs really was sore after 2 hours and my skin was super irritated but it healed eventually. My forearm wasn’t sore at all and my skin got tired and sensitive after a while, but nothing unbearable. Each to their own. We did take a few breaks as it’s tough to sit in one position for 4 hours! After Bianca completed the black rose she moved on to the coloured one which took most of the time in the sitting.

Once your tattoo is done, looking after it is very important. In the past I would clean it lightly with Savlon, and let it air dry. Then I’d put Opsite over it for a week to keep it clean and germ free. This tie round I cleaned it with Detol soap by gentle washing the soap over the tattoo and not tugging or pulling at it. When you dry it pat it dry with a towel or leave it to air dry. If you pull at it you could irritate the skin further and pull at the fresh ink in your skin. When your tattoo is healing it will scab and will get itchy. The important thing is not to scratch it at all otherwise you will pull the ink our of the tattoo. Rather apply Bepanthen or E45 cream on your tattoo very lightly to help with the itchiness. Smear just enough cream on it to keep it moist, without applying too much cream on it that it can’t breathe. Once it’s healed, if the ink is a little patchy, you can go back to the artist and have a touch up done. Most will do it for free a few weeks after your tattoo is healed.

Sitting for hours and watching someone create your tattoo really is an amazing experience. If I was better at drawing I would have loved to have become a tattoo artist! I have 6 tattoos now and definitely plan on getting more. They all have meanings and are very special to me. I don’t regret any of them and would do them all again if I could! (I get asked these things all the time when people see I have tattoos.) Every time I hear the buzz of a tattoo machine in a tattoo studio, I itch for another one. I can’t explain the adrenaline rush it ignites inside me when I hear that sound. I think you’ll only be able to understand that particular rush if you have a tattoo and love that sound and feeling as much as I do. I definitely am looking forward to hearing that sound much more in future!

Thank you Bianca for your amazing art that I wear on my arm! If you’d like to follow her online, click here.