A guide to getting your first tattoo

Tattooing for the untattooed

Tattoo gunCredit: Matt KeesonIt has become quite the trend, it grows ever more popular with both the younger generation and the older. It's appeals spans borders and class, from the rock n roller, the outlaw, the lawful, the professional and yes, even the religious. Tattoos have come a long way from their taboo past into their trendy present, and although there probably are still many who may not understand its appeal, it is more often than not become much more accepted and loved in our society. 
UnicornCredit: Matt Keeson
Although in recorded history the earliest tattoo can be found in Egypt circa 2560 BC, it is undoubtedly older, and even argued it goes as far back as 12 000 BC. From culture to culture the purpose of tattoos varies, but there are commonalities from the earliest tattoos to the present day. The Roman and Japanese cultures used tattoos to signify criminals. In Japan, you were marked with a line on your first offence, the second offence your tattoo was added with an arch, and your third offence you are tattooed with another line. This made up the Japanese character for “dog” and is apparently where the term “Three strikes and you're out” derives from.
Not all tattoos were negative. Many cultures used tattoos to signify social status and their skill, like in Borneo. Women had symbols tattooed on their forearm, which represented her skill and thus increased her chances of being wed. Tattoos were also used for superstitious purposes. Some tattoos around the wrist and fingers were believed to keep illness at bay.
In the western cultures the Britons used tattoos for ceremonies whilst the Danes, Saxons and Norse cultures tattooed their family crests, which obviously still happens today. Then in 787AD Pope Hadrian banned tattooing, but it did continued in Britain till The Norman invasion and was then disdained. Tattooing in western cultures seemed to gradually disappear from about the 12th Century till the 16th century.
The re-introduction of tattoos to western culture is credited to Sailor and explorer, William Dampher, who was a traveller of the South Seas. In 1691 he was responsible for bringing Polynesian Prince Giolo, also known as the Painted Prince, to London. Prince Giolo was heavily tattooed and was put on exhibition as a money making attraction for the people of London to see. In the 1700s, returning from one of his trips to the South Pacific, Captain Cook returned to London, also with a heavily tattooed Polynesian man named Omai. Omai caused sensation in London and soon after many upper class people began getting small tattoos in discreet places.
In 1891 the first rotary tattoo machine was patented by Samuel O'Reilly. It was based on Thomas Edison's electric pen, and its basic design has remained the same as the tattoo machines that are used today. This made tattoos more readily available and more affordable, also meaning it wasn't as exclusive as it once was. This saw many of the upper class lose interest in tattoos.
Tattooing(101929)Credit: Matt Keeson
What is it that attracts us to tattoos? Is it the attention it draws? Do we attach a rebel image to tattoos? Personally, its the art and significance behind the tattoo that appeals to me. Tattoos can be very personal. From the area in which you put it, to what the tattoo signifies, they are personal and tell a small story of you, weather you know it or not. I am a firm believer that you can gauge some kind of indication of a persons personality from the tattoos they have, and we have them for different reasons. Some get tattoos for closure, or to represent something of significance that has happened in their life. Sometimes people just get a tattoo for the sheer appreciation for the art work and the artist. And then there are others. Others who get a tattoo for the sake of getting a tattoo. Heaven forbid its tribal.
Although tattoos are now more common place at work and socially, the trend has brought with it some baggage. Because tattoo machines are somewhat affordable, there are more self professed tattoo artists; wolves in sheep's clothing, so to speak. It is one thing to be a good artist, but it is another ball game putting that art onto living skin. Many people are easily persuaded by cheap prices and flash art, that they would rather go for cheaper prices than a well known professional artist. You will be surprised how many tattoo artists cover up unwanted tattoos. Do your homework and get it right first time!

Tattoo artists are, despite what you may think, are artists. You will find that most of them have studied some form of art or design, and on top of that, has probably apprenticed for several years to learn the technique of putting idea onto skin. They have acquired knowledge of years of learning and practice. If you are a new comer to tattoos, have enough common sense to know that the tattoo artist knows more than you.
Here are some tips for those who haven't been tattooed before and not too sure how it all works.
1. Research the tattoos you want and the various artists in your area.
Just like we are all different, so too are artists. Each has different styles and it is up to you to find the right artist for your tattoo. If you want a life-like portrait of a family member, you are not going to want to get tattooed by an artist whose speciality is tribal. Be patient and go around the various tattoo studios, have a look through the various artists portfolios and get an idea of their style. Research what tattoo/s you want to get. Don't just rock up and expect an artist to draw something up real quick for you. 
2. Originality.
Similarly, don't just take an image out of a portfolio book or choose some random flash image. Get a tattoo that is different and has a meaning for you. All the tattoos in portfolio books are idea's by other people. Why would you have the same tattoo as someone else? Would you not have something that is uniquely you? If you are serious about getting a tattoo, be original. Tattoo artists get bored because many people come in wanting the same things, if you get something unique and different, the artist is more likely to be enthusiastic to do your piece. Quality of work might be even better because your piece holds interest to them.
3. Logistics.
Have common sense. Many people will go to an artist as ask for a beautiful piece with lots of detail, but they want it the size of a matchbox. The more detail you want in your tattoo, the bigger your piece may have to go. If you want lots of detail in a small area of skin, the tattoo will not look great years from now. Your body is forever changing, if you get a small tattoo with lots of detail it will eventually look like a blob of ink. One of the biggest regrets people have with their tattoos, is that they should have gotten it bigger. 
4. Responsibility and respect.
If you want to get the very best out of your tattoo, you have to be responsible. Simple things like don't booze it up just before you get tattooed. Alcohol thins your blood, this is going to cause more, unnecessary bleeding. Take care of your tattoo after you get it done. Keep your fresh new tattoo out of the sun, Keep it dry, keep it clean. This is basic hygiene that the artist will tell you after he has tattooed you, listen to them. The last thing you want is to pay a lot of money for a beautiful piece of artwork that will remain on your body forever, but you don't look after it and a couple weeks later you have an infected tattoo.
Respect the tattoo artist. Respect by showing them patience. Many of them labour on your art ideas, only to be met with negative feedback and hard-headedness. If you respect the artist, they will respect you and you will get the best work out of them.
Manuela GrayCredit: Matt Keeson
Unfortunately with all trends it does bring its baggage too. It brings the ones who don't necessarily care about the art of tattoos, but get ink done just to be cool or popular or even controversial. They care only about getting a tattoo instead of their tattoo, and they have no respect for the artist or the art. There will, unfortunately, always be that element. Get a tattoo because it means something to you, whatever it means. It is a way to express individuality and art, we shouldn't forget that. Tattoos had meaning long before our modern, western lifestyle. It should continue to have meaning for the individual, not be just some fashion trend.