How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 2: Choosing your design

So, if you’re definitely ready for your literary tattoo — and you’re sure you’re getting one for the right reasons! (see part one) — here’s the fun part: choosing your design! But even this can be problematic… hopefully these tips will help!

1: Size matters.
Many tattoos with a literary flavour incorporate text in some way, and when your tattoo involves lettering, there are various things to take into account. First off, size matters. Your design may look just fine on paper, but when it comes to putting it on your skin, it may need to be larger than you think. Obviously there’s the logistical side of things — tattoo needles are pretty fine, but they’re more cumbersome to weild than a pen, and your tattoo artist can only do so much. Also, it needs to be large enough to be readable — even if you don’t want others to see your tattoo, chances are you don’t particularly want it to end up an illegible scribble! When it comes to size, you also need to pay attention to the font you choose: the more curly or intricate the letters, the larger they’ll need to be; again, simply to be readable. This applies to all tattoos to an extent, not just lettering: the more complex and detailed your tattoo, the bigger it’ll need to be to achieve the full effect you’re after.

2: Find the right place.
The human body is a pretty weird shape, so drawing on it can be complicated! Finding the right place for your tattoo is important… it shouldn’t be your primary concern, but it is something to think about when putting your design together. I’m not a great believer in worrying too much about covering your tattoos up (I have a chest piece, and got a job as a teacher despite the fact that my ink was visible at the interview), but tattoos on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands and fingers can be tricky. These are pretty ‘badass’ places to get a tattoo, and can cause others to jump to conclusions about you. If you have allergies or a low pain threshold, placement can matter there, too: bony places like the ribs and feet are particularly painful, whereas fleshier parts hurt less, generally. In terms of allergies and skin sensitivity, bear in mind that your tattoo may take up to two weeks or maybe even longer to heal — in that time it will have to be kept clean and largely uncovered, but out of the sun and away from potentially irrititating chemicals. That’s more tricky with the feet, or around the waist or hips where the waistline of clothes might go. It might seem like a minor detail, but if these things are relevant to you, you’ll need to choose your design and its placement carefully.

3: Longevity is key!
All too often, people buy into tattoo “trends” (anyone else shudder when they see a tribal armband on anyone who isn’t Maori nowadays?), which can lead to huge regret… also, having a tattoo of something you’re obsessed with now doesn’t always end well, particularly with things like music and literature, because naturally your tastes change over time. You may think Harry Potter is the be-all and end-all right now (the less I say about that, the better!), but will you still be able to rock a quidditch-themed tattoo when you’re forty? Perhaps… but perhaps not. Example: the Boy has a male pentagram (yes, the upside-down kind — actually very little to do with Satan!) on one arm, which he got aged 16… ah, sweet teen rebellion! While he’s not mortified by it (it was his first, so it does hold a special place), I think he wishes that it drew a little less negative attention, so he’s designing a cover-up. So the moral of the story is: choose your design very carefully, because it’s for life! You also need to bear in mind that literature shifts and changes with time, too — would you get an Enid Blyton tattoo these days, for example? It’s not surprising that most people choose literary tattoos based on the old, well respected, canonical stuff! I’ll be talking more about this later in this little series: there are ways to make your tattoo meaningful for life.

4: Do your research!
I’ve heard a LOT of post-tattoo-realisation horror stories, and it seems literary tattoos are particularly bad for this! There was the guy who got a lyric by his favourite deathmetal band, but the lines he chose turned out to be exactly the same as the hook for a Bryan Adams song. There was also the atheist (just heard about this one recently!), who found some text from Corinthians somewhere, thought it was a great, meaningful poem and had it tattooed on himself… only later did he discover it was from the Bible. You also hear many, many a tale of people who’ve had things written in foreign languages — particularly those that use different alphabets — only to discover later that their tattoo is hideously misspelled, or worse, that their lovely symbol actually means, I don’t know, “fish paste” rather than “poetry.” This is why you need to do your research. If you’re getting lines from a poem, make sure you know their origin, and make sure you’re alright with it! If you’re getting a tattoo in a foreign language, check it over with a native speaker. And even if you’re getting an image, you might want to make sure it doesn’t have negative connotations, if you can!

5: Consider the issue of originality.
There are a lot of literary tattoos which are surprisingly common… just wander over to Flickr and put “Kurt Vonnegut tattoo” into the search box! OK, maybe you love Vonnegut… but do you really want a tattoo that everyone else already has?
Perhaps you do… I have a classic Sailor Jerry swallow, which is a tattoo worn by literally millions of people. I like what this tattoo symbolises (sailors were often tattooed with a swallow to grant them a safe journey home, or to signify the crossing of an ocean or the equator), and how it looks — swallows also mean a lot to me personally. I have no problem whatsoever with having the same tattoo as other people, or dealing with some of the connotations people attach to swallow tattoos (my favourites include: they show you’ve done prison time, a swallow tattoo in particular will prevent you from getting a job, women wear them to show they’re promiscuous, they are worn by “common” people… whatever that means. Welcome to the world of being tattooed!). However, some people do have a problem with this. Basically, if you want your tattoo to be totally unique and unlike any other ink worn by anyone else (good luck!) …again, do your research!

Part III… coming soon!

(Photo by honey.huckabee)

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One Response to “How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 2: Choosing your design”

  1. One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 4: Under the needle Says:

    [...] literary tattoo — Part 4: Under the needle So, once you’ve prepared yourself, chosen your design and rid yourself of any potential regrets, you’re just about ready to go out and get inked. [...]