How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 3: No regrets.

So, in Part One I talked about preparing yourself, and in Part Two, how to pick a design that’s right for you. However, one of the trickiest things about getting a tattoo is reconciling yourself with the fact that this is for life (unless you have £££ for surgery!). Here are a few pointers to make sure you have no regrets!

1. Pick a design that means something…
I discussed the potential problems behind a ‘passing phase’ tattoo (like the recent Maori tribal craze, or in more literary terms, a Harry Potter homage, for example) in Part Two, but when I say “means something,” I’m talking about something beyond “a design you won’t be embarrassed by when you’re 40.” The fact is, you can make any design mean something to you — and that’s the secret to living life as a tattooed person without regrets. Rather than just picking something you like on an aesthetic level, or something that reflects an element of your persona right now, it helps to attach a deeper meaning. All my tattoos so far have marked major events in my life: getting a first for my undergrad dissertation (actually, I did one of those ‘I’ll eat my hat’ things, saying that if I got a first I’d go and get a tattoo, thinking I never would. Duh.), graduating from my MA, etc. Whenever I look at my tattoos (see point 4), I look back at those events — it’s a lasting reminder of something cool, which means it’ll be a lot harder for negative connotations to creep in, I think. Tattooing something that has been really significant in your life (rather than just something you like) also adds meaning — RT Press poet Eric Hamilton recently had this design from Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons tattooed on himself… not the greatest book as Eric himself freely admits, but one his cellmate in jail gave to him; the tattoo is a commemoration of that time, that person. Basically, it doesn’t matter what meaning you attach to your ink, just that, chances are, you’ll be a lot less likely to regret it later if it does mean something, rather than just being a whim or a reflection of your current tastes and ideas.

2. …but don’t get inked on the rebound!
So like I say, getting a tattoo to recognise a significant event or person is a great idea… but make sure the event or the person has and always will have positive connotations for you. A lot of people get tattooed when they come out of a relationship — I suppose it feels like one of those ‘new start’ things, like buying a whole new wardrobe or shaving your head. However, getting tattooed is far more permanent, and if you do it when you’re feeling bitter or fragile, chances are you’ll regret it later. Tattoos that commemorate negative happenings can be fine, but all too often your ink becomes a symbol of something you later realise you’d rather forget, when it’s associated with something like a death, a personal failure, the end of a relationship. One of my golden tattooing rules (because yes, I am planning to have more, no matter how much my mother sighs about it!) is that I’ll never get a tattoo that marks a love interest or relationship — I’ve heard far too many horror stories. Just look at Johnny Depp, who famously had to change “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever” (er, yep…) when he and Ms Ryder divorced. I know we’re talking about literary stuff, so how about this: you may love and adore that e.e. cummings quote from your last Valentine’s card now (cummings is VERY trendy for tattoos at the moment by the way!), but will the two of you always be head-over-heels in love?

3. Build your design into your life.
I mean it: get your design down on paper, perfect it, and then make sure you look at it every single day. Pin it up next to your bed, doodle it in margins, draw a ‘first draft’ on your skin with Sharpie marker, show it to your friends. Do this for a good while — I suggest months, particularly if it’s your first tattoo, and I’d say the bigger the design, the longer the time you should ponder. If you can look at your chosen design every single day for six months without getting sick of it, that’s a good sign. I thought about my first tattoo design for literally years and years — yes, partly because I was just chicken about getting it done — but I’m glad I did. I’ve had other designs which, at the time of devising them, I was positive I wanted to have inked… now I am grateful every single day that I didn’t actually go out and get them done there and then, but waited and thought about it, and the phase passed! If you’re serious about getting your first ink, you really should be thinking long and hard about it. Maybe less so for future tattoos, but the first one is a biggie.

4. Realise that it’s not that big a deal.
OK, after the first three points this seems contradictory, but actually, I think tattoos are less regrettable than most people think. Yes, I know a few people who’ve regretted their ink, but usually those people have learned from the mistake, and either learned to embrace their misguided tattoo as a symbol of their youthful zeal (or the like!), or designed themselves a kick-ass cover-up. I don’t know a single person who’s regretted a tattoo so much that they’ve had to fork out to laser it off. Non-tattooed people see this as a very big barrier, and I think it’s the main reason a lot of people decide not to be inked. However, what the uninitiated don’t realise is that actually, after a while (and this sounds weird, but go with it) you stop seeing your tattoos. OK, I am not head-to-foot covered, but The Boy, whose whole arms are pretty well-illustrated, says the same thing. In truth, you don’t have to look at this image you’ve chosen every single day of your life… it just becomes another physical feature, like your eye colour or a birthmark or the shape of your toes. Chances are you won’t regret it because you won’t notice it after a while… other people will, and I think actually, that’s the thing to take into consideration. How will other people react to you when you’re tattooed… and will you always be happy for them to react in that way?

5. Try one of two of these ideas before you get inked to further banish regret!
Turn your tattoo design into a personal “tag,” like a graffiti artist — obviously this is easier if your design is relatively small or relatively simple. Doodle your tattoo on the front of your notebook, put it on the head of your letters or the corner of your email signature. Make it your Facebook avatar — use it as a kind of personal logo. Firstly, if you can do this without getting sick of it, that’s a good sign. Secondly, it may become such a part of your identity that you can’t not get it inked! // Make a list of the pros and cons of being tattooed… or if you’re already tattooed, of having this particular tattoo. Is it controversial? In a very visible place? Marking something important to you? Are these pros or cons, or both? Writing it down will make it more structured and help you make a decision. // Draw your tattoo on yourself. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it makes sense! OK, you may not be any kind of tattoo artist (if you have a really unsteady hand, get a friend to do it for you!), but it’s a representation of what your ink will look like ‘on’, which can be important… like clothes, tattoos can look very different on your skin than they do on the hanger, as it were. Make sure you use non-toxic ink (Sharpies are good and come highly recommended by tattoo artists, in fact), and that it’ll wash off relatively easily! // Make a few alternative designs. It might just be a tweak here and there that makes them different, but this is for life, so you need to get the right one. Try them all out in the ways suggested above. Do a straw poll — ask your friends and family what they reckon. Take suggestions on board — yes, it’s your tattoo and very personal but sometimes a “have you thought about…?” = striking gold.

Are you tattooed, in a literary way or otherwise? Do you have a tattoo you regret, other suggestions to banish negative feelings? You know where the comments box is! Part IV… soon!

(Photo by Elliott_andrew)

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10 Responses to “How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 3: No regrets.”

  1. Beth Says:

    I still <3 my first tattoo and I got really directly on the rebound (the day after in fact).
    It’s only teeny and says ‘ainri’anai’ which is Irish for libertine. I still think it’s quite cute :)
    Nice post :) x

  2. Jason Says:

    I think you should be careful of referring to tattoo styles as a “craze”. Tribal isn’t any more or less a craze than old school or Japanese. There were, are and will be plenty of brilliant, well-respected artists doing great work in all of these styles before, during and after their periods of mainstream popularity, and many serious tattoo fans continue to get work done in all of those styles.

    Ten years from now people will talk about “the pin-up craze” that’s popular now – does that make it a bad tattoo choice? Of course not. They’re all valid artistic choices and they don’t lose that when they cease to be popular. What’s more important is getting a good piece of art from a talented artist. Tattoos last longer than any popularity so we all need to expect that any work we get may one day be seen as a passing fad. So please be careful not to make snarky remarks at other styles just because they’re not your cup of tea!

  3. Claire Says:

    Jason — I take it you have some tribal, then?

    You have to admit, there was a “craze” for tribal –ie, it became very popular and a sudden surge of people went to have it done. Obviously this was a spike, tribal is a very ancient type of tattooing and will always be around… it just got very trendy for a while, is all. All I meant was, you shouldn’t get a certain kind of tattoo just because everyone else is; it ought to be personal, specific to you. I didn’t say “don’t get tribal,” or that it isn’t “my cup of tea” — I like a lot of tribal designs, in fact. I think you’ve read a lot into this that isn’t there, and I’m actually quite hurt that you thought I was being “snarky.” That was absolutely not my intention and I don’t think I came across that way, either!

  4. Jason Says:

    Sorry, wasn’t having a go at you … but I do think your remark came across as rather dismissive of a major style.

    You said in part 2 of your series that you shudder when you see a Maori armband! Why? Do you shudder when you see a swallow or an anchor or a pin-up? You know that thousands of people have those as well but they’re still great tattoos.

    And yes I do have plenty of tribal! But this isn’t solely about that. My next piece will be old school and I know that although that’s popular now, it won’t always be, which is something we all need to be prepared for. So I’m just a bit surprised to hear someone suggest that a style of tattooing is too popular or unoriginal when 99% of tattoos are equally subject to the same spikes in popularity.

  5. Jason Says:

    PS - I’m making these comments in the spirit of two people who like tattoos exchanging their opinions. I’m not meaning to lecture you or anything! Each to their own, etc. …

  6. Claire Says:

    I do shudder when I see tribal sometimes — you can tell the difference between a well-planned tattoo, one that’s personal, and one that’s been picked at random off the flash sheet. It’s the same with anything, you’re right… I just used tribal as an example because it is so very very popular. I also never suggested that tribal was “too popular or unoriginal” — again, it was always about encouraging people to pick something personal!

  7. aiko! Says:

    Sharpies are permanent. Also, kind of toxic….

    they do make nice lines though…

  8. Claire Says:

    Aiko — not true. You know what they say about Wikipedia — PS, it also says: “Magnum Sharpie, King Size Sharpie, and Touch-up Sharpie products contain xylene. The Magnum and King Size Sharpies also contain cresol. However, all other products in the Sharpie line do not contain either of these chemicals, and are considered safe.”

    Regular single-tip Sharpies are neither toxic nor permanent:
    (She’s a tattoo artist and does this a lot. I believe her! Also, one of the times I was tattooed, my stencil was touched up with Sharpie prior to the needle going in. I suffered no adverse effects and am still alive!)

  9. Desmond Swords Says:

    Mam and Dad on the knuckles
    A spiders web on the face
    Fuck off inked on a forehead
    Season by season they change

    The ink buzzed in forever
    The tatts in the midst of it all.

    Taut firm flesh all unstretched
    Ainu, Berbers, Maori, Celts
    All had tatts, branded themself
    A book in skin, the body its page
    Butterfly, clover or cross, to sing.
    Goth, Emo, Rocker to biker call
    Season by season they change
    The tatts in the midst of it all

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