Yesterday I answered an anon who was worried they’d chicken out on their first tattoo appointment. My advice was simple: put down a non-refundable deposit.
Someone else replied to the post, and I’m sure they were trying to be helpful, but their comment rubbed me the wrong way so I wanted to follow up. This was the comment: “And don’t pick anything from the walls…make it personal, make it your own!”
Again, I’m sure they were trying to be helpful, so I’m not trying to slay them here. I just want to respond to the idea that tattoo flash (“anything from the walls”) is somehow lesser tattoo fodder than a custom drawing (something “personal”.)
Here’s the thing: all tattoos are personal. Anything that you commit to having carved into your flesh is personal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a portrait of your dog or a picture of Mickey Mouse. You sat through the pain, you bled for it, you chose to wear it on your body for as long as your body lasts. That’s pretty personal if you ask me.
I have tons of pieces of flash tattooed on me - one of my favorites being a potbellied mermaid with an exposed, hairy vagina. It’s an Owen Jensen (pictured above) piece of flash and it’s quite personal to me.
For one, tattoo flash represents the roots of American tattooing. It’s a tradition, one of the only traditions I actually respect. Also, when I look at it, it brings be right back to when I got it tattooed on me. I was 23 years old. I remember sitting in the back of Tim Biedron’s car the night I got that tattoo, as he drove me and my boyfriend at the time (the guy who tattooed the mermaid on me) to Pick Me Up Cafe for our nightly routine. I’d get the vegan pancakes, Tim would get the Garlicious Breast sandwich, the boyfriend would get Drunken Chicken on the Barbie. We’d sit there until after midnight, as just about everyone from the Chicago hardcore scene came and went, always stopping at our booth to say hello.
I have a piece of Ed Hardy flash on my shin, before Ed Hardy designs became synonymous with date rapists. Jeff Zuck was in town, and he’d already done a killer black panther crawling out of a big, blue rose on my arm. I wanted another big cat, but I’d specifically requested it “wonky.” Jeff panicked, because his drawings weren’t wonky, so I found a cool Ed Hardy tiger on the wall. My boyfriend tried drawing his version of it for me, but his version had long, girly eyelashes. “Nope,” I said, “do it wonky, just like the drawing.” So Jeff tattooed it just like the flash - an asymmetrical nose, weird yellow eyes, a grey tongue. For years I could feel people staring at it in public, wondering why a young girl had such a bizarre, old timey circus looking tiger on her shin. Then a few years later people started recognizing it as an Ed Hardy design, which sucked because at that point Ed Hardy was the official all-over-print-shirt brand. Now people point at it and say, “cool Against Me! tattoo.” I fight my urge to tell them I’ve never listened to Against Me! a day in my life, and that this is, in fact, a wonky Ed Hardy tattoo redrawn 17 times over by two tattoo artists I spend a good chunk of my early 20s with. But anyway, I picked it off the wall, and it’s mine. It holds a lot of memories.
One complaint I hear a lot from other heavily tattooed people (man, I remember the first time someone referred to me as “heavily tattooed” - it was Harlan Thompson, and I was so proud. I still remember exactly where I was standing inside Deluxe Tattoo when he said it…) is that thanks to all the terrible tattoo shows on TV people are constantly demanding to know the “meaning” of their tattoos, and when there’s no significant meaning, at least not in the eyes of the person asking, they’re disappointed.
I have a tattoo of a heart with a banner that says “pancakes.” It’s because for almost the entire time I was dating that tattooer, we’d go to Pick Me Up with our friends and I would get the vegan pancakes. For my birthday, the coffee shop where I worked help a pancake eating contest in my honor. The winner got a tattoo from my friend Chris Smith. On New Year’s Eve we all crammed into Tim and my boyfriend’s apartment in Uptown and made pancakes. We tried to make them, anyway. Turns out, for as much as I liked to eat them, I had no fucking clue how to make pancakes. Three of us tried - me, my boyfriend, and his friend Jason, and we all fucked up. Tim showed up a little late, expecting to find a big stack of pancakes, and instead finding us all piled on the couch watching The Beyond. When he saw our failures in the garbage can, he called us all idiots, and proceeded to make enough pancakes to feed an army - all perfect. Man, Tim is good at everything he does, it’s stupid. Anyway, we sat around and ate pancakes and at midnight we all yelled, “PANCAKE NEW YEAR!!!” And even though I only see those people maybe once every two years now, and it’s accidentally, and I ended up cheating on that guy with Tony and now he hates me, and I kind of hate him too because he knew I wanted to go back to school and instead of encouraging me, he offered to buy me breast implants… and when I met Tony he offered to get a second job to help me pay for school… even though those aren’t necessarily happy memories for me, they’re part of my story. And when people ask me about the pancakes tattoo I tell them “I used to really like pancakes,” and the disappointment on their faces fills me with joy.
So, anyway… to expound on my advice from yesterday. Put down a non-refundable deposit AND get whatever tattoo you want to. Even if it’s “from the walls.”