Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown

Monday, June 25, 2018

Confessions Of A Tattoo Apprentice: The Highs & Lows Of Self-Tattooing!

Tin Tin's Faithful Friend, Snowy (Milou in French)
When Todd first suggested that I tattoo myself over a year ago I found myself resistant to the idea. I wasn't trying to be a bad apprentice. Like anyone seeking out a tattoo, I am rather picky about what I put on my body. However, inevitably, I bit the bullet and did just that. Partly because I wanted to learn more about needle depth and shading and partly because I needed human flesh to practice on. Not confident enough to just tattoo any random human being, let alone someone I know or care for, I used myself as a guinea pig. Truthfully, I have learned more by tattooing myself than I could have ever learned from tattooing pig skin or fake skin.

Popping My Cherry - Tattooing Todd Beck's Leg!
Tattooing Todd last September was a real eye opener. Where many apprentices have essentially tattooed dozens of people over the course of their first six months, at least at several shops here in Sherbrooke, I chose to refrain from doing so. Partly out of a lack of confidence but mostly because until recently, I didn't have a proper work space to do it. Todd's studio is large enough for one tattooist at any given time and so it was not until recently that I found myself with my own Tattoo Studio. Practicing on pig skin became a chore. It was getting old real fast, especially where shading is concerned. Worse, I find that I inadvertently became heavy handed with my coil machine. After all, the flesh is dead and inevitably I wanted something living to practice on. Whilst I managed to tattoo Todd you can see that a mixture of inexperience and nervousness caused some challenges including with my lines. I recall being afraid of hurting him, so much so that I barely touched his skin the first few passes of the needle.

Attempt Number I: Snowy (Milou)
Lower Left Ankle (Inside)
Whilst I inevitably purchased a Cheyenne Hawk Pen, I had no illusions that it would suddenly transform me into an expert tattooist. However, I prefer the weight, feel and use of the rotary machine over the coil machine I used to use. However, I did find myself expecting things to go as smoothly as when I first tattooed Todd. Cue my love hate relationship with pig skin. Tin Tin's Faithful Friend Snowy (Milou) was a must as I had Tin Tin himself tattooed on my right hand several months ago. Whilst I think I did pretty well with Snowy's (Milou's) outline I was overzealous with packing in the white ink. My lack of experience and practice led me to being too heavy handed with my rotary. Part of the issue is that I have a high tolerance for pain and also, frankly, I didn't think I was getting the ink in deep enough. I stupidly went over the tattoo no less than four times. In hindsight, I should have stopped after the second pass but after a long winter, my skin was so pale that I had difficulty seeing if the white ink was going in properly. I was also pressing too hard by the third and fourth pass as I was determined to pack that Eternal White Ink in! The end result was a tattoo infection that required antibiotics. In addition to live and learn, I also felt the mistake was better done on myself than on a client.

Attempt Number II: Random Mandala Upper Right Leg (Front) By Groin 
My second attempt was in quite possibly the most awkward position I think I could have chosen. I took the top part of a random Mandala design and placed it on my upper right leg near my groin area. It didn't occur to me that being right handed, it might be difficult to tattoo in that position whilst sitting on my Barber Chair Vanquish. The lines are far from pretty as is the shading. I also learned that I have porous skin on a part of my leg that up until this tattoo, I probably would have never even noticed. Its one of those nice from far but far from nice pieces. Regardless, its small enough (picture makes it look larger than it really is) that I know I can do something with it in the near future. 

 Self-Tattoos – Estampes et multiples 1982-2001
By Fabrice Gygi
Clearly self-tattooing has its highs and lows and the question as to whether it is beneficial or not seems to be a divided topic in the industry. I am in several minds about it myself and can appreciate the arguments from both camps. On the one hand, self-tattooing helped me learn about needle depth in a way that I am much more confident now about tattooing someone properly and without fear of creating a blow out and or causing an infection. The latter is especially true with shading. I was too heavy handed in the past and thankfully any mistakes made were on me, both literally and figuratively. The last thing I need or want is to hurt someone and or give someone a really shitty tattoo that they are going to resent or want covered up immediately. However, and this is where I find myself appreciating the subtleties of a traditional shop apprenticeship, you need human participants (guinea pigs) in this endeavour. As much as I have learned from self-tattooing, equally, and this is entirely my fault, I need to put myself out there more and get people to come in for some small simple tattoos. My second attempt at self-tattooing is a good example of how I would have been able to do a better job if I was tattooing someone else on my massage table as opposed to awkwardly trying to tattoo myself on a chair. 

Pic RedBubble
Finally, the largest problem with becoming a tattoo artist is the industry itself. At least here in Quebec. Given the bureaucratic nature that is Quebec, it is surprising that there are no industry regulations and/or set standards as can be found in other Canadian provinces or other countries (e.g. New Zealand). Thus, finding a reputable place to apprentice is hard enough let alone the drama and bullshit that often accompanies these shop environments. In addition, trying to find a shop that doesn't exploit the apprentice either financially and or abuse them (verbally or mentally) can also be a challenge. I have met several apprentices in their early twenties who were not given a proper structured environment to learn in. Instead, many apprentices are left to their own devices and end up tattooing clients without so much as having observed an established tattoo artist complete a job first. The Quebec tattoo community for the most part won't even respect or acknowledge the efforts of apprentices who have taken a tattoo course. Ironic considering the majority of the most well respected tattoo artists here started out in their kitchen self-tattooing with a cheap machine and ink. I digress. At the end of the day, we do the best we can in an environment that is as unforgiving as it can be rewarding. It's made me appreciate Todd Beck all the more as he has been fantastic and patient throughout this process. If you feel particularly generous, help out your local apprentice by donating some skin for them to tattoo. After all, knowing is half the battle.

Complimentary Aftercare Package Provided With Every New Tattoo!
À la fin de votre nouveau tatouage, vous recevrez un mini paquet de soin offert par Ye Olde Cock Tattoo Emporium. Cela comprend un morceau de pansement film UltraDerm (similaire à Saniderm), un sachet gratuit de Hustle Butter (0,25 oz) et un pain de savon Art En Bulle (savon Pur ou savon 100% Olive) pour les peaux sensibles. Nous proposons également des tubes de Bepanthen et / ou Hustle Butter (1 oz ou 5 oz) à des prix compétitifs. Si vous êtes intéressé par un tatouage ou souhaitez même rafraîchir un ancien tatouage, n'hésitez pas à nous contacter dès aujourd'hui!

Upon completion of your new tattoo, you will receive a mini care package courtesy of Ye Olde Cock Tattoo Emporium. This includes a measured to fit piece of UltraDerm Film Bandage (similar to Saniderm), one complimentary sachet of Hustle Butter (.25oz) and one bar of Art En Bulle soap (either Pur soap or 100% Olive soap) for sensitive skin. We also offer tubes of Bepanthen and or Hustle Butter (1oz or 5oz) at competitive prices. If you are interested in getting a tattoo done or would like to even have an old tattoo refreshed, don't hesitate to contact us today!

Réservez Dès Aujourd'hui Pour Une Consultation!
Book Today For A Consultation!
Ye Olde Cock Tattoo Emporium
Service Bilingue - Bilingual Service
339 Rue Alexandre,
Sherbrooke, QC, J1H 4S9
Ph.: (873) 662 1701

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