I got my first tattoo when I was 16. It was a small heart, half red half purple with swirly bits coming out each side. When my Mam saw it I told her it wasn’t real. When she saw it again a few weeks later she nearly had a canary. People started asking me what it represented, if it meant something to me. I felt pressured into conjuring up a meaning for it and came up with “the red is love and the purple is lust and its about figuring what relationships are based on which feeling.” Sounds very mature considering I didn’t have a clue what the hell love was but I felt I had to justify it with some meaningful nonsense. From that point on I decided that people couldn’t get tattoos unless they’re symbolic of something. They have to represent some significant or traumatic stage of your life, something close to your heart. I got my second tattoo when I was 17. With my new found knowledge I was sure I had got it right this time. I got a quote all along my ribs in my favourite language, Italian. It reads “Vi sara sempre uni parte di mi” and it means “you will always be a part of me.” I got it because it represents my special bond with my Mam. When I tell people they always say “sorry to hear” but I didn’t get the tattoo because my Mam has passed away, she’s alive and well. It made me feel like I had gotten it wrong again.
People are so quick to judge when they see a tattoo, jumping to conclusions about what it means or whether it means anything at all. I got that stupid heart because I thought it looked cute and thats absolutely fine. I got that quote because I wanted to show my Mam how much she means to me. Then I realised that no matter how hard you think about what tattoo you want to get and what other people will think and how it will be perceived, your never going to get through to everybody. When I was 18 I decided to get the heart covered up with a beautiful butterfly – not because it meant anything but because it looked bloody good. I don’t know whether people stopped piping up with their outdated opinions or if I just stopped listening but from then on I felt a lot more confident not just about my ink but about my prerogative.
At 20 I went with a friend to get my third (fourth if you count the coverup) tattoo. I’m a big animal lover and I wanted something that represented that. Anyone who knows me knows my cats are my fur babies 💖 so I choose 3 small paw prints on my foot. Now at 22 I have just gotten my fourth and most amazing tattoo yet. I went for a decorative lion on my thigh and while I could tell you its representative of my ambition and strength or because my star sign is Leo, the main reason I got it is because its fucking awesome. The point is, a tattoo can mean something or nothing at all, it can be a picture, a portrait, a quote or a compass, something with a clear message or something a little harder to decipher. That’s what makes them so special, they’re completely unique to every person. People can perceive the very same thing in lots of different ways. Tattoos are like a personality puzzle, as you piece them together you find out about a person in ways words can’t communicate.
Growing up I wondered who the warrior princess was that graced my Dad’s forearm, her tresses of auburn hair blowing softly in the imaginary breeze. Or the jet black panther prowling up my uncles back. I think it makes people less flat, people with tattoos seem more multidimensional. Theres nothing like the adrenaline on tattoo day, your waiting for the artist to finish your sketch. She comes over and you inspect it, giving her the nod of approval. As you slide into your chair you get comfy, make sure your phone is lying beside you, you might be here for a while. Then the familiar buzz of the tattoo gun and your adrenaline spikes. Two minutes in and your thinking WHY have I done this to myself but once the initial shock is over you settle into the pain, enjoy it even. And the finished result gives you an immense feeling of pride. Like when your driving home with a warm takeaway on your lap after braving the rain but without the guilt.
I cant wait for the generation that see’s nothing wrong with a judge or a doctor having visible tattoos as they go about their professional lives. Reporters on tv giving us live coverage of events as they unfold around the world with their usual air of elegance, but with a cheeky sleeve on show. After all, expressing yourself through art should only be viewed as a good thing. For those of you who are wondering, let me tell you that no, I don’t regret any of my tattoos even the silly love heart. And have I thought about what my tattoos will look like when I’m old? Yeah I have. They’ll look chuffing great.
My latest tattoo in steps; 1) The sketch 2) During 3) The result!