Last year, I got my first tattoo – a child-like version of Tinkerbell meant to memorialize my late husband Charlie and his bond with my daughter (his step-daughter) Hailey. I soon knew that I had opened the door and would definitely want more tattoos in the future. I had so many ideas and didn’t know which one to go with next.
About 6 months later, I was thinking about how much my life had changed and would continue to. I’d lived through unspeakable horrors and I wanted a way to represent the rebirth of myself and commemorate my struggle to grow even once I’d hit rock bottom. Naturally, the phoenix came to mind.
I mulled it over in my head for several more months before deciding to commit to making the appointment and putting down the $60 deposit required to get it done. That was back in June. I immediately started Facebook messaging my tattoo artist, Margo of Holy City Tattoo Collective – sending her various images of phoenix drawings and tattoos to show her different things I did or didn’t like about each.
But this post isn’t really about the tattoo itself (as of this post, it’s only half finished). This post is about what the tattooing process is and how it makes me feel.
Getting a tattoo is a serious procedure. You’re probably thinking “Duh, of course it is…” but for me, I think it’s a really big deal. I’m naturally an overthinker and I require a lot of processing time. I don’t like making hasty decisions because even if I choose correctly, I end up feeling an overwhelming sense of regret and guilt.
I sent all of those images to my artist. I combed Pinterest and Google and Flickr looking for drawings and other tattoos for several months. Somewhere in my head, I knew what I wanted. I knew exactly what I really wanted it to look like. I thought we would take the best of all of the things, put them together and I’d end up with a gorgeous tattoo that I would love forever.
I was wrong. That’s not how tattoos work.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I think my artist and I aren’t quite on the same page. It’s not her fault. I think I have unrealistic expectations. I sent her all of these images and expected to have something I could look at long before the day of my first sitting. I wanted to be able to look at the drawing for a while and decide what I didn’t like about it and make changes. I had this grand idea in my head that by the day of my tattoo, I would see the final drawing and fall in love and get it inked permanently under my skin.
But that’s not how this process works. There’s a lot of obstacles that you face – everything from the competency of the artist to the curves of your body. Sometimes what you thought you wanted simply isn’t physically possible. Maybe it’s because your body curves the wrong way. Maybe you wanted more detail and the size of the tattoo needed to be scaled up to compensate. Maybe it just doesn’t fit. You can’t always just walk in and get what you wanted.
What I Wanted
I went into this wanting a rising phoenix on my back. I didn’t want a full back piece. I had it all cooked up in my head that I was going to have a tattoo on the upper-left portion of my back with the phoenix’s tail feathers extending towards my spine. What I have… is a huge phoenix extending completely across my back and it looks nothing like I imagined.
I loved the look of the tattoo on paper. It was gorgeous and I thought it was beautiful and feminine. Once it was drawn out and put against my back, I realized that it would never be what I wanted. It was never going to be as small as I’d imagined and it could never lay as I had hoped. I’m too short and stocky. I don’t have the room on my back vertically to make my dreamed up tattoo a reality.
I am not one for speaking up, especially if it means I have to confront someone in person. That’s a huge problem with me getting a tattoo – I end up with something permanently on my body that I don’t absolutely LOVE at first. The picture above shows the entire outline of my tattoo before any shading or color was added. It’s there… and it’s there forever.
I’m not in love with it.
In fact, I went home feeling sick – physically, emotionally, mentally. I was struggling with what I had just done to myself. I had this weird moment where I thought “My skin! My beautiful skin! I have RUINED it.” – and that’s insane, because while my skin is fabulous for tattooing and it holds color quite well… it’s really not all that great otherwise. I have problematic skin. But the sheer size of the tattoo (not to mention the cost) overwhelmed me and I felt remorseful.
I can’t change it or take it back now. What’s done is done. I know I will probably love it once it’s done, but for now…I just think it’s a pretty bird on my back. Yup. Bird. Notice I didn’t say Phoenix? I don’t know why I didn’t say something sooner – probably because as an artist, I hate to criticize other artists and I felt bad about telling her that that head looks nothing like the phoenix head I showed her that I really liked. I think this one makes it look more like a Swallow.
Everyone seems very on the fence about that. Some people say it looks every bit as much like a phoenix as it should. Some say it does look more like a Swallow. But at this point, that’s my only real complaint. I’ve moved past the stage of feeling remorseful. I’m ready to get my tattoo finished and embrace the positive message it was meant to portray.
It’s not finished, obviously. Yes, it’s a lot of red. There will be much lighter highlights added and some specks of color throughout – purples, greens, blues, etc. I wanted something feminine and beautiful – rather than an angry looking phoenix.
We planned for 3 sittings, but it looks like I will only need one more to finish it up. We got through more than expected thanks to my skin. After 2 hours of working it, my pores started to open and weep. My skin had had enough. So in 2 weeks, I go back to finish the tattoo and hopefully come home happy and not in tears.
Have you ever regretted a tattoo or gotten one that it took time for you to love? Share your stories and experiences with me – I could use them!