Life Hack

Tattoo Care Basics

May 3, 2016

30th & Weldon is no stranger to tattoos.  In fact, all three of us added a little ink to our collections within the last two months.  We are so lucky to live in a city that is home to some incredibly talented and skilled tattoo artists – it makes it easy to get quality tattoo work done without having to travel too far.

Danielle by Emily Aitken of Read Street Tattoo

Danielle by Emily Aitken of Read Street Tattoo

Julie's work in progress by Emily Aitken of Read Street Tattoo

Julie’s work in progress by Emily Aitken of Read Street Tattoo

When I got my first tattoo, I was eighteen years old, nervous as hell, and coming from a background where no one had tattoos so I had no idea what to expect.  The internet holds so many different and sometimes conflicting opinions and tips for tattoo aftercare, it was a little overwhelming to try to decipher what was the ‘right’ way to care for a new tattoo.  Fast forward seven years and I consider myself an ~*almost*~ pro at getting and caring for tattoos.  I’ve had a few folks suggest I do a post on tattoo care, so on my most recent trip to the tattoo parlor one of my favorite artists, Hunter Spanks, was gracious enough to let me pepper him with questions while he blasted my arm.

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A little background on Hunter first.  Originally from Miami Beach, he was raised in Raleigh, NC and transplanted to Baltimore in  May of 2006. He has been tattooing for about 25 years and has worked at multiple shops in the city including, Saints & Sinners, Brightside Tattoo, Read Street Tattoo Parlour, and Have Fun Be Lucky.  Other than a brief stint as an usher in a movie theater and a dishwasher, he’s never done or wanted to do anything else but tattoo. We bonded over our love for Butch Walker and Baltimore, and I have been getting tattooed by him for almost a year. His work takes up the most real estate on my body – I have three pieces done by Hunter and I trust his artistic vision and value his professional opinion.  I have tattoos done by a couple of different artists and plan on adding art from many more tattooers over the years, but Hunter’s work has always stood out to me. His advice paired with my own experiences helped formulate this best practices list for tattoo care and advice for someone considering their first tattoo.

Brightside Tattoo in Federal Hill

Brightside Tattoo in Federal Hill

Pick the right tattoo shop:  Not all shops are created equal.  I strongly suggest doing your homework on the location you are getting a tattoo instead of just rolling up to the first tattoo parlor you see. How is the shops’ reputation? Do they do just any tattoo or do they have discretion about who, what and where they will tattoo a client? Do you know anyone else who has had work done there? Even if you do know someone who has work done, do you like what you see? I once stopped in a shop that a casual friend recommended and was not impressed with any of the portfolios I saw.  Needless to say I did not get a tattoo there.  Is the shop clean, well lit and well maintained? A good tattoo parlor won’t mind you looking around the shop if you are a serious customer.  Be respectful, but also feel comfortable in the space.  Most shops have a minimum (base amount for artist’s time and supplies), so I like to ask what that is and then get an idea of what the shop charges hourly.  You pay for what you get so don’t let a higher price point deter you, if you really like a particular artist or shop.  I would also recommend no basement tattoos, no cheap tattoos and no cheap basement tattoos. Do I have one of these? Maybe.  Is it the only tattoo I don’t like and wish I never got? Also maybe.

Trust your artist:  I choose an artist to do a specific piece of work based on how their tattoo style will match the concept I have in my head. If you can’t draw for shit and don’t draft your own tattoos (like me), I find it is best to select an artist whose style you enjoy so they can draw up something based on the ideas you have. Shops usually have photo album portfolios available to clients so they can flip through an artist’s work.  Instagram is another great resource for selecting an artist and making sure you like their style of tattooing.  A good artist knows how to compose a tattoo and make it work for the placement and size you want it. They may also offer their own artistic suggestions that you can take or leave. In my experience I have never regretted taking an artists’ advice; they are professionals so their opinions hold some weight.  The most memorable occasion of this is the Deathly Hallows tattoo on the back of my thigh.  I initially wanted a smaller, simpler design. My artist, Matt Taylor, recommended going larger and more intricate based on where I wanted the tattoo placement. He basically told me to go big or go home in so many words, but without making me feel pressured to take his advice.  Would he have still done that original tattoo? Yes. Am I happy I listened to him and have a beautiful, better looking tattoo than I could have imagined? Absolutely. Ultimately, it’s okay to stick to your guns about something you want – it’s your body and your tattoo and you have to wear it the rest of your life, not your artist.

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Have a plan, stick to it: Hunter said that one of the most frustrating things for a tattoo artist is clients coming in and changing their minds multiple times about what they want. Back in the day, artist would have flash work drawn up and a client would essentially pick something off the wall and get it tattooed. Even a custom piece would only be influenced by the client and how the artist interpreted their concept. With the advent of the internet it’s too easy for people to bring ideas to the table during their initial consultation only to go home, find more ideas online, and then go back to the artist with an entirely different concept.  Most tattoo shops and artists only charge for the actual tattooing process, not all the before work that goes into designing, redesigning and tweaking the piece before it’s even touched the client’s skin. “Drawing time is valuable,” said Hunter. “A lot of artists’ hand-draw so even a simple change can mean a good bit of work.”

Care for your body and tattoo: The internet is full of suggestions for tattoo care from everyone and their mom – literally. A reputable tattoo shop will have care instructions available for you to take home after getting tattooed but even those vary slightly from shop to shop.  Every one is different and every body is going to react differently so the right way for me to care for my tattoo may be different from the way you care for your tattoo. The general consensus agrees upon a few things however.  Eat before getting a tattoo -no empty stomachs. No drinking and no drugs beforehand.  Okay if you are nervous maybe, like, one beer before you go if it helps calm you down – it’s important to relax so you don’t tense up or sike yourself out. But a quality shop will not tattoo you if you are drunk so keep that in mind too. After your tattoo, the artist will wrap it up in saran wrap or something similar to keep bacteria out.  Leave the wrap or bandage on for a few hours before unwrapping, gently washing with warm water and a mild, unscented soap. Spread a super thin layer of Aquaphor Healing Ointment over the tattoo before re-wrapping with a fresh piece of saran wrap so you don’t ooze ink on your clothing or sheets. Wash the tattoo 2-3 times a day and use the Aquaphor for the next 2-3 days.Hunter and I shared tattoo aftercare rituals and I found ours were pretty much the same save one thing.  I had been leaving the initial wrapping on but then leaving the tattoo exposed after that.  He told me he re-wraps the tattoo and keeps re-wrapping after washing, applying Aquaphor and letting it air for an hour or so, for another 24 hours after the tattoo.  So I tried it this time around and it considerably sped up the healing process for me!  After a few days of Aquaphor switch to an unscented lotion like Jergens Fragrance Free or Gold Bond Healing Lotion, easing up on the washing as the tattoo starts to crust and heal. Be careful not to over saturate! Your tattoo needs to breathe to heal properly. If you find out you are allergic to lotions and ointments you can do a dry heal. I’m not a huge fan of the dry heal because the lotion helps me with the itching as the tattoo heals but I have friends that swear by it. The area around the tattoo may be swollen and red for a few days but make sure to keep it clean so you don’t get infections. Don’t pick at the tattoo or peel any of the skin off.  Not only will it hurt if you try to peel it, it could also mess up how the ink settles and you will need to get it touched up. Let the skin flake off on it’s own.  Healing time varies but I’ve never had one take longer than a week and a half.

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Commit to the experience: Hunter’s final words of wisdom for the new tattoo goer were to embrace the tattoo experience. “Don’t micromanage your tattoo. Don’t stress it, don’t be so picky, trust your artist,” he said. Tattoos are not perfect, it comes along with the medium.  As your tattoo ages you may want to touch it up to refresh it’s color or bold some faded lines but Hunter said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and it’s up to the wearer to determine what they want to do. He said “Even if you love it now you could want it different in 10 years. Live for today. It is a piece of art and those imperfections make it art.”

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To set up an appointment or consultation with Hunter Spanks you can email him at hrspanks@gmail.com 

Opinions are strictly the author’s own and she is not a licensed medical professional.  Tattoo care is up to the responsibility of the client – seek medical attention if your tattoo becomes infected. 

 

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