So you want to get a tattoo. Turns out you're not alone.
According to McCrindle Research, the number of Australians sporting ink hit a record high in 2020, with one in four tattooed. That's up from 20 per cent in 2018 and 19 per cent in 2016.
If you're a cleanskin who's keen to make a mark but unsure what image you want decorating your body, let alone who you should let loose with a tattoo needle, it can all seem pretty daunting.
Luke "Fonzy" Warren has been a full-time tattoo artist for more than a decade and estimates he's done tens of thousands of tattoos in that time. Experience has taught him that tattoo artists all do things differently because everyone has an individual approach.
"One of the main things about being tattooed by a person is the experience you have," he says. "Choose the artist you want to be tattooed by. I do realism. If someone wants a traditional piece, I'll send them to another artist in town because they're the best person for the job."
While once upon a time, you'd walk into a tattoo studio, and there'd be a binder on the counter displaying the artist's work. Nowadays, tattoo artists use social media as their portfolio, so it's the best place to start when you begin your research.
Once you've settled on a tattooist whose work you love, book an appointment and then be patient. "I have people say they want a tattoo tomorrow, but I'm booked out for six months," says Warren, warning that if you find an artist who can tattoo you on the day, there's probably a reason, and you're likely to be unhappy with the result. "It's not something you can scrub off the next day, and tattoo removal is very painful," he says.
Speaking of pain, it's not always the case that tattooing a fleshier canvas will hurt less than a bony one. "In reality, you're still working near the same nerve endings," says Warren. "All tattoos hurt, and everybody takes pain differently. Some people talk, some go quiet and put headphones on - it's whatever makes you comfortable, and it's about us making you comfortable as well."
One of the main things about being tattooed by a person is the experience you have.Luke Warren, tattoo artist
That said, Warren points out that your job can also play a part; tradespeople who frequently bang their arms or chefs who are exposed to burns in the kitchen, for example, tend to have a higher pain threshold.
When it comes to choosing a tattoo design, it's best to work with your chosen tattooist. "Sometimes people say, 'Do what you want'," Warren says. "Let's say you want a dragon. I might do a really evil dragon because I think that's cool. But you wanted a majestic dragon. That would be a big waste of time."
Warren says many clients only have a rough idea, such as "a dragon", and over time he has learnt to profile people - extremely helpful when it comes to creating the artwork beforehand.
Warren's moral compass has given him firm thoughts regarding tattoo placement, especially on the uninitiated. "There are definitely designs and placement you don't necessarily do for your first tattoo," he says. "If someone came to me wanting their hands tattooed, I would say no. That is an unrecoverable place, and because it's your first tattoo you don't know what it's like to be judged by people. It's something you have to earn."
Expect the price to vary depending on the tattoo artist - it could be based on the size of the piece or cost by the hour or days required. Also, be prepared to fill out a consent form before you get it done and have your ID ready (legislation on the minimum age varies across states and territories).
After you've been inked, it'll be wrapped in cling wrap to protect what is essentially an open wound - you don't want to knock it accidentally. Warren sends his clients off with aftercare products, together with a written (and verbal) list of dos and don'ts.
You'll need to apply the recommended ointment or cream on your new tattoo up to three times a day for about a fortnight to help your skin heal, by which time you'll no doubt be primed to flaunt your new pride and joy.