What I Learned After Getting My First Tattoo

Even though they are so common, getting a tattoo for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. You have to make a lot of important decisions beyond just choosing what art you want and where you want to put it. This past summer, I got my very first tattoo. It is of a peony and a hydrangea flower, and it is beautiful and I’m in love with it. Even though I had been planning to get this tattoo for years, I was very nervous. If you’re interested in getting a tattoo, but don’t know what to expect or where to start, here are some things I learned that I wish I would have known ahead of time.


Finding an artist

So, you know what you want to permanently place on your skin. But how do you go about finding someone to do this? While it can be super helpful to get inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest about your dream tattoo, it is not really in your best interest to just print some pictures off and bring them into the closest tattoo parlor. No two artists are the same. And most artists probably don’t want to just emulate someone else’s work you found on the internet anyway. Instead: look up websites for tattoo parlors near you (and read their reviews) and then scroll through their listed artists. If they have artist bios, read them. Sometimes they will emphasize the types of work and styles they have really mastered in these bios (i.e. line work, color, b&w, floral). Finally, find their portfolios online or in the shop, or their Instagram if they have one. Look through it all and ask yourself if their technique and style matches your own.

I found my artist because I just happened to see someone in a restaurant with a dope peony tattoo, and I asked her where she got it done. If you love someone else’s tattoo or get a personal recommendation, that artist is probably a great place to start looking. But, I still did all of this research regardless, and I highly recommend that you do as well.

This goes without saying, but make sure that the tattoo parlor you choose is safe and licensed. The parlor I went to had their shop license up on the wall and my artist’s personal license was in his portfolio at the front desk. If you ever feel unsure, just ask.

Setting up a consultation

One of the things that surprised me the most about getting a tattoo is how long it can take to get booked! If you end up liking one of the more popular artists in your area, you may find that their books are closed, and it will take a while before you are able to set up a consultation. Additionally, pay attention to the artist’s bio, the tattoo parlor’s website, and even their Instagram page to figure out the best way to get in contact with the artist. Some prefer email, and others never check their emails, so Instagram might be better.

Whether you end up describing to your artist over email or in person what it is that you want, be sure to be explicit about what you want. Some artists will send you a drawing, and others won’t have a drawing until the day that you go to get the tattoo (this was my case). Personally, I had seen enough of the artist’s floral work, so I was pretty confident that what he would eventually draw for me would be beautiful (and it was), but you should go with your gut and what you’re most comfortable with.

It is also important to mention that some artists will ask you to put a deposit down during your consultation appointment for your actual tattoo appointment. It definitely varies between parlors and artists, but this is just to ensure that you will actually show up for your appointment. Normally this deposit depends on how much the actual cost of the tattoo will be and how long your appointment will take, but again, it varies.

The actual appointment

Even though I was nervous about the pain, this was definitely the easiest part! I felt very comfortable with my tattoo artist because he wanted to make sure that I knew what was happening at all times. I know you are probably worried about the pain ― I definitely was. The pain really was not that bad for me, but of course, this completely depends on what you get, where you get it and your individual pain tolerance. There is no way to accurately explain it, other than it feels like a needle being dragged against your skin ― which is what getting a tattoo literally is!

There are so many posts all over the internet about this part of the process that I encourage you to look into and research. However, I’ll give you a few small tips from my own experience:

1. Eat before you go.

You do not want to do this on an empty stomach and possibly increase your likelihood of fainting.

2. If you want to bring a friend/significant other/family member, do so, and if you don’t, don’t!

3. Finally, if the pain is starting to get to you, distract yourself.

Talk to your artist or whoever you brought with you―anything that will take your mind off the pain for a little while.


Good luck, research a lot, and most of all, have fun! The pain is temporary and you get a tattoo that you (hopefully) love for life!