I got my first tattoo at 19 years old. I waited in line for 2 days at Star City, when one of the top tattoo artists of the country, Joe Saliendra, held a temporary booth there outside his usual area of Parañaque. Every tattoo I have has a tale. This one was to mark my realization that friendship was more sacred than infatuation. #deepnaman
I picked sunflowers because to me they meant hope and cheer. Sure enough, after I got them, I felt hopeful and cheerful. It was as if the pain of the tattooing process sucked out whatever pain I was feeling and “became” my tattoo. It was a tangible and symbolic end to that chapter of my life. #thingsyouthinkaboutwhenyoure19
My second tattoo came less than a year after that. It’s a doodle I’ve been scribbling for months. I don’t know what it means but I felt like I had to have it inked. So I did.
When a friend asked me to accompany a friend of hers to Joe’s studio, I decided to get one too. I chose a compass. Inspired by Bjork’s own compass tattoo, it was a reminder to myself to never lose my way again. (Yes I was make some pretty bad choices in terms of men)
My fourth was yet another painful reminder of bad relationship choices. Needless to say, I then realized I should never go into a relationship when I am in a dark place. Dark places = dark choices. Shudder.
Tattoos five and six were done at the same time. Just before I left for China and on the cusp of my 30th year, I decided to get my name in Elven inked on my nape, and my full name in phonetic Elven on my foot.
Years later, I decided to get Basti’s full name as my 7th tattoo down the side of my torso to match. (Just my luck that his full name is really long)
As a bonus, I had a tiny heart inked on my left fourth finger, where I used to wear my wedding ring. I don’t think I need to explain what that symbolized.
The ink for this didn’t hold so well. I have to get it redone on my next session.
These last two tattoos were done by an artist I came to know through my co-teacher Judith. Pao David of GoBad Collections, is a young artist with a steady hand and an eye for lines, and I knew he was going to be perfect for the next one that was itching to get on my skin.
On the third hour of tattooing, my pupils were already dilated. The endorphins were kicking in and I was in a total tattoo high. It’s a reaction to the pain.
On the fourth hour, however, I was feeling feverish and my skin was reacting to the prolonged beating it was getting from the needle. We pushed and Pao was able to finish the tattoo in 5 hours.
Here are the common questions I get when people find out I have tattoos.
- Why do you get tattoos?
- Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes there’s no reason at all. It’s art, it’s expression, it’s a collection. You’ve got your angel statues, I have my tattoos.
- Does it hurt?
- When you cut me do I not bleed?
- How do you think of the designs?
- It’s an amalgamation of different things and different senses. Sometimes it’s aesthetic, sometimes it’s visceral. Sometimes it’s a total mystery.
- Aren’t you worried about how you will look like when you get older?
- Follow this Buzzfeed link and see why I’m not. – 24 Tattooed Seniors
For those thinking of getting inked, here are some thoughts that might help:
Think Before You Ink. There are many varied reasons why people get tattoos. I am not one to judge, but I strongly advise you not to be rash about it. A spontaneous tattoo decision is one that bears regret, most of the time. For me, tattooing goes beyond purely decorative. It is symbolic, emotional and PERMANENT.
Make Your Tattoo Your Own. Of course you will gather inspiration from a ton of sources. It could be anything. A book, a poem, a poster, a person and often, another tattoo. What you should avoid is copying another person’s tattoo dot by dot. I personally find it rude.
Be Prepared For Pain. “Does it hurt?” really is the funniest question when it comes to tattoos. It’s a needle punching ink into your skin. What do you think? People seem to think that “if people do it, then it probably doesn’t hurt.” Yes it does. Like a mother. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing it. Do yourself a favor and do not ask for topical anesthesia. First, it affects the quality of your tattoo. Second, there’s no freaking point unless it’s cosmetic, like eyebrows.
Choose Your Artist. At this day and age, tattoo safety is commonplace and no respectable tattoo artist lacks a DOH certification and is not aware of safety protocols. Not being up to date is basically your career going nowhere. Aside from the safety credentials, pick someone who has a specialty for the kind of tattoo you want. Just like painters, tattoo artists have their genres and each person has a strength. And then, above the artistry, I believe in choosing an artist who belongs in the same tribe as you. Someone who lives in the same plane of crazy as you do, who understands the reasons why you’re being inked. Someone who will be present for you in the hours you will spend together while he holds a needle to your skin. Joe was like that for me, and so is Pao.
Needless to say, if Basti ever wants a tattoo someday, I won’t stop him. Heck, I’d pay for it. My brother Carlo has got two half sleeves and my sister Yapi is also decked in tattoos. It’s not a novelty in our family. I even think that might make it less exciting for him and he may not want one. He can be assured it will never be an issue. If he doesn’t want one, then he’ll just need to find another outlet for rebellion, hehe.
This week I’m going on a tattoo journey that I’ve been hoping to do for some time now. I’ll tell you that tale next.
So, if you want a tattoo, take it easy and take your time. Think. Feel. Plan. Then do. Good luck.
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