Making your mark: A personal guide to getting a tattoo (part one) by Kirsten

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“If you’re happy with everything,” the receptionist at Nirvana Tattoo Designs smiles, having just led me through a tour of the studio, “I can book you an appointment in three days?”

Three days?! The voice inside my adrenaline-addled brain starts to scream. It took me ten minutes (maybe fifteen … OK I confess, it was twenty!) to even come inside. I need my first tattoo right now!

“Sure,” I nod politely. She passes me a glossy appointment card.
“11am on the 13th?”
Friday 13th?
She grins again. “We’ll see you then!”

The urban world is a funny place. We can order a double shot of wheatgrass at 3am, if we so desire, but tattoos must be booked in advance and (as I also learned) secured by a cash deposit. The room to reflect before going ahead with a permanent mark seems a pretty sensible idea, although it leaves me with three more days to pace up and down (in the privacy of my own home this time, rather than outside on a city centre pavement!).

Nevertheless, it also allows me to consider how tattoos and their significance have evolved since studios like Nirvana – established as a piercing shop more than twenty five years ago – first hit the Scottish scene. There is evidence that the practice of tattooing can actually be traced back more than 5000 years, but until very recently it remained something pushed to the outskirts of mainstream British society.

In 1975, the Scottish artist and filmmaker John Samson made a film about tattoos as part of a series exploring radical, alternative cultural practices (and controversially also had himself tattooed in the process). In the 21st century, we know that tattoos are increasingly visible on many celebrities, and a 2015 YouGov poll suggested 19% of British adults have at least one inking.

Friday 13th arrives and I prepare to move from one side of the conservation to the other. I wouldn’t describe myself as nervous (I always stall my car and spill my water bottle inside my bag, you know), but once inside the studio I pause to think for a moment when I’m asked to sign a consent form. It lists two columns of health issues that range from fainting to Haemophilia, and I hesitate for a beat or two before truthfully ticking the box next to prone to panic attacks. “It doesn’t prevent you from having anything done,” the receptionist reassures me, “it’s just so we’re as prepared as we can be”.

The studio room I’m led to is light and airy, and although I’ve come ready with headphones in case the sound of the needle (gulp!) is too distressing, my tattoo artist Alex is relaxed and friendly to chat with. We discuss my designs, which he has printed out on tracing paper, and after cleaning the area I’ve chosen – my ankles –they are outlined onto my skin in pen. I look down. So far, so good.

“I’ll place the needle on for one second,” says Alex. A sketch from Friends pops into my head, as often occurs in times of trouble (is that just me?). Phoebe: did you know they do it with needles? Rachel (sarcastically): no, mine was licked on by kittens!

“If you feel shitty, just tell me.” He gets to the point, does Alex (pun intended). He makes his dot. I give a thumbs up. And off we go!

Reader, I tipped him. Both designs look perfect; neat and finely drawn just as I’d hoped they would be. The sensation itself was also far more tolerable than I’d imagined. The noise was quite loud, and I opted not to look while the process was underway, but overall I’d describe the feeling as simply irritating rather than painful. Imagine lying down on a bristle hair brush when you can’t be bothered to get up and move – hey, I can’t have been the only one to find myself in that kind of lazy-girl predicament!

I chose a love heart on one ankle and a daisy on the other, in tribute to two girls who inspire and move me every day: my childhood dog Patch and my Old English Sheepdog Daisy, who passed away eighteen months earlier. Both Patch and Daisy are marked on my heart, and I wanted my tattoos to provide a physical, artistic embodiment of what I already know to be true.

I wasn’t reflecting the desire to become anyone new by getting my tattoos. I wanted to represent myself as I am, from the inside out.

For more on why I found getting my tattoos a positive step for me as a feminist (and my three top tips if you decide to take the plunge yourself) check out part two – coming soon!

Photos: Kirsten’s tattoo and a still from Tattoo (1975), directed by John Samson.


Kirsten MacQuarrie is a writer and artist who lives in Glasgow. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Vogue Young Talent award, and in November her poem ‘On Knowledge’ won the Glasgow Women’s Library 25th Anniversary prize. Her favourite things to do in her spare time include watching classic movies (hello Audrey Hepburn!), working on her first novel, and above all else hanging out with animals like her BFF Gypsy! Follow Kirsten on Instagram @glasgowgallerina.

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