I’ve wanted tattoos for 8 years now. First I had to turn 18, then I had to find the right tattoo artist. Finding the right tattoo artist is tough. There are so many out there and I’m pretty picky with my artists. I spent years hunting and after almost giving up several times I found one. Then I had to decide what to get—but that actually wasn’t too hard, once I had found the right artist. Then I had to wait 5 months to get the tattoo because the good artists, it seems, are in high demand. But I’ve finally finally got it!
It’s a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) inspired skull. The holiday seems a bit morbid at first glance but it’s about celebrating life, not death, and the artwork I just find so damn beautiful—and it runs in the family. My grandmother is a Cuban bundle of energy with one of the most interesting life stories I’ve ever heard. Her outlook on life is inspirational and she’s one of the people I most respect most in the world. And the latin influence and passion for life runs through my family. When my cousin Alexei married Dan Boeckner a few years back they had a Day of the Dead themed wedding. That’s where I first wore the skull. Yep. A few years ago, this was me.
Day of the Dead artwork normally looks quite a bit more bright and Mexican, but I wanted one done in Thomas Hooper’s style, so I gave him complete free reign. It’s a mix between an anatomical drawing, a rocker’s tattoo, and a traditional Day of the Dead skull—or at least that’s what I like to think. Skulls are rather stereotypical, I know, but that won’t make me love it any less.
So now that you know what it is, here’s the story. Five months ago I booked an appointment in Brooklyn with Thomas Hooper, an incredible artist and hands down my favorite tattoo artist. I wrote down a date—and the wrong date, for that matter— and then tried to push the excitement out of my mind so I could focus on graduating from my university program. A few days ago I was pretty excited about getting my tattoo, which I thought was next week, and I was starting to make plans for the journey down to New York. Silly me. I got a call telling me that my appointment was the day after at 1pm. “Uhh. Isn’t it next Thursday?” Nope. The consult was tomorrow and the tattoo the day after. So I told Jared the news, we cadillac-ed up to his place in St. Catharines, grabbed the family van (and his brother) and booked it down to Brooklyn. It was a 10 hour drive and by the time we left it was about 10pm, so we took a break or two and slept in the van. Arrived around 10am the next day and headed down to Brooklyn Adorned for the consult.
He came out from the back, and after the introductions (Thomas Hooper, it turns out, is British, and a lot nicer than he looks) he said: “You ready to get tattooed? I already made a sketch that I’m really happy with based on your emails. I think you’ll like it. If you do, we can skip the consult and tattoo you today! If you want any changes, I’ll make them, of course.”
Whoa, hold on now. I was just getting used to the idea that my tattoo was tomorrow and now all of a sudden it’s right this second?! Well. I’ve been waiting to get tattooed my entire life, so along with the butterflies came a big smile. The sketch was pretty wicked, albeit rather large. I told him it was rather large and he nodded and agreed: “This is just a sketch. I’ll go make a carbon copy and you can try it on. It’ll be smaller.”
Great, I thought. A few minutes later he came back with the carbon copy . . . which looked about the same size, and asked me what I thought about going big. Well. I was a little surprised it even managed to fit on my forearm. In my head I had been imagining something quite a bit smaller. I told him that. He had a few things to say. First, that the detailing would be way better if the tattoo were larger. Second, that if you could see the whole tattoo all at once—well that isn’t very dynamic, is it? Third, and this was my favorite: “Shane, this is prime real estate here. The forearm is one of the best spots. I mean we can do whatever you want, but I’d feel bad giving you a small little tattoo there. I’d recommend, if you want to go smaller, putting it somewhere else. The forearm deserves something hearty.”
All good points, I thought, and Thomas is the expert, so I said sure. We went back, I tried it on, liked it, and after some cleaning up out came the needles. I hate needles. Pain, generally, I can handle . . . but the thought of needles going in and out of my skin just wasn’t all that appealing. This, though, was a blast. I mean, how could I feel pain when I’m sitting there with a grin on my face looking down at Hooper do his thing? Well. The pain came later, after the outlines and dot shading (the best part) was done. The outlines and the dot shading actually felt kind of nice. Like a massage. It kind of hurts but it feels kind of satisfying at the same time. When the big multi-needle shading beast came out things were still going fine, even when blood started coming out of every pore and paper towel after paper towel were soaked through. Things were still fine. Things REALLY started getting painful during the last half-hour when he was going over and over the already bloody and swollen parts doing the final shading touches.
I had heard that you went numb after a couple of hours of tattooing. Not the case with me. My poor little arm, by that point, had already been beaten and bled to a pulp, and damn did those needles ever start hurting then.
The rest of the trip was pretty eventful, but that’s a story best told not here. New York’s a fun place. We explored Williamsburg Brooklyn and Manhattan too. Manhattan I’m familiar with, Brooklyn not so much. I still have a lot to learn. I’ll be headed back soon though. Five months from now I’ll be getting some more tattoos. This one looks great, I think, but it looks a little lonely.
Here are some more pictures. It’s pretty crusty and scabby, but you can see most of it, I hope. The beauty of Hooper’s tattoos are in the details and the linework, so once it heals it should be looking better than ever.
Thomas Hooper’s a photographer and a blogger himself, so he has his own set of photos. Mind, since I couldn’t go back when they were healed he had to take them right afterwards, so you can see some damage. He managed to get the red out of them, but it’s still looking rather dark from the bruising. They aren’t, however, crusty, like my photographs are. They look like this:
Now I’ve just got to do my best to hold off my excitement until my next appointment.