Back in 2019 I had my first tattoo, and wrote a long and very personal article about it.
As predicted it drew some very strong responses, but the curious, engaged PS reader came through – the knee jerks were a minority compared to the intrigued and open-minded. There was even a smattering of my all-time-favourite comment: ‘this is not for me at all, but I found it really interesting reading about it, thank you’.
Of course, as I pointed out at the time, this was intensely personal. It shouldn’t matter what other people think about it. And it doesn’t – to an extent. I’ll get into that in a minute.
To begin with, I just wanted to answer the readers who’ve asked in the previous three years how I felt about the tattoo since having it done. Do I regret anything about it? Is there anything I would do differently?
Happily, the answer is no, I don’t regret anything, and I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. I will certainly have more as well, though I’ve deliberately left it a while before starting on that journey again.
Today, my tattoo simply feels part of me (no pun intended) and I only ever think about it when someone asks. It doesn’t feel strange, doesn’t feel alien. It’s like it’s always been there.
In one way this is probably inevitable – I’ve just grown used to it. But I also think a few things I did, and then wrote about, made this more likely. I know some friends who’ve had tattoos have regretted their choices.
The key thing, I think, was I spent so much time thinking about it. It had been on my mind for several years, and for more than two years I’d been taking photos of designs in the things that inspired me – wrought iron and stone carving – sketching and playing with them, building up a notebook of ideas.
This amount of time and thought meant that the final decision didn’t feel big at all – just a natural end to a process.
And I had confidence in the decision because of the artist, Mo Coppoletta. As I wrote three years ago, he got my ideas immediately and began creating his own versions of them much more fluidly than I ever had.
If someone asked me for my advice today, it would be largely those two things – put the time into playing with what you want, and pick an artist you admire.
Let’s return to that interesting question: how much does it matter what people think about having a tattoo?
I hope it doesn’t at all; but it’s impossible to ever know for sure, because it does always get reactions. The most common is ‘Blimey, Mr Permanent Style has a tattoo, I didn’t expect that’.
This is sort of both annoying and pleasing. Annoying because no one likes having presumptions made about them, and I still find it odd how many people make assumptions about my tastes or lifestyle because I love craft and tailoring. Everyone expects you to drive a classic car (I hate cars) and have Kind of Blue playing on the stereo (rather than Kyuss).
The pleasing aspect is that it’s nice to subvert some of those expectations.
In terms of society as a whole, I recognise that it influences how I feel about my tattoo that they’re increasingly common. This was something I wrestled with in that first article: I’m a snob to the extent that I hate to be part of a trend; but I also recognise that I wouldn’t be thinking about them otherwise.
As I said, I’ll never know how I would feel about a tattoo in isolation, outside society. But I think it’s relevant that while they’re more common, very few of my family and friends actually have them. In my social context, it doesn’t feel like part of a trend.
So what’s next?
I was warned that tattooing can be addictive, and I really felt that. There is an excitement in having it done, partly because it feels so risky. I remember cycling back from the parlour, my forearm wrapped in cling film, with this big smile on my face. It’s a thrill.
I could easily have started planning another, and had one or two a year. Given the size of the pieces I like, that would have taken over how I look very quickly.
So I set myself the arbitrary limit of not getting another for five years. This stopped me thinking about, at least for a while. I also liked the idea that after such a length of time, any future ones would end up representing different points in my life.
Three years on, I’m glad I did that, but I’m ready to start again. It might well be five years before I actually get it done, but my mind is spinning through questions and ideas.
The biggest one is – do I get something in a similar vein, or rather different?
It would still be a piece of decorative art, because it’s what appeals to me most. But do I look at something more angular, maybe Art Deco, maybe Islamic, or do I stick with a variation on the theme?
At the time, Mo said it would be cool to have a similarly sized and styled piece on the opposite forearm, and I can definitely see that. It would be more harmonious, more like a single, overarching plan.
But would it not also be a pity, to not reflect something else, another artistic tradition I admire? To use a clothing metaphor, would it be like wearing just one suit forever? And does that apply to using the same artist, or not?
Then there’s where to have it. I like having something I see all the time, but it might be nice to have another choice about what to expose – perhaps a piece on the right upper arm, which would only when I was wearing a T-shirt.
I’ve talked to several people I know who’ve been through this process themselves, but if any readers have experience or advice they’d like to share, do shout.
This is the beginning of another journey. I don’t expect it to be short, but I know it will be pleasurable.
I’m aware others would be more instinctive, and think things over less. But I also know now that this process works well for me, both in terms of enjoying it and in terms of the final result.
Time to get doodling again.