Updated: Dec 8, 2022
What happens in the face of pain….Strangely, pain has many faces and many ways of manifesting itself during a tattoo. Everyone handles it differently. The physical pain is only one element of it; it’s the psychological challenge that changes the game. The pain game is one of the most asked about parts of getting a tattoo. Some people welcome the pain, as it makes them feel alive providing a catharsis of cleansing; while others fight it, gritting their teeth every step of the way.
Your body can respond in a myriad of different ways when it feels it is under attack. And let’s be real, you have chosen to get stabbed by a needle 3,000 times a minute so you can have your most prominent childhood recollection, memorialized on your right hip. We all love the end result, that’s why we do it. What you have to remember, is that often times, most responses are completely involuntary. This is where the psychological element can overpower the physical. Always try to stay calm and communicate with your artist. Some twitch, sweat, and begin to feel faint, (which is completely accepted and sometimes expected) while others wiggle around because they feel they’re getting tickled. You can be the most balls-to-the wall, hard-core tough guy, and still become overwhelmed by the pain of a tattoo.
In my very short experience as an apprentice at Speakeasy Tattoo, I have already seen many of different faces of pain. Pain can have a lot to do with the location of the tattoo, and what you are getting. I have provided a handy little pain chart for those interested in keeping it real when planning out their tattoo. A shoulder tattoo is very different than the spine or ribs on a pain scale. Same goes for a simple line drawing opposed to multi-color drawing with solid blocks of ink. All and all, pain is pain and anything can become really intense after three hours of getting poked in the ribs. My favorite people to watch are those who stare down intently at the machine, almost as if daring the needle to make a mark. Equally intriguing are the ones who fall asleep and ask to be woken up when its over.
Understand that you are not going through this alone, your artist is working hard and will have a tender hand at the end of your session as well. We on the other side have to also maintain focus, stamina, and, patience as we try to lay down a perfect circle while you are jumping around like a fish out of water. I have often heard Scott Glazier refer to his right hand as a “catcher’s mitt” after a long day and hours upon hours of tattooing. Just remember to always breathe! Similar as with life, you have to breathe through the rough spots.
“The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain.” -Karl Marx-