The do’s and don’t of inking your bod

Tattoos are undoubtedly cool and getting cooler every day. Once considered unsavory and associated with convicts and bikers, tattoos are now widely acknowledged as a viable art form and a stylish means of self-expression. The idea of walking into a tattoo shop can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated, and the world of tattoos can seem dangerous or confusing. Here is a helpful guide that will give the tattoo virgin a little direction.

I visited four local tattoo shops and spoke to ink veterans. When asked for pointers for the first-time patron, they all agreed on several points:

1. Take your time

This is critical, especially when it comes to selecting a piece of body art that will be right for you. Most tattoo shops have flash designs hanging on the wall. These are images artists have created and sold to tattoo shops in bulk. If you are looking for a tattoo of a demon, a ferocious animal or a large-breasted woman, you should be able to find a flash design that suits your needs. However, many professionals advise against this. Many shops in Anchorage do custom work, and several employees stressed the importance of finding a specialized design that means something important to you.

2. Do your homework

In Anchorage, as in any town, there is a circle of tattoo enthusiasts. These people are easy to spot because they have lots of tattoos. Almost without exception, they love talking about their tattoos. If you’re interested in getting inked, begin striking up conversations with these people. Look at their tattoos and ask where they went to have them done. This is a reliable way of finding a good tattoo artist. The tattoo shops I visited all featured photo albums filled with examples of the artists’ work. Perusing these is another way to research the skill and style of an artist before letting them stick you with an inky needle.

3. Sterility is key

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There is a health risk involved with getting a tattoo, but only if the equipment has not been properly sterilized. When seeking a place to get tattooed, the best way to ensure you will not be placed at risk is to ask to see the spore test for the autoclave. The autoclave is a small metal box that looks like a toaster. The autoclave sterilizes non-sterile things. The spore test is the only way to know whether the autoclave is doing its job and the shop runs a test every week or so. Another good way to check on the cleanliness of a place is to ask for a tour. No tattoo shop worth its salt should have a problem with giving you a tour of the premises.

4. Go with your gut

Trust your intuition when looking for a tattoo. Does the place seem friendly? Did someone say hello to you when you walked in the door? Does it seem clean? Most importantly, do you feel comfortable there? Never enter into a tattoo arrangement unless you are absolutely comfortable with it. In this way, losing your ink virginity is much like losing your real virginity.

5. Know your artist

Get to know the person who will be tattooing you. They should be friendly, patient and willing to work with you on your design. Avoid them if they display an arrogant or know-it-all attitude. Above all, never let the artist hurry you into a decision or talk you into a design you will regret.

Where to go

Dragon Ray’s is nestled in a Mountain View strip mall. I arrived to a business-like greeting from a dreadlocked gentleman. A woman was getting a throat tattoo in the back of the shop. While Mr. Dreadlock helped a prospective customer, I browsed the flash that decorated the walls. This kept me entertained for some time, as the walls boasted surreal and sometimes frightening imagery. The place seemed clean, and the employees seemed friendly if a little quiet. They were dedicated craftsmen, stoically plying their trade.

Next was The Hole Look in midtown. An offshoot of the popular lingerie and novelty store, The Hole Look felt like a clinic of some sort. I was met by the helpful and attractive Andrea Cummings, who provided me with a great deal of information and took me on a tour of the shop. It was on this tour that I saw my first autoclave, and indeed the setup seemed quite sterile. The tattoo rooms looked like exam rooms, except for the fact that the walls were festooned with horror-themed posters.

My visit to Larry Allen’s Anchorage Tattoo Studio was a brief one. I have always taken note of the large tattoo gun that stands outside the Benson Boulevard shop, and was excited to see the shop. After a brisk and formal greeting from a receptionist who seemed busy with something in a closet, I was left to browse book after book of photographic samples. There were several artists featured there, and it had the feel of a long-established family business. A kindly old gent with tattoos running up his arms was going over something in the back room and nodded to me as I left.

My final stop was Rebirth Tattoo, on Fireweed Lane and A Street. It was a small parlor with a no-nonsense type behind the counter. I met Colleen, a first-timer who was waiting to get inked as a 40th birthday gift from a friend. The ladies informed me they had come to the shop because its owner and star artist, Vinnie, was the best in town. As I spoke with them, Vinnie came out to confer with Colleen over her design. I spoke briefly with the soft-spoken and friendly Vinnie. He stressed the importance of finding an artist that you like and emphasized his passion for the art of tattooing.

Removing that Tat!

If you do not heed rule No. 1 and rush into a tattoo that you later regret, there are some removal options. All of them carry a consequence, however.

Laser Removal

In this process, the tattoo is shot with a laser that breaks up the ink so your own immune system can dispose of it. The more sessions you receive the more effective it will be. Unfortunately, this will also lead to scarring and skin damage. The price tag also goes up with more treatments, and can cost from $250 to $800.

Intensified Pulse Light Therapy

This is like laser removal, but with a slightly different kind of light filtered through a gel that is applied to the skin. It is more effective, less damaging and more expensive than laser removal.

Other

There are other options, none of them very good. Traditional medical procedures like dermabrasion (sanding off the top layer of skin) and excision (slicing the tattoo off) are painful and cause massive damage to skin. There are creams that are purported to remove tattoos after prolonged application, but the efficacy of these creams is doubtful.