Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 3 - Outline Complete

Date: December 23, 2011
Prep/Hand-Drawing/Stencil-Application: 40 minutes
Breaks: 1 (15 minutes)
Tattooing: 4 hours (2 outline, 2 shading)
Totally Tattooing Time To Date: 12.5

"You got great skin to tattoo, did I ever tell you that?"

"What the fuck's that mean - you flirtin with me, Rube?"

For inexplicable reasons, today was my easiest sitting to date.  Considering that I had only slept 5 hours the night before, skimped on breakfast and the majority of today's work was finishing the outline on my ribs and spine, the absence of pain was remarkable.  Perhaps sleep-deprivation is the way to go, but it can probably be chalked up to the constant (and unusually busy) influx of walk-in customers.  Apparently a fair number of people had gotten their Christmas bonuses and were eager to lay down some ink to celebrate.  Needless to say, some of the requests were a little dodgy and nothing quite makes me giggle like that fabulous Massapequa, Long Island accent (and this is coming from me: a guy who ordinarily intones in a Yonkers/Brooklyn mash-up).

One woman in her 40s kept peeking into the room where Rube was busy grinding away on my shoulder-blades.  "Sorry, I'm being nosy," she said when I made eye contact with her.

"It's alright, you can come in and watch, if you like," I replied.

"How're ya just sitting there?  Doesn't it hurt?"

"Don't be silly, of course it doesn't hurt," I lied.

"Don't you lie to me.  I've heard it hurts.  I'm about to get my first one and I'm shitting my fucking pants out here."

She left the shop long before Rube and I had a chance to ask her about the state of her underwear.  Based on the time she spent in the shop, I can't imagine that her tattoo was very large.

The couple in the next room were apparently very big into the Ren Faire scene.  They were talking quite seriously about jousting (and how to travel by air with a lance in your luggage).  There was also a guy who wanted an Ace of Hearts, but didn't want red, so he was more than happy to settle on a club or a spade.  A good chuckle can be the best thing to get you through a session, sometimes.

I can safely (hopefully?) say that we finished up the outline today.  Rube added some more cherry blossoms around the right side of my rib cage and a few extra maple leaves on the left.  We finished up the linework in the hair/mane of the dragon and also got the wind-bars sketched out on both sides of my ribs.  Again, a fairly easy sitting, oddly enough.  Maybe it was because I was thinking of that woman's shitty drawers.

The last two hours were spent shading the wind-bars, clouds (to which Rube masterfully added a slight steel-blue tint) and the water on my left shoulder.  We also connected the wind-bars from my chest-piece up over the left shoulder onto the rear.  Things are shaping up incredibly.

At a certain point, Jen (the "shop girl" at the front desk) wandered in and said, "Jesus, Brian - You're really covered.  I mean, Mike, I've seen you do backpieces before but, this, for some reason, just looks really huge."

"That's why we call him 'Big Bri'," Mike replied.  "It ain't really a backpiece; this is more like a backpiece and a half."

I probably stand close to a foot taller than Rube so I can imagine that my back kinda looks like Everest to him - or at the very least, a drive across Kansas from East to West.  Regardless, it makes me really excited when I see him smile in the mirror and say, "This is lookin' sick."

I've got a few weeks off, which is fine by me (my left shoulder/armpit feels like 8lbs of raw hamburger).

Next sitting: January 10th.  I'll keep ya posted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just Sayin...

Every step I take rubs Aquaphor off my butt cheeks and into the denim of my jeans.  It's kinda nasty.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 2

Date: December 15, 2011
Prep/Hand-Drawing/Stencil-Application: 25 minutes
Breaks: 1 (10 minutes)
Tattooing: 2.5 hours
Total Tattooing Time To Date: 8.5 hours

"You ready for me to get all up in that ass?"

Those were the first words I heard upon walking into Kings Avenue.  Hardly reassuring, I assure you.

I have been warned repeatedly by tattooists and tattoo collectors alike that the ass is a brutal area.  These people weren't entirely right... nor were they wrong.  It never made sense to me that the ass would be particularly painful - after all, it's mostly muscle and fatty tissue and my major problem with tattooing is when we're working directly over bone.  Well, there is bone under there and the skin in some areas (on my body, at least) is particularly thin/lean... C'est la heiny.

We began with applying the new stencil for the dragon claw on the right buttock.  As promised, Rubendall had re-tooled it to be clutching a pearl which would work better with the shape of my cheek.  What I didn't realize was that he was going to make the pearl slightly translucent so that some of the dragon's claw would be visible through the pearl.  It's going to look amazing once we add color.  We also added more cherry blossoms to the right side and maple leafs to the left side.

[Ed. Note: traditionally, these flowers are never combined in the same piece because they are of different seasons.  However, because my arms are of different seasons - mums on the left arm (fall) and peonies on the right arm (spring) - we've decided to use my spine as a dividing line to integrate the flora on my biceps and shoulders]

The bulk of my cheeks were just fine.  Uncomfortable, certainly, but not excessively painful.  The area which I will refer to as the "lower ridge," however was screamingly unbearable.  And that sacrum area?  Don't get me started; thin skin right on top of a bone that vibrates and sends nerve pulses through your spinal column and, thereby, the rest of your body.  I'm trying not to remind myself that we will eventually have to go back there to shade it in.

At one point, Rube said to me, "This is gonna feel like I'm right in your crack but, trust me, I'm not."  At the time, I believed him.  Upon further inspection when I got home that night, I have come to the belief that he is not to be trusted on such issues.  He definitely got in there to a certain degree.

"This is the closest I've ever had a man get to my asshole with a vibrating machine," I joked in some bizarre effort to bring levity to the situation.  We had a laugh, but the pain was still there, front and center.

Currently, sitting sucks (even on an Aeron chair).  Wearing pants sucks.  Bending over to pick something up or put on my shoes sucks.  I walked into the bathroom yesterday afternoon and, for an inexplicable split second, couldn't figure out where there was blood and lymph on the toilet seat.  And - full disclosure - my morning bowel movement no longer brings me a sense of peace and serenity because I'm terrified about the direction of my wiping.

Next sitting is Friday, which will presumably make Holiday Hugs from my family even more painful than usual.

Wish me luck...

[Ed. Note: oh, and yes, Fort Greene residents... this photo was taken by my lovely girlfriend in the bathroom of Olea shortly after this sitting]

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 1

Date: December 8, 2011
Prep/Hand-Drawing/Stencil-Application: 45 minutes
Breaks: 2 (40 minutes total)
Tattooing: 6 hours
Total Tattooing Time: 6 hours

I feel like I've been surrounded by dragons my whole life (literally and metaphorically, too, I suppose).  My father spent the first seven years of his life in Yokohama, Japan, and there was always a presence of Japanese art in the house I was raised in; he even had a small rubber ink-stamp that left a Japanese dragon on documents he'd type up on that noisy IBM Selectric that took up a whole desk in his home office.  Like any good dork, I read Conan comic books and played Dungeons & Dragons a little too far into puberty.  In my teens, my mother gave me a red bathrobe with a Chinese dragon embroidered on the back and in my late 20s, she gave me a blue kimono covered in Japanese dragons (for more on the differences between Chinese and Japanese dragons, click here).  They've always been there... and now they always will be.

"I want a dragon," I told my artist, Mike Rubendall of King's Avenue Tattoo, who has also tattooed my half-sleeves and chest.  "I leave the rest up to you - have fun with it."

It seemed foolish to be any more specific.  Rubendall is one of the best when it comes to Japanese-inspired tattoos and, as I've learned over the years, his ideas are almost always better than mine.  I trust him thoroughly and with such a large piece of physical real estate - one that I can only see with a mirror or a camera - how much sense did it make to direct the course of action?  As I said: have fun with it.


I hadn't seen his design until my girlfriend and I walked in the door.  "Don't let the size of it scare you," Rube said to me.  There was a "that's what she said" joke in there, but my brain couldn't make the leap because it was being pulled in two other directions: 1) "Holy shit, that looks amazing" and "Holy shit, this is gonna take forever!"

It took two people to apply the stencil.  "Are we trying to do the full outline today," I asked.  I was informed, "Yeah, that's the plan" and as the machine put the first line in on my right shoulder blade, there was that thought again... Holy shit, this is gonna take forever.

I've never sat for this long before - I hope never to have to ever again.  Lying on my stomach, I spent my first hour with my face buried in a pillow, teeth clenched and barely able to breathe.  My girlfriend's repeated query - "how are you doing, baby?" - did not make the pain any more bearable.  I knew that she had nothing but the best intentions (and her support throughout this process has been immeasurable), but a reminder of the pain that I was trying to ignore was quite the meta-level quagmire.

At some point in the second hour, I was able to smash enough brain cells together to figure out how to work with the pillow to the best of my advantage.  Somewhere around hour 3, I felt my body go into shock.

Shock isn't all that bad, to be honest.  At the very least, the pain stops being "pain" and it simply becomes "uncomfortable pressure."  Sure, you can feel your limbs twitching and patterns begin to emerge in the stone tiles on the floor, but the same thing happens when you chase a Percocet with a few glasses of Jack Daniels (which I do every time I take a plane flight longer than three hours).  Don't fight the high... it'll turn against you.

Let's be honest: all tattoos hurt - some hurt more than others, but they all fucking hurt.  There was such a remarkable catalog of sensations as we worked from right shoulder down to the left buttock.  Shoulder blades suck.  The spine sucks even more.  The sacrum?  Fucking forget about it - that was brutal.  I foolishly thought that the lower back would offer a little respite, but that's where your kidneys live and those fuckers were rattling around inside me like I hit the multi-ball on a pinball machine.  Everyone told me the ass would be the worst (something which never made a lot of sense to me), but by that point I was already in shock and the ass seemed like a walk in the park - the notion that we were almost done probably helped a little bit.

We finished the majority of the outline today.  There are still clouds, wind-bars and additional flora/waves to add, but the bulk of the beast has been completed.  We remarked about how it looked like one of the dragon claws was actually clutching my butt and Rubendall was inspired to redraw the stencil for my right cheek.  Rather than having it directly clutch my butt, we decided to have it clutching a pearl that would work better with the shape of my ass (which is admittedly round for a skinny white-boy).

We'll be hitting that spot at my next sitting in one week.