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.