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My Story & Nervous/Excited about First Big Piece!


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Hi, everyone. Before I introduce myself: Thank you! I've been reading forum archives for about a week - and I appreciate and respect all the information that has been shared here in the past.

My name is Chris. I'm 45 and about to get my first large piece. This will be my fourth tattoo -- but my first in almost 20 years, so I feel like a complete virgin. Especially since my other pieces are small and completely hidden.

My first tattoo was my fraternity letters on my ankle! I know -- just about as dumb as you can get. Interestingly, they were done by Pinky Yun at Dragon Tattoo in San Jose! In a scene many of you professionals have probably seen too many times, a bunch of us showed up right before closing and asked for the same tattoo. By the time the third one was done, the other seven had lost interest. I didn't have any idea who Pinky was at the time and didn't even know he was famous until the morning after. (This was in 1989). His shop just happened to be the closest one to the university.

My next tattoo was almost as bad: the typical 1990s tribal armband. Oh yeah! I know these tattoos bring instant chuckles these days, but I assure you, in 1992 this was awesome. I had a good 2-3 year run until they started showing up everywhere. Good times!

My third tattoo was in the late 1990s, another tribal piece, but actually a really cool one that actually flows with my body and doesn't look like cheesy flash. It swirls around my ankle bone and down my foot. It's the only piece I have that I actually love... but the bad ones hold a special place in my heart, and I've passed on chances to cover them up.

Like most people who start getting tattoos, I never thought my last piece would be my final piece.... but college turned into post-graduate school which led to starting a family, and honestly tattoos just went off my radar completely for nearly 20 years. Until about 3 months ago.

Early this year, I logged onto Facebook and was shocked to see my brother-in-law, a respected attorney, bust out a large piece on his arm. But after I saw it in person, it really stirred something inside of me: the desire to get another tattoo. This wasn't a new desire, but an old one awakened. And it dawned on me: I'm now middle-aged with grey hair. I own a successful business, and it's in an industry where tattoos are very common. I now live in Austin, Texas where everyone and their sister sports multiple visible tattoos. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the barriers that made me put it out of my mind prior (social acceptance, career, etc). had been mostly eliminated. Any reason I might have previously used not to get tattooed was pretty much moot at this point.

I had already decided years ago that traditional Japanese was my favorite tattooing style. A friend's dragon-koi sleeve stirred my interest more than decade ago, well before these became as common on Westerners.

Well, I've done my research, realized that I live in a city with more than a few really well-known Irezumi specialists, and decided on Scott Ellis at Triple Crown Tattoo here in town. There are a few other names in this city that may seem like a more obvious choice to some given their fame... but after scouring portfolios and meeting a few of these guys, Scott was my #1 pick. For those who have seen his work (his name comes up in search only a few times on this forum), he does a really nice, bold, Japanese style that I like. And on a personal level I found him much more engaging than others I met with.

Had my consultation last week, and it went great. I can't decide how long my sleeve should be so I'm starting with a half. Scott assures me that if he knows I may want to go longer later ahead of time, that this style is extremely easy to extend later. I'm confident that once in place, I'll wish I had gone longer vs. shorter... but despite working in an industry where tattoos are the norm, I am having a hard time fully seeing myself with a visible sleeve. Well, some days. Other days, I see gorgeous Japanese sleeves online and really want one. Then I'll decide that 7/10 is really the ideal length. And then a day later I'm back to wanting to keep it half-length for now. Really, I can't decide.

I have an appointment with Scott to do the linework on Friday. I am so excited/nervous, that the tattoo is filling my head in most of my free time. I keep deciding, and then adjusting the length I want in my mind. I keep looking at Scott's online portfolio/instagram over and over and over in order to reassure myself that I've picked someone who can create what I want. I even have moments (fleeting, but they happen), where I wonder if I'm crazy to commit to such a large piece. Sometimes I even wonder if I should expand my artist search to other cities, since flying somewhere to get a piece that will last forever is a small price to pay. I assume a lot of this is normal. I don't want to make it sound like I am on the fence... but I do assume that flashes of buyer's remorse, or last minute jitters, are just part of the overall excitement/tension/anticipation of a (first) large tattoo.

Can anyone else share their feelings about their first visible/partially visible tattoo? Or the first time they committed to a significant tattoo (vs. small one-off pieces)? Despite all my excitement, I guess I'm still seeking a bit of reassurance that I've picked a good artist, or that some of these nervous feelings are normal and too be expected. Anyone who wants to comment, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks in advance, and of course, I'll be posting some photos later this week!

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Great introduction and welcome! Scott Ellis has worked the Montreal convention and he seemed like a really nice guy, and his tattoos look great. I think you made an excellent choice artistically, and I think that especially for large, multi-session tattoos, getting along with your tattooer is really important. You're going to get a great tattoo.

Pre-tattoo nerves is normal, especially when you're going onto visible spots for the first time. You're changing your appearance permanently in way that's going to invite looks and judgement, both positive and negative, and it can be a weighty decision. I had a lot of feelings about going on to my forearms (before that I had tattoos above the elbow that couldn't be covered by a t-shirt, but forearms still seemed like a big leap) and in the end I'm super happy that I went all the way down to my wrist, but it was a hard decision.

Can't wait to see the pictures, and, most importantly, have fun.

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Welcome and thanks for the great intro! I recently got my first tattoo - at age 61. I am a retired Army colonel and now president of a small college. Neither of those two professions - Army officer and higher education administration - were/are generally accepting of tattoos and certainly not exposed ones. My first (and it even has some tribal lines in it, was done because it has meaning to me so it really didn't matter if others approved) is fairly large but is still covered by short sleeves. It took me a long time to decide what I wanted - and to convince myself to do it. Once I did, though, it consumed much of my thoughts. I also had many, many 2d thoughts as the day approached. I am so glad I did it.

It was just a matter of days after the initial work that I began to think about adding some shading to it...and I was disappointed when it turned out that planned vacation time makes me put off the final work until next Tuesday. Arrrgh!

At the same time, I am already planning on the next. It too will have meaning to me and I'll be talking with my artist about it while I have the work done next week. With warm weather - and pool time - approaching, I will most likely wait until fall to get the 2d one done. For this one, my thought is to go a bit larger so that it will be evident with short sleeves. I've come to the conclusion that I've lived within societal convention all of my life. Sometimes, you need to step outside of those conventions and do something different. Who knows, maybe we'll see Harvard's president sporting some ink. For now, though, I bet there are not too many inked college presidents who also shoot in Vintage Sniper Rifle matches. :cool:

I am looking forward to seeing your work - maybe it will even give me the confidence to go larger!!

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Welcome, great story.

Especially the Pinky Yun one.

A 20yo tribal tattoo is just as interesting to me as a flashy fresh piece, if not more. Got some history behind it!

My first tattoos just slightly poked out of t-shirt sleeves. And I thought it was a huge deal. Then I got my forearms and I told my tattooer I was finally ready to jump into the "big stuff" and my guy laughed at me because he put a big dragon on my ribs a few years before. Then after 10 years of tattoos I busted my neck cherry and got the first tattoo that could not be hidden (w/out looking like a jerk in a turtleneck). I got a piece that creeps on my hand a couple months ago and I was hyper conscious, especially in work meetings. Now it's no big deal. I'm getting the other side done at the end of the week. So I'm sure I've got a few weeks of the ugh post-tattoo anxiety comin' haha.

You become VERY aware of your new tattoos when they are visible at first. Then the idea (and ink) settles into the skin, the people around you get used to it and it's just business as usual. No big deal. It's just a tattoo, simple as that.

Perfectly normal and the fun part of the tattoo lifestyle.


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Wow, thank you folks who have already replied! (and a special thank you to Col. Volk for his service to our country).

Like many of you have already said, I doubt I'll have any regrets when finished. Just not sure if I should plunge in or live with a half-sleeve first. I guess if it doesn't hamper the overall design either way I am good to wait.

Another source of anxiety is the trust in the artist. I can tell him what I want, the elements I prefer, etc... but I won't really have any idea of what it will really look like until he is done penning it onto my skin and we are ready to line out. Very exciting, yet nerve wracking... and I appreciate the vote of confidence in my artist choice above.

Can't wait!

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Hey, otisc! I'm new here, too. Welcome!

I got my first tattoo (a crappy piece of flash off the wall) by some random woman at a tattoo shop when I was in college. It was supposed to be a daisy, but my young niece thought it was broccoli! One of my professors thought it was a sprocket of some kind? A boyfriend at the time called it a "mutant flower, just like me." Flattering! I gave it zero thought, and it was badly done. About five years ago, just before my 40th birthday, I decided to cover it up with something I really liked — the barking dog by Keith Haring. Thus began my foray into tattoos! In the last five years I've gotten 30 plus tattoos, and I'm already signed up for more. I just can't stop! I started by getting them all on my lower legs (which are nearly covered now), but then I added the top part of each arm. One is a half sleeve, and I'm finishing the other half sleeve in May. I work in advertising, and I have facial piercings, so no one here minds my tattoos. If I ever have to go back to a more traditional office environment (hope not), I can remove the piercings, but tattoos are more difficult to remove. ;-) So I am sticking to half sleeves for now, but I'm sure that will change at some point. I get asked to show my tattoos a lot around here — there is one other creative here with full sleeves, and we are considered the wild ones, which makes me laugh. I'm a proofreader! I'm not particularly crazy. I just love the art of tattooing. It is addictive.

Anyway, you didn't ask all that, but I thought I'd share anyway. Again, welcome! Look forward to seeing your new tattoos soon!

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I will be 45 in a couple months. Got a half sleeve as my 40th birthday gift to myself. Planning a full sleeve in a couple years once I am finished earning my koi. Half sleeve is an easy jump.

Personally I'd get the half with an option to extend since you are not certain yet. You will probably just book the extension after sitting with it a couple months but since it is a local artist there is nothing lost there!

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I haven't met Scott but my wife, daughter and I have spent quite a bit of time at Triple Crown (both of them via Joey). Very laid back over there.

Yeah, the shop has a great vibe and what seems like a lot of camaraderie and chatter.

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UPDATE: Well, today was the day!

What a long, but great day! It began a little before 11:00am. I was the first one in the shop with Scott (most of the day, there were 10-15 people there, and at one point six artists were tattooing simultaneously). He had been working on a few designs based on the sleeve length I wanted. Over the week between today and our consultation, I had decided to ask him to put the dragon's head somewhere on my arm instead of with the head in the more traditional chest area. I was a little worried to be asking for this, as Scott has a relatively new sleeve with the head in the center, and the last thing I wanted was for him to think I was trying to copy his own tattoo. Luckily, when I got there, he informed me that the last several dragons he had done had the head on the chest, and he was dying to do something new. Perfect! His sketches had just what I wanted. It was a really good sign.

However, getting it right took some time. Using thin paint brushes, he created the design over four separate layers. The dragon's head had to be moved several times, and the unique swirl of the dragon we decided on what difficult to get right without looking like the head was plopped onto the center of the body... but Scott is a perfectionist, and after a lot of erasing and revising, and then relining, and revising, etc... we were finally done with a design ready to be inked at 2:40. With only a few short breaks, it took a lot longer than I expected. But the result is something that works specifically with my body as opposed to just slapping a template onto my arm. I love it.

Here is a quick snap of Scott somewhere between layer 2 and 3 of sketching on me:


I haven't had a tattoo in nearly 20 years, so I had no idea what to expect from the pain, especially over so many areas. Tattooing in the ditch was no treat, but not as bad as I had come to expect from reading. The outside of the elbow lived up to expectations. But the worst was around my collarbone, where any wincing or tightening of my face would risk pulling the skin under his needle. And there was one spot on my chest where I could clearly feel the vibration on my pec, but the pain was in my neck. I could have sworn at the time he was tattooing my upper-middle neck.

Long story short (yeah, right), we finished up the linework a little after 5:00pm. I am absolutely thrilled with the result... and was getting tons of compliments on it by the many artists and clients in the shop throughout the day. Here is a front shot:


It is a little difficult to see from this angle and with only linework, but the dragon's body actually goes out the back of the head and swirls up and around the shoulders through the clouds and comes out belly showing under his head before turning again towards the end of the sleeve. It makes a little more sense visually if you can see the back. I also have the dragon clutching a pearl with his talons on the back on the sleeve and will actually be filling the pearl with a significant flower logo in the next session.

Overall, a fantastic day. I couldn't be happier that Scott got all the elements I wanted into the design, was able to keep it very traditional, but also with a great deal of uniqueness built just for me. If any readers are in Austin, Triple Crown Tattoo on Chicon Street (right around the corner from Franklin's BBQ!) is a must-visit.

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killer tattoo, awesome placement. the way it the tattoo cuts on the chest is very nice. just enough.

and the length is perfect! it will be exciting for you to watch how your dragon design comes to life at each stage with the blackground and colour.

congrats, well done @otisc

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Hi @otisc, and welcome! Sorry for the delayed response, but your story sounds much like mine (see my introduction HERE), that I HAD to respond. I’m older than you, (60+), but we have followed amazingly similar paths. I started when I and my girlfriend (now my wife) got small matching tattoos in verrrrry hidden locations in 1973 when I was 20. I added a little to it a few years later. I still wanted another, but life and a profession intervened, and tattooing went on the back burner. 


At some point I discovered Japanese tattooing, and realized that I wanted to be tattooed extensively like that, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for fear of how others - especially my employers - would judge me. I wrestled with this for over 30 years. Really.


Finally a few years ago, like you I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger. I was well established in my profession, and moving toward retirement in a few years. I’d spent my whole life being the kind of person that my profession required, but realized I was not being the person that I wanted to be. And being heavily tattooed was part of what I wanted to be. As with you, I realized that most of my reasons for not being tattooed had either evaporated or were just downright stupid (when was the last time that I was shirtless in front of a client?). So I am in the planning stages for a back piece, partial sleeves, and chest panels.


I am just ridiculously excited about this! I’m doing something that I’ve wanted for decades, and I’m giddy like a kid. But I’m also glad I waited because I now have the judgement and resources to get something appropriate, timeless, cohesive and well executed.


I’m most likely going to be working with Cindy Maxwell in Seattle. I haven’t made and appointment yet because I want to sock away some money so I’ll be sure to have the resources to complete it. But Cindy and I have been communicating, and I’m solidifying my ideas.


I love what you have done so far, and look forward to following your progress, as we have such similar paths. 


Good luck to you!

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On 5/3/2016 at 7:12 AM, Intomyskin said:

Hi @otisc, and welcome! Sorry for the delayed response, but your story sounds much like mine


At some point I discovered Japanese tattooing...

What an awesome story!

I checked out Cindy's instagram... some really nice work she has there. You definitely want to find someone who specializes in Japanese tattoos to do the work. And not only because of the scope of the work you want, but over time you see a lot of Japanese tattoos that look great, but have a lot of symbols mismatched (flowers of different seasons mixed up, etc.) so it's always good to do your homework. Ideally you will have some ideas, but your artist will be able to flesh them out, recommend what looks best and where for your particular body, and help guide you.

You have such big plans that it will take years to complete, so don't try and save all the money at once. What are you going to start with?

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@otisc- I originally wanted to do the sleeves first because I wanted to see something complete ASAP after waiting so long! But Cindy convinced me that I had an opportunity to really do something special that looked cohesive if we outlined everything (back, butt, sleeves, chest panels) first, so she could make it to flow and connect better. I realized she was right. The cohesiveness and flow is what attracted me to the Japanese style in the first place, and here I was trying to defeat it by making her do it in pieces. So that is what I will do. I'm traveling to get the tattoo so we will shoot for a two day session, but I doubt we can outline everything in that time (and I really don't know if I can handle two days), so I will probably have to go back a few months later to finish the outline.

I see that like me you debated about how much sleeve you wanted, and I see that in the end you went full sleeve. Very cool. how did you finally decide to jump past the elbow? what were your thoughts?

I'm having a similar debate. I have a rule that it must be covered with a short sleeve shirt for professional reasons, and because I don't want to freak out my friends. So I really didn't want to go beyond a quarter sleeve. Cindy understands, but is really prodding me to think bigger because she says most people that ask for a quarter eventually come back for a half, and people who want a half eventually come back for a 3/4 or full, and it is harder to extend gracefully.  I would love to have a 3/4, but no, not going there. 

However I've practiced in front of a mirror and realize that even a quarter sleeve will be visible in short sleeves in certain arm positions anyway, so now I'm considering going for "almost but not quite half sleeves" (3/8?).  I'm really struggling with this because my friends and colleagues will be totally aghast if/when they see that I have tattoos.  How did you decide to go so visible after having reservations?

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I am having that same internal argument. My first is not normally visible in short sleeves - although I openly shared pictures of the process and results on my FB page which is filled with family, friends, students, peers and even some of my board trustees with very little negative reaction. So, as I plan my next I am tempted to go larger to something that will be visible with short sleeves. At my age I don't see going to a half or full sleeve so being able to easily extend isn't an issue. It is all wrapped in whether I want it easily visible or not.

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On 4/29/2016 at 8:47 PM, otisc said:

Day 6 and my line work has started a nice peel. My forearm is itching like mad... but looking closer, I think it's a myth that the tattoo is what itches. It's really the tiny little stubble hairs growing back from being shaved!

Funny I don't have enough hair to bother shaving and my forearm itched like crazy!

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9 hours ago, Devious6 said:

I am having that same internal argument. My first is not normally visible in short sleeves - although I openly shared pictures of the process and results on my FB page which is filled with family, friends, students, peers and even some of my board trustees with very little negative reaction. So, as I plan my next I am tempted to go larger to something that will be visible with short sleeves. At my age I don't see going to a half or full sleeve so being able to easily extend isn't an issue. It is all wrapped in whether I want it easily visible or not.


I was really on the fence as to the length of my sleeve. I've only done the linework, and I am only two weeks in, and I am already thrilled that I went as long as I did. Gotten so many compliments on it.

I've also figured out a great way to cover it in the sun (Ink Armor) and will be posting a review soon.

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