me again – a long saga of my calf tattoo

Everything begins with a first step but with running it’s even more true. At first you think you just can’t do that – you just can’t find it in yourself. A few steps seem to be miles and then you turn back and see how far *not* you’ve just run! But days of failure turn into weeks of less and less pain and then comes this one time when suddenly you feel light and powerful and you catch yourself at simply enjoying running! You look forward toward your next run only to feel awful again and then again you get to experience this mythical ‘runner’s high’ and you feel great again!

But running is not only about feeling great! It’s also about nasty toenails, sweat dripping down your back, blisters that come with colors you didn’t even know they exist and many other goodies. Running is not only a summer activity when birds are chirping and the sunlight caresses your  *cough* fit body. Running is about facing the cold rain and temps well below freezing when you ask yourself why you are actually out there and what the hell you were thinking when you decided to go for a run!

Running teaches you self-discipline and self-confidence. It shows you that you can achieve quite a lot only if you stick to it long enough and apply yourself to it in quite small increments of time day by day by day! In short, running is many things but it’s always great!

I’ve been running for many years now but not always it was a quality running. It started to be so in 2010 when I started reading (and thus learning) more on the subject. I felt hungrier and hungrier for running and I loved it even though I felt the love mainly after the runs (during them I felt quite different). I knew that in a way running defines who I am and I liked it a lot, too.

I decided to get a tattoo devoted solely to my running passion and I wanted it to be a nice combo of anatomy and bio-mech aesthetics. I always loved thinking about human body as a machine – powerful and reliable. Add to it my slight love of sci-fi movies and I knew it would be perfect for me!

I did some research on human anatomy (lower leg, to be exact as running is mainly about legs, at least on purely superficial level!), printed out some pictures and took it to my tattoo artist. We discussed what I wanted to get done and I left the rest to him.

My first appointment for this tattoo was June 28, 2010. Slawek showed me his design and, of course, I loved it. It got even better when it turned out that there was no stencil prepared beforehand for this one and Slawek would free-hand this tattoo on me. Tricky for sure but I love Slawek freehanding and I knew he was totally able to pull it off.

For the next 2 hours I was lying flat on my stomach and he was first drawing on me with markers (and the final, very colorful sketch looked so awesome to me that I wished it could be the final design! An odd statement coming from someone who doesn’t actually like bright colors!) and then, after my approval of the sketch, tattooing me. The position I was in wasn’t overly comfortable, especially that a few days earlier I tripped over some roots on one of my trail runs and I skinned my knees ( a day later I got my tetanus shot at a local health center, just in case!) but the final result always outweighs all the inconveniences during a body modification process. When I was done, after roughly 2 hours of work, I was more than happy with the results ‘for now.’

The aftercare for this one was going to be more difficult, though. I was told that I shouldn’t run for at least a week to make it heal well. It wasn’t that easy to do but somehow I managed. A break from running is quite good on a psychological level, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

I succeeded with healing the outline of my calf tattoo before I went to Hungary to get my rib scarification and a tongue re-split but I didn’t manage to heal my scarification before my second sitting for my calf.

The second sitting was scheduled for August 6, 2010. During the session I was lying mostly on my left side as the right side of my rib cage was way too sore to use it for anything. I had to ask for a break twice as the left side of my body kept going numb and my hip and keen joints started aching. I realized then, however, that a skin removal procedure changed the way I perceived pain and a tattoo pain wasn’t a problem anymore. Since this session was focused on coloring it wasn’t as bad as outlining but there were a few quite painful spots anyway. Thanks to my experience with skin removal barely a few weeks earlier, though, I could put things in perspective and keep in mind that it could be way worse.

A week of no running was ordered again and this time I welcomed it as it was quite hard to run with still fresh scars anyway. I’m lucky to be a fast healer, though, so once i stopped tormenting myself with overirritating my scars everything started clearing out and I healed in no time.

It took me 11 months to start working on this tattoo again and that’s quite a long time. I realized that I didn’t want to get tattooed that fast as a full body suit is not in my plans and I wouldn’t like to run out of space too soon. At times I felt quite satisfied with the work I already had as tattoo sleeves were always high on my priority list and I finally got them! Besides, winter is not a good time for fresh tattoos if you live in a cold climate and need to wear layers and layers of clothes to keep warm. I didn’t mind *much* running around with an unfinished tattoo although there were times when it annoyed me.

In April 2011 I got to run my first half-marathon and I added yet another reason to my “why running is wonderful?” list and I decided to spend my summer on working out instead of modifying myself as in a body modification way. I signed up for a running camp and was very excited about it. My running camp was only in August, though, so I still had some time for some tattooing, so I scheduled my session for July 6, 2011.

I was actually convinced that I was booked for a whole day, so I thought that this would be the day when my tattoo would be finished but it turned out that I was booked only for a few hours. It was a good session as pain was bearable, a mood at the shop was light and cheerful, the inner side of the tattoo that was worked on ended up looking great (anatomical elements looked really nice!). Everything was awesome and the only thing that sucked was that I still had to run around with an unfinished tattoo and I knew that there would be no more tattoo sitting for me this summer as I had another half-marathon lined up at the beginning of September and you just can’t run over 20km at once without some km’s put in beforehand!

The calf healed nice and I was ready to face my running camp! The camp was very useful for me as a runner and I really think about going to another one some time in the future. But I was still quite unfinished as far as my calf tattoo was concerned and by then even my tattoo artist started to be like “you know, we have to finish it ASAP!”

During the next year I managed to stretch my ears to 7/16″ and then to 1/2,” I played with microdermals and even more with working out and running! It was a fun time but whenever I got to run in shorts/ skirts, I started being aware that my tattoo was still not finished yet and it wasn’t fun anymore!

In April’12 I called the shop to schedule my next appointment and we agreed on July 16. We agreed on the whole day then but when we met at the TattooFest, Slawek and I got to talk and somehow we weren’t sure about the whole day’s sitting anymore, so when I went for this sitting I didn’t really know if it would be finally finished or not.

Session#4 was as cool as all the others before. I was scheduled for 11.30am and managed to get the tickets to Hungary and stop at my bank beforehand. On my way to the shop I stopped at a small pastry shop and bought a few still hot-from-the-oven croissants for the guys. At the shop Slawek was already waiting for me and it took me only a few minutes to change from my jeans and sneakers into old shorts and a pair of flip-flops. With my Kindle in hand, I was more than ready to go under Slawek’s needles.

Both Slawek and I wanted to really have it finished but for at least an hour or so into this session I didn’t take a look at my calf and I didn’t ask if we would be able to finish it this time. I was just lying on my stomach, reading one of the books on my Kindle and silently hoping that this time would be it! Random people kept coming and going, my piercer kept coming over to talk things, there was a TV turned on to entertain customers and there was a guy getting outlines of stars tattooed on him, so I had quite a lot of things to keep myself occupied with. There were also moments of pain when I felt Slawek going over some more delicate spot and when I had to tense my muscles to prevent an involuntary twitch of my leg. I felt him working on my Achilles tendon and covering the skin over my muscles with color and I still didn’t dare to look at it.

And then I turned back and saw these massive pace on calf covered in bright red ink and I felt a surge of hope. Maybe this day would be the day and I would be able to say “I’m done!”? Slawek was hopeful, too when I finally asked him about it. My calf got swollen and painful to touch after like 2 hours of tattooing and I was looking forward to the final stop of the machine and Slawek telling me ‘ok! get up and take a look!’ and whenever he stopped the machine it was only to turn it on a few seconds later. I kept reading, watching TV, watching people and trying to control my growing frustration with the pain, swelling I could feel and my impatience!

session ivAnd finally the time had come and I could get up and take a look at the final result. My calf was already so swollen that my right ankle differed significantly from my left one. My whole body felt sore from keeping pretty much one and the same position for over 2.5h but my calf looked great and it was done and I really felt quite happy!

A lunch with guys followed and then a shopping spree on my own and even though it felt painful to bend my knee or walk fast, I didn’t mind it at all.

As of today my calf tattoo is 6 days into the healing process and my ankle finally looks normal. The swelling went down and the skin isn’t as sore to touch as it was on day 1 and 2 of the healing process. I keep washing my tattoo 3 times a day, patting it dry and then applying to it Bepanthen ointment (which is a standard ointment recommended to tattooees in Europe!). I’m also trying to remember about these parts of the tattoo that are well healed and quite old by now and these I treat with body lotion to moisturize them properly.

When I look at the final result and the original sketch/ project, I can notice some differences. I find it quite cool, though as – in a way – it reflects my own life changes. When I started working on it I didn’t even think about running half-marathons and now I have five of them under my belt. I knew little about running and now I know more. Running is about progress and changes, so it’s cool that my tattoo reflects these changes, too!

* * *

Was it good to take my time to finish this one? Who knows? Delayed gratification isn’t a bad thing. My next step in this project will be working on my shin. Who knows how long this one will take me? 😉

all loud at TattooFest’12 – tattoo convention review

 It’s not the event itself that makes  a good impression on us; it’s the people we meet and things we do that make us like a given place and event and that’s truly the case with TattooFest for me!

Basically, all tattoo conventions are exactly the same – rows and rows of stalls behind which a tattooist or a piercer crouches, trying to impress us with their skills or, more often than not, not really caring of what a random convention visitor may think about them. No surprise then that over time I’ve kind of grown this “ok-let’s-go-and-do-whatever’ attitude toward it. There are always, though, highlights and that’s a good thing.

Cracow is a unique place! It’s almost a small country in this country and its inhabitants pride themselves with artistic inclinations, imagination, creativity and urban identity that really is like no other. Here you can find high-tech modernity only to get lost in narrow streets full of wannabe old Jewish shops with everything possible to find inside. You can eat McJunk and then grab a few bagels from a street seller. Whatever the reason you come to Cracow is, the city always plays a big role in your visit and that’s awesome.

As usual, this year I also went there with people from my regular tattoo shop although this time we didn’t drive there together. I just hopped on a night bus and arrived there very early in the morning. After some enjoyable play with my Kindle, I decided to set out in search of breakfast and, of course, I went to Kazimierz district which is famous for its old feel and many places to just sit, eat and people watch. It was still very early in the morning, though, so not many places were open. You could see, however, people already busying themselves with morning shopping or selling many weird things at a local bazaar.

This first morning in Cracow I ate two hearty breakfasts to kill time while waiting for the guys to arrive (strangely enough, they didn’t even have to ask me where I was; they just got straight in to our favorite breakfast place and there I was, drinking my coffee and reading a weekend edition of my fav newspaper). The breakfasts they serve in the second place of my choice are absolutely delicious and we made sure to repeat the experience next morning.

Full and quite excited (although not very clean!) we arrived at the venue some time past 2pm which meant that the whole setting up chaos was over. The venue’s been the same as for the last few years although this time only one floor of the venue was occupied. The place was already quite crowded with black-clad people covered with tattoos and piercings.

The first tentative stroll along the aisles of the venue showed me who visited the event this year. There were many of the Polish regulars here, JuniorInk, Black Star, Anabi Tattoo etc., but there were also foreign artists from Hungary, Sweden, Germany and Canada. Many of them impressed with ingenuity of attracting people’s attention and their stalls were decorated with stuff for sale – t-shirts (always a big hit, it seems), stickers, buttons, tattoo designs etc. Most of the artists were already busy with working on customers and focused only on that. TattooFest brand’s stall made the biggest impression, though, with tens of t-shirt designs available for sale and stacks of old issues of the TattooFest magazine. The brand has come a long way from its quite humble beginnings and it seems to be doing really well now!

The first contest was more about entertaining the audience than presenting people with good quality tattoos as it was the ugliest tattoo contest. Raga, the MC who works the event and crowd every year, encouraged, mocked and comforted the victims of their poor tattoo choices and the audience was having some fun, too.

The jury, the same for the last 6 years or so, appeared on stage later in the afternoon and, wise with their past experiences, quickly got to work in the most efficient way possible. There were quite many people eager to show off their tattoos and see what so-called experts think of them and the lines of contestants were really long at times. The quality of the work exposed to judgment varied – some of them were very nicely done, with fine lines, great perspective and good drawing skills, others were massive blocks of colors promising to hold on for years to come and yet others were delicate and subtle. There were, however, way too many fresh tattoos which colors were vibrant but told nothing about how they’ll turn out in the future.

Designs-wise it definitely was a nice change from the previous years as there seems to be less and less dark, heavy Gigeresque work with not even a pinch of originality about them. There’s no tribal work to see anymore and women definitely prefer other placements than the infamous lower back spot. There’s more and more bigger pieces and at times I was really stunned to see tattooed hands on very young people. Interestingly enough, there was also one half-sleeve done traditional, tapping way made by a Polish tattoo artist.

Once the contests were done, there was time for more entertainment and, again, it was a suspension show (it seems as if suspensions became almost obligatory at such events which, IMHO, cheapens it and makes it a mere filler). This time it was Superfly Suspension Crew with Coco Katsura as a guest.

It took some time to set up the stage and that’s always interesting to watch. Once it was done, Coco Katsura was first to start the show. She relied heavily on the Japanese culture which, sadly, meant lots of missing points and purely visual effects on the audience. People were there to watch only, not to understand and one could see and hear it during her show. At times like this, when confronted with elements of a foreign to me culture which I know only a little about, I do feel a need for a kind of modern chorus that would provide us with most basic information about things going on stage and this enrich our experience.

After Ms. Katsura we were shown some bondage show (I couldn’t help not to notice how bored the models seemed at times) and then suspensions. Standing in the middle of the crowd, caught up in their emotions and (very good, very visceral) music, I still felt dissatisfied as there was nothing I haven’t seen before and thinking that this show was not a show but barely a “just for show” thing and, again, missed the *in*famous Bobo’s Loco Carneval  whose shows resonated so much stronger with me and whose pranks and tricks I did understand and could place in space and time to make it deeper and cooler for myself.

But the night just started for me and my friends as straight from the TattooFest venue we went to take part in 7@nite event – visiting Jewish synagogues opened for just this one late spring night. We visited only one but there was a rock concert going on in this one and the atmosphere was really good inside. We called it a night with some unhealthy food from a street vendor and the guys went to the TattooFest after party (turned out it ended before they even got there) and me going to the hotel (and thus having the bathroom all for me, so I won in the end!)

The second day of the convention seemed to go slower and there were less people attending the event; many participants either already packed up their stuff and were getting ready to leave or were thinking about leaving, so there wasn’t much fun. I made a few rounds around the venue, flipped through one of books by Lars Krutak which I found in one of the stalls (I sooooo wanna have this book!!!), grabbed some promo stuff for personal and friends’ use and soon enough found myself watching the tattoo contests unfolding in front of my eyes. Again, some nice pieces, some interesting ones and quite a lot of mediocre ones. And before I even really noticed, that was it for me, the end of this year’s TattooFest.

The organizers made sure to entertain visitors with latex clothing and crazy hairdo’s shows; they gave us some controlled madness and blood with the suspension show and provided us with opportunities to see tattoo artists at work. For those intellectual ones there were a few lectures on the subject although this year I didn’t manage to go to even one of them, so can’t say anything about their contents or quality. The event ran its course in a predictable way and that’s quite a shame as I’d prefer to be grabbed by the face and hit right between the eyes with some new and amazing things. TattooFest is a well-established brand by now, though, so who knows, maybe next year they’ll do just this thing?

not all ears

The Osaka tattoo case still going strong! And here also an article about ambiguity of tattoos in Japan.

Stereotypes about tattooed people also somewhere else: ‘in God’s image’ and the tattooed people’s alleged promiscuity.

Body piercings and health issues from the Huffington Post.

Women and their tattoos at NYC Tattoo convention and Zombie Boy in Moscow.

A little bit about lettering tattoos.

And fascinating facts about earlobe (not many, though).

Speaking of earlobes, that’s mine (categorized as ‘me and my modifications,’ of course ;)) – 1/2” lobes look great, don’t they?

thank gawds for the tattooed bananas!

A weekly update a bit earlier this week as I’m spending my weekend away from my computers and the breaking news.

More news from Osaka, Japan where the Osaka mayor got really interested in his employees’ tattoos.

Also from Asia about growing popularity of tattoos among urban Nepali youth.

USA: female tattoo artists speak up about their work experience and dealing with gender prejudice. Another one from Baltimore, MD is also a sign of times: tattoos and technology converge… might be true. I know that for my next tattoo session I’m going to take my Kindle to play with it.

An interesting submission from Bastian: teenagers and plastic surgery in Germany.

And here’s a nice one: how to tattoo a banana? And just to show that I also have some experience in this field, below you can see a piece of banana skin tattooed by me last year at the TattooFest event; it was harder to do than I expected!