A bamboo stick, a needle, a design, and 4 days later: Ta da!
I'm no stranger to tattoos. Ever since I was young, I always knew I would eventually get one done. So when I was sixteen and a friend of mine told me she was going to get one, it didn't take long for her to convince me to do the same. A quick commute to a sketchy tattoo parlour, and a couple of hours later, I had gotten my first tattoo - a tribal butterfly tramp stamp. It was one of those spontaneous, pick a random tattoo out of a book kind of experiences, and unfortunately, it showed. It ended up being slightly blue in colour, and crooked. With that being said, you can understand why I wanted to get a cover up done later on down the road.
When I started planning a trip to Thailand with a friend of mine, he mentioned he wanted to get a cover up done. I figured it would be a good time to get mine as well. I have always been fascinated about different tattoo techniques, and before my cover up, I had already gotten a traditional bamboo tattoo done by Apo Whang Od in the Philippines, and a Sak Yant done with a steel rod by a monk in Thailand. So when I ended up finding a tattoo parlour that not only specialised in the traditional bamboo technique, but could also do cover ups, I convinced my friend to get ours done there.
We sent our proposed designs, and booked our appointments at The Bamboo Rooms, a tattoo parlour located in Koh Samui, Thailand. In thinking about the design, I knew I wanted something that could tie my other tattoos together. I already had a skull piece with flowers on my left hip as a reminder that we only have one life, and should live it to the full. I also had the eight-directional Sak Yant on my back for wisdom and guidance for all aspects of my life. So this time, I wanted to get something that would symbolise change or a new beginning, and after doing some research, I decided to go with a phoenix.
I love what the phoenix symbolises. It's all about renewal, overcoming obstacles, and rising from challenges. I felt like this would go well with my other tattoos, it would kind of tell a story. Live every day to the full (skull), rise from all challenges and face life head on (phoenix), to seeking guidance and wisdom in all aspects of my life (sak yant) - perfect. After a few exchanges with the artist on different concepts, we had come up with a design in mind. I was excited!
Now let's get to the actual experience. It took roughly twenty-two hours over a span of four days to complete my tattoo. I'm not going to sugar coat it for anyone, it hurt like a bitch. By the second day I was already questioning my sanity, but there was no way in hell I wasn't going to leave with half a tattoo so I knew I had to suck it up, and get it done.
Day One: Five hour session
We arrived at the tattoo parlour, and saw Keng, the artist, working on another customer. We watched him do his thing for awhile before we decided to go and grab some food so he'd have enough time to finish his work. When we got back, we talked briefly about his plans with us for the next few days, and then proceeded to start with my back. After spending about twenty minutes hand drawing the design, I took a look in the mirror, approved the sketch, and the tattooing began.
First of all, let me say, I thought it was amazing he was able to draw it on so quickly, and that it was customised specifically for me. No one else would have the same design. I don't think at that point though I had realised how big the tattoo was actually going to be, but as soon as he started, damn. I sure felt it. We spent the rest of the day working on the outline of the design, and shading part of one of the wings.
Day Two: Six hour session
If it hurt the first day, it felt twice as painful the second. I think this is because my skin was still a little sore from the first session, but this had to be the worst day out of the whole experience. What was meant to be a ten hour session ended up being a six hour one because I ended up tapping out once he finished shading in both wings. I just couldn't take it. I could feel my body start to shut down almost like I was about to catch a fever. He had also started complaining that I was moving around too much. The next part he was supposed to work on would have been the head, and that was closer to my spine, so I thought fuck no. I needed to mentally prepare myself for that.
Day Three: Ten hour session
It's ironic how I feel like the second day was the worst when we spent the third day working primarily on the cover up itself. We took very few breaks, and whatever break we did take, Keng would only allow about five minutes before he'd tell me to stop bitching and get back on the seat. He had told me earlier that day that if he didn't finish the body and the cover up, I would most likely leave Koh Samui with an unfinished tattoo. That was motivation enough for me to push through the pain.
Funny enough though, I found that reading while he was working on my back helped distract my mind from what was happening. He had a very interesting book in his studio that talked about different military tanks that can be found worldwide. I don't think any of the information I was reading actually went through to my brain, but I think focusing on one word after the other really helped.
Day Four: One hour session
This last day was mainly just to finish the tail, and fill in any forgotten spots. I have to admit, it hurt a lot on this day too. I think mainly because my mind had been set that I was almost done, and the worst had been over, but also because my back had taken a beating the last few days. Everything was pretty sore, and I was drained.
The end result? An amazing, massive back tattoo. I love it. I must admit it might be awhile before I get another piece done. Well... Maybe. I hate to say I wouldn't for awhile because as some of you might already know, tattoos are addictive, and sometimes it only takes a few weeks before you start to feel the itch to get another one. We'll see how things go.
Would I recommend getting a tattoo the traditional way? Hell yes! Go for it! I'd suggest starting out with something smaller than mine if it's your first time, but it's definitely a unique story you can share in the future. If you're ever in Koh Samui, I would recommend you book a session with Keng at The Bamboo Rooms. His artistic talents are phenomenal, and his personality is hilarious.
Till' my next piece!