Living the Alternative: Before you get your first tattoo

Sarah Ross

Katy Beirise's tattoo, commemorating her dog, Zoey, who died this last year (Photo courtesy of Katy Beiriese)
Katy Beirise’s tattoo, commemorating her dog, Zoey, who died this last year (Photo courtesy of Katy Beirise)

College is all about firsts: first roommates, first apartments, first legal drinks, and, of course, first tattoos. Many people come to college and mark the occasion of new freedom with something new and equally as permanent: a new tattoo.

The first tattoo you get is like nothing else: you don’t know exactly what to do, what to think, or what to expect. You understand the permanence of it logically, but you still feel like it hasn’t fully sunken in, the same way you logically know it will hurt but don’t fully grasp it until you go under the pen. But fear not, all of the inked people you know and love were once inkless, and everyone that has a tattoo had to get their first tattoo. Luckily, there are many people out there willing to share their experiences. I’ve broken their experiences into three parts, the before, the during, and the after. So, without further ado:


Advice for Before You Get Your First Tattoo

Before you get the tattoo is almost harder than getting or maintaining the tattoo. It is the stage of stress, indecision, and general unsureness. The process is new, you’re not sure where to start, and there is so much to consider. Your decision, after all, will be permanent.

Before you overwhelm yourself with everything you need to do to prepare, answer the most basic of questions: if you are going to get a tattoo, where are you going to get it?

“Definitely do your research to find a clean, sanitary, up to date place to get the tattoo done,” said Katy Beirise, a pre-veterinary student at CSU. “It’s just not worth it to risk it. If you need convincing, google “tattoo disasters” or something similar. I asked around to see where other people had gone and then did some research as well as visited the place I had in mind before I booked an appointment.”

George Sanchez, an International Studies major, had similar sentiments.

“I was nervous at first and I didn’t know what to expect at all,” said Sanchez. “I got recommendations on different tattoo parlors from my sister and called one up. He designed the colors and I went in about a week later. All of this wasn’t really too planned out. My sister and I had talked about getting brother-sister tattoos for a while and decided on this really cool sun and moon duo, and I got the sun to represent her.”

Making sure that you are comfortable with the shop and the artist is key. The shop will be your backdrop while enduring several hours of pain, so it’s important to feel as comfortable as possible in the space. You should have faith that you are getting a safe, clean and comfortable experience. You will have enough things to worry about going into it, so cross that off your list.

It’s also important to get to know your artist and their style. If you don’t like the style of the art that the artist has produced in the past, you probably won’t like what they put on your body. Also, if you don’t get along well with the artist, you will have an awkward couple of hours in silence as you wince your way through the process. The best artists, in my opinion, are fun, talkative and empathetic, but make sure you get an artist that fits your personality and makes you feel at ease.

This leads us to the next important factor, choosing the art itself. Many people are afraid that the art that they choose will not turn out how they envisioned, or that they will be sick of it later on in life. These are valid concerns, no matter how many people tell you differently, but there are ways to avoid the wrong decision.

Katy Beirise showing off her tattoo on Bierstadt, where some of her dogs ashes were spread “My way of setting her “free” and always taking her with me”, Beirise said. (Photo courtesy of Katy Beirise)

“Give yourself time to think about what you want on your tattoo,” said Beirise. “Being able to bounce ideas off one of my best friends, who I knew would be honest with me, was so helpful! The design was definitely still my own, and one that I was so excited to have permanently inked on my body, but having someone I could trust to be honest and willing to give me suggestions was invaluable.”

Emmalin Phillips, a Business major at CSU, also had some good advice about picking art that you like, and will continue to like, before the process even starts.


“Take a look at the artist’s portfolios and find one that you like the art style of,” Phillips said. “Next, figure out what tattoo you want to get and where. Try printing off or drawing out what you want and hanging it someplace where you’ll see it a lot. That way you’ll know whether you’ll get sick of the tattoo or not.”

“Also,” Phillips added, “try drawing it on yourself with a sharpie and see how it looks. You want to be sure you like the placement and type of your prospective tattoo.”

So, now you know where you want to get the tattoo from, who you want to work with there, what you want to get, and where you want to get it. You’re almost done with the process, but there is one more thing to do.

“Once you know where you want to go and what you want to get, contact your artist,” said Phillips. “When meeting with your artist, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make sure that you love the artwork your artist makes for you! If there is anything you are unsure or nervous about, tell them!”

Working with your artist is key. I had a close friend that loved her artist’s personality and style, but when it came to his take on the tattoo she wanted, she ended up not liking it. In the end, the one on her body ended up not being the one she wanted, all because she was too sweet to speak up. Don’t be afraid to interact with your artist and let them know what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re nervous about, and anything on your mind. It’s their job to listen and give you the best experience possible. They are proud of their art and will usually go out of their way to make it right by you.

Getting your first tattoo is nerve-wracking: you are making decisions that you have never been made before, but that will have a consequence that will stand the test of time. It is a big decision, but don’t worry, everyone that has a tattoo has gone through it. It’s natural to be nervous, feel like you aren’t sure what you’re doing, and to even feel a bit overwhelmed. Just make sure you lean on your tattooed friends, your local artists and your instincts, and, hopefully, any tattoo you want will end up being exactly what you wanted, or maybe even needed.

Collegian Blogger Sarah Ross can be reached online at or on Twitter at @HowSarahTweets. Read more of her content on AltLife. Leave a comment!