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Home FEATURES How Tos Homemade Tattoos

Homemade Tattoos

Thursday, 10 August 2006 07:35
First he showed us how to stuff a mouse. Now Andreas is back with a needle, ink, and some beer.

Photos: Trippe & Trolf

Yeah, bad tattoos are basically a bummer, right? But they're also pretty much a rite of passage for bored and disenfranchised-feeling teenagers the world over. At least it was for about 95% of the people I know. Going to a reputable tattoo shop and getting a wizard or unicorn drilled into your lower back is totally fine, but nothing really takes the place of sitting around with a bunch of friends and some beers, enthusiastically taking turns poking each others' arms full of bad ideas-which actually is fun at any age.

It's easy-anyone can do it (even teenagers, who, according to recent scientific tests, don't even have fully functional brains). You probably already have all the materials you need at your disposal, and best of all nothing shows true fortitude of character quite like learning to live with a bad decision.

Here's what you'll need:
1) Sewing needles, not too big and not too little. Get a bunch.
2) Thread (one spool, stolen from your roommate's sewing kit).
3) A pencil or some such shaped object (this will be the handle for your tattooing needle).
4) India ink-black liquid acrylic (you can use other colors too, but I'd suggest sticking with basic black for now).
5) A razor (if you're especially hairy)
6) A thin-tipped marker. 0.05mm Rapidographs work fine. But a regular pen works too; you just want something that marks skin fairly well.
7) Clean hands, relatively free from tremors, open wounds, or Parkinson's Disease.
8) A willingness to see things through to their conclusion.
9) Enough booze to keep things interesting.

To start with, assemble all your supplies on your work surface.

Wait, on second thought, let's include one more thing in the photo:

Being neat isn't required, but my OCD makes me have to arrange everything at right angles to everything else. Disregarding neatness, let me caution you about one thing: blood-borne disease.

Ask yourself before starting: Do I know this person I'm going to tattoo? Am I relatively certain that this person does not have a disease I do not want to contract (and vice-versa)?

There will be a little blood, so it's best to be cautious. Again, don't have any open wounds on your hands (or wear latex gloves like professionals do, you pussy). Just try your best to keep things clean. By which I mean: Wash. Wash your hands. Scrub them down. And oh yeah, for the love of god, use a new needle for each person getting tattooed, okay?

Then take the needles you plan on using (remember: a new needle for every person getting a tattoo) and put them in a pan filled with a bit of boiling water and boil the hell right out of them. Once they're boiled and relatively germ free, handle them carefully.

Oh man, I forgot one incredibly important component to successful home tattooing: music. Music sets the mood. If you choose your music carefully, you'll create the proper ambience for the evening's activity.

Necessary albums include (but are not limited to):
The Rolling Stones-Tattoo You (obvious choice)
The Rolling Stones-Let It Bleed (put this on halfway through the first tattoo)
Thin Lizzy-Black Rose (this dude from Belgium who's staying on my couch had never heard Thin Lizzy before, which obviously had to be corrected immediately. And plus, lots of people get rose tattoos. Speaking of which, why not go ahead and put on some Rose Tattoo?)

Okay, now we're going to move on to actually constructing your rig. Take one of the boiled needles and with a whole bunch of thread carefully attach it to your handle (pencil, paintbrush, etc.).

Don't go trying to insert the eye-end of the needle in the pencil's eraser; that just doesn't work. What you're trying to do is fasten the needle securely to the pencil-once it's on there, you don't want that needle to budge. Leaving off about 1/2 inch of the tip of the needle, wrap the remaining bit of it tightly to your handle. Wrap it over and over and over. Then keep winding because the thread needs to cover almost the entire needle, pretty much right up to the point.

This is where neatness counts. You don't want a big ball of thread rolled all willy-nilly around your needle dripping ink everywhere, so when wrapping just the needle (not the handle) only give it one or two layers of thread. Wrap everything except for the last 1/16th of an inch. Definitely don't leave anymore than 1/8th of an inch showing. The purpose of the thread is to hold the ink. When stabbing the needle repeatedly into someone's flesh, the thread needs to come into contact with the skin so that the ink can get in there. If you leave too much of the needle tip unwrapped, you'll have to stab really deep and nobody wants that. Seriously, I can't stress this enough: leave just a tiny bit of needle showing. You'll thank me later.

Once you've got that out of the way, you may want to disinfect the needle one more time before plunging it into anyone. If you're like me and don't own a hospital-grade autoclave, just use your lighter. Just remember to let the needle cool down before you get to work, otherwise you'll brand your friend instead of giving them a tattoo, and everyone knows that branding is retarded.

Doesn't it look like I'm about to smoke some crack in that second photo? Also, don't pay any attention to those finger tattoos, 'cause they're not homemade.

This is pretty much all you're going to need. Well, a couple of paper towels too. But that's it. Once your rig is finished, you'll need to decide on a tattoo. Get everyone together and start drawing. Remember, these are homemade tattoos and as such they will lack the finery of shop-bought tattoos. Unless you've got all the time in the world and a high tolerance for pain, steer clear of things like shading, coloring, straight lines, and realistic portraits. Keep the tattoo small, not only for practicality's sake but because nobody wants to see your full sleeve of pointillist nightmares.

So, ideas... keeping in mind the above caveats: go nuts. Seriously, make yourself a little masterpiece. The dumber the better. Dare your friends to get the worst tattoo you can imagine. Draw up a few pages of bad ideas. A good rule of thumb for homemade tattoos is that if everyone in the room laughs at the drawing, someone should probably get it. Also, another good rule is that if you tattoo someone, you have to suck it up and let them tattoo you afterwards.

Here are our ideas:

Jesse wanted either a cactus, a stegosaurus, or a dagger.

Nobody stepped up to the Herpes Heart, though.

I gave this one to Henry Lewis after he gave me those finger tattoos. Fair's fair, right?

I tried really hard to get Trippe to agree to one of these. But apparently he doesn't want people to think that he's from Tuff Town.

Here's a homemade tear that my friend Carrie gave me. It's to let people know how emotionally fragile I am.

Once everyone has decided on a tattoo, it's best to eat a big meal to build up your strength. And it's probably not such a bad idea to have some more beer. Devon made us eggplant rolotini and it was delicious. Just look at what a good time we're all having.

Finally, it's time to get started. Devon was up first. She's pretty trusting, although possibly that may have been all the booze she was drinking. She brought her own bottle of lemon liqueur. She's also pretty un-marked up, so the pressure was on for me to do a good job so that she won't hate me forever. She asked for a simple tetrahedron on the inside of her arm. Coming right up.

Before you take your marker and draw the design on, you may want to shave the area. Devon didn't need to shave, but Jesse had a thicket of bristles on the back of his arm that needed to be removed before going any further.

It's a good idea to draw without stretching the skin too much, otherwise the design is going to be lopsided. It's also a good idea to pick a location that's a bit fleshy. The thousand jabs of the needle will hurt less that way, although it doesn't hurt terribly much to begin with and plus you're going to be pretty medicated with booze (and other stuff, if your name happens to be Jesse Pollock).

I'm going to show these photos out of order, just so you know. The reason for this is because we have different photos of different people taken at various times throughout the tattooing procedure, and also I have a complete disregard for coherent chronology. So we'll switch back and forth between Devon and Jesse in order to see the process the whole way through.

I will admit to feeling a little creepy at one point, though. When Devon was lying down getting settled I asked her if there was anything I could do to make her feel more at ease, like if I should put on a specific album or something. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I felt like some sort of potential molester, like I was all, "Shh, shh, it's okay. Trust me, baby. It won't hurt too much... now hush up."

For some reason both of these photos look incredibly unsavory to me. It actually looks like this could be the beginning of a porno or something. Let me assure you, there was no funny business going on.

Although Jesse did look oddly comfortable just lying there, face down on the bed.

Once everyone is comfortable and ready to go, have at it. Dip your wrapped-up needle into the ink just enough to soak the thread but not too much so that ink is dripping everywhere. With your free hand, kind of stretch out the slack skin where the tattoo is going. You'll have to keep the skin fairly taut while poking the needle in there, so this might not work that great with really old people. Although I have yet to try tattooing a really old person, so who knows?

Then start poking. Follow the design you've drawn. Since you're unable to make lines using this method, you have to make a million little dots that eventually become lines. This can get a little tedious, but just stick with it. Keep jabbing, making sure to dip your needle in the ink every once in a while as the thread dries up.

After the first few initial pokes, it's unavoidable that there's going to be some ink on the skin surrounding the tattoo. Try your best to intuit where the dots should go and every so often wipe the ink away with a paper towel.

Here's the beginning of Devon's tetrahedron. See those lines? They're really a bunch of tiny dots! Amazing! Gaze upon them and marvel.

This group of dots is going to be a tough dagger on Jesse's arm. I wish he would have let me add "Tuff Town," although maybe we should save that for Jay Howell. Anyhow, keep poking. Keep wiping. You're doing great!

After a long while of poking your friend in the arm, the dots finally start to take form and turn into a tattoo. Patience is key, so just take your time and savor the moment. Get a witty repartee going, after all, this tattoo means you're now friends forever (or, more to the point: 4eva!).

Above, you can see Jesse's new dagger. I think it came out pretty good. You have to use your best judgment to decide when the tattoo is finished. A week or two later, once it's all healed, you may even have to go back and fill in some spots-but for now don't go too overboard, okay?

Not bad, eh?

After all the stabbing is finished, it might be a good idea to wash your new tattoo with warm water and plenty of soap. You probably won't have to bandage it unless you poked too deep, so just pat it dry and apply a tiny little bit of A+D ointment or something. Just enough to keep the skin from drying out, but not so much that your tattoo can't breathe. Homemade tattoos like these generally heal pretty quickly, usually within a week you'll be good as new.

There, all finished. Doesn't it feel good to accomplish something? Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for seeing something through all the way to the end. You've always been a great disappointment to your mother and me, but this time you've really made us proud!

Oh yeah, so to follow my own rule I got Devon and Jesse to form a tag-team and give me a tattoo as well.

And there you have the finished product: a beautiful, dainty diamond! Notice all the nearby remnants of other home tattooing experiments.

This is only one of a myriad ways of tattooing yourself. Another popular method, though more time-consuming and skill-intensive, is actually constructing your own tattoo machine. All you really need to do this is an old cassette Walkman, some 10 gauge guitar strings (high E, preferably), and Bic pens. If anyone is interested in building one of these, you can e-mail me for plans (andreas@underskatement.com). Or, if you're feeling especially brave you can use the traditional Maori method of tattooing, which is to cut deep grooves into your skin and then rub a mixture of ash and water into the open wound. The scars turn out phenomenal!

Also, why don't we just go ahead and have a contest? Send photos of your best homemade tattoos to us at fecal and the winner will receive a package of goodies courtesy of Coda Skateboards (www.codaskateboards.com). Judging and the awarding of prizes will be at the sole discretion of me.

Next month's How To will be a pin-hole camera. E-mail us if you have any ideas for future How To's. Thanks. {moscomment}

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