IT HAPPENED TO ME: The Tattoo Artist Screwed Up My First Tattoo

It took three cover-up attempts — and as many artists — to finally get something I can live with.
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Ash Cantley
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It took three cover-up attempts — and as many artists — to finally get something I can live with.

I never pictured myself with a tattoo. When it came up in conversations I'd repeat the Kim Kardashian quote, "Would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?" But then I met my husband, Thomas, who is covered in tattoos, each one signifying an important moment in his life, and the more I looked at him the more I wanted one. 

When the subject of tattoos came up with friends or family, they'd usually say something along the lines of, "Men can pull it off, but women usually look trashy." The phrase annoyed me so much, partly because I thought it was true. So I spent hours searching out women with tattoos trying to disprove that theory. I started following tattoo artists on Instagram and obsessing over my favorites. 

I decided that if I got one, a simple line tattoo in red, like Kylie Jenner's, would be the way to go.

I was in Atlanta exploring the city with my hubs when I said, "Let's get matching tattoos!" It was impulsive, but I had been thinking about it for months and knew if I did it with him, it would be more meaningful, which would mean less regret. He was going to get the words "clear eyes" and I'd get "full hearts," a phrase from our favorite TV show that we watched during a momentous time in our life. So I found an artist I liked online who worked at the cutest little hipster tattoo shop, which I took as a good omen. Cute shop equals cute tattoo, I figured.

The tattoo artist I liked was not working that day, so they assigned us to a newbie. We weren't familiar with his work, but we were only getting line tattoos so how bad could he F it up? (Mistake number one.) I chose a lipstick-red color with the placement on the side of my wrist. Thomas chose black ink and the side of his wrist, but on the opposite hand so when we held hands we'd complete the quote. 

I was scared to death of the pain, and with reason, it turns out. The artist did not have a light hand, as they say, and it was as if he was carving out my skin. He had to "press harder for color and had to go deeper into the skin for red to stick." It was one of the most painful 10 minutes of my life. Thomas, on the other hand, took the pain like a pro. When we were all done, The artist wrapped our arms up and sent us on our way.

Both of our tattoos had trouble healing. Mine had thick scabs for about five weeks, and after the scabs fell off, I had deep scars, the lines were fuzzy, and what was supposed to be red actually looked magenta. 

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My husband's tattoo finally healed to reveal an ink bleed that would forever read "dear eyos." I guess line tattoos aren't that simple.

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I tried to live with the fuzzy, scarred "full hearts" tattoo, but it irritated the hell out of me. And my husband's was so illegible that it had to be changed. I agonized over and over about what to do. I didn't want to add onto it because I wanted something discreet, but I couldn't live with what I had. And if my husband was changing his, I'd have to too because the whole point was to have corresponding tattoos.

I kept an open mind and emailed the shop our photos saying we were not happy. It took a few days but the owner emailed us apologizing, offered a refund, and said she'd "work her magic" to fix the tattoos. The day we went in to see her, she looked at our tattoos and said the artist should never have tattooed something so small nor should he have done it in red because it increases the chances of mistakes (never mind that Instagram is filled with beautiful tiny line tattoos). She said it was a "learning experience" for him, that he was just having a bad day, and he felt terrible because he "really connected with us." I actually started feeling bad for him. 

The only option we had, was to do a cover up. Without looking at her work, particularly her cover-up work, we just assumed she was good since she was the owner and from New York City. (Mistake number two.) So, in another impulsive decision, we moved forward right there and chose an Andy Warhol drawing of a bird from his "So" series called "I Love You So." She had a lighter hand, and after tattooing both of us, she said the cover-up we picked was a "flat image," so she'd have to likely go over it again in a few weeks to cover the words.

The first attempt at the cover-up.

The first attempt at the cover-up.

The next day, the red "full hearts" was shining loudly through my bird tattoo, and my skin looked scarred and textured underneath. Well, she did say it would take another session, so I kept an open mind.

I complained to my husband constantly about the tattoo. When we went in for another layer, I was annoyed, and the owner just did not seem sorry enough. I was scarred, the red was still shining through, and she was making chit chat about vegan dinner parties. After this tattoo, she told me if the color didn't take, she'd want to give the skin a few months before going over it again. Thomas's looked fine; not great, but "dear eyos" was barely visible.

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"Full hearts" was that tattoo that refused to go away; the third round did not work either. At this point I was furious. Isn't the point of a cover-up to COVER-UP a bad tattoo? Now I had a bad cover-up on top of a bad tattoo, which is what I wrote to her in my last email. 

The second attempt at the cover-up.

The second attempt at the cover-up.

She said she had been "trying to avoid going darker" to keep it as similar to the image I wanted as possible. If the tattoo I picked was too light to work as a cover-up, that's something she should have told me! I would have picked a different image, obviously. She also said, "Having a tattoo slightly bigger than what you had made it more limiting to cover." Oh, then why didn't you tell me to pick a bigger image? And lastly, the real kicker, "In all honestly, it is not the worst thing, but I understand that it's not what you want." Not the worst thing!? A bad tattoo, scarring, then a cover-up that doesn't cover is, in fact, the worst thing that can happen when you get a tattoo.

Two weeks later, in a moment of desperation and clarity, I ditched the hipster tattoo shop and found one outside of the city that had won numerous awards, was featured in a million magazines, and is highly regarded in the tattoo industry. Taylor, a tattoo artist and a painter, understood the concept of a cover-up: that purple covers up red, not light blue. He added a few hearts (also from "I Love You So") and expanded the tattoo to make it look like a watercolor painting to distract from my "hamburger meat" damaged skin. 

It's beautiful and I regret not going to him sooner.

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I don't regret getting the tattoo, even though it is triple the size of what I originally wanted. As my husband would say, it's a moment we'll always remember. But I did make a series of mistakes that I do regret. Next time, I'll do more research, ask a ton of questions, and leave the instant I feel like the vibe is off or I'm not being taken seriously. 

And no, Kim Kardashian, I am not a luxury car, so I will get more tattoos because they are works of art and look just as hot on women as they do on men.