Whether you’re on your first or fifteenth tattoo, District Tattoo Company co-founder Billy Bennett has some tips and tricks to take with you on your next appointment to get inked.
Tattoos, tattoos tattoos — I’m a full time student but that’s the majority of what’s going on in my mind while sitting in my classes (don’t tell my professors). While I already have a few, I am ready for my next piece. But anytime I get another tattoo, there are always a few questions and concerns that run through my head – and I know I’m not the only one experiencing this.
To ease the minds of worrywarts like me or anyone new to tattoos, I called co-founder of District Tattoo Company and tattoo artist Billy Bennett to answer common questions and concerns about tattoos. Here’s what he had to say.
District Fray: How did you start getting into tattoos and when did that switch into being an artist for them?
Billy Bennett: I wanted to be tattooed very early on in my life – like from the time I could even really grasp it. I wanted to get tattooed the day I turned 18 even way before that, but my mom wouldn’t allow me obviously. From there, I kept getting tattooed a whole bunch, I was obsessed with it. I was in the shop all the time. And that sort of slowly converted over time to wanting to be a part of it, but not exactly knowing how. I never really thought about being a tattoo artist as a kid, I just always was fascinated by tattoos. But after being in the shop for a couple of years, just hanging around and doing whatever I was asked to do, it led to the opportunity to learn.
What do you recommend for people who want a tattoo, but they’re not sure what they want that tattoo to be?
Seeking out an artist that you are interested in getting tattooed by is probably the best step. If you find someone who’s doing this style of tattoo you like, you can go to that person and just talk to them about it and see if they can work something out for you. And if not just keep looking around, there’s somebody that can do everything. You should always get the tattoo you want even if it requires [talking to] a couple of different artists.
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I feel like one of the biggest questions you probably get asked as an artist or as someone who has tattoos is, “do they hurt” and “what hurts the most” – is there anything you can do to make the process hurt less?
Yeah, so they do hurt a little bit. There’s no real way around that – it’s part of it. There’s a lot of creams and stuff on the market these days – a lot of that stuff doesn’t really work and also isn’t really necessary for a tattoo that can be done in under an hour or something. Typically, most people can tolerate getting tattooed for a pretty good amount of time. It lasts forever and therefore it has to kind of go a little deeper into the skin. It’s just kind of like the trade off, I guess. Not that anybody would say like, “you deserve to have it hurt,” but it’s just the way it’s done, just how it is.
I think another thing that I’ve heard a lot is people are confused on what can and can’t you do before getting a tattoo. I’ve heard you can’t drink alcohol for a certain amount of time before getting a tattoo, you can’t take certain medicines. Is there anything that’s definitely set in stone to not do before or right after getting a tattoo?
Everybody’s going to be different. I think when it comes to medication, the only times I’ve ever had people that have had issues is if they’re on any kind of blood thinning medication, or any kind of heart condition or anything like that, that you’re going to be in any kind of traumatic or excited state or something – adrenaline or whatever. It’s best to check with your doctor if you’re worried about any kind of medication interactions. Most tattoo artists are not going to have that kind of knowledge.
Typically with drinking – drinking is a blood thinner, alcohol is a blood thinner. If you’ve been drinking the night before you get tattooed, you’re actually more likely to have a lot of healing problems because your blood’s a lot thinner from the night before. I never really recommend anybody drink ever – it’s not really my thing to recommend – but you can definitely drink after, you’re not in danger or anything like that. The biggest thing is keeping it clean. 99% of having a tattoo show up right and having no problems, is just taking care of it right and keeping it clean.
Bouncing off of that, what is the best way for someone to take care of a tattoo after they’ve gotten it?
Well, it depends. So if you get it from a nice reputable tattoo shop, they’re gonna give you a nice bandage right after. If you ask 10 different people you’re gonna get 10 different answers. But as someone who’s been getting tattooed for 20 plus years and doing them for 15, I have a pretty good grasp on it. In my experience if you leave the bandage on that the artist puts on there – a lot of people want to rip them right off and show their friends and take pictures and that’s understandable – but the best thing you can do is leave it on for at least five to six hours. I typically will just sleep with my bandages on, for me it’s easier to deal with it the next morning. But a minimum of five or six hours.
You take it off, wash it with warm water and a mild soap, a fragrance-free soap, and you let it dry and you keep it clean throughout the day. That’s really it. I try not to do too much. Sorry if this is really long but it’s kind of a nuanced thing – but if it gets dry, and scratchy and itchy, I put lotion on it, a mild fragrance-free lotion. You can do that two or three times a day as needed. But I’ve really come to learn that less is more when you’re healing a tattoo.
You can definitely do too much to it. A lot of people over moisturize it, over wash it and you’re just kind of delaying and prolonging the healing process by doing that. The best way to think about it is just take care of it like you would any other skin abrasion, cut, scratch, rug burn, whatever. It’s not a gaping wound that you need to tend to five times a day, it’s just a surface scratch that you just want to keep an eye on.
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I’ve heard so many people say is that once you get one you’re gonna want a lot more. Is that true?
Definitely was for me, and I hear it a lot. I do a lot of second or third tattoos on people that I saw get their first one maybe a month ago. It’s pretty common. I think once you break the ice, and you kind of get over that initial fear of this being forever or “am I going to love this tattoo forever?” There’s a lot of fear that people have about the permanence of it. But I think once…you realize it’s okay, it doesn’t feel as serious as maybe you thought it did. It makes it a lot easier to get the second, third or – if you look like me – your hundredth or something. It’s still a big deal, obviously, but it just becomes less intimidating, and makes it a lot easier to keep adding to your collection if that’s what you want to do.
I know that some tattoos can take a really long time. Is there anything that you do, or that you know that anyone else does to pass the time like sing songs in their head?
It depends on where you’re getting your tattoo because you have to be in certain positions based on that, but you can always bring your phone in. In our shop, and I think most places, we don’t really allow your phone to be playing music, unless you bring headphones and then you’re more than welcome to listen and do whatever you want on your phone. But like I said, depending on where you’re getting it, sometimes you’re not going to be able to be looking at your phone or a book or whatever.
As long as it’s not disruptive to the environment, the other artists working and the artist that you’re working with, pretty much use whatever tool you find necessary. Some people like to bring gum and focus on chewing gum. We try to minimize any kind of audible distractions – singing to yourself out loud is probably not going to be acceptable – in your head, sure all day. There’s lots of different things people bring, some people bring stress balls, some people have games on their phones, some people will just watch a movie. It’s not the kind of pain that you can’t distract yourself from pretty easily.
How can someone come to District Tattoo and get a tattoo?
We do appointments on our website, you can book through our website, with whatever artists you’re looking for. You can also reach out to anyone working there directly through their Instagram. Everybody does their own scheduling, so it’s best to get in touch with whoever it is that you’re looking to work with directly. But you can also come by the shop and book an appointment face-to-face. Every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday we do walk-ins. So four days a week, you can come and get a tattoo from us pretty much on a whim.
Is there anything else that I should know about getting a tattoo? Any other secret tips from an artist that you can give us?
The more references that you have of what you’re looking to get done, the more concepts or ideas or pictures, the better. You’re trying to communicate what’s in your head to someone else’s head and say “this is what I want, but I need you to understand it well enough to be able to do it how I want you know.” It doesn’t have to be exact, it doesn’t even have to be the same image, but it can be the style that you like or the overall vibe of this tattoo that you like. The internet is definitely your friend in this area. You don’t have to put it all together for an artist, but every artist is going to like having references that you bring to them. It’s one step closer to closing the gap between your thoughts and their thoughts, and one step closer to getting what you actually want.
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