Trustill: The First Tattoo
As I’ve said many times, tattoos are the stories of our lives that we wear on our skin. Getting a tattoo can be an incredibly empowering decision. It’s a means of asserting control over your physical being and making a change to it that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There are as many reasons why people choose to get a tattoo as there are tattoos out there. It’s a very personal experience and one that should not be taken too lightly, especially if it’s your first one.
In the years I’ve been tattooing I’ve worked with a VERY wide variety of clients to give them their very first tattoo, people ranging in age from 17 to 78. It’s not so much of an issue with most clients over the age of 25 but I often find myself cautioning and counselling individuals younger than that regarding their choice of design for their first tattoo. Think back to when you were 17 for a moment and consider the things you liked then. What music did you like, who were you in love with, what did you want to do with your life, what really mattered to you? Now think about where you are now… Are those things the same? I didn’t think so.
I’m not saying that this is always an issue, some of my younger clients will come in wanting to get a tattoo related to their family or a significant event in their life. Others will come in with a “cool design” they found on Pinterest and when asked what it means to them or why they want it, I often get answers like “I dunno, I just really like it”. I’d be quite the hypocrite if I turned down tattooing something just because someone liked it a lot, I personally have a My Little Pony cutie mark I tattooed on my right leg just because my 5 yr old liked it and asked me to put it there. Granted, this is a bit different scenario, but I’ve also got more than just a couple bits of skin art already.
My point is that I personally feel like if I’m going to be giving someone something for their FIRST tattoo, it should be pretty meaningful. I usually suggest to teens (and their parents when they are under 18) to come in and talk to me about the design and work out what they think they want. Then I’ll have them schedule the actual appointment for a point further on in the future after they’ve had some time to sit with the design, think about it, and make sure it’s really what they want. For my first tattoo, I drew it out when I was 16 and put it away for over a year before I actually set up an appointment to get it inked.
I wanted to make sure it was going to be something I’d really love and want to have on my body forever and not just the whim of a 16yr old kid. I put a lot of thought and time into what amounted to a fairly simple looking design. All things considered, I probably have more time in designing that one little symbol than in almost any of my other tattoos to date. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually had anyone ask me about it unless I’ve brought it up though, not since I first got it at least. I usually get asked the same question by just about everyone that bothers to ask about my tattoos. It’s a question you might be wondering about too if you’ve seen pictures of me. The question is, of course, “Why do you have an entirely black arm?”. Well that question, dear readers, you shall have to wait to hear the story of.
Tonight is about my first one, the design I named the “Trustill”. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at it but in my 16 yr old mind, that was how I chose to represent my idea of True Love. I’ve tried to explain it on a couple occasions in the past and even with being able to point at different parts of the tattoo, I don’t know that I have ever really managed to explain it clearly. So… Tonight I’m going to try again with some help from the wonders of technology and digital overlays.
The first concept I wanted to include was that, to me, REAL LOVE, is forever. It lasts into eternity and spans multiple lifetimes. It may not always be found in each lifetime, but I really believed (and still do) that there is one other soul out there that is a perfect fit for mine like two perfect compliments to each other. Basically, it’s the idea of soulmates. So to show this, I designed the overall shape of the tattoo to have an infinity type look.
Next, I wanted to convey the idea that, in my eyes, such a love was not one controlling or dominating the other. Both partners stood side by side as equals with neither on top of the other (ok, well I’m definitely not opposed to the idea of one being on top but that’s more the making love part, not the love itself).
Additionally, I wanted to show that both parties were their own individuals who were connected. Both were complete on their own and didn’t need the other to make them what they were as opposed to each being only half of the whole.
Each of the two individuals experiencing this eternal love would have their own unique paths through life with their own past, present, and future. Being that I was only 16 and knew that I had yet to find this person who would make me feel the way I thought true love ought to, I drew it with the part of each that related to their futures being the part that connected the two of them.
On the outside edges of the design are straight lines and hard angles while on the inside there are soft smooth curves. To me, this is kind of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” concept. Just because someone looks hard or rough on the outside doesn’t mean that’s their inner nature, it might be just the opposite. The opposite can also be true and someone that appears soft and docile on the outside might be anything but on the inside.
The last element of the design that I wanted to incorporate isn’t visible in the version I had tattooed on myself simply because, given the size I wanted it, there was no way it would have held up and remained clear. At this point the tattoo is about 15 years old and It has held up quite nicely in my opinion. Anyway, this last concept I wanted to include is that I don’t feel like your life is defined by one single event but rather, it is shaped by a series of events that all have a small part to play in defining who you become. I included this by using a series of lines to define the shape of the curve on the inner parts of the design rather than just drawing one continuous curve and shading in the rest.
Once I had it all drawn out I figured I should probably give it a name and what I came up with was a combination of two words with two different interpretations. If split in one place it becomes Tru Still; as in I believe that True love Still exists. Divide it right at the T (well, you kinda have to split the T in half and use each half of it on its own) and it reads Trust Till; as in (when combined with the overall infinity shape) you can Trust me Till infinity.
Of all my tattoos thus far, this one probably requires one of the lengthiest explanations. At the same time though, despite getting many MANY more (more than I can be bothered to count so don’t ask unless your volunteering to do it for me) it remains one of my all-time favorites. It is probably partially responsible for my fascination with tattoos and their meanings and is definitely part of the reason I try to put so much meaning and symbolism into every tattoo that I draw. I will never claim to be the most artistically talented tattoo artist out there because, let’s face it, there are some really seriously creative and simply incredibly talented artists out there that are so far above my league that I just sit in awe of their abilities.
But on the other hand, the vibrant colors and super clean lines do fade and blur a little over time whereas the meanings that I put into mine, only gain depth as a person grows and experiences more in life. The memory of the tattoo and the experience is one that they will carry with them for the rest of their days and to me, THAT is what getting a tattoo is all about.