It’s not my job to tell you what to get, but let me just say: If you’re 18, from a loving family, and are in your first year of a law degree with aspirations to join the Bar, I might politely suggest that you don’t get “FIST FUCK” tattooed across your knuckles.

Deciding what to get is a good place to start. I’m all for spontaneity: that’s how I ended up with Prince’s logo on my foot in bubblegum pink. But for the most part, it’s wise to contemplate your design for a while. My Standard Three teacher, Miss Jackson, taught me that ‘My body’s nobody’s body but mine’, and even though she was talking about molestation at the time, the same principle applies for tattoos.

It’s not my job to tell you what to get, but let me just say: If you’re 18, from a loving family, and are in your first year of a law degree with aspirations to join the Bar, I might politely suggest that you don’t get “FIST FUCK” tattooed across your knuckles. But my Mona Lisa may be someone else’s scrawl on the wall in the bathroom of the Wine Cellar, so ultimately the choice remains unreservedly in the hearts and minds of the tattooee. But where to begin?


Getting names tattooed has been a convention for some time. This does not, however, always mean it’s the best of ideas. Your dear mother’s handle or that of a departed loved one are all well and good – a tasteful way to show one’s devotion or commitment to a memory. The nickname of the guy you hooked up with at Flight Lounge three weekends ago when you were pilling your face clean off who you “like, totally fell in love with at first sight, and, like, I’m totally sure he’s the one, and it fully wasn’t the drugs talking” emblazoned permanently on the side of your neck – “you know, like in that chollo writing, how all the Mexicans in L.A do it. I mean, I’ve never been there myself, but I’ve seen it in the movies and shit” – probably isn’t the wisest investment in body art. Even if your recently discovered ‘soulmate’ thinks it’s a great idea, maybe you should give it a couple of decades, just to be sure.

This brings me to my next point. Having a support crew on hand is often a great way to help you deal with the situation, but choose carefully. Bringing Nana along to hold your hand is a terrific bonding experience. Bringing along your BFF who has taken it upon themselves to keep your best interests at heart is not always as good as it sounds. If you’ve been contemplating the piece you are about to get for the past two years, and are dead set on getting it on the inside of your bicep, the last thing you need is an overly opinionated pal saying “I think it would be better on your right breast”. When the stencil is on your arm and you’re excited about the prospect of finally getting what you want, and your artist is just as happy with it as you are, you don’t need some twit throwing their two cents at your nervous and unusually impressionable state of mind. Just because this friend once saw their neighbour’s cousin’s sister’s boyfriend’s uncle’s former cellmate’s pet frog getting a tattoo done by a spaz with an acupuncture needle and some Indian ink out of the back of a rusty orange Holden Kingswood does not make them an authority on the subject. If you need advice on the flow your piece has with your body, maybe you should talk to your artist. They’ve probably not only seen a few tattoos being done, they most likely make their daily bread day-in day-out living, breathing and sweating tattoos. It’s a reasonable assumption that they might have some good ideas.

Before you begin getting your skin perforated, it pays to prepare your body and mind. You may be nervous and undoubtedly one of the first questions you’ll ask your tattooist is “Will it hurt there?” Yes, yes it will hurt. I’m sticking a fucking needle into your skin. You know this already, but it will never be as bad as you will have prepared yourself for. To reduce the stress of the procedure, eat well before going to the studio, and keep your fluids up. I’ve watched people crumple like limp sacks and felt the tingly warmth of vomit on my skin, all because someone has freaked out or their blood-sugars were too low.

Regardless of what you end up getting done, it will always be a documentation of yourself at that particular point in time. There are a lot of tattoos out there that you see and immediately think “Holy crap that crap is crap.” But that crappy crap is your crap. As meaningless as a tattoo may appear to others and maybe even to yourself, it always tells a story about who you were when you had it done. Maybe you got a tattoo of a dolphin when you were 15 – this suggests that you liked dolphins, and perhaps all water-bound mammals. It also implies that you were feeling rebellious, or perhaps in a hurry to grow up and show the world that you can do what other consenting adults can do. Therein lies the beauty of this job. People exploring and understanding themselves is at the heart of tattooing. Helping people reflect on regret, demonstrate convictions, come to terms with grief, overcome fears, show pride in their achievements or simply helping them to beautify their body and become part of a culture embedded in our society are just some of the perks of being a tattoo artist. That, and being able to tattoo ‘FUCK’ on yourself when you’re bored at work.

- Ben Jenkins

You can find Ben at


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