The answers to those questions will determine whether you’re looking for a design or a specific image. A lot of guys are going for floral, geometric, or tribal designs just for the artistry. They add some flair to your skin. Other men choose images of religious figures, verses of Scriptures, or popular quotes to remind themselves and others what they believe in. Others feature tattoos of tigers, warriors, and dragons to show their strength. Still others get tattoos of skulls, an hourglass, or death faces to say, “I know it’s coming and I’m not afraid.” Finally, many men get tattoos of their favorite superheroes, movie characters, video games, or sports team logos as a sign of where their interests lie.
Tattoos are also placed on animals, though rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses, and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification and other marks. Tattooing with a 'slap mark' on the shoulder or on the ear is the standard identification method in commercial pig farming. Branding is used for similar reasons and is often performed without anesthesia, but is different from tattooing as no ink or dye is inserted during the process, the mark instead being caused by permanent scarring of the skin. Pet dogs and cats are sometimes tattooed with a serial number (usually in the ear, or on the inner thigh) via which their owners can be identified. However, the use of a microchip has become an increasingly popular choice and since 2016 is a legal requirement for all 8.5 million pet dogs in the UK.
A lot of us have imagined ourselves with those same kinds of full-arm sleeves. For some, it could work well with our no-fucks-to-give persona. For others, it's an aesthetic decision, or an emotional one. If you’re serious about it though, then it’s worth knowing what planning is involved—from inception, to execution, to maintenance. So we spoke with Nicolas Gualteros, tattoo artist at Senaspace in NYC, to plot it all out.
I meet a colleague for lunch. “He knew how much it would hurt me,” I say, tears running down my face. “For years I’ve said, don’t do it. It’s there for ever, even after you’ve changed your mind about who you are and what you want to look like. You’re branded, like meat. It can damage your work prospects. It can turn people against you before you’ve even opened your mouth.”
But that’s how it is! Sure, from a distance the sleeves make them look tough, but these guys know better than anyone how to ink up their arm in a strategic, meaningful way. Think of all the factors they've got to juggle: Choosing an artist can realize their vision, putting together the cash, sitting for all those hours, and then caring for the new tats so they don't need any touch ups—all over the course of weeks, months or years!
If you want an animal-based tattoo, the most obvious choices include lion tattoos, tiger tattoos, and wolf tattoos. The bigger the design, the better. Eagle tattoos are also excellent choices, especially when done on the upper back with the wings extending all the way to the shoulders. If you want badass animal-based tattoos inspired by different mythologies and religions, Hinduism is an excellent place to look into. There’s Ganesha (elephant), Narasimha (lion), and Garuda (eagle).
A sleeve tattoo comes from the cooperation between the tattooist and the customer, in order to show a theme that they have both liked and agreed on. Occasionally, the sleeve is made when someone has plenty of small, individual tattoos found on their leg or arm. This person eventually has them linked to each other with a background tattooing, to be able to create a complete sleeve tattoo. A full sleeve tattoo can take endless hours of non-stop tattooing, sometimes taking days, weeks, months, and even years to finish. Tattoo sleeves have become so popular that plenty of clothing companies have created apparel that simulates the look and feel of a tattoo sleeve with the help of a transparent mesh, that’s printed with tattoo designs. If a person gets both of their arms tattooed as a part of a full-body tattoo, this is also referred to as a sleeve tattoo.
These instruments are also remarkably similar to much later tattooing implements used in 19th-century Egypt. The English writer William Lane (1801-1876) observed, "the operation is performed with several needles (generally seven) tied together: with these the skin is pricked in a desired pattern: some smoke black (of wood or oil), mixed with milk from the breast of a woman, is then rubbed in.... It is generally performed at the age of about 5 or 6 years, and by gipsy-women.”
Hamlet says it's common for clients to ask for a few changes here and there after the design is done — but recommends going into the process knowing that you shouldn't micromanage the whole thing. Give your tattoo artist the leeway to be creative and use the artistry that is his or her forte. On that same note, don't be afraid to ask for something different if you don't like it. Hamlet says he works on a design until everyone is happy with it.
A tattooing session typically lasted until dusk or until the men could not longer stand the pain and would resume the following day, unless the inflamed skin needed a few days to heal. The entire process would often last almost three months. Afterwards, the men's family helped him celebrate, despite his pain, by throwing a party, and the tufuga smashed a water vessel at his feet, marking the end of the ordeal.
Hildebrandt began traveling from camp to camp to tattoo soldiers, making his popularity increase, and also giving birth to the tradition of getting tattoos while being an American serviceman. Soon after the Civil War, tattoos became fashionable among upper-class young adults. This trend lasted until the beginning of World War I. The invention of the electric tattoo machine caused popularity of tattoos among the wealthy to drop off. The machine made the tattooing procedure both much easier and cheaper, thus, eliminating the status symbol tattoos previously held, as they were now affordable for all socioeconomic classes. The status symbol of a tattoo shifted from a representation of wealth, to a mark typically seen on rebels and criminals. Despite this change, tattoos remained popular among military servicemen, and the tradition continues today.
Decal temporary tattoos, when legally sold in the United States, have had their color additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as cosmetics --- the FDA has determined these colorants are safe for “direct dermal contact.” While the FDA has received some accounts of minor skin irritation, including redness and swelling, from this type of temporary tattoo, the agency has found these symptoms to be “child specific” and not significant enough to support warnings to the public. Unapproved pigments, however, which are sometimes used by non-US manufacturers, can provoke allergic reactions in anyone. Understanding the types of temporary tattoos available to consumers, knowing where they are manufactured, and ensuring they come from a reliable source are keys to determining whether temporary tattoos are safe.
Tattoos were probably also used in ancient medicine as part of the treatment of the patient. In 1898, Daniel Fouquet, a medical doctor, wrote an article on “medical tattooing” practices in Ancient Egypt, in which he describes the tattooed markings on the female mummies found at the Deir el-Bahari site. He speculated that the tattoos and other scarifications observed on the bodies may have served a medicinal or therapeutic purpose: "The examination of these scars, some white, others blue, leaves in no doubt that they are not, in essence, ornament, but an established treatment for a condition of the pelvis, very probably chronic pelvic peritonitis."