I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people over the past few days regarding my latest tattoo adventure, so I wanted to write a bit more about it. Any more points of curiosity I don’t cover below? Feel free to leave a comment!
We all have our reasons
I can’t exactly tell you what compelled me to get my palm tattooed. The design inspiration isn’t hard to pinpoint; for as long as I’ve been reading books, I’ve been a fan of ancient Egyptian culture and religion. I have trinkets and statuettes from a variety of religions, but the majority of my collection is Egyptian. It was inevitable that I’d get a tattoo commemorating this fascination. But the specific “what” and “where”… who knows… One might hearken back to the Pale Man in Pan’s Labrynth. The imagery from that film has definitely been embedded in my subconscious. I really can’t say for certain where the idea came from. It just struck me one day, as ideas sometimes do. It just made such perfect sense, and then I couldn’t imagine anything else.
So I called upon my tattoo artist, Ximena at Skeleton Key Tattoo here in Portland. She has a great sense of adventure in her craft and was game to do the work despite never having done a palm tattoo before, though she had observed them being done and had a sense of what would need to be done differently. We booked an appointment for December 31st… one last new experience for 2012! Ximena was stoked to have this be her last tattoo of the year, and I was glad to have her be the one inking my seventh tattoo.
I went into the shop having no specific design in mind, just the concept of an Eye of Horus drawn to coordinate with the natural lines in my palm. The Egyptian the name for the symbol is “Wadjet” which essentially translates to “god/goddess”; it represents health, protection, and power, and can aid in knowing your path (literally and figuratively). We spent about 30 minutes in the design process, looking at images online and making sketches directly on my palm to ensure the tattoo would emphasize and accentuate the natural lines already present.
I saw hawk perched on a street light over a very busy urban road on my way into the shop that day, feathers fluffed against the bitter chill of the day. I took that as a good sign.
The tattoo itself didn’t take long, 45-60 minutes I think, but I will admit that I was probably experiencing a sense of time dilation due to the sensation of the needle. Did it hurt? Yes, definitely. Most tattoos hurt in one sense or another. Some hurt more than others, depending on where they’re located or how “heavy” the tattoo artist’s hand is. Sometimes tattoos hurt less if you’ve experienced something extremely painful outside a tattoo parlour or have chronic pain issues; it can be very contextual that way. When measured against the other tattoos I have from Ximena, I found this palm work a few notches above the ink I have over my ankle, which was very small lines done with a very tight needle; and that only a few notches above the pieces on the top of my feet. But then, they were all very different types of pain too.
The sensations of a palm tattoo were entirely different than any other I’ve experienced. I could readily feel the motion of the needle moving in my skin. The portions of the tattoo that crossed directly over the lines of my palm–or for that matter, that followed them–felt like a rather sharp and direct pain. The ink work towards the outer edge of my hand felt like they were actually on the side of my hand, which was surreal. It did not bleed as much as other tattoos did. Usually I can remain rather talkative during a session (though the adrenaline might make me a little giddy) but this time I spent a lot more of the appointment focusing on my breathing and looking around at all the wonderful knick-knacks and books in Ximena’s station. It was not unlike getting blood drawn, where you’re fascinated with the process but still have a hard time with watching the needle go in.
Ximena said that from her end of the tattoo machine things felt different as well. I don’t want to misquote her on what she said and give possibly bad advice, but she did tell me about the ways she adjusted her machine to compensate for the area she would be working (this is definitely not a standard tattoo scenario!). Many mainstream articles or discussion boards will have a lot of straight up “no, don’t do it, it’s never going to last” but I think that as long as you are working with an artist who’s skill and opinion you trust, and you are communicating openly about what everyone’s expectations are, there is no reason to rule out palm tattoos as a body mod option. Edited to add: palm tattoos can last for as many years as a normal tattoo, with only minor wear, IF they are done correctly. Too shallow and the ink will be shed as the skin renews itself, too deep and you can damage the sensitive nerves and tendons underneath. But a good palm tattoo is as permanent as any other ink!
Closing at the open
And now here we are 3 days later, on 1-3-13. The tattoo is starting to heal, looking much like dried henna. My hand is still quite sore, but I wouldn’t say it’s in a constant state of pain. There are things I can and can’t do with it that make me glad I didn’t get both palms tattooed at the same time… things like easily shuffle a Magic: the Gathering deck or pick up a cast iron pan. The tattoo itself is fine but the tissue under it is tense and sore, like a bruise without the discolouration. One of the more fascinating aspects is that because the skin on the palm is thicker while still being very translucent, I can see areas under the tattoo where it looks like the design is bleeding out; seems scary to think that your tattoo is going to end up looking like mush but research tells me this is normal and will go away in a couple of weeks. Overall healing seems normal and I expect pretty standard healing times; I’ll try to update again later on with its status.
We decided to leave the pupil open instead of filling it in because it’s always easier to add ink than it is to take it away! The piece will need some touch ups to even out lines and adjust things to my liking. I kind of enjoy the idea of leaving the pupil open for the extent of 2013, then getting it filled in on New Year’s Eve in a year to just round off the whole experience nicely, sealing in the good that I hope to experience in the coming months.
Will I ever get my right palm tattooed with the Eye of Ra, to have a matched set? Maybe. Maaaybe. But it would be many, many years away; both eyes were rarely depicted together since the left eye represents the Moon and the right eye the Sun. Both eyes together can represent being ever-present and seeing all, a level of symbolism that I don’t think I’m prepared for at this particular time in my life. Maybe when I’m 80. :)