Tips for Setting Through Long Tattooing Sessions

Go big or go home.  When it comes to tattoos bigger is better.  Big tattoos generally speaking tend to hold up better over time and simply look better on the body.  Being an established tattoo artist, at this point in my career it seems I mostly do large pieces.  Some large piece can take over a hundred hours to complete.  How does one deal with getting poked for such a long time?  The obvious answer is that large projects are broken up into smaller sessions; however, these smaller chunks of time are still quite long while being stuck repeatedly.  Believe it or not, the vast majority of my clients set at least four hours for each session. Actually, I've found most can only realistically do four to five hours, unless they are superhuman with mutant pain receptors. Most folks endorphins are depleted after that. Their pain tolerance starts to break down and they start fidgeting uncontrollably. The longest tattoo session I've ever done was a grueling 11 hour session. It was hard as hell for the both of us and not something I would ever want to do again.

Being the tattoo geek that I am, I've done a lot of research on this topic and have spoken to several doctors about this. If you are planning to start a substantial tattoo project and are concerned about the pain involved or your ability to persevere, here is some helpful advice that will make your tattooing sessions much more bearable:


1. Get a good night's sleep before getting tattooed.

2. If at all possible get your tattoo done as early in the day as possible. Your body is able to handle more pain in the morning than in the evening.

3. Eat before you get tattooed. Eating well and having juice or other drinks with a high sugar content before getting tattooed will help tremendously with the pain and from becoming light headed during the tattooing process. This step really is key to dealing with pain.

4. Bring extra sugary snacks and drinks along with you for your session. Once again it will help with the pain and help keep you from fainting. This is one reason why juice and cookies are normally offered if you donate blood.

5. Bring something to read or listen to, meditate or try counting the hairs on your arm. Any sort of mental distraction can help.

6. Consider buying a numbing agent like SuperJuice3 (SJ3) and ask your tattooist to use it. Unfortunately, it only works if the skin has already been broken. So, for little pieces it's no good, but for large tattoos that require long, multiple sessions it's pretty good. The effect only last for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the person and it has to set for at least 6 to 10 minutes to really work, but it does help.

7. If you're not having me do your work... Well first of all that just uncool, but anyway, use a tattooist that has several years (at least 5, actually 10 would be better) experience and has good beside manners. More likely, they will be much more in tune with their clients and will be able to correctly gauge their client's condition during the session. They'll know when their client needs to take a break, often times even before the client request one or realizes they need one.

8. If you've started a large project, you've tried all of the above and you realize you're an absolute mess and are fainting during your sessions or are shaking uncontrollably to the point that it's messing up your tattoo, then somethings got to give. Besides, having fainting spells can be dangerous. As a last resort, have a frank and honest talk to your doctor and see if they will prescribe you a mild nerve relaxer. They probably won't, but if you explain the situation and tell them what's going on and how many more session you will likely have to undergo, they might be more willing to consider it. I know a lot of tattooist will not knowingly tattoo someone on illicit drugs and I won't either; however, if it's a matter of you unintentionally messing up the tattoo or giving up on it, I would rather you try and get some help from your doctor. It makes my job easier and in the end your tattoo will look better if you're able to set still through your sessions. 

Here is a bit of an afterthought to consider.  Being the best tattoo artist in Seattle (Well I am damn it, my Mom says so) a place where pot in abundant and legal, I've had more than a few clients think cannabis will help them endure the pain better.  Yes, pot is a wonderful gift from God and it can sometimes help with the pain, but sometimes it can magnify one's perception of pain or cause one to focus more on it.  Save your bud to celebrate after your tattoo session, you will have earned it.

I have yet to have a client who has followed these steps, that was not able to pull long sessions and finish their tattoo like a champ. I'm confident you will be able to as well.  If you have any other concerns or questions about tattoo project you are considering, let me know, I would be glad to help in anyway I can.