Three sittings and 13 hours later, it’s done: I got a new tattoo in Sydney with Amber Kate Kelly. My nerdy SCUBA diver love for the peacock mantis shrimp is immortalized as well as my fascination with creatures from the deep who lure you in with a tempting bulb of light in the darkness. WARNING: this post contains body hair (but no nudity). LOL
Here’s the behind-the-scenes journey of how I got inked in Sydney:
The planning: It began back in October 2016 when Daniel and I were exposed to Amber Kate Kelly’s incredible work whilst meandering through the Rites of Passage Tattoo Festival in Sydney. I had seen Amber’s work on her Instagram prior but being able to flip through her book and observe her tattooing someone else sealed the deal. And in an incredible stroke of luck, she was based at The Tattoo Movement in Alexandria, about a 7-minute walk from our apartment in Waterloo. It was meant to be! We scheduled a consult with Amber in late October where I elaborated on the vision I had shared in email: I wanted a piece that essentially represented the yin and yang of sea creatures. Something abstract, fantastical, wispy and ethereal. On the left side, I wanted the creature to be bright and vibrant – inspired by the peacock mantis shrimp – and on the right side, more sinister and vile. Something you would fear. They would somehow complement each other and balance the light and the dark. Amber fully understood the vision and we booked in a date to start the work. About a week before my first sitting, Amber emailed through the design. It was so spectacular and exceeded every expectation. We made a small revision to add an angler to the creature on the right but otherwise it was ready to go as-is.
The first sitting: On a Saturday in early December, I sat in Amber’s chair at The Tattoo Movement for the first time. The first sitting for a piece like this takes a lot of set-up time. You and your tattoo artist need to be 100% aligned on exactly where the ink will be placed, ensure it’s perfectly centered, confirm the sizing is spot-on, etc. It can take a good hour or more just to get the logistics worked out before you even get the needle to your skin. After we arrived at the perfect positioning and applied the flash via tattoo transfer paper (stencil), we were ready to rumble.
Looking back on this day, I’ll never understand how or why, but I managed to get inked continuously for 7 hours. And the main lesson here is that I will never, ever sit for this long again! Although you get in that head space where you can endure the annoyance and pain of the needle, it’s just terribly taxing for the human body. After we completed day one, I was feeling reasonably good. But a few hours later, when Daniel helped me remove the plastic wrap and wash the tattoo for the first time, I very nearly passed out. I think I was in a state of shock given the trauma the body had gone through in a single day. I’ve since decided that I will cap all future tattoo sittings to no more than a 4-5 hour stretch. Marathon sessions are DOA.
In the first sitting we were able to get the creatures mostly completed and ‘scratch in’ the outline of the geometric center so we would not have to worry about any future stenciling needed.
The second sitting: about a month later in mid January 2017, it was time to visit Amber again and continue working on the piece. During the prior month, the tattoo had completely healed and had done so beautifully. Plus, it was just about enough time passed to forget what it’s like to endure a tattoo. Perfect timing to return and go through it all over again! For this sitting, the plan was to get all of the center work done, add in the gorgeous splash of water and do some additional, fine detail work on both of the creatures. We capped the session at around 4 hours, which was smart because getting a tattoo on the center of your back along the spine is ummmmmmm…the complete f’in opposite of pleasant. Survivable, of course (as most things are) but not something you would voluntarily do that often.
The third and final sitting: You might have looked through the previous pictures and (after marveling at my born-this-way body hair) thought the piece was complete. And maybe, we could have considered it so. But Amber and I were on the same page – some additional work was needed to make the creatures pop back out now that the water was in place, in particular around the fine bones of the anglerfish. I also wanted to add a little more contrast to some of the water areas. So a mere two weeks after the second sitting (just enough time for it to heal), I was back at The Tattoo Movement with Amber ready to wrap up the piece. For this sesh, we were done in 2 hours – a blink of an eye compared to the prior sittings! But, wow, did the extra time spent make such a difference. The water pops more, the creatures have more depth and just generally, it was all of the finishing touches that completed Amber’s astoundingly genius piece. It’s not possible for me to be happier with the final work of art. So a HUGE ‘thank you’ to Amber for her incredible work here and I can’t wait to cook something else up with her in the future.
Thanks for reading through the post! Hope you enjoyed the journey of my first tattoo in Sydney. If you did, be sure to check out my first tattoo in Melbourne and a visit back to get a second tattoo in Melbourne. XOXO -JW