As You Might Have Imagined, It’s Botanical

Photo by Davin Risk All Rights Reserved

I got a tattoo.

I feel a little silly saying it since there is something kind of odd really about having artwork permanently etched onto one’s body. And despite what anyone has ever told you, getting a tattoo hurts. So, paying someone to essentially scratch me repeatedly for hours on end with a cluster of seven needles on a vibrating pen that introduces ink to the wound that will hopefully, if all goes well, become a permanent scar on my body… yeah, that’s a bit odd.

I’m only really getting just how odd now that it’s there. I’m very glad that I decided to wait until I was old enough to be sure about what I was putting on my body. Had I gone ahead at the age of consent I might be stuck with Morrissey’s mug on my arm or… I don’t want to imagine the humiliating possibilities… I shudder to think.

Here’s the outline only minutes after completion in all of it’s swollen and painful glory:

Photo by Davin Risk All Rights Reserved
  • My spouse Davin drew the illustration. I wanted it to be unique to me and having it come from him was important. We enjoy collaborating on art projects, although in this case I was less involved in the making. My role was to bear the pain and permanently host the art.
  • The work was done by India Amara.
  • It’s based on an unknown wild tomato that comes up as a volunteer in my community garden plot every year. I wanted something that, in my mind, represented resilience, perseverance, and determination.
  • I decided on a tomato plant for pretty obvious reasons — it’s my favourite plant to grow!

I really like the tattoo although I am second-guessing going back at a later date to have it shaded. I’m starting to think it might be good enough as-is. These doubts about follow-up work started a day ago and were cast by the itching.

Oh the itching. Someone please make the itching stop!

The tattoo itself just started itching yesterday but that itching was previously usurped by the massive bandage and paper tape allergy that has erupted on the underside of my arm. I have a giant red welt underneath my arm and a smaller one just next to it. But now that the scabbing is in full effect the tattoo itself has begun to itch. Imagine, if you will, that a cat has gone to town on your arm. And now those scratches have scabbed over. Ouch! There were some horribly wincing moments during the tattooing process, but I have a fairly high pain tolerance and those moments were lingering. I started to get irritated with the process by the end but never once thought about stopping. But the itching… the itching may take me down yet. So now the tattoo has a whole new meaning to add to the symbolism.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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53 thoughts on “As You Might Have Imagined, It’s Botanical

  1. Congrats! I have been mulling over my next one for a couple years now. I want something botanical, but haven’t settled yet. It looks like one you will love!

  2. It looks awesome! And… you’re the first person I’ve ever heard of who’s allergic to band-aids like me. I feel your pain.

  3. Very beautiful, very meaningful, and very brave of you. I saw the first of the photos you posted on Flickr on the weekend and thought this.

    In complete ignorance (because I’m tattoo-less) I wonder if calamine lotion would help relieve the itching — or do you have to keep the tattoo completely dry for now? Could you apply a something cool, like a frozen ice-pack wrapped in a thin cloth?

  4. Oh Gayla it’s beautiful!!

    definitely get it shaded (and colored?)! I’ve gone through the “good enough as-is” phase after the outlining was done on ALL of my tattoos! They’re always better finished, but it’s great to have documentation of when it was just an outline.

    And good for you for going big on your first time!!

  5. It’s completely gorgeous. It’s nice to hear that waiting for you was a good idea, because I’ve had the same issues with tatooness (not being adult enough to decide on something with that kinda permanence – especially having seen too many people with teenage indulgences of the dolphin/celtic/cartoon variety).

    As to getting it shaded? I love seeing deeply, wildly, brightly coloured tattoos of the rockabilly and Japanese variety. But I also love the crispness and botanical illustration quality of your tatoo as-is. Frankly, I think it’d be beautiful either way!

  6. I’m torn, as well. It is gorgeous as-is, but would also be lovely fully colored. I guess it just depends how much itching you can take. :)

    Oh, avoid Neosporin…I learned after a very bad hand injury that something like 70% of the population is actually allergic to it!

  7. I’m doing shading for depth rather than color. It’s going to be all black/grey. I’m just being a wimp right now because the bandage allergy itching is so awful and i heard it can take weeks to go away. WEEKS!! I’ll get it done eventually….

    Elaine: I have to keep the tattoo dry for the time-being. I’m allowed to apply moisturizer later this week. I have applied aveeno to the allergy part but it hasn’t helped. The best help has been washing it with plain water when the itching gets to be really unbearable. And an icepack.

  8. Ii like the wild tomato, it’s so big for your first tattoo! My gf and I have been thinking of getting small, simple, matching buffalo on our arms. The logic being buffalo are native vegetarians.

  9. It looks beautiful! Definitely fill it in- the added depth would just make it look amazing.

    I’m allergic to band-aids, too. When your scabs itch, pat them- you know how you see black people patting their braids? It helps with the itching withough messing things up.

    Oh, and post more pics when it’s all healed! I know that I’d love to see them.

  10. That’s gorgeous! And when it really means something… is totally worth it! It’s definitely a big decision to get something so permanently on your body… I think about my pieces for years… (thank goodness I’m not rich enough to be rash with my tattoos!

  11. Gayla-

    Awesome design! And my husband agrees.

    I got my fist tattoo about 2 1/2 years ago. Kinda over my ribs, so I know your pain. Anyway, I’m also allergic to band-aids, even the latex free ones. It’s the adhesive that gets me.

    The tattoo artist I know runs a really great super-clean shop, and honestly makes the healing process a breeze. After he finishes, the tattoo is cleaned with anti bacterial soap and then wrapped with a piece of plastic cling wrap, like you’d use in the kitchen. Then I just wash it 2 times a day with the plain anti bacterial soap and afterwards apply A+D Ointment (vitamin A and D, NOT neosporin) to help it along. Everyone I know who has followed this has healed pretty quickly. He just says to use plain lotion after it’s healed- the reasoning against an aloe moisturizer is that aloe can deter the ink from staying put.

    good luck for a swift recovery to the bandage- mine usually only was red for a week (at most).
    The A+D Ointment works for that, too, for me.

  12. wow!
    very well executed (from concept to execution…) and I like what it means.

    Though I am intrigued as to what prompted it?
    And the size?

    many years ago (while we were still in college), a friend of mine got a tattoo. She does not regret it – it’s a pretty band across her arm. But she put it very well – she called it a “permanent mark of temporary insanity” :-)
    well that was for her – not sure it applies to you since you took your time deciding to get one.


  13. kmd: I like the idea of the saran wrap. Because I definitely can’t do the bandage ever again.

    yogita: I wanted to do this a few years ago but that didn’t happen for various reasons. I got this one to “commemorate” working on another book and other more personal stuff.

  14. Gorgeous! I love the concept and design. About the shading … I say go for it. My boyfriend was the one who got the tattoo of ramps awhile ago (I emailed you pictures) and he got that shaded with grey. Before that tattoo he was a strict believer in flat black work, but this one he got shaded and I think it looks great. Adds just that little subtle bit of depth.

  15. Benadryl? Tequila! Sorry for the itch. I sympathize. But the design and meaning is (will be) lovely. I never got the big black scorpion on the back of my neck that I really really thought would be cool at 22. Thankfully.
    p.s. “I got a tattoo” is the best blog opener I’ve seen in a while.

  16. It’s great!

    I am so impressed with people who go big on their first time out. If you’re going to get a tattoo, GET A TATTOO! I’m sure it will absolutely pop when it’s finished.

    Bonnie Rue is right–slap that sucker!

    And I second (third?) the Saran Wrap idea. It should be a good solution to the adhesive allergy, especially on a body part that’ll be easy to keep covered and friction-free for those first 3-5 hours.

  17. Gayla, a new book!?! Yay!
    Is it out yet?

    I’m waiting to see your first one – it’s on it’s way from Canada even as I write this! A friend is coming over to India and bring it with her! I’m quite excited!


  18. I would never get a tattoo, but I think yours looks pretty cool. I wouldn’t get it shaded in. It looks graphic and cool just as an outline.

  19. I also love it! I, too, have a rather large botanical tattoo and even though I’m not a “typical tattoo” person it suits me well, and it has for quite a few years now. I agree with the other comments; get it shaded. It looks like your artist knows her stuff, and it will be even more beautiful. If you want to see mine before and after shaded just email me and I will share.

    PS – start slapping! It helps.

  20. Yogita: Still working on it. Long way to go yet.

    Ruby: I went big because I didn’t have any ideas for something small. All of my ideas were covering a large area. I kept thinking it would have been wise to at least try it out small first but….

  21. If you aren’t sure about getting it shaded simply wait. My sister designed a celtic knot design for my lower back and after getting it outlined I wondered the same thing. I left it for a couple weeks (this also allows the outline to heal) and then played around with magic markers to see if I liked it colored in better then the outline. I ended up getting it colored but I’m glad I waited, the art is permanent so you want to love everything about it.

  22. You should definitely get it filled in, trust me it will be worth it. The outline looks great. Get some Burts Bees “ResQ”, comes in a green tin. That helps with the itching a lot. My husband and I swear by it when we are healing our tattoos.

  23. That is beautiful! Just remember to keep it moisturized – aloe and baby lotion are what I’ve used in the past for my tats – and the itching will cease to be a bother. LOVELY!!!

    Hrm, now I want another tattoo…

  24. That looks awesome!! I’ve been lurking for a while after getting your book as a gift (which I LOVE btw) but I had to pop out of the closet and say wow and congrats after seeing the pics! definitely get it shaded in, I’ve got a largish (hand-span) tattoo on my back that was a two stage process as well, and the shading added such great depth and really made the image pop. It’s a beautiful design :)

  25. When I got mine and the dreaded, nightmarish itching started (oh, the memories), one thing that really helped was to slap it. Not hard enough to disrupt the scabbing, but enough to take away the itch. Try it! Also, definitely do the shading. That part, takes it to a whole new level. It makes it a true piece of art.

  26. I love this tattoo, I love that it’s your wild tomato, and I love that Davin drew it!

    The nice thing about shading is that there’s certainly no time limit to get it done. If you’re having second thoughts, just think about it for a while. You’ll figure it out if you want it as is or with shading.

  27. Tattoos. Not that big a deal. Get it shaded. In a few months you’ll be “itching” for another one. Oh yeah, it’s an addiction. Welcome to the club =)

  28. Gayla, you just have to get it filled in! It would be stunning in color. You should be so proud to host such a truly beautiful piece of art. Congrats!

  29. It is so totally gorgeous. I had to laugh when I read your post…I was one of those who did proceed to tattoo at the age of consent but remain pleased with my choices. I know, however, how rare this is and am also grateful that I don’t have something regrettable perma-etched into my skin. Yours is awesome and it is so sweet that your spouse designed it. Congrats and here’s to many years of inked bliss!

  30. I like it unshaded. I would like it shaded, too. I would also like it shaded with the fruit colored red, which would make them really stand out.

    But what is most important is that you like it. :)

  31. Very nice! My rose tat is much smaller (about the size of one of your large leaves….so my shading took much less time to complete) but if you are worried about the pain I actually thought shading was less painful than outlining- kind of feels like a burning sensation across your skin vs. needle puncture. but i think it looks good as is, too.

  32. You will forget all about the itch and the pain, trust me :P

    I did my tattoo little over a year ago, a large tree on my back. Apparently I told everyone at the time that I would never ever be going through that paing volountarily again. They’re laughing at me now, since I’m tninking about getting a second one :P

  33. yogita: That is gorgeous.

    Debbie: The lines on mine are so heavy and detailed that I also think the shading will be easier.

    Li: It’s already feeling so much better. And I do think about other ideas….

  34. Nice looking outline! Go on and get it filled in. Actually, you should have just done it when you got the outline, because it wouldn’t hurt as much. The outline hurts more, but the shading (of course) takes longer. I’ve been tattooing for 22 years and 45% of my body is covered so believe me, you will regret not getting it filled in. People will forever be going “when are you going to get it finished??”

  35. You actually do not want to re-apply any sort of band-aid. Avoid any “ointments” that contain petroleum,(a&D, neosporin etc..) it leaches the ink from your skin. Aveeno probably contains alcohol, quite drying, so you might try coconut oil or a milder lotion that is alcohol free. Dr.Bronners unscented soap is good for washing. Also be careful to not accidentally knock any of the scabs off, if you have them, that sometimes pulls a little bit of color out too.

    I will add my vote for getting the shading done, it will add so much depth.

    The second time is usually not as bad as the first, because you know what to expect. My first time I was horribly shocked to find out, after hearing it doesn’t, that yes, it does hurt.

  36. I say leave it for awhile.

    It looks “raw” right now, and that’s what I love about it.. it’s modest. You will get another itch to get another tatoo… but you could think of the shading as a second tatoo, because the look is so different.

    Hold out. It looks rad now.

  37. Hi, I check in from time to time and have really enjoyed your expertise.

    Some people will balk at my next suggestion, but having 14 hours of ivy vine etched and shaded from ankle to hip led me to desperation.

    I picked ivy for the same reason you picked your tomato plant.

    buy medicated chapstick and slather it on. I found it out by accident when I was on a road trip with a brand new tattoo and my ointment was under the bus. It takes the itch and the sting out… not completely, but makes it tolerable. Also, I use it about once a month, and everyone always remarks that it looks so new.

    Hope I got this in quick enough time to you.

    Good Luck

  38. wow, it’s really nice! i think the outline makes it look very modern, tho – i really do like it.

    so with the shading – why don’t you try before you buy? get davin to draw the shading on with ballpoint pen to see how it looks!

  39. Hi Gayla,

    Another possibility to help w/ your itching: If the entire area is itching, it may help to take some Benadryl rather than apply something topically. Your immune system could be reacting to the foreign ‘invader’-the ink- and producing histamines and complement to ward off this invader. A benadryl or similar histamine-blocker OTC med would help quiet your itching if it is due to more than just the natural healing of the wound.

    It is beautiful–if I were ever to get a tatoo this would definitely inspire me…the best part is that it is personally meaningful and specific to you and your experience. I’ve never understood how anyone could just randomly pick some generic picture out of a book to permanently add to their body. Congrats and Best of Luck with your healing!

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