Monday, October 5, 2009


I've wanted a tattoo for, ooh, about ten years.

Not just any old tattoo, though - one that means something to me, that commemorates a specific event.

Initially, I decided that I'd get one when I got my PhD. But then, what with the rush to make corrections, get the thesis bound, sort out my Canadian work permit, move to a new country, get set up in a new lab, find a place to live, get a bank account, make friends, etc etc etc, it was suddenly a whole year since my viva, and it was no longer a current event.

Plus, although I didn't know anyone in the UK who'd got a double helix tattoo upon finishing their PhD, it turned out to be quite common in Canada. And I wanted something unique.

A couple of years later, as I applied for Canadian permanent residence, a new idea started to form in my mind. I knew I'd be shooting for citizenship as soon as I was eligible, so why not get a tattoo to commemorate that? The bringing together of two cultures - that's meaningful enough for me!

Given my family's Irish and Scottish roots, and my memories of the very happy few years I spent in Glasgow, I decided that I wanted a design that incorporated Celtic design into a Canadian maple leaf. I Googled all kinds of combinations of those words, but never found anything. So it would be both meaningful and unique!

The problem with unique was that I would have to find someone to design the tattoo for me. My initial attempts to sketch a Celtic style outline for the leaf looked Celtic enough, but not even the most patriotic Canadian in the world would have recognised the key component of their national flag in my work. And placing a regular maple leaf inside a Celtic circle looked cool, but from a distance, too much like the Air Canada logo.

"I'll do it", said Mr E Man

"Erm... OK...?" I said. I figured I'd let him take a shot at it, and at least use it as the basis for the final design.

But look what he came up with!

Mr E Man's initial sketch:

I absolutely loved the concept. For some reason I'd never thought to put the Celtic part inside the leaf!

The next step was to find the right tattoo artist. Mr E Man stepped up to the plate again: a work friend's partner/wife has a very well known and positively reviewed tattoo studio (according to her website, she was "the 1st female artist to own her own Tattoo studio in Canada", which is pretty damn cool). I called her, sent her Mr E Man's sketch, and she turned it into this:

Tattoo artist's interpretation of Mr E Man's design:

And so, earlier this evening, I headed out from work and went to get my first ever tattoo! I was pretty nervous, but the studio felt more like a nice hair salon than a den of painful torture (although I quickly realised that my normal hair salon level of chatter was not an option - I did not want to break her concentration! Hair grows back...) I was still apprehensive about how much it was going to hurt. The answer (for me) is more than a flu shot, more than a cat scratch, less than a bee sting, less than a bikini wax. Kinda like a sustained wasp sting. It hurt more as she went back to the lines she'd already drawn to strengthen the outline, and I'll admit to being very happy that I'd decided last week (on purely artistic grounds) to just get the outline, no shading!

 About half-way through

The whole thing took less than an hour, and while it obviously hurt, it really wasn't as painful as I'd expected.

A shot to give you an idea of size and placement

Hopefully the healing process won't be too long or too painful! I've got my instructions, and plan to follow them to the letter.

 Nice juicy close-up

I'll get another photo when it's all healed up and not quite so red!

I am sooooo glad I finally did this.


  1. Holy moly that's at least 5 times the size of my tattoo - but I love it!

    the best ones are the ones that really take years to figure out what you want.

  2. Woohoo!! I love it! So awesome that you were able to get such a personal design too (not a big fan on getting stuff "off the wall").

    I have an appointment to get my next one on Oct. 15th, but it might not happen due to some other circumstances.

  3. Wow - I thought you were planning to get a small one to start! The design looks great - Mr E Man did a great job :) Just remember not to scratch or pick at the scab while it's healing.

  4. woho!! Lovely design! It's nice to have the artist make it more "tattooing" since they know how to make it the best. My tattoo artist made mine more tatoolike after I knew what I wanted.

    Look forward seeing it less reddish ;) good luck keeping it clean but not over washing it and scratching. I remember try to sleep without rubbing it to much, hope it is easier for you.

  5. Thanks all!

    Go big or go home, dudes! Nah, I figured this was going to be a one-off, and it needed to be big enough that the Celtic design work stood out clearly, hence I got a nice big one!

    IS, maybe it's just because it's so early, but I didn't realise you had a tattoo! You'll have to show me / remind me next time I see you!

    Alyssa, that sounds rather mysterious! I hope it all works out!

    PiT, I don't have a great track record at not picking scabs, but it's in a bit of a tricky position, which helps! And I am most determined not to fuck it up now! The most important thing is not to let the cats do their usual trick of jumping onto my shoulders from the back of the sofa.

    Chall, yeah, I wanted to use his design, but it definitely needed that professional touch!

    I'm a little apprehensive about taking the bandage off this morning. I think I'll have breakfast (and some tea!) first. I didn't sleep great, but I think it was more from the adrenaline rush than from any pain - it's a bit sore, but really not too bad (yet).

  6. Nice! I'm too much of a wimp; I'm a person who changes hair styles annually, so I'm afraid to be permanently attached to a tattoo; but I've never been inspired to come up with something meaningful like yours.

  7. OK, that wasn't so bad! It looks pretty damn good, actually (just waiting for that dreaded scabbing to kick in). The position makes it a bit difficult to reach, but I managed to clean it and put on lotion, and it really doesn't hurt anywhere near as much as I thought it might. Putting on lotion 5-6 times a day, as instructed, might result in some sore shoulders and wrists though! Now to find my strapless bra (I think running and any other exercise that requires a sports bra is off the menu for a week or so).

    Tina, I'm a bit wussy too - I think there will be a few of my friends who will be surprised I went through with it! And I've been attached to this design concept for a good few years now, so I'm not worried about changing my mind.

    AA and Nat, thank you!

  8. Nice, I like the design. I took a long time to design mine as well and I'm still on the fence about the design of my second. Finding a good artist is also key, since they can add a lot to your ideas.

    Don't worry, it'll be healed to the point of not being a problem in less than a week.

  9. Cath> I can't remember much scabbing on mine... I put lotion on it (antiinflammatory and softy making) and washed it some with water and a clean tissue/gauze.

    The only thing I would recommend NOT to do though (some people will say this namely) is to put a bandage on top of it and tape it shut. In case you want something on top (like gauze or so) tape the corners diagonaly so there are 4 places where the air can get in and make it less possible for nasty anaerobis stuff to grow. (did the description make sense?)

    Mine healed good in a week, considering it was on the hip where the pants are, I would say it was fairly quick.

  10. PlS, so you designed the first one yourself? Cool! Good luck with the second one! Lots of people have told me that "if you get one, you end up getting more and more", but I think one is enough for me!

    Thanks for the reassurances about the healing!

    Chall, same goes! I had a bandage on overnight (some kind of plastic wrap with a gauze bandage over the top), but she told me not to put another one on after this morning, just to let it breathe.

    HGG, thanks!

  11. shut up! so freaking awesome cath! i am really really proud and inspired! i have wanted a tattoo for much of my life but never knew what i wanted to get. but then for about the last year i have had an idea. now i just need to get it drwan up and designed and actually done!
    looks great!

  12. That is the coolest tattoo ever. I love the Celtic maple leaf design!

  13. Wahoo! What a great tattoo! That is so cool. You will have to show me the next time we have coffee. Wonder how we can make THAT look like a 'work meeting'?

  14. Very cool! I too am impressed by the size.

  15. Wow, really fun and unique. And it's huge! I've been tempted to smack one on my right butt cheek, but it seems I have a fear of commitment, haha. Enjoy!

  16. Wow that us HUGE!!! I so want a tattatoo, however I was pretty sure my parents would've disowned me had i got one prior to marriage. Yours looks super cool

  17. That's a very nice design.

    (Of course, I'm still irritated that Canada appropriated the maple leaf as its own when there are just as many maple trees in the northern US as in Canada. As grievances go, however, this one isn't very serious.)

  18. Thanks Crystal! I hope you'll be blogging the process, if you decide to go for it!

    Thanks, Bean-Mom! I'm rather fond of it too (luckily ;))

    Mermaid, we could call it, um, logo design meeting, or something to do with my boss's UK-Canadian collaborative project? I aint stripping down in no coffee shop though! Oh, and although it looks OK this morning, I understand that if it scabs/peels, it'll start in the next day or two... so you might have to wait until that's over!

    EGF, Mr E Man was surprised at the size I chose too - but given that it won't get shown off in public very often (I am very careful in the sun), when I do show it off, I want to show it off right!

    Silver Fox, you didn't see me 5 minutes before she started... I was distinctly unbrave! I hate the unknown - as soon as she started and I knew how much it was going to hurt, I was just fine.

    CE, LOL! My parents' neighbour used to say "I've got a large W tattooed on each cheek. It doesn't look like much normally, but when I bend over, wow!"

    SM, yeah, the parents will not be told about this, until it becomes unavoidable (e.g. if we take them to the beach for a swim next time they're here!) Although I think it'll be the fact that it's a "foreign flag" rather than their general dislike of tattoos that they'll have the biggest problem with...

    RPS, well, you guys designed your flag first, you had the chance! And what about the US appropriating the British National Anthem and turning it into "My Country 'Tis of Thee" or whatever it's called?" ;)

  19. p.s. I've passed everyone's favourable comments about the design on to Mr E Man, who looked rather pleased with himself! I told him I'd design one for him next, and then I told him he should get this one in honour of the kitties.

  20. Love it! He can do my next one too :)

    Just a thought in my head, cos I've got 6 tattoos... careful drying your back with towel after a shower. around about the time you finally remember to be gentle, the "scab" will be coming of anyway. And also, cocoa butter. lashings and lashings of cocoa/shea butter. Works miracles. I still use it an I've not been inked for over a year!

  21. Ooh, a new career beckons for Mr E Man!

    Thanks for the advice! I've been air drying ;) and the lotion the tattoo artist gave me has a shea butter base - it is teh awesome.

    Still no scabbing or peeling. When (roughly) is it supposed to kick in? Maybe I'll get lucky... she did say that it's usually the ones with big solid blocks of ink that scab the worst.

  22. Cath> I guess within a week, at least for the smaller one. Although, mine didn't scab a lot at all. I think it is less common if you use lots of lotion and keep it "airy" and maybe not as big? It did itch though. the healing thingy...

    I think key word is patience. And as you pointed out, a sports bra is probably good not to put on top of it so patience on that too. I woudl guess that sweating a lot might be a tad bit annoying too?

  23. Mermaid had a look yesterday and said that parts of it look like they're going to peel - but I can't get a close enough look to see this! I have a crick in my neck just from putting on the lotion - could I possibly have chosen a more difficult spot to reach?!

    You are right, patience is good. I am doing my best ;) thanks again for the advice!

  24. WOW!!!
    Mega super fantastic Cath! I love it!

    When I was hypothesizing about my tattoo I thought for a while about the maple leaf too, but finally decided that as long as I am not officially anything related to Canada, that would be weird. I did however find a design that reminds of Canada and that means something to me personally.

  25. Thanks, Nina!

    What did you decide on in the end?

  26. I finally got a (grizzly) bear paw, based on those "native" souvenirs found in Canada. I've always had a thing for (teddy) bears.
    In Germany people often mistake it for a hamster or cat paw, but in Canada it is immediately recognized for what it is. And I've not yet seen anyone with the same tattoo!

  27. That design is so cool! I bet you are glad you waited until you had the perfect design!

  28. Nina, sounds awesome!

    ScienceGirl, thanks! And yes, I am!

  29. What a beautiful design!!! that thing is HUGE!!! i would be so scared to get a tat....especially a big one!

  30. Thanks Phizzle!

    I was pretty nervous first, too - just the fear of the unknown! As soon as she started and I knew what it felt like, I was fine!

  31. Cool! I still don't want anything on my body (I like my freckles fine, don't need more decorations) but this is a very awesome design. Yay for Mr E Man and his unexpected tattoo design skills!

  32. Thanks! I like my freckles too ;)

    I've since heard of someone getting an Aztec maple leaf, but I still haven't heard of any other Celtic maple leafs.

  33. I missed this post (and the whole tattoo thing) when it first appeared... coming from your current post about "Canadian things Cath has done in recent memory including not hurting herself badly while skating".

    That tattoo is 100% Canadian/Celtic Awsomesauce, and I use that term advisedly. :)

  34. Thanks! It's been a year now and I still love it, which is good :) I don't show it off all that often because I burn so easily, but when I do, people certainly notice!

    I know I said I was only going to get one, but in the last few months an image of a new one has begun to swim into the edges of my consciousness... but I'll give it a year or two to see if the idea still appeals!


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