It’s 10am on a rainy Saturday morning in November, and I’m running a bit late. Luckily, Dennis, my first customer of the day, doesn’t look too bothered by the delay. I’ve just applied a stencil on his wrist that says “Be here now.” Not surprisingly, he seems content to relax a bit longer, looking down at his wrist every so often, while I load a needle onto my tattoo machine.
Fortunately I came in last night to set everything up: A little temporary tattoo studio on the second floor of an expat-owned restaurant/bar in Taichung, Taiwan. I’ve got my tattoo machines, a few chairs, and enough latex gloves, wipes, Vaseline, Green Soap, plastic wrap and disposable needles and tubes to tattoo 40 people. A nice little setup indeed… and yet tomorrow, it’ll all be gone.
No time to think about that now, though. The stencil has set, my machine is loaded and the ink has been poured; it’s time to get to work.
As I ease into ‘my zone,’ working my way through Dennis’s motto one letter at a time, the pizza place across the cobblestone walkway is opening its doors, and some of the waiting staff is filing in, shaking large beads of rain off of their umbrellas at the door. Other participants and observers are arriving too, undeterred by the intermittent bouts of rain that threaten to ruin the day. All too soon (“Is it even eleven, yet?”) I hear someone downstairs order a Bloody Mary, and I think to myself: Here we go.
The objective of the day: To raise money to help fund my solo cycling trip across Europe as the travelling tattoo artist, which will kick off in Athens on March 1st, 2013. More specifically, my goal is to complete as many “OK-sized” tattoos as possible in a 12-hour span.
Opportunely, I live in a time and place where there is no shortage of people who are willing to get some ink done. So when I sent an invitation out to my facebook friends to come get a tattoo to support my ambitions, it wasn’t long before emails and images started to pour in.
The specs were simple: Every tattoo would cost 1000NTD (about $30US), had to be the size of the circular space you make when you put your thumb and index together to make an ‘ok’ sign (or 4cm long/across), and could have a maximum of 4 colors. The designs also had to be submitted before the day of the event. It took all of 3 weeks for almost 30 people to sign up.
Today, my job is to make sure everyone gets what they came for.
It’s 12 o’clock and I’m already falling behind. I’d estimated that I’d be able to get through two or three tattoos an hour, but I’ve already been set back by a couple of colored pieces that took longer than they should have. Plus I’m on my own, so it’s up to me to not only do the tattoos, but also to apply the stencils, set up my station and machines for every new customer, and clean it all up again before the next person sits in the chair.
No one is stressing, however. The atmosphere is cozy and friendly. People have come up and are sitting around the room, chatting and getting to know new acquaintances. Others are hanging out downstairs, outside, across the street, waiting for their turn under the needle, or to see who will come out next with a plastic wrap bandage covering a fresh tattoo.
Before long, the amps are plugged in across the way at the pizza place, and the bands start to play. The beer taps start to flow, as does the stream of people coming in to check things out and socialize on this chilly Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, upstairs, the hours continue to pass, one tattoo at a time…
As I gradually make my way down the list of participants, shoving a few bites of a sandwich or a piece of fruit in my mouth between customers, it’s becoming clear to me that I won’t be able to get everything done by 10pm. At this rate, I’m going to have to keep going until tomorrow’s early hours if I want to finish every piece, something that simply can’t happen in someone’s restaurant. But as I look around the room, I feel no pressure. I’m surrounded by smiling faces, and a very positive vibe can be felt all around.
As 11pm rolls in, I’m still hard at work but in good spirits. The crowd downstairs has dispersed and the remaining patrons are being ushered indoors to keep noise levels down (and thus avert a visit from the local police). The remaining participants are still sitting about the room, some having waited hours because they were kind enough to repeatedly let others go ahead of them. It’s getting late, but the mood is as pleasant as ever as a guitar is taken out of its case. Soon everyone is singing along and harmonizing to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Fighter’ as the rain continues its gentle patter on the awning outside the window. It’s moments like these that remind me why I love this town and these people so much…
It’s 1am, and unfortunately, it’s time to call it a day. It has been decided that some of the remaining participants will come back for their ‘OK tattoos’ tomorrow afternoon, and a few others will come to my home studio at a later time. But one way or another, I assure them, they will get what they came here for!
It’s been a long day, and although I wasn’t able to get through all of the 26 participants that were on the list today, I feel pleased with my accomplishment. 20 tattoos in 15 hours isn’t a bad day, after all. I may not have completed the amount of tattoos I had hoped to, but there are some things that can’t be rushed! As it is, I’m proud and confident that the highest standard of quality was maintained until the very last stroke of the needle. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Oh, and lessons learned… Next time, I’ll have an assistant, and there won’t be any full color pieces. That’s right. There will be a next time. The ‘OK’ 12-Hour Tattoo Marathon – Hsinchu Edition is coming in a few weeks’ time. Let’s see if we can break some records!