Body + Soul: Indy Inked

Thinking of (finally) making the tattoo leap? Just be sure to take this hard-won advice first.
Photo by Tony Valainis

TATTOOS used to be symbols of bad decisions—your grandpa’s faded anchor a permanent memory of that drunken shore leave, the misspelled name of your uncle’s favorite metal band a reminder of his high school years. But times have changed. No longer the domain of the young and rebellious, body art has gained a new respect.

In fact, Gerrit Verplank of Firefly Tattoo Collective in Noblesville estimates that a quarter of his new clients are older than 40. “The waning stigma, combined with the lack of fear of permanence, has taken a lot of the scariness away,” he says. And older people, he adds, are typically better able to afford the work of today’s artists, whose studios are more akin to high-end salons than the holes-in-the-wall of the past. Enticed? Read on.

DO RESEARCH. Most tattoo artists have a specialty, be it realistic portraits, linework, or retro. Search #indytattoo on Instagram to both get ideas for designs and find an artist who can bring it to life. Look at artists’ previous work, especially images of healed tattoos. Meet to discuss your ideas and to make sure you feel at ease with them before you book.

BE PATIENT. These days, tattooists often have wait lists of weeks or even months. Some restrict new clients to certain times of year. But high demand is a good sign.

COLLABORATE. An outstanding tattoo will be the result of collaboration between you and the artist. Don’t go in with a photo of a tattoo wanting an exact copy. “Ripping off a design is poor form in our industry,” Verplank says, “but I don’t mind if clients bring in images of tattoos they like. That actually gives me a good idea of what they gravitate toward.” From there, Verplank makes an interpretative sketch for feedback.

LISTEN. Verplank loves middle-aged first-timers because they “tend to listen better,” he says, allowing him to guide them toward a design and placement they ultimately love. “Usually, this crowd goes for military tributes and odes to kids, grandkids, loved ones who’ve passed on, and even pets.” Verplank says the name of a significant other is “a bad idea at any age.”

ACCEPT THAT IT’LL HURT. How much depends on your pain threshold and the body part. It can range from slight discomfort on the forearms and calves to please please make it stop on the feet and hands. “For me, pain makes the tattoo a badge of honor,” Verplank adds. But if fear of pain has you canceling appointments, then a tattoo may not be for you.

KNOW IT MAY NOT BE YOUR LAST. Rarely do you see people with one tattoo. Often, after the first, ideas flow, and you start to see yourself as a blank canvas.