The ink crowd

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am

IN THE HISTORY OF TATTOOS this will go down as the Age of Ubiquity, the time when ink was no longer confined to the weathered forearms of ex-cons or the pale torsos of bass guitarists, but appeared on the glowing and well-nourished skins of the middle class. There's Derrick from derivatives, harbouring a tribal swirl beneath his Thomas Pink shirt. There's Markus from marketing, nonchalantly unveiling a lower-back dragon as he disrobes on the company junk boat.

Perhaps a college passion is frozen in time on your upper arm, or maybe a tequila-fuelled night on Lockhart Road has bequeathed to your left buttock the logo of your favourite football team. To you gentlemen, I commend the expertise of laser surgeons. To others, especially those browsing parlour windows and tattoo magazines, I offer crucial advice: research, research, research.

If a tattoo is artfully executed it becomes an adornment to any man, and an aura-bestowing statement of style over prudence. If. But mistakes are legion, so keep some key principles in mind.

If it's visible when you're fully attired, you won't get that second interview. Tattoos above the neckline are for psychopaths and the bi-polar. Tattoos on the hand are best sported by pallid winos or roadies in nu-metal bands. Choose a body part that would be covered by a T-shirt: the ankle or upper thigh are too feminine, but a subtle piece on the back of the calf shows a certain dash.

Invest in the best. Cheap inks degrade over time; colours will fade and lines lose sharpness. The Buddha that looked so good on your shoulder as you left that back-street parlour in Ho Chi Minh City, can degenerate into a green blob in time. Always pick a reputable, hygienic and upmarket tattooist. Money spent now will save much woe later.

The following tattoos will provoke sympathy or derision, never admiration: names of bands; the word 'mum'; slogans that you plainly won't be able to pull off in 20 years ('Pure Sex', 'Live Fast'); faddish designs (arm bracelets, Chinese characters, barcodes); wrongly translated Asian scripts (you thought it was your girlfriend's name in Laotian, so why are the natives laughing?); popular cartoon characters.

Seek inspiration. Why settle for the same Satan-on-a-Harley motif that 3,000 other guys have? The books at your local parlour will be full of hundreds of standard designs. Use these as a starting point, but do your own thinking. Recall the visual criteria you appreciate in art and design, then commission an original piece.

And yes, being tattooed will sting. But if teenage girls can endure the tattooist's needle for the sake of a dolphin or butterfly you have no excuse. Besides, tattoos are so common you're starting to look weird without one.