Hello again! Have you read my previous post on my tattoo story? Right then, now I’ll move on to share a bit about my 2011 tattoo project and some of the many lessons I got from them.
Perhaps you’d still remember that I have been good friends with Dimas, the tattooist who did most of my tattoos (4 out of 5) and Lois, his wife, who is also a tattooist (she prefers to call herself a rookie tattooist, though). Though I was not having any tattoo plans, I used to hang around in their studio, Carpe Diem, at least once a month. We used to chat a lot about tattoo, general arts, and Javanese tradition or philosophy. Lois has also always been a great partner when talking about philosophy and feminism.
So, in 2010, Dimas had once asked me to be the model for one of his tattoo project. I had accepted his offering in term that the concept and design of the tattoo should suit my interest and style. In the mid of 2011—June, exactly, we finally got the opportunity to work on the project. It’s a great one; it gave me not only a huge tattoo on my body, but it also gave me precious lessons to learn.
The tattoo was planned to be his personal exploration in Indonesian traditional style, and it was also going to be published in a book on the art of tattoo. Dimas said he had some difficulties finding the right model for the tattoo, but then Lois suggested he contacted me as she remembered well that I’ve always been interested in Javanese tradition and philosophy. Shortly saying, we agreed to work on the piece: “Nagasasra”, the dragon in Javanese mythology.
As we’ve always done when starting a tattoo project, we began by working on the concept. Unlike in most Western traditions who percceive dragon as the symbol of darkness, destruction, and other negative aspects, most Eastern culture takes dragon as a symbol of positivity; wealth, wisdom, infinity, and the like. In Javanese tradition, it is called Nagasasra, the symbol of wealth and safety, and is often closely related to Ananta (Javanese; snake)—the symbol of infinity. Nagasasra is highly praised in Javanese culture. It can be found as ornaments in most Javanese architechture (commonly on the “gapura” or the entrance gate) and in all Javanese traditional gamelan. Javanese tradition also relates dragon closely to the gods; some resources even mentioned that the dragon itself is a god.
Initially, Dimas planned to put the tattoo around one of my arms, from the upper sleeve to the wrist. For some reasons, I could not agree with this. After quite a long discussions, we settled down to put the tattoo on the left part of my upper body; from the lower hip to the upper chest and back. Definitely, it’s a huge piece. It covered half of my front upper body and almost half of my left back. Unlike common dragon tattoo designs which show the whole figure of the dragon, Dimas designed the dragon distinctively. This is what I love from him, he always comes with unique ideas and personal touch. 🙂
He made a sketch of a whole figure of a dragon’s head on my belly, then the neck and body of the dragon was surrounded by custom Indonesian carvings, while the tail appeared on my upper chest. I contributed a bit in making the design by giving some suggestions on the carvings; I brought him my Balinese cloth and traditional fan I used to use when dancing (I am a Balinese dance lover, fyi). We finally decided to use the style of some of Javanese most popular carvings—Mataraman, Majapahit, and Yogyakarta, added with some touches of Balinese carvings.
At first we planned to finish the tattoo in one shot, but regarding to the length of time it would take (we predicted it would take 10 to 12 hours), we finally came to an agreement that we would work on it as far as we could, so we decided to make it into sessions. As I spend five days a week working in my office, we scheduled to work on the tattoo on weekends. The first session took about 6 hours; Dimas did the whole outline and some of the black-grey shading. During the first 3 hours, I didn’t feel any serious difficulties. I even fell asleep when Dimas was working on the shading on my back (ha-ha!) 😀 But, afterwards, I began to feel the pain, especially when he was doing the shading on my belly and hip. It hurt, really. The first sitting had to end as I almost collapsed at the sixth hour. Going home, I caught fever for two whole days and I could hardly get out off bed or move my left body. But no problem, few medicines and a lot of sleeping had been enough to solve it. Thank God.
The second session was done the next weekend, taking about 4 hours. I was in my best physical condition that I could resist the pain, even when the part we were working on—finishing the black-grey shading and the tail of the dragon on my upper chest and shoulder—was a real pain. Fira, one of my bestfriends, accompanied me during the second sitting. We had a lot of chatting and throwing jokes at each of the three of us, making me forget the pain. The only annoying thing was perhaps the sound of the tattoo machine which almost got me deaf when Dimas was working on my shoulder. 😛
Due to the third sitting, I was in some kind of hectic condition. My aunt passed away just when I was on my way to the tattoo studio that I had to cancel the scheduled session. We decided to do the sitting after I got back from Magelang, my hometown, for the funeral ceremony. Dimas had already warned me that I might feel tired after the trips and suggested that we find another day, but being stubborn I am, I insisted to do the third session the day after the funeral. It took 7 hours—the longest tattoo process I’d ever gone through! The part Dimas was working on was not really huge, he was “just” coloring the head of the dragon. Still, it took such a long time as he wanted to grab the color details and perfect shade. I really should’ve listened to him as we had to end the third sitting because I got quite a severe migraine—possibly it was caused by the physical fatigue.
We finished the dragon on the fourth and last session by the end of June. Dimas finished coloring the dragon’s neck and added white ink on several spots. Putting the white ink took only 15 minutes, but I felt like it’s been forever! It burnt like hell, and I was totally distressed that I asked Lois to accompany me during the 15-minute process. When Dimas was putting the white ink on my rib cage, I couldn’t help but crying. Yes, for the first time, I really cried during the tattooing. I never wanted to look at an ongoing tattoo piece, so I hid my face under the pillow and let my tears flow. The pain was really killing me that my whole body turned cold and I even felt like i’m hallucinating.
When the last 15 minutes finally ended, the first thing I did was thanking God. Then I spent few minutes crying (again). Feelings were exploding; relief, satisfaction, gratefullness, and many others I couldn’t describe. When looking at the final result of the tattoo on the mirror, I was speechless. It’s totally stunning!
Well, anyway, the piece had recovered perfectly now. Surely, I couldn’t show its full figure to everybody as that meant I would have to go topless. But no big deal, it’s for me, and I think I deserve to be the one who can see it wholly, regarding to the long painful process I’ve gone through. 😉
Okay, then. The Nagasasra wasn’t my first tattoo, but it certainly is my most precious piece. Here are two greatest lessons I learn from the piece:
1. Tattoo is not an instant product
Absolutely. Tattoo is not some trendy outfits or accessories you can just put on and off as you like. It demands a strong will and a process—sometimes a long painful one, and it teaches you well to be consistent. Once you decided to make a tattoo, you are responsible of it, no matter how bloody it hurts. You can’t just leave an unfinished piece because you can’t stand the pain. Remember, pain is one of the consequences of getting yourself tattooed. If you’re thinking about getting one on some spots of your body that you know will hurt a lot, you always have the chance to say no if you feel you won’t be able to get it finished. If you’ve said yes, then take the responsibility to the fullest!
2. Tattoo is your identity
Some people would say that “tattoos are meant to be shown”. Still, I prefer to keep my tattoos as my own personal precious asset. There’s no problem with showing your tattoos off, but that doesn’t mean you can be sloppy. Especially for girls, you don’t have to wear improper outfits just to get people’s eyes fixed on your tattoos. Believe me, wearing such outfits won’t get people to appreciate your tattoos. Okay, they probably will, but they will also think you are b*tchy. 😉
Well, I couldn’t really describe what other lessons it gave me. I could only assure you that tattoo is not a fashion. In fact, it’s a passion. And there’s always a price to pay for it. 🙂