An Eye Is Upon You - 204: Regrets, I've Had A Few, But Then Again...

Published: 17 October, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 204, October, 2011

Is there a tattooed person on that planet that hasn’t heard the phrase, “you’ll regret that when you are older” at least once?

Regret is a powerful idea, an idea that has often been represented in the arts, and one that seems to preoccupy the thoughts and words of many. This threatened fear of future regret can, sadly, prevent us from doing as we wish in the here and now.

Being tattooed can be a huge part of one’s existence – I wouldn’t go as far as to say that my tattoos have made me who I am, but I believe they are certainly as big a part as any of the other determining factors that form individual personalities; genetics, gender, class, geography, education, et al – is it even possible to regret such a large part of who we are?

That’s not to say that all tattoo journeys are without regret, but it’s not often the becoming tattooed that is regretted, rather the minutiae; individual tattoos, such as arm bands that stand in the way of previously unimagined sleeves or work in a style that does not complement subsequent tattoos collected.

A tale of regret can only ever be personal, based as it is on experience and emotion, so will I regret my tattoos? I doubt it. With the benefit of, so far, only partial hindsight what ‘regrets’ do I have? Not very many, actually.

That doesn’t mean all my tattoos are designer perfect, although they could have been, if I had desired perfection, but no, I have my fair share of poor quality and even downright bad tattoos, and to be fair, I deserve them. They are traces of jokes, of impulses or prizes won playing bad tattoo roulette (rules: enter previously unheard of tattoo shop, pick minimum price design from the wall, have said design tattooed immediately). This always fun activity has resulted in several below par tattoos, a couple of mediocre ones and a single incredibly good one, which was frankly, most surprising – after all, bad tattoo roulette is diametrically opposed to the rules on how to get a good tattoo (research, research, research, waiting list, don’t economise but save for quality work).

I don’t regret the ex’s name, now partially obscured by a comedy scribble, nor any of the pictorial content, not even Hello Kitty. Even the less well crafted tattoos do not concern me. Like all tattoos they are a reminder of a time, a place and a story and for me, that time capsule-like narrative will always be the point of interest.

Another reason for my less-than-perfect ink, the donation of blank skin to apprentice tattooers. Some of my very favourite people have practised tattooing on a little patch of me and I wear their early etchings with pride. After all, what would tattooing be without the faith and support of the artist’s patron when the canvas is skin and the paint is permanent? Or at least, almost permanent. Laser technology and cleverly thought out cover-ups mean that one no longer is truly stuck with a regretted tattoo, it may well not be possible to erase every mark without trace but all can be faded and disguised, and if a design is altered, associated meaning, also regretted, can be changed too.

I am pleased that these options exist for those that require them, but for me laser is not necessary – not because I am content with each mark and line on my body, but rather, because I long ago decided that ‘next!’ was the best strategy for me; my bad tattoos are both disguised and highlighted by the other tattoos that surround (and sometimes, overlap) them.

At the very beginning of my personal journey into collecting tattoos, Alex Binnie, world-renowned custom artist and founder of Into You, told me that part of being a real tattoo fan was having at least one bad tattoo – and even though times have changed and it’s now perfectly possible to have a whole body suit without entering into the trial and error experiment that was once almost a necessity; I still think it’s an interesting philosophy, one that brings to mind an interest in the power of the permanent mark, quite separate to aesthetic fashions or artistic endeavour.

I’ve learnt to think of my own bad tattoos as souvenirs of my tattoo related adventures. They indicate my excitement, enthusiasm and my commitment to all things tattoo. I’ve been marked by almost 40 people, from international superstars to newbie apprentices, and I don’t regret any of it or any of them, not even for a minute. I hope you all feel the same.

“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams”


Text: Paula Hardy-Kangelos