A Bee-utiful Tattoo

Reid at Yoni Tattoo perfects the design

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time. When I was in high school, my best friend and I would draw all over our legs with sharpies to imagine what tattoos would look like. At the time, I was fixated on a frilly little ivy that I saw in the CD booklet of one of my favorite bands. My brother later told me it was an icon from Photoshop. I didn’t want that as a tattoo any more… After the ivy, I wanted a sea horse. The seahorse was a short-lived fantasy as I eventually realized that seahorses were sort of just a passing fad, much like my 6-year-old obsession with porcelain dolls and then Winnie the Pooh.

Bee earrings for good luck

However, as I grew older, I started thinking about a tattoo I would like, and decided I’d like a bee. Bees have long been a symbol of good luck and royalty in the world. Bees pollinate plants and trees and flowers, and help us get our food. Bees help me in my garden, and bees make honey, one of the most delicious substances on earth. I love the book  The Secret Life of Bees  and I love the artist Mark Ryden, who features many bees in his work. In addition, it was long thought that bees are scientific wonders, because their tiny wing span should theoretically not be able to support their heavy, large bodies. In this regard, they have long represented achieving the impossible. (Science has it figured out now – The bee flies more like a helicopter than an airplane in that its wings vibrate up and down rather than side to side). We had bees on our favor bags at our wedding, and as we said our vows among rows of Victorian roses, bumble bees flitted over the masses of flowers like tiny fairies. I also think bumble bees are cute looking, with their fuzzy, bulbous abdomens and gorgeous yellow and black stripes. Matt also thinks bees are cool, and in fact, now has a bee adornment on himself as well (doesn’t look at all like mine – but it’s a bee just the same!). So there you have it – I had decided, a bee tattoo it would be.

The tattoo process begins!

We chose Reid at Yoni Tattoo because of his laid-back demeanor, awesome yelp reviews and enthusiasm for the art we wanted. He’s also an ex-nurse from Minnesota, so he has Midwestern pride on his side. I was a little bit jittery, mostly about the fact that I wasn’t 100% set on my design yet. The bee itself was amazing and perfect, but I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted one hydrangea or two. In the end, I found some cool swirl flourishes from the internet, and Reid reworked the design to be one hydrangea flower (the flower of my wedding bouquet) with an awesome spiral vine embellishment coming out of it. I loved it – It’s unique, colorful and beautiful. We were ready to begin!

This is a staged shot! The pain is totally not worthy of dramatic facial expressions!

I had asked many people about the pain of getting a tattoo, and I got answers ranging from “it’s like a cat scratch” to “it’s horrible horrible pain and I will never do it again.” I was expecting the worst, but as someone who suffers an average of 12 allergy shots a month, I’m not too fearful of needles. I also went through braces and had the inside of my nose burned out with a laser (yay for constant congestion), so it’s safe to say I’ve dealt with some gnarly pain. Here’s how the first 30 seconds went – “Oh. It’s not that bad. That’s it?!” After a minute, you realize it’s not an enjoyable feeling by any means – it’s not like you’re getting a massage, but it’s really not horrible. It’s just like a bee sting, actually. Some slight burning and a little prickling, but it’s really not awful. The most painful part was the bottom of my hydrangea flower near the ankle. For anybody who’s been avoiding a tattoo because of fear of the pain – DO IT! Especially if you’re a woman – I promise you’ve had worse monthly cramps. The pain is manageable, for sure – and a good tattoo artist will let you take breaks if you need them. Check out this super cool time lapse from stencil to tattoo that my pal Julie put together!

Adrenaline and endorphins have kicked in, and I'm feelin' good!

I had originally thought I wanted to go a bit smaller on the design, but the detail in the bee was important to me, and if I went smaller, I’d lose a lot of the beautiful details like the fuzz and wing patterns. I chose above the ankle because it’s a good spot to hide if I need to for work or other professional events. The tattoo took about an hour to complete, and today I’ve been a good girl and have been doing the whole Aquaphor moisturizing thing and keeping it clean. I am thrilled to finally have a beautiful and symbolic bumble bee on my leg, and it looks wicked cool when I’m wearing capris and flip-flops!

Bumble Bee Tattoo with Hydrangea

One of the questions a few people have asked me is, “Isn’t it scary to think you’ll have that forever?” My answer is no, not at all. I thought about what I wanted for a long time, and the best way to sum it up is an Ani DiFranco lyric that says, “a tattoo is no more permanent than I am.” This is one of the first times I actually have no “buyer’s remorse” at all – I spazzed out about buying my new car, and I’m even having buyer’s remorse on a $20 pair of rain boots I bought last week. I love my new tattoo, and I’m proud that I went and did it. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo for the first time, make sure you’ve researched the parlor and artist, and it’s clean and sterile. Our parlor guarantees their work, and in a couple weeks I get to go back for free for a touch up on some of the color. Make sure you get along well with your artist, and that the design is 100% what you love. It is permanent, so there’s no going back when it’s etched into your skin.

So – let’s hear it – do you have a tattoo? If not, would you ever get one? Why or why not?

***Special thanks to Julie Bien for her amazing photos and moral support of the tattoo process! All photos credited to Julie Bien except for the crappy iPhone pic on the bottom of the post that I took. 🙂

Update: Here’s the tattoo 2 months after I got it. Healed, and beeeeautiful!

10 thoughts on “A Bee-utiful Tattoo

  1. I freaking LOVE The Secret Life of Bees AND Mark Ryden!!! And your tattoo!!!

    Re: the pain…it really depends on the area and the tattoo artist (and the person getting the tattoo). I’ve been tattooed 7 times, and some barely registered as a feeling and two had me shaking, in tears, for hours afterward. It won’t stop me from getting more, but it was the first time I’ve really had a tattoo HURT, and omg. When it hurts…it effing HURTS.

  2. Ahhhhh! I’m so excited for you! Loved reading about your experience, it was fantastic! BTW, i got my first tattoo at 14 and 110 years later (or somewhere to that effect) I have never regretted it. It’s a part of me in the same way as my feet or my eyes. I just wouldn’t be me without my tattoos. Congrats!

  3. Beautiful tat! You’re absolutely right about making sure you to think ahead to your future self when selecting a tattoo.

    I have 3 of them, and I really only like one. I’ve had them since my early 20s, and I really am happy with the very first one I ever got – an anklet of flowers and vines. I would love to get one lasered off, and will once I have some extra money. Bad placement, bad choice of tattoo = remorse. And the other one? It really doesn’t show EVER, so I’m not worried about it – for now at least.

  4. Congrats! It’s beautiful! And good for you for waiting until the time was right. Personally, the pain of getting a tattoo reminds me of what it would be like to drag a toothpick across a sunburn.

  5. I love the detail on the bee wings and fuzz on the body. I do not regret my tattoo at all. It has so much meaning behind it–in memory of my amazing grandmother and was done by my best friend’s husband. I like having it on my inner ankle because it’s so easy to hide in professional settings and people often forget I have it! Then when I do show people they seem so surprised, it’s always fun to show it off. When I first got it I wanted to wear skirts and capris all the time.

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