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Sitting for Long Tattoo Sessions: Tips, Advice, and Communicating With Your Artist


Q) Hi Jinxi, I do not sit still for long hours well, but I'm gearing up to get some larger pieces done. If the sitting process is going to take many hours, what's the proper etiquette on asking the artist for a breaks during a session? How do you prepare for long sittings? - Dee

A) Hi Dee! Thank you for inquiring about this topic. The answer should probably be broken up into two types of people/situations.

1) Tattoo collectors who PHYSICALLY cannot sit for long periods of time (this can be common for people who suffer from back problems/lower back pain, neck injuries, knee problems, Fibromyalgia, Gastrointestinal problems, and many other reasons) and it would be detrimental to their health to push a session too far.

2) Tattoo collectors who do better with shorter sittings due to anxiety, pain tolerance issues, attention spans, etc.

There are many people who physically are not able to sit for long periods of time. If this is the case, be sure to discuss this well ahead of time with your artist. Any great artist cares about the entire experience of giving a tattoo, not just the final product. Which means that she/he should want you to be comfortable and happy, in order to end up with an excellent result.
If this means having to make a few extra appointments to get the piece finished, it will be worth both the collector and the artist's time in the end. Much better to be up front about any medical conditions or physical limits you have so that your tattooist can plan accordingly.
This is also essential so they can discuss what your piece will involve and the length of time it might require from start to finish, by taking into consideration: the location of the tattoo, the style, the intricacy involved, the size, etc.; as well as concerns that you might have about sitting constraints.

So long-story short:  


  • early
  • clearly
  • and honestly.

If you are worried about enduring a long session due to pain tolerance issues or anxiety over the event, I'll run down a few tips that might help.

**It's important to note that each person is different, so my advice might not fit your situation at all...but in case it helps, below are things I have noticed and learned throughout my tattoo collecting years:

  • If you are preparing for a large tattoo piece, chances are, you may have already received some smaller tattoos and therefore have somewhat of a gauge as to your pain tolerance level. Each location is different, so this might add some variation into the equation, but you probably have a pretty good idea of how far/long you can go in regards to handling the stings and twinges. Use this as a foundation for preparing mentally for the larger piece.
  • Don't panic.
  • Don't psyche yourself out beforehand.
  • Breathe. Focus on your breathing and don't let yourself hyperventilate, overbreathe, panic-breathe. Just stay calm and relaxed, breathing normally - taking nice, even inhales/exhales.
  • Get comfortable. Now sometimes, the positioning is just going to be awkard and uncomfortable in order for your artist to get to the spot they are tattooing, but if you are working in an area where you can reposition yourself to feel more at ease, ask your artist for a moment to readjust.
  • Stay hydrated. This is important for many reasons and will help you to keep your composure and prolong your physical strength.
  • Eat small snacks when you stop for short breaks. Anything that will give you a little zip and energy back: fruit, nuts, dry cereal, crackers, juice, etc. Just as staying hydrated is essential, so is your maintaining your stamina with little punches of nutrition.
  • Think positively and remind yourself of the great power that your mind has over handling tough situations.
  • If you think it will help, mentally prepare days before your tattoo. I do this every time I am gearing up for a tattoo. I think about where it's going, visualize the sitting, and try to positively plan for it to be a great experience. I know it will hurt, but going through it in my mind somehow helps me once that machine starts to buzz.
  • Learn to "get in the zone." For many of us, there comes a point during a tattoo where your mind has to adapt and find ways to push through to the end. This might include diverting your attention by talking (oh, I'm good at that), listening to music, or just letting your mind wander and not hone in on the distress your skin and body are going through.
  • Believe that you are capable of great feats.
  • Remember what a great reward (the beautiful new tattoo) is waiting for you at the end.

If these tips don't help, your best bet is to revert back to my earlier advice - be up front and honest with your tattooist - and if you need to stop and reschedule, just be open about it and speak up. She/he wants you to be happy and to have a great experience.

When you look at that piece of ink, you will remember so many things about not only the artwork, but the day you received it, the emotions that were involved, and all that you endured to "earn" it.
If it is physically not possible to complete the work, speak up and talk openly so that you can either reschedule a time to finish up, or push through after taking a breather. 
Adding ink to your skin should be a positive experience and taking the time to prepare, communicate, and enjoy the ride (even the painful part) is key!
Happy inkin'!

Last updated on January 16, 2012 by Jinxi Boo