This, *drumroll* laydeez and gennelmen, is my new tattoo. Yup, that’s right permanent ink on my right ankle. I didn’t have ‘get a tattoo’ on my to-do list for Los Angeles (where I have been hanging out since Monday), but when the opportunity arose I was so there.
I’m here on the West Coast as a guest of jeans company Citizens of Humanity, who have recently launched Just Like You, a series of video portraits showcasing individuals withe extraordinary lives around the world. Shamrock Social Club’s founder, the legendary tattoo artist Mark Mahoney is one of them, and so Citizens offered up the opportunity to get a tattoo. (The other option was to learn to surf off Malibu with another Just Like You subject, the pro-surfer Kalani Robb. Given that I can barely stand upright on God’s green earth, that clearly was never going to happen for me.)
But I didn’t get tattooed by default. Here’s why:
I had this tattoo done when I was about eighteen or nineteen in a tattoo parlour in Byker, Newcastle, in the North of England, when I was staying with a schoolfriend in the holidays. As you can see, it wasn’t enormously successful. I remember very little about it, but suspect that a) I didn’t look after it properly immediately afterwards and that b) as Mark suggested, very old school shops just weren’t capable of doing very small, delicate tattoos.
I still can’t quite believe that I had it done: I wasn’t particularly rebellious, but I occasionally burst my bounds and did completely insane things. I guess this was one of them. (Because all those years ago it definitely wasn’t usual for girls to have tattoos like it is now.)
Most of the time I forget that I have it: I’m not the world’s most detail-orientated person, and it just didn’t bother me at all. It was so small and insignificant anyway. The wait times for the really good tattoo guys can be months long, and I barely know where I am from week to week. And I had no idea what I could replace it with — or even if anyone woud be willing to re-work it. But when Citizens suggested I visit Mark, with no wait, I just thought sod it, why not see if I can change something pretty ropey and ugly into a tattoo I actually like?
So on Election night, myself and Victoria Moss of British InStyle headed down to the Shamrock Social Club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
I wasn’t sure if Mark, one of the world’s best tattoo artists, with a roster of clients so stellar that I’m surprised the paps don’t just sit outside his studio all day long, would be up for starting from someone else’s work. (I know some tattoo artists won’t). But he wasn’t phased. At all. Mark must be one of the most charming, kind, gentle men I have ever encountered. He radiates calm, and I knew I could trust him totally. Which was a good thing as I had pitched up with very little idea of what I wanted, trusting that he would be able to suggest something.
I know I am in a minority here: most people turn up for tattoos with complex renderings and precise measurements. The lovely Victoria wanted some very personal Hebraic script on her wrist and she had it planned to the micrometer. The night before I had met Jerome Dahan of Citizen’s girlfriend Anna, who has ravishingly beautiful fine black & grey renderings of roses on her arm,and, when I read up on Mark that evening I discovered that he was best known for his pioneering single needle black & grey work.
Then, whilst we were waiting & I was flicking through his tattoo books in the parlour, I saw a simple rose. Hmm.…I hadn’t ever thought the existence of simple black & grey tattoos, but the moment I saw them I realised that I didn’t actually like coloured ones much, and that may have been the reason why I had never done anything about re-working my terrible one. So: I signed my life away.
And we went into Mark’s room. (There are eleven artists in total working out of the shop, but Mark has his own private place in the back.)
Victoria went first, and calmed my nerves by saying it barely hurt at all. I sat on the sofa, reading the new Rebus novel, and chasing the Presidential election exit polls, updating Victoria and Mark as the results rolled in.
Then it was me. Mark’s number two prepped and sanitised the entire area, and Mark drifted off to the front of the shop. When he came back, he was holding two gardeners’ guides to roses. I’m not sure why I was so surprised: maybe because I had always thought that tattoos were so stylised, and yet here he was intending to tattoo from real life.
I think that’s what I liked best about Mark: that he was so careful and considered. I had never really thought much about the word ‘artist’ in the phrase ‘tattoo artist’ before, but truly that is what Mark is. He looked at the photographs of the roses, and started to draw in freehand the outline of a rose over and around my existing tatoo. And then he prepped his needles, put some grease over the outline, and we were off.
Did it hurt? Yes, but not like you would imagine. At worst it was like a long scratch from a cat. At best, like small, totally bearable pin pricks. He first went over the red pen outline with a simple black outline, and then started to fill it in, first with black lines, then with grey ink, and then with white, all the while drawing the rose freehand, to create the complex shading and definition. It was utterly fascinating to watch, such a very, very complex procedure, which must have taken Mark years to perfect.
Afterwards, he cleaned it up, wrapped it in cling film, and taped it tight. There are all sorts of procedures to follow over the next two weeks to keep the wounds clean, and bacteria free, but in a fortnight’s time, I will have a perfect rose on my right ankle. (Do bear in mind that the rose as you see it in these pictures was only an hour old so the pink tinge will disappear soon.)
As we walked out into the front of the shop, Mark took a call on his cellphone, and that’s how we heard that Obama had won the 2012 Presidential election in a landslide. I think it’s clear that Victoria and I will never forget the night that we had our tattoos done in Hollywood.
I feel very, very privileged to now be wearing one of Mark’s drawings forever on my ankle.
Shamrock Tattoo, 9026 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Edit: Lots of people have asked about my footwear. The burgundy suede ankle boots were a present from Penelope Chilvers, and the stilettos are Aldo for J W Anderson.
Edit: Much amused to see in the papers a day later that we missed One Direction by 24hrs at Shamrock, where they got all tattoo-d up.