I often get asked about how to "survive" a tattooing session. I've been tattooed upwards of 20 times with 13 tattoos to actually show for it. There's the obvious that you find on the internet. Make sure you're well fed and hydrated. Make sure you're well rested. But do those basics prepare you for anything beyond simply not passing out? Methinks not.
I've created my own little ritual that I stick to pretty much every time I get inked. You're of course free to alter to it to suit your needs, but this is what I've found works for me.
1. Wear comfortable clothes
I'm usually sitting or laying for several hours and I don't want to be constantly fidgiting because my clothes are bothering me. I wear pretty much the same thing every time I go for a session, sweatpants and a tee. If I'm getting work done on my shoulder or back, then it's a tank top. If you find jeans comfortable to sit in, that's fine. Wear something you know won't start to bother you during the course of the tattoo.
2. Bring something to boost your blood sugar after the tattoo
Sure, they told you to eat a full meal and be well hydrated BEFORE, but what about after? If you're a first timer, even a small tattoo can take a lot out of you. If you're more experienced, but sitting for a long time, you'll still need a boost when you're done. I like to bring Cherry Coke Zero. Again, it's whatever suits your taste be it a vitamin water, plain water, soda, or juice. Anything that will give your blood sugar a little punch is fine.
3. Bring something non-human to squeeze
I've heard many stories from human "stable ponies" about holding their friends' hands during a tattoo. It most often ends with the stable pony have to nurse a sore hand. That doesn't seem too fair to them. As such, I bring a stuffed animal (my trusty basset hound Woof). It cracks up the guys in the shop, but it's something that infinitely helps me. If you're too shy to bring a stuffed animal into a tattoo shop, bring something comforting. Heck, even a stress ball would do the trick for some.
4. For any work that requires laying down, bring your own pillow
I take this one step further and also bring my own sheet. You don't have to go that extreme, but having your own pillow really turns into a life saver. Most tattoo shops have pillows, but because of sanitation, have to cover them with something akin to sandpaper. After one session of having to rest my head on something like that for 3 hours, I always brought my own pillow. It's also nice to have something that's yours, which goes a long way to relaxing and making the process easier on everyone.
5. Bring a camera
This one should be pretty obvious. Right after it's done is often the best time to get a picture because someone else is around and can actually take it for you. Or maybe that's just an issue I have. :P
The temptation may be there to hold your breath. Don't do it. Keep your breathing even and normal as possible. In the case of side pieces, take advantage of wiping or refilling the needle to take deeper breaths.
7. Speak up!
This is definitely the most important thing. If you need a break, speak up. Don't try to be tough. It doesn't matter if you feel like you're going to pass out or you just need to stretch your legs. Tattooists aren't psychic and even if they know you really well (ie Mark and myself), they can't know if you need a break.
8. If you're already in pain, fix that first
My hardest tattoo session was easily Lola's second session. I walked in with a headache, but refused to do anything about it because I didn't want to bleed more. That was the worst thing I could've done. It made the pain of tattooing about 5 times worse than what it had to be. I finally broke down and took some Advil, but it didn't really take the edge off until we were almost done. Now I know to take care of any other pain I may be experiencing before I get tattooed.
What will help you the most is being comfortable and as relaxed as possible. Whether you're a tattoo virgin or you've got your fair share of ink, it'll help. The more you tense up and stress, the more likely you are to feel dizzy, nauseous, or every tattooist's dread, pass out. Yes, you will be in pain, but if you stay relaxed and calm, it'll go by much faster.
These aren't hard and fast rules, just a few tips and tricks to help you have a successful and low stress tattoo experience.