Those of us with more than a few tattoos or who have a habit of making bad decisions have encountered the unmistakable feeling of tattoo regret. Perhaps we had one too many rounds of tequila while on spring break. Or maybe we fell head over heels for someone and decided to get the ‘relationship kiss of death’ couples tattoo for the world to see. In my case, I had what seemed like a good idea at the time, combined with a tattoo artist who did a poor job. Upon changing shops and doing a touch up, the piece got completely f****d up.
So how do you change the past? Is there a tattoo time machine? Sadly, that is still in the development phase. We do have laser tattoo removal, but that shit is expensive, does not always work, and quite often leaves a big blank space on your skin. For anyone with more than a few tattoos, this loss of valuable real estate is a crushing blow. This leaves us with the cover up.
The nuances of blank skin takes ample time to master, but when it has already been tattooed, it presents a whole new level of difficulty for the artist. There is usually no telling the quality of ink that was used previously or if the canvas is being honest about never attempting to remove the tattoo in the past, and many other factors. One of the best ways to avoid any potential cover-up issues is to plan ahead. Having an idea of what you would realistically like the existing tattoo to be covered with, a somewhat open timeline, and giving your artist some flexibility to work with your vision can make this a very pleasurable experience.
Recently I visited with Mike Buckley, owner and tattoo artist at “The Underground” in Olean, NY. My original tattoo was done by an artist who previously operated at at this shop, so for me, going back there was a way of bringing the tattoo full circle. Mike has done numerous pieces on me over the years. Many were done under tight time constraints while I was home on leave during the time I served in the US Army. While Mike was working on me, I took the opportunity to pick his brain.
What is the most common tattoo you cover up for someone?
Usually just a bad piece. Names are rarely covered these days. It’s usually an early tattoo, and once they get older they outgrow their early design choices. Quite often it’s flash that ends up covered.
What are the most common choices to cover the offending piece up with?
Nothing specific, but a lot of people don’t realize that certain things won’t work on a cover up. Usually some sacrifices have to be made.
What makes for a successful coverup?
When you can’t see the original offending tattoo. Usually more than one setting is really necessary to ensure it is fully covered. A white shot over the old ink first can really help. So time and patience are a big factor. For every good tattoo out there, there are many more bad ones.
How often do you have to turn down a cover up, and what is the most common reason?
When someone wants a design that just won’t work properly. Just like a regular tattoo, I’ll turn down a tattoo with bad placement or a design that just won’t work.
What colors are more difficult to cover than others?
Blacks can be incredibly tough. Homemade inks, and especially prison inks can be really rough to tattoo over.
Are specific types of tattoos more simplistic to cover correctly?
Full color makes for an easier cover up. It allows for more tones to choose from. The flat basic color is more difficult to cover up or color.
Does the type or quality of ink use in the original tattoo make a big difference in how the cover up will end up?
Should the client expect different after care than with a new piece?
Nope. Everything is the same, but the healing process may take a bit longer. Color usually takes longer to heal than black and grey.
What areas of the body are the worst to do a cover up on?
Probably the same as usual; elbow, inside of the arm especially. Skin tone, and older skin that has had constant sun exposure can be even harder to cover up. Especially if that skin has been sunbaked.
Finally what is the top thing someone should look for in a cover up artist besides specializing in them?
Definitely check out their portfolio, and whenever possible see their work in the flesh after it has healed. Talk to the tattooist. If you haven’t had a good first experience, you really want to make sure you get it covered right. I see a lot of people who get a cover up, of a cover up, of a cover up.
A special thanks to Mike Buckley who did a fantastic job on my cover up. To see more of his work, follow Mike Buckley on Facebook