So a lot of people might say the following words, but for me it’s really true: When I was a kid, I never dreamed of having tattoos. I come from a pretty by-the-book family, and back then tattoos were pretty much the exclusive territory of sailors and bikers, so it didn’t even really enter my consciousness. What followed, of course, was a long period where it seemed like everyone was getting them—and a lot of douchey ones—to the point where it almost felt cooler to keep your skin untouched than to ink it up.
But lately, my mindset on a lot of things has started to change. While most people get more conservative as they get older, I sometimes think I’m getting more reckless. Or at least caring less what others think and more likely to jump at an interesting opportunity, rather than be, like, scared or apprehensive about it. Kind of giving myself permission to be interested in shit that’s maybe a little dangerous, things that would freak my mom out.
Call it an “aw fuck it” phase.
When I heard Oliver Peck was in the area taping a new season of Ink Master and had some downtime, I said “aw fuck it” and scheduled a session.
That mindset has led to a number of interesting adventures: things like paying 200 pounds to watch an English soccer match, getting into motorcycling and sporting a ridiculous handlebar moustache. And last weekend, it led to another one: having my left forearm tatted up by legendary artist, Elm Street Tattoo proprietor and Ink Master judge Oliver Peck.
See, Peck does a bunch of tattooing work on behalf of one of Made Man’s favorite spirits, Sailor Jerry, a tasty spiced rum named for Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, who led a tattoo revolution from his home base in Honolulu after World War II. With countless members of the US Navy and others as his canvas, Collins pioneered the colorful American Traditional style that continues to permeate skin all over the world to this day. As documented in the wonderful film Hori Smoku, Collins’ work includes bold, beautiful anchors, snakes, pinups, eagles, ships and more.
And picking up where Collins left off, Peck puts the brand’s iconic flash on willing participants at SXSW and other events across the country. So when I heard he was in the area taping a new season of Ink Master and had some downtime, I said “aw fuck it” and scheduled a session. Without further ado, here are a few things I learned…
1. Don’t overthink it
When I got to Peck’s pop-culture and Vans shoes-festooned set-side bunker, he met me with a toothpick in his mouth and a smile. Then he handed me an iPad loaded with hundreds of flash options. It was kind of overwhelming, but like he later told me, the more you have, the less you worry about them. And I’m about to have much of my forearm inked—way beyond the small anchor Peck gave me in the fall—so it was not the time to be timid.
After much flipping, I settled on a cobra wrapped around a sword stabbing through a heart. Snakes represent potency and power, which is pretty awesome, but really I just thought it looked badass.
This seemed like a pretty substantial piece to knock out in two hours, but Peck said he could do another one too. So I picked a swallow, which has many meanings associated with extensive travel and safe return. I like to see the world and it also looked cool, so just like that we were in business.
2. Go with a pro
Peck used a couple slips of thin paper to very quickly sketch out the two pieces from the iPad. The lines were then coated with temporary ink, which he used to lay them down on my skin. Wearing rubber gloves, he shaved and disinfected my arm and placed them kinda facing off, the idea being that the tats “interlock like a jigsaw puzzle”—and eventually cover my whole arm. In theory.
Then, before I knew what was happening, the master had loaded up his tattoo gun with black ink and gotten to work. As a buzzing sound hit my ears, the needle hit my arm with the force of a thousand pins and needles. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it did sting, a rather gnarly prospect once I realized I was going to be feeling that for the next hour and a half.
I watched as he positioned my arm and unflinchingly put the lines down on my skin, chewing his toothpick and chatting like this was the most casual thing in the world. He did a little freehand, too, repositioning the flower in the swallow’s mouth so that it kinda intersected with the snake rather than overlapping.
Time kinda started to bend and warp at this point, but I’d say he had all the black ink done in maybe half an hour. Guess doing thousands upon thousands of tattoos will get you to that level of speed, confidence and competence.
3. Conversation… helps
The pieces I had chosen incorporated very vibrant colors—green, yellow and Peck’s favorite color, red—so my ink job was far from over. Thankfully at this point, another Ink Master judge wandered in to help me pass the time: Dave Navarro. The insanely talented and tatted rock guitarist brings some sizzle to Peck’s steak on the show, and he was fun to b.s. with as well.
Navarro checked out Oliver’s work in progress and nodded with approval, which made me grin through the pain. It’s funny with tattoos—you kinda want people to lie to you about a tat because even if they don’t like it, it’s not going away. But he seemed to genuinely dig the lines—and considering Peck is in the middle of a massive art project on his back, he’d better be.
Navarro said he hates getting tattoos, which is interesting considering he has hundreds. I asked which one was the most painful and without hesitation he said, “Whichever one you’re currently getting.”
We got to talking about tattooing fundamentals, which somehow led to me referencing a story I once edited where a top DJ said you should learn to scratch on actual records, a real “going back to the roots” kind of thing. With a straight face, Navarro came back with something like: “So when you use other people’s music you should do it with real records?” Oh right, ha ha.
Thankfully, by the time I recovered from that well-timed zinger, Peck was just about finished.
4. This is only the beginning
With the ink drying but the dull pain continuing, I was pretty psyched to see some Sailor Jerry rum on hand. So I took a healthy sip and a look at my arm. Wow. A substantial chunk of my forearm was now coated in colorful ink, and as Frank the Tank might say, it looked “glorious.”
I couldn’t help but thank Peck profusely for his time and skill, but the dude is so unassuming and modest that he just nodded and smiled. As I shook his hand and headed for the door, I secretly hoped our paths would cross again soon.
On the way home, I just couldn’t stop staring at the fine lines and bright colors, while at the same time realizing that the fun has just begun. And by fun I mean, “healing process,” which is not so fun at all. More like a lot of washing with unscented soap and moisturizing with Aquaphor, then watching the ink scab over and slowly settle into the skin. I remember from the anchor that red takes fucking forever to heal, so I knew that heart was going to be a doozy.
But on the upside, it’s been a few days now, the work looks great and I have no regrets. I’m sure my mom will freak, but she’s cool, she’ll get over it. I’ve got a long way to go to have a fully jigsaw-puzzled arm—and a hell of a lot longer to be as inked up as Peck or Navarro—but for the time being, I am stoked.
And I dare say this “aw fuck it” phase might just stick around for a while…