a guide to getting your first tattoo with celebrity artist @jonboy

JonBoy's minimal designs have seduced Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, and even Alessandro Michele. From couples' tattoos to eating candy, he shares the dos and don'ts of your first time.

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04 October 2018, 11:27pm

If you told Jonathan Valena that his first tattoo at 19 would be pivotal in kick-starting a burgeoning career putting permanent art on the bodies of over 20,000 people (including some of the biggest celebrities out there), the then-youth pastor might have believed otherwise.

Following an overdose at 17, Valena, now known as JonBoy opted to follow God’s path and enrolled in seminary and bible school. While in seminary, he began hanging around the local tattoo shop. It was here he’d get his first tattoo: a very 90s barbed wire armband à la Pamela Anderson — but also like Jesus’s crown of thorns, of course.

20 years later, JonBoy is known for his fine-lined designs on the bodies of Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Kylie Jenner, Travis Scott, Halsey, and even on the face of Justin Bieber. Due to the nature of his delicate designs, it’s very common for him to give people their first tattoo. “I love when people tell me they would have never thought of getting a tattoo until they saw my work. I’m always honored to give someone their first tattoo,” JonBoy shares.

One of the most memorable first tattoos he did was on the face of Spaghetti Boys’ own Kerwin Frost. “The craziest has to be, by far, a pencil tattoo on my good pal Kerwin Frost,” he recalls. “It was his first tattoo, and I love watching him, his career, his influence, and passion for what he does best. Most tattooers say face tattoos are job stoppers but Kerwin’s definitely proven that wrong.”

It doesn’t get much more extreme than a first-timer getting a forehead-to-jawline tattoo of a pencil, but JonBoy points out that the majority of people getting their first do not spontaneously sit down in an artist’s chair, even if it’s his chair for a tiny design. “People typically think about their first tattoo for a while before stepping into a tattoo shop. These small designs carry the biggest meaning. You’d be surprised the stories my clients share with me.”

One client in particular, in addition to being a life-changing client for JonBoy, offered an interesting reason behind her first tattoo. “Kendall’s [Jenner] first tattoo is just a little white dot on her finger,” he says. “To her it’s for the little things that matter. That little white tattoo, where people say, ‘That’s not a real tattoo,’ it means a lot to Kendall.”

Some of his favourites are the tattoos he’s done on couples. “Justin [Bieber] and Hailey [Baldwin] came in and got tattooed. Seven days later they got engaged! Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner each got half of a butterfly,” he says. “It’s almost like a little bit of couples counselling, because I’ve been in a relationship and been married. It’s really cool to be the one to encourage them to make sure they stay best friends and remind them it’s going to be work. I love to be the one undoing the taboo behind couples tattoos.”

As an artist who has been tattooing for two decades, with a style easily accessible by enthusiasts and the more apprehensive, we spoke to JonBoy about what to keep in mind in preparation for getting your first tattoo.

"Do your research."
From the shop down to the type of artwork you’re looking to get, particularly for your first time and first artist, you’ll want to check for licenses and quality. “You want to make sure they’re pulling straight lines,” JonBoy advises. “If you’re looking for color work or shading, you want to make sure the gradient is there. You want to make sure you’re looking at the quality of their designs.” Referrals are a great way to find an artist that’s right for you, too. Talk to friends about their tattoos, shops, and artists and find one that seems like the safest and best fit for what you’re looking for.

"Make sure you’re 100% when committing to a design."
Tattoos are (kinda) forever! There are removal methods now, but they are a costly and lengthy process of repeated laser treatments. So treat this first tattoo, and any of those that follow thereafter, as if you will have it for life. Start with a design that you are comfortable with seeing every single day and that you believe you will love forever. Don’t feel like you’re offending the artist if the sizing or placement doesn’t seem right before you start. It’s your body!

"Be aware of your own health and having an artist knowledgeable enough to talk to you about it."
“You’re still dealing with health. You’re still breaking skin and dealing with health,” JonBoy warns. “You want to deal with someone that’s trained. You’re still dealing with blood-born pathogens.” He emphasises that although ink is an art form, artists are still using needles on your body, and it’s important to find one who is licensed to do so. While it’s fun to have friends tattoo you, safety and your health should be a top priority.

Additionally, you’ll want an artist who is aware of, educates you on, and knows how to deal with any potential side effects. “I’ve had people pass out,” JonBoy reveals. “If you go to a place they don’t know what to do, what are you going to do?” Lightheadedness can occur during or after getting tattooed, just like when you have your blood taken at the doctor. This is something you’d want your artist to inform you of and be prepared for, just in case. “I keep candy or soda around so if someone does get lightheaded, I can get them the sugar they need.”

This article originally appeared on i-D US.