Like a first kiss or learning how to reverse somersault off a high dive board, face tattoos are generally something you work up to. Maybe you start off with a little song lyric inked on your ribs, or your mum's birthday in Roman numerals. And then, eventually, once you're more confident about getting stuff scarred permanently into your skin, you graduate up to the face.
The logic behind this approach is supported by the fact that some tattooists will flat out refuse to administer face ink to anyone who isn't already covered. Brighton tattoo artist Rob Lake told me he can think of a million reasons why people shouldn't get their first tattoo on their face, and that he's "very much against it" – and this from a man who has a rune inked between his eyebrows and the words "Made It" in all caps beneath his right eye.
"It is disrespectful to the whole tattoo industry," added Memphis Mori, who owns a parlour and five face tattoos of her own. "It can ruin futures, relationships and career prospects."
Even SoundCloud rappers like Lil Xan or Smokepurpp – who at this point are essentially walking flash books – dabbled in tattooing other parts of their body before moving on to the moneymaker.
Despite all of this, they do exist – those rare unicorns who throw caution and employability to the wind and go straight for the face. I tracked some of them down to ask: Why?
VICE: So… why the face?
Jacob: I wanted to make a bold statement. It was two years ago and I had just got out of rehab for a heroin addiction and wanted to focus on my music. It was sort of an "I can't give up now" statement. Most of the artists I was listening to at the time had face tattoos, and they were growing quick in the music industry, so I felt that if I had face tattoos more people would take me seriously. I went to my buddy’s tattoo shop and got the juice box below my left eye. It was the first time he had tattooed a face, so it was new to both of us.
What's the significance of the juice box?
That's been my nickname since I was a kid. I skateboarded, and my parents always sent me with a juicebox or a Gatorade, so everyone called me juice. Juicebox means everything to me – it's the person I grew into, and today I'm four years and four months clean from heroin. Music and tattoos saved my life.
What were people's reactions?
Some thought I made a bad decision, but now they see me for me. I have five face tattoos now and the last one I got says "Eat Shit", above my right eye. Although I got the first to make a statement, I like my tattoos. They're a part of me forever and I wouldn't change them if I could.
VICE: What's the story behind your face tattoo?
Julian: I was like 15, nearly 16. I grew up in quite a criminal environment. Well, actually, I grew up in a suburban place in the mountains, but then I moved and, you know, met the wrong people. So I thought I'd set a statement, to show everyone that I don't hear, don't see and don't speak. That's what the dots above my eyebrow mean.
So you were still living with your parents?
Yeah, my family is tattooed, so it was never a big deal. I always drew on my face and my arms when I was at school – I just wanted to express how I feel on my face. I still live with my mum now, because I only turned 18 like five months ago, but I'm always staying with friends and travelling.
I see that you’ve released some music on SoundCloud. Do you think getting a face tattoo is an essential ingredient for SoundCloud success?
My music has nothing to do with my tattoos. In America, some people might be clout-chasing and thinking that they'll get famous if they get a face tattoo. But if you're shit, a face tattoo doesn't really help you. I made music before I got face tattoos. Growing up, I was always playing the drums and then I went over to singing. I always just wanted to express myself, and I'm very interested in, like, Edgar Allan Poe and in general in poets.
VICE: Why did you want your first tattoo to be so noticeable?
Lee: It wasn't really about being noticed. At the time I was 18 and working at a tattoo studio that my best mate owned. I was booking people in for tattoos and everyone was getting sleeves, legs or chest tattoos at that time. I always want to be different from everyone, in what I wear and how I look, so I decided with my tattooist that we would do something small on my face. The bat represents my favourite Batman film, which it was the logo for.
Were you ever worried that the face tattoo would stand in the way of your career as a model?
I believe the face tattoos only helped within modelling, and the way I express myself in images was something completely different at that time. I've been able to model for brands, magazines, been on catwalks around Europe and during London Fashion Week, which I would say is a great achievement.
What's the worst thing about having a face tattoo?
People are very quick to judge someone based on having face tattoos. Obviously a lot of them don't understand that it's a kind of art form or a way of expressing yourself. But I believe, no matter what you say or do, people are going to judge you, so you might as well just be and do you.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.