Archive for April 21st, 2011

Tattoos. Expression or accessory?

21 Apr

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Tattoo of Borneo scorpion design
Tattoos number 3 and 6

Recently, a fellow blogger posed the question as to whether tattoos were the ultimate accessory. Arash often puts a topic out there for us to ponder and create dialogue around it, something I really appreciate about his style. This topic piqued my interest for the obvious reason, I have tattoos. Six of them at the moment, to be exact. What is my relationship with them? Are they an accessory or am I just expressing myself overtly for the world to see? I got my first when I was nineteen. I’m forty-three.

Do I have any regrets?

No, I don’t have any regrets. To be truthful, they sometimes act as an accessory but that’s incidental. My tattoos are personal, they tell my story. Each is significant. I’m no stranger to queries, I have no qualms about sharing those tales to the those genuinely curious. We each carry our history in the manner that is most comfortable, mine is visual. I’m a visual person, it’s the easiest way to communicate and convey information to me. By the time I turned seventeen I had already doodled and sketched out my future tattoos. Thankfully the law in California states that you must be eighteen. This gave me time to change my mind numerous times and drop the idea of getting a butterfly on my shoulder; it also gave me the opportunity to survey every tattooed adult I met. The result was unanimous. Those that held personal significance had no regrets. Those that got them when they were drunk had another story to tell.

Over the years, certain passages of time were significant enough that they deserved their moment in the sun. Enter the tattoo. It’s a personal choice for me. I find them beautiful. I’m drawn to the drama of ink. I like the permanence, I have no problem with it; it’s reminder that life always leaves its mark whether we’re paying attention or not. The scorpion featured on my back was done in 1989 before the tribal tattoo trend hit the spotlight. I remember the day I saw the Borneo design in Research Lab’s Modern Primitives book. I was intrigued and fascinated. I’m a graphic designer. I like symbols. And I’m a Scorpio. I identified with the death and rebirth associated with my astrological sign.

There are very distinct phases in this sign, if you are to subscribe to this line of thinking. The scorpion is young, vengeful, aggressive, dominating, intense. It can be incredibly destructive. The scorpion dies and is reborn into the eagle, scrutinizing, watchful, discerning. The evolution is starting. The cycle of death and rebirth continues. At last, the phoenix. It seeks fire and flies into it nightly to die and rise from the ashes, a continual process of implementation, evolution and regeneration.

Tattoo, further to fly, photo by david gartner
Number 4

Feel free to strip all astrological references, the core belief of personal evolution still stands. I believed in my strength, I believed that I would eventually become the person I wanted to be. I was nowhere near it but I never once doubted that I would shed the skin of my past behind and evolve. I didn’t even have a vision yet, I only had faith.

Discipline of the Scorpio’s darker shadow eventually transcends into love and compassion.

I’m in that place now, I’m proud of who I’m become. I’m even more proud of that twenty-two year old who knew she had to change and believed in her strength to do so. That is what the scorpion on my back means to me. Tattoos are personal in their expression. They can be works of art, they can act like an accessory or make a statement. They can also tell a story. The ink on my skin is mine.

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If you find yourself seriously considering getting your first tattoo, here are a few tips:

  1. Sit with it for a while. I don’t mean a few days, I’m talking months. There’s no rush.
  2. Talk to people. Ask them about their experience, ask for recommendations. Ask them what they like and don’t like abou their tattoo. It’s helpful to know what to talk about when going in for a consultation, don’t be bashful.
  3. Look at different tattoo artist styles. Find who you’re drawn to, what their style is like.
  4. Book a consultation. Talk about it, discuss reviewing sketches, discuss the process and agree on what works for both of you. Take your time, it is mostly permanent.
  5. Enjoy the art on your skin. If you’re in San Francisco, I highly recommend Jesse Tuesday of Tuesday Tattoo. His shading is incredible.


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David Gartner