My Tattoo Story

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My tattoo, 16 years old, and its inspiration

When I was in my teens and becoming aware of the world, tattoos were beautiful and scary as the only tattooed people I knew were bikers. But I loved the idea of color and design on skin and I secretly wanted one. However, a tattoo was not something my parents were likely to let me do, so I waited.

Several years after marrying, as my life was simultaneously settling and transitioning, I found the tattoo design I wanted in a Dover clip art book - Celtic Stencil Designs. It had beautiful negative space, curves, triskeles, a sort of yin/yang shape and I knew I could live with it. I checked out Mom, to see where I would probably sag and wrinkle as I aged and decided the wrist would be totally safe (not that Mom was old or saggy, but we do have a similar body shape, so it seemed wise to have a peek).

When the 1993 Meeting of the Marked convened at a hotel in Pittsburgh, I went into the convention just to look. This was my first time seeing the process and artists and I was excited. There were tables ringing in a hotel ballroom and every table had a flash book, photos of the artist's work and a very busy artist adding ink to a happy customer. Most of the attendees were dressed to show their skin. It was a heady experience to walk around and take it all in.

Then I found my artist, Chris Henry, by flipping through his sample book. He was a former university engineering student a couple of years younger than me who dropped out to follow his passion as a tattoo artist. He did a lot of blackwork then and it was good. I showed him my design and he agreed to do it. "Come back in an hour," he said.

So I did. I called Tod first to make sure he was OK with it (He wasn't thrilled, but didn't stop me) and used an ATM to get my several hundred dollar payment. Then back into the fray to be tattooed. Wow!

It took about two hours. First Chris made a mimeograph - the purple kind that smells so good - from my design. Then using deodorant as a medium, he transferred the pattern to my wrist a couple of times until he got it lined up the way he wanted it. He outlined the design with a single needle, then filled it in with a three needle gun. The whole while we chatted, and passersby engaged me with encouragement and their own tattoo stories. It was a great experience.

It was painful, yes. But the pain wasn't unbearable. It was strange and a little sad to see features of my skin disappear; bye-bye freckles! And it bled a pattern into the bandage which I thought was nifty but disturbed friends.

I am very glad to have a tattoo. Its design doesn't have meaning for me, but the experience does and its existence has shaped me, especially in Japan where tattoos are for criminals. I am beautiful and scary.

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Thank you. I knew the basics, but not the specifics of your story.

Livermore, CA here. Only 19-yr-old son in Sandy Hook - USCG. My husband just sent me your late father's site of stained glass, and my mouth is still on the keyboard - I am nearly 53 and only began stained glass last year - because I let other people rule my life - until my present wonderful husband - and I am agog at your father's talent - my father was a horrible dysfunctional alc. You are so blessed to have had yours - I wish I could have met him - what stupendous work - and now I will go read what you write - I've been writing since I was 7 - never published. God bless and tk you for all of your sharings. Beautiful, just beautiful...

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  • NanceJane: Livermore, CA here. Only 19-yr-old son in Sandy Hook - read more
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