Tattoos. Depending on who you are, they may be a thing of joy, a point of contention, beautiful, ugly, pointless, rebellious, artistic… and so on and so forth.
As you might know, I am a big fan of tattoos. I think I might have mentioned it. I love them on other people, I love them on myself, I love getting them done and I love the people who dedicate their life to this form of art.
But there is more than just ‘liking tattoos’. Over time, I’ve noticed that fellow tattoo lovers have rules and philosophies by which they regulate their body art. It’s more than just one person preferring colour and another liking blackwork. It’s a very complex system, and it’s fascinating hearing the ways people choose their tattoos. And so I have decided to document a few of the stories which people have told me regarding their inky decisions.
So, we may as well start with me (because my ego simply will not allow me to be in any other place but first…!)
For me, tattoos are a complex thing. I have made up very intricate rules regarding placement and so on: only black/black and grey work on my torso, colour on my limbs; male artists can do the top half, female the bottom, and non binaries can go wherever they like; carnivores on my right side (representing tenacity, masculinity, ferocity and night time) with herbivores on my left (symbolic of femininity, grace, serenity and the day); and on and on the list goes. #neurodivergentproblems, amirite?
I also have styles which I lean towards – I’m a big fan of neotraditional work, and things which have a Japanese influence, as well as woodcut-style line work, dotwork and natural imagery. I am pretty sure I’ll never have any script based tattoos because they’re simply not my thing (although, if worked in on a banner in an Americana style, I might be swayed). I’m a BIG fan of getting tattooists to design the work themselves based on a prompt (such as ‘fox’ or ‘wolf with some art nouveau-y stuff’). I may provide some photo reference, but I would NEVER attempt to design a tattoo myself, even though I am an illustrator. Watercolouring on paper and jabbing ink into living skin are both very different practices, and I trust the experts to know what would look best on my body.
And why? Well, I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’m kind of poorly. I have EDS-3, POTS, ME, fibro, asthma, eczema, allergies, IBS, recurrent cystitis, migraines and tension headaches, food intolerances AND I’m still undergoing investigations to see what exactly is going on with me. So my meatsuit sucks, basically. Tattoos are a way for me to take back control of a very wobbly body, and to make me feel proud of said body once again. Despite gaining weight, and using mobility aids, and not managing to shower/wash my hair/shave my legs (!!) on as regular a basis as I’d like, I am still more confident in my physicality now than I have been for a LONG time – and that’s down to my tattoos. Having art permanently a part of my being makes me feel more beautiful and gives me a deep sense of joy.
Each one has a certain amount of meaning attached to it, but some are more aesthetic than symbolic. Imagery is very important to me – I’m a very visual person – and so beauty for its own sake is a good enough reason for me to get a tattoo.
Artists are picked both for their style and for their proximity to my flat – I’m not well enough to go on up to Liverpool or Glasgow for a tattoo, so I have to be sensible about the artists I choose. I do, however research diligently, and will only choose an artist once I am absolutely sure that I love their work. I am EXTREMELY lucky that one of my regular(ish) tattoo artists, Chrissy Hill, is literally a 5 minute drive down the road from me – as well as being a stupendous tattooist. Can’t wait to get her to do my carousel horses (once I’ve saved up enough, obviously. Money is the bane of my existence).
So – here are some excellent humans talking about their tattoo dogmas and experiences and thoughts and feelings.
Mine symbolise my journey through life. It’s a way of wearing scars that need to be seen, reminding myself where I have been and saying that it’s okay to be where I am. I stick to the same two artists because they feel and understand me and my outlook
I now have two tattoos, they’re about 12 years apart. I don’t rush into getting tattoos. I take it really slowly – the first one took 2 years for me to finally settle on a design. They have to be something that is important to me and not done on a whim. My first one is a Triskele Spiral on the back of my right shoulder; I had that one done in 2002 (pre M.E). It’s related to re-incarnation as that is something I strongly believe in. My 2nd one was my 40th birthday pressie from my partner (2014). It’s the International symbol of disability but with a twist. I changed the colour on one part by adding the colours of the gay rainbow (aka Freedom Flag). I’ve been a wheelchair user since 2005, and it’s not going to change any time soon. Even if I do get well (I have M.E), it’s still an important part of my life.
I did it to spite myself, because I don’t really like them or believe in them! I used to say “Ohhh why would you want to do that to your beautiful skin…” And then one day I was like “FFS betty how dare you go on about something so much, how can you be so SURE about anything or any opinion in your life?” I hadn’t exactly got it right up until that point – so I got one.
I plan to have a tattoo for every stage of my life, as well as a Disney sleeve. I have a Harry Potter one as it’s a true love of mine. I have the dandelions because I just thought it would look pretty and free, so I drew my on design. The Pocahontas Colours of the Wind leaves are for my freedom and love of nature, but also my love of Disney; I plan to work it into a sleeve of all different Disney things, each with a meaning. I think you can get a tattoo and it doesn’t have to have a meaning!
Sometimes I have images I plan and sometimes it’s spontaneous – my tattoo friend Jeni doodled on my leg one Tuesday afternoon when I was in a depressed state and I got it tattooed later that day.
I was 21 when I started getting tattoos. Growing up LDS I never wanted them or imagined by now I would have nearly 20 tattoos.
When I was 20, I was raped. I developed severe PTSD from the sexual trauma that I survived. PTSD took over my life and severe depression set in, anxiety set in, and the overwhelming desire to kill myself became my every day life. Suicidal idealization world my life every minute of every day and interfered with my professional life in a workplace, my friendships, my relationships with my family, and my dating life. My reality was altered and I didn’t know how to process anything.
At my darkest I decided that just like the wall in my room which I had decorated with positive quotes ( intended to try and keep me focused on more positivity), I needed a way to keep deeply rooted lessons that I had learned and positivity with me at all times. Every chance I got I would think about how I wanted to die, ways to die…
My first tattoo was done at a popular tattoo shop here in Salt Lake City Utah. It was overpriced, and I learned my lesson. The lady was quite rude and had no social skills.
They say once you get one tattoo, you won’t stop. My life lessons that I learned continue to Roland and I found a way to pull those lessons into my personal life where I could turn them into a positive experience.
I went with a friend to a tattoo shop in Midvale Utah, and she introduced me to the artist who has done most of my work. Laura is a phenomenal artist – she knows so much about tattoo placement, color saturation, how to be fast and light handed and she is a lovely person – to this day we are still very good friends. She has a good heart, and I always appreciated how well she took care of me and how honest she was with me to make sure that I didn’t have any regrets about the tattoos that I was getting.
For a period of time she moved away and while she moved away I became very sick, because of my chronic illnesses I wasn’t able to get tattooed and I didn’t get new tattoos until my cousin took me for my 25th birthday to go and get a tattoo done with her in honor of her father.
Although many people in the LDS church view me as a rebel or whatever, I don’t care. My tattoos have saved my life. They have helped me through depression, and through many suicidal thoughts and even an attempt.
And the LDS church we have temples, inside these temples there is beautiful artwork on the walls. I love myself very deeply now. Over the last five years I’ve grown and I’ve learned so many lessons that have made me one hell of a woman and I love who I’ve become. I believe my tattoos on my “temple”are my artwork, my decoration for my soul and they serve as a constant reminder about my purposes with living.
I don’t know if there’s another way that I could have done anything differently, I don’t regret my tattoos, I don’t think I will look ugly when I’m 80. All of my tattoos have been carefully thought out and planned for months.
My first tattoo is on a dolphin on my hip when I turned 18 – I got it because I could! For some reason I wanted a dolphin there, even though it’s not even in my top 5 favourite animals..!
My second is a purple unicorn on my ankle because that is my favourite animal.
Then I had Kieran (my son) so names started getting done: his on my wrist, Tiegan on my foot, Hollie on my right arm & my latest, Logan, by my collar bone.
After our wedding me & Danny got each other’s name tattoos across the top of outback & just before that we got stars by our ears with initials in – sort of a way of saying ‘this is big, it’s forever’.
We also got matching jelly beans on our wrist because we love them!
I have a butterfly on the bottom of my back because this is another favourite animal.
I’m in the middle of getting Logan’s – I’ve just had his name with a rainbow as he’s a rainbow baby & I’m extending Hollie’s to have holly leaves & white feathers falling down my arm to join her name.
After that, I want:
Two horseshoes for both my boys; a Green Day one for my fav band; a water colour love heart dripping down my back – they look so cool; four small hearts for me & my sisters;
and the word ‘Believe’ for surviving each day.
I have them because they are my memories, they represent important stages of my life that I want to take me & enjoy looking at.
I decided to get my tattoos because I like the idea of being original and having images of things I like on my body, or of things that mean something. I choose my artists dependent on the type of work I’m getting (geometric, dot work, etc) and based upon recommendations. I also have this thing where I want every tattoo in a new city/country so that they’re all entirely unique. I plan out my tattoos but often, my ideas change. I only get tattoos I’ve been set on for a year or more to avoid any regrets!
I never really have an agenda. Just a rough idea that’s very open to change. I rarely know what I’m going to get, as Helena ‘s ideas are so much more creative than mine. I like to be just as surprised as everyone else as to how my ink evolves. I like just giving a general idea or bit of inspiration, and watching how Helena interprets it
I got my tattoo for a few reasons-
First, I’ve had a slight obsession with death and the afterlife since I was a child.
Second, I am planning to expand it into a tribute to lost friends and family.
And third- I am a massive fan of the show Sons of Anarchy, so getting this was my little nerdy way of paying tribute to my favourite show.
I spend a lot of time looking at artists as I obsess over imperfections, so finding an artist who loves and obsesses over their work as much as I do is important. I’ve been planning my work for years- lots more to get, just not enough cash.
I always used to say I wouldn’t get tattoos – now I love having mine! In the middle of having most of my back done by an amazing artist, I moved, and floated between a couple of artists but I wasn’t happy until I stumbled upon my current girl. Due to my EDS I feel like my tattoos are the only thing about my body that I can actually control, they’re really the main thing that makes me feel good about myself!
I don’t have a grand plan for my body, but now that it is getting fuller I worry that I will run out of room or a new artist will come along and I won’t have space. I follow loads of people on Instagram and as I run Things&Ink’s blog (th-ink.co.uk) I am always finding new artists. I chose things mainly because I like them… My tattoos make me happy and remind me of brighter days when I am feeling low. I love how they look on my body and I notice them before I see any other parts of my body. I love how even when I am naked I am not really naked
Mine are all things that mean a lot to me. Not sure I could have something random just because I liked it incase I ever stopped liking it.
My tattoos are not perfect, but I love them because they mean something. Can’t wait to get my new one!
When I was little I always pictured myself with tattoos and piercings. It’s just how I always wanted to look!!
I chose my primary artist because we worked together and she’s incredible! Other artists have been chosen for styles that I love and she doesn’t specialise in.
I have no real plan apart from “keep going”! I prefer colour but do have black dot work pieces.
Mine are all reminders really, how I want to live, to remember to prioritise things. Most that I’m planning are reminders too!
My absolute must have for picking an artist is someone who is willing to discuss and get a feel for what I want – because even the simplest tattoos, people generally have little tweaks and ideas they’re looking for. Like my little word “Live” I chose a font that looked handwritten, and I asked the artist to make it look written, with gaps and thick & skinny bits etc. I got it touched up (too much sunbed use ) and I didn’t get much chance to talk to the artist, so trusted that he’d stick to the design but he didn’t – it’s getting covered up soon!
I just like having beautiful black lines all over my body. They don’t really mean anything.
I’ve not got much choice of tattooists here but was lucky that my most recent one was done by someone who really did care what I wanted and worked with me. The first one I got was done by a sullen guy in Warrington who was just interested in taking my money (thankfully it’s small and I have a plan of how it will be covered). The other one turned out different to what I had originally thought, but I’m still fond of it. None of them are perfect but they are all intended to mean something in both design and placement. The one on my foot is a swallow with some nautical stars with the bass line of a Bjork song behind it. It represents my brother and his kids and my family in general (as they keep me grounded!). The butterfly on my arm is upside down until I look at it and then it reminds me that I can come through adversity and be “reborn”. The one on my back…. well, that had all meaning taken out of it because the tattooist did a bad job.
(Possibly my favourite anecdote EVER)
Why I picked my tattoo artist … he had previously been my hairdresser, about whom I’d had a sexual fantasy since I was 14 – I fulfilled sex and tattoo fantasy in one! Both worked out well…!!!
So, there you have it. I could keep going forever, as there are probably as many tattoo-philosophies as there are tattooed people – we all have very personal takes on the art which adorns us. And here’s the thing – it really doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with these people, or even if you like their tattoos; all that really matters is that their body art means something to them, be it a superficial, artistic, personal, aesthetic, or religious meaning. What other people might think of their tattoos is kind of irrelevant.
And here’s a thought to end with:
If anyone ever says to you “Oh, but your skin will look terrible when you’re 80!”,
you say to them “When have you EVER thought that an 80 year old had beautiful skin? Age is gonna do far more damage than a tattoo ever will – and besides, wrinkles don’t come with anything like as many stories as my tattoos do.”